Presidential Candidate Dr. Jill Stein

The Green Party presidential candidate talks about the platform of her 2016 run for the White House.

Dr. Jill Stein is a mother, physician and longtime teacher of internal medicine. Also the co-author of two major environmental reports -- In Harm's Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development and Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging -- she has dedicated years of public service as an environmental-health advocate. She has testified before numerous legislative panels as well as local and state governmental bodies, playing a key role in the effort to get the Massachusetts fish advisories to better protect women and children from mercury contamination. Her first foray into politics was in 2002, when she ran for Governor of Massachusetts. Dr. Stain is again running to be the Green Party nominee for President in 2016.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.

With the Republican and Democratic primary races dominating news cycles, it seems the media often forgets that there are more than just two political parties in this country. So tonight, a conversation with Green Party presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein.

The physician and environmental advocate was the party’s nominee back in 2012, you may recall, and she’s campaigning once again for the 2016 nomination. She joins us to talk about her platform and why smaller political parties are too often ignored in this country.

We’re glad you’ve joined us. A conversation with presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, coming up right now.

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Tavis: There have been already four debates among the crowded field of GOP presidential candidates, and the Democrats are preparing to square off in their first debate next month. But often ignored is the fact that there are other political parties in America, believe it or not, and they want their ideas heard just as much as anybody else competing for the White House.

So among those fighting for public recognition is Dr. Jill Stein, who announced her candidacy for the Green Party presidential nomination back in June. This is actually her second presidential campaign, as she was also the party’s nominee back in 2012. Dr. Stein, good to have you on this program.

Dr. Jill Stein: Great to be with you, Tavis.

Tavis: Let me start by asking what the process is for the Green Party. When will they pick their nominee? Just give me the particulars of how the party apparatus works.

Stein: Yes. So some states have a primary, some states have a convention for the party, and the states basically decide how they’re going to distribute their votes. Those votes then come to a national convention much like the Democrats and Republicans would do around July of 2016. And that’s when we finalize the national nominee.

Tavis: I want to go straight to–now that I understand and the audience understands better when this process will actually reach its crescendo–I want to go to this lawsuit that you and others have filed because I think there’s something to this.

We will see how the courts treat it, but you’ve already filed the lawsuit, a lawsuit really against the Presidential Debate Commission, but I’ll let you explain what the lawsuit’s about and why you filed it. But tell me about this.

Stein: Yeah. So the debates now are run by an organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates. It has a fancy, official-sounding name, so you think it’s a public institution. But it turns out it’s just a front group for the Democratic and Republican National Committees, so it’s basically run by the two parties. It used to be run by a public interest group, by the League of Women Voters.

And back in the 1980s at the time that Jimmy Carter actually refused to debate John Anderson because he didn’t want the competition, the Democratic and Republican Parties took over the debates at that time in the late 1980s, created this Commission and basically created rules such that only Democrats and Republicans could participate.

But not only that, they demanded incredible control over who would ask the questions and, therefore, what kind of questions would get asked. They demanded control over the press to determine which press would have access, and they also demanded control over the audience.

So what we see is basically a sham debate that’s been orchestrated and controlled by the big political parties. You know, one of the reasons that’s just totally unacceptable now–it is from the get-go–but especially now because 50% of Americans now do not identify as either Democrat or Republican.

So by restricting the debates to this very narrow spectrum largely of big candidates who are promoted by big money for the most part, certainly in the Republican Party, you have eliminated the voices, the opinions, and the urgent concerns, you know, healthcare, jobs, wages, housing, a debate about the military conquests of the world and the credible crises, student debt, Black Lives Matter.

You know, all these issues that are really of burning concern to everyday Americans are out from the get-go. So we’re saying let’s open it up to legitimate candidates who are on the ballot for a majority of voters. So it’s not like suddenly there’s a herd of candidates. It wouldn’t even be 11 like in the Republicans.

Tavis: How do you define legitimate candidates?

Stein: If you’re on the ballot, you’ve done the work to get approved by enough states, then a majority of voters have you as a choice. So our mantra really is that Americans have a right to vote and we have a right to know about who we’re voting for.

As a rule, there would be four, sometimes three, sometimes five, candidates under this process. It’s essentially the Green Party and the Libertarian Party and occasionally an Independent who would qualify on most ballots.

Tavis: So for those who remember Ross Perot working his way on the debate stage back in the day, how did he as an Independent candidate get his way onto the stage?

Stein: At the time, I think it was the League of Women Voters, if I’m not mistaken, who was in control, and they used–at least initially, they used a rule that was of that sort, that he had done the work, he was on the ballot for majority. He was also doing very well in the polls, so they let him in.

Now when he ran for the second time, though, the rules were sort of arbitrarily changed and I think the Democratic and Republican Parties were in control at this point, and they might have been the first time. Suffice it to say, the rules were changing and in a way that was not fair, and the public complained.

The Commission adopted some minimal standards at that point and they basically said, “If you made 15% in the polls.” But that 15% is a catch-22 because, in order to get to 15%, you need a lot of money behind you and you need a lot of publicity. You need a lot of TV advertising.

And, clearly, that’s not serving the American public. It’s not serving people. We have, you know, serious crises. People don’t have jobs. We’ve got this incredible disparity. So that system’s not working. Americans are clamoring for open debates.

Tavis: Speaking of clamoring for open debates, I’m going to get to your platform in a second and talk about issues specifically. But since you referenced clamoring for debates and you referenced earlier these 11 or so–I don’t know what the number is today. People are dropping out like flies now.

Scott Walker is about to get out or getting out and Rick Perry’s gone, so the number is going down, clearing the path for Donald Trump [laugh]. I digress on that. But what are your thoughts, though, about the massive number of debates that Republicans are having in comparison to the smaller number of debates that Democrats are having.

There are a lot of people who are upset that the Democratic Party has such a minimal number of debates, not the least of which is Martin O’Malley and others and Bernie Sanders who think there’s not enough debates for Democrats to really hear the issues, and that small number is about protecting Hillary’s chance to win the nomination. On the other hand, you got these Republicans with a debate every other week, it seems.

So I’m just curious as to your thoughts about the two parties and how they’re handling their debate processes before we come back to your platform.

Stein: Yes. I mean, independently of parties, you know, I think Americans have a right to know who they can vote for, whether it’s in the primaries or in the general. So debates are a good thing. I think the public airwaves really belong to the public and they should be used for legitimate candidates who are in this critical election. So more debates is good and it’s really a terrible thing that the Democratic candidates are being silenced in an effort to narrow the field and support the insider candidates.

Tavis: If you were in control of it, is there something that you would change about the way these debates–the framework of these debates, the way they are moderated and hosted?

Stein: Absolutely.

Tavis: How would you change it?

Stein: Yeah. I mean, they should be moderated by people who are not under control of the parties. So they should be moderated by public interest people. They should be moderated by people like you. You know, they should be moderated by people who do not have a vested interest and who are not muzzled, who can really be a conduit for the real questions and issues that the American people need to grapple with.

Further, the audience needs to represent the American public because they do a number on viewers now. It’s intended to tell viewers that, oh, if you are struggling with student debt, if you are under threat by police violence, by racist police violence, that’s marginal, you know. That’s not a key issue.

You know, you’ve got people in the Republican debate who are cheering essentially for balanced budget’s “austerity”, who are cheering for “tax breaks” really for the wealthy. You know, you get this cheerleading for an austerity agenda, for the kinds of poverty and war and Wall Street bailouts that have become the trademarks of the status quo, and you really don’t get beyond that.

We need to open up the press. We need to open up the candidates so the candidates represent greater diversity. The fact that the Republican candidates, all are either billionaires or they have billionaire super PACs. That speaks volumes right there about what issues they’re going to talk about.

Tavis: You referenced a couple of times now the media, so I want to ask you specifically–I want to give your platform here on public television to talk about the access that you have or lack of access to the airwaves to make your case. We see Hillary and Jeb and Donald Trump all day every day, and others, of course. But what’s it like being a Green Party candidate trying to get access to the airwaves?

Stein: Well, you know, I’m…

Tavis: How many talk shows you been on?

Stein: Yeah. This one, I’d say [laugh]. We have access to progressive media, you know, to…

Tavis: Amy Goodman, yeah, yeah.

Stein: Yeah, and the Real News Network. You know, we’ve been covered by Counterpunch, you know, by print media. But, you know, very little, skimpy…

Tavis: Mainstream media, not so much.

Stein: Yeah. Almost not at all. Originally, we were covered by, I think it was, ABC News on their website, you know. So we’re not getting mainstream TV coverage. You know, when I first ran for office back in 2002, I got recruited to run–I say tricked into running for office for the first time.

I was running against Mitt Romney in the governor’s race in Massachusetts. We fought our way into a debate, having gotten very little coverage. We fought our way because the people in Massachusetts didn’t like what they were hearing from just the two same old candidates.

We were able to–by force of public opinion, we were able to get into a televised debate. In that debate, the kinds of things I spoke out for, healthcare as a human right, for education as a human right, for cutting the military budget and investing in jobs and getting people out of poverty here at home, those ideas went over like lead balloons inside the TV studio.

And when we walked out, I was mobbed by the press who told me that I had won the debate on the instant online viewer poll, which I think speaks volumes about what’s going on here.

We’re not allowed because our ideas are so representative of the mainstream. People in polls say it’s about 58% of people who say we need a new independent third party because Democrats and Republicans have done such a poor job of representing everyday working people and the poor and people of color. We need a new party.

So the two parties are exercising their stranglehold. The two parties and the powerful economic forces, the banks and the insurance companies and the war contractors and health insurance, they are doing their best to squelch real debate because there is so much interest in a peoples’ point of view which is what we as third parties have the liberty to talk about because we don’t have big corporate funders.

Tavis: So Bernie Sanders repeatedly gets asked the question about Hillary Clinton and why he’s running and why he thinks he can win when Hillary is, you know, in the minds of many, the presumptive Democratic nominee. We will see how that plays itself out, but some believe, at least.

So I want to ask you now the Bernie Sanders question, which is when I listen to the issues that you’re raising so far, if you ask Bernie why are you running and what’s Hillary not talking about, Bernie could run a list of things.

And to his credit, because he has talked so much about poverty and income inequality, it’s pushed Hillary and, for that matter, others to really start to address this issue. And Bernie is gaining steam every day talking about those issues.

So I know what Bernie doesn’t hear from Hillary. What are you not hearing from Bernie? Put another way, what is Bernie not saying that a Green Party candidate is saying?

Stein: So let me say two things. One is that there’s enormous overlap between Bernie and I, and I can talk about what the differences are in a minute. But I just want to frame that by saying that, in my view, what’s wrong with Bernie’s campaign is not Bernie’s campaign, but where he’s running it.

Because Bernie is part of a long tradition of principled rebels inside the Democratic Party and you can go back to Jesse Jackson’s amazing campaign, but what happened to that campaign? When he became a real threat, he became the subject of a public relations smear campaign. He was taken out for being so-called “anti-Semitic” and being “anti-Israel”, which was all not true.

But it demonstrated the fact that the party insiders are not going to let a truly principled peoples’ candidate get the nomination. When that happened for George McGovern who was the rebel candidate that won the nomination, the party abandoned him and, after that, they changed the rules.

They changed the rules in order to have a Super Tuesday that would cost so much money to run simultaneous primaries in 25 or 30 states. You couldn’t do it without big corporate money and hundreds of millions of dollars. So that’s one of what we call the kill switch. The Democratic Party has a kill switch.

And then their other kill switch are these super delegates. It’s about half the delegates at the convention that are not accountable to voters that are basically party insiders. That’s also how they prevent people like Bernie from getting it.

And then the third thing they do is exactly what they did to Jesse Jackson. They did it to Howard Dean when his campaign became a real threat. They attacked him for the “Dean Scream”, which, you know, was nothing at all. You know, my point is it’s where Bernie’s running. It’s not his campaign, which is doing a great job, and I greatly appreciate the role that he’s playing.

But, unfortunately, these rebellions inside the Democratic Party give cover while the party over the decades continues to march to the right and become more of a corporatist party, more of an imperialist party, more of a militarist party. So, you know, I don’t agree with the strategy in the long run, although I completely agree with Bernie on most of the issues.

Where we differ, on militarism, on funding for the Netanyahu government $8 million a day to fund a government which is basically committing war crimes against the Palestinian people, violating human rights, violating international law with the occupations. So that’s one area of disagreement. I would apply that policy across the board and have a foreign policy based on international law and human rights rather than on convenience.

So Bernie supports the use of drones “selectively”, which is how Barack Obama will claim that he’s using drones selectively. Bernie supports the military budget, specifically the trillion dollar weapons program, the F-35, because it brings jobs to his home state and to other people.

But in my view, that’s exactly the problem that we have to fix, and our agenda actually fixes that problem by declaring a state of emergency around our climate, around racial justice, and around the economy, and we can fix that all with an emergency Green New Deal that will take us from the military economy to a peaceful Green economy.

Tavis: So Ralph Nader has been a guest on this program and my radio show many times, a personal friend, dear friend. Ralph Nader is still catching hell [laugh], as you well know. Still being blamed for why and how George Bush, the son, got into the White House the first time, and you know the argument.

If Ralph Nader had not been in the race as a third party candidate, he wouldn’t have taken votes away, stolen votes away from Al Gore. Gore would have been more competitive. Gore would have won. Bush would never have been in the White House, wouldn’t have Iraq and, blah, blah, blah.

So Ralph Nader is still getting darts in the back for being the reason why Al Gore lost. Even though he lost his home state, they blamed Ralph Nader for being the reason that Al Gore didn’t get into the White House for that first term.

So I raise that to ask you how you respondif you are able to have success and get this campaign off the ground and start to pull some votes here and therehow do you respond to that criticism on the front side that you may be responsible for making it more difficult for Hillary or Bernie or Martin O’Malley, whoever Democrat it’s going to be, getting to the White House?

Stein: So let me just summarize by saying I don’t think we’re getting where we need to go under the Democrats. And more recently than the Bush-Nader-Gore thing, and we can debate what happened there because more Democrats defected to vote for George Bush than the entire voting block that Nader got.

So the problem was that Gore couldn’t hold onto the Democratic vote. That was the essential problem right there. You know, it’s convenient to blame Nader, and this is part of a propaganda strategy which we call the politics of fear that you’re supposed to vote against your greatest fear rather than for your truly-held beliefs.

But there’s a track record to that strategy now. You know, we’ve been practicing–not myself, but many people have been sort of voting for the “lesser evil”. It’s not the greatest candidate, but it’s better than that bad guy, and it’s the bad guy that drives your vote against–you know, a strategy to avoid at all costs the election of the bad guy.

It’s really important to look at where this politics of fear has gotten us because you wanted to vote for the lesser evil in order to avoid the expanding wars, in order to avoid our offshoring of our jobs, in order to avoid the attack on immigrants, the greater impoverishment of so many people, but particularly the African American community that’s been hurt harder than anyone.

You know, there were all these things, you know, the attack on our civil liberties, that we were going to avoid by exercising the politics of fear. But what did we get under the Obama administration? He made George Bush look like a wimp. Bush bailed out Wall Street to the tune of $700 billion. Under Barack Obama, it’s been $16 or $17 trillion.

You know, you can look at the expansion of the wars, more immigrants deported, the wealth of the African American community basically cut in half. It used to be a ratio of–you probably know this–10 to 1. Now it’s a ratio of 20 to 1. So, in other words, the wealth of the African American community got absolutely decimated.

So, you know, that strategy is a failure. It’s a convenient propaganda line, but it doesn’t hold up. And we are sort of being goaded into voting our fears rather than leading the way forward with the politics of courage. And one of our mantras in our campaign is to forget the politics of fear and to stand up and vote not for the lesser evil, but to fight for the greater good.

Tavis: But that was Obama’s message. Obama’s message was to break through the fear and offer hope. That was what this was supposed to bring us.

Stein: But if you got down to the details of what he was promising, you know, it was clear that the money was coming from Wall Street and the money was coming from fossil fuels on the climate. You know, the climate has gone to hell in a handbasket under Obama and our fossil fuel profile has absolutely skyrocketed.

There’s no such thing as all of the above. It’s like feeding your child some lead and some pesticides and poisons and then thinking you can give them blueberries and it’s going to make it okay. There’s no all of the above when it comes to the climates.

Tavis: Republicans still are smarting over this loss on Obamacare, on the Affordable Care Act. As a physician, how do you see the issue of healthcare?

Stein: So I can tell you not only as a physician, but a physician living in the state where we adopted RomneyCare, which is the same thing as Obamacare. Obamacare was modeled on the bill that was crafted behind closed doors by the insurance industry and by the pharmaceutical industry.

Even the legislature could not read our bill which was 145 pages until the night before. So this was bought and paid for the industry and that’s who’ve been served and we got basically what you would expect from that process.

So we lost the real safety net and, in fact, people who are chronically sick in Massachusetts now have a harder time getting care than they did even before the Affordable Care Act or before RomneyCare, and medical bankruptcy is not reduced one iota.

You know, it has through the expansion of Medicaid, but even that was curtailed. You know, through the expansion of Medicaid, that’s been valuable, but it’s wrong for that to have been a tradeoff so that, if you’re very, very poor, you now have some access. But if you’re just plain old poor and working poor, you don’t get it.

And for virtually everyone now, the costs are skyrocketing. Medical bankruptcy is not helped and we are not healthier. You feel good with your piece of paper until you get sick and then you have even more trouble getting care.

The shame is, we got a good solution which is to expand Medicare, to restore and heal Medicare. That’s the solution that can cover everyone and still save us money simply by removing the boondoggle, the $400 billion boondoggle, that’s built into the Affordable Care Act as a boondoggle for the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Tavis: I got 90 seconds to go and I want to give it all to you. The reason why you are hopeful that this message will resonate and, more to the point, that you can get the message out between now and election time?

Stein: Well, let me tell you this. I think it’s highly likely that Bernie’s going to run into some troubled waters, that he’s going to run into that kill switch. And many of supporters are not going to want to follow him into Hillary Clinton’s path. Having raised these issues, it’s really resonated with the passions of people. We will be there to continue offering that option.

In the last race, we were able to create these third party debates that began to have a lot of interest. We are now far ahead of where we were four years ago. So we are building, even though we’re building from a very grassroots community basis. We are building. There are lots of people that are looking for an agenda for people, planet and peace over profit. We’ve got it.

If you brought out 40 million young people who are in debt, they have nowhere to go because Bernie’s talking about free higher education, but no one else is talking about abolishing student debt. If 40 million voters came out to end student debt, that could be enough to win a three or a four-way race. We’re getting the word out.

Tavis: She was the Green Party’s nominee back in 2012. She’s running once again for the Green Party nomination. Their convention’s somewhere in July of 2016. We will see what happens with this third party candidate. Dr. Jill Stein, good to have you on the program.

Stein: Thank you. Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: September 30, 2015 at 1:49 pm