Seattle’s Kshama Sawant argues there’s no real difference between the two political parties — even after one of them put Donald Trump on the ballot. Don’t be like Kshama Sawant.

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Our own Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was making national headlines this past week, for going to the Democrats’ convention and stating, emphatically, that she’s Not With Her.

Hillary Clinton’s a “warmonger,” an “international emissary for the fracking industry” and a “dogged heel of Wall Street,” Sawant charged.

“The reason Hillary Clinton is not doing well against Donald Trump is because there is not enough of a contrast between them,” Sawant, a socialist, explained Friday from Philadelphia, on the lefty program “Democracy Now!”

“Ordinary people can defeat the right,” she said. “But doing so requires us ending our subservience to the Democratic Party.”

Hmm. Sounds familiar. Oh, right — it’s the exact rhetoric I heard in 2000, when as a reporter I helped cover the emerging Ralph Nader phenomenon.

In the weeks before that election, Nader appeared at a rollicking rally in Seattle and said he knew his candidacy might hand the election to George W. Bush. He didn’t care, he said. It was the principle of the thing:

“This is where we have to say to naysayers, to the wafflers, to the waverers, don’t go for the lesser of two evils,” Nader said. “Because at the end of the day, you end up with evil.”

I remember thinking then, I must be a waffler. Or just more mathematical than Ralph. Because don’t you get less evil with the lesser of two evils than if you help elect the greater evil?


Fast-forward to today, with Trump as one of the choices. Couldn’t we be talking about a heckuva lot of evil?

Nader’s conceit in 2000 was the same as Sawant’s now: that the movement they’re building is bigger than one puny presidential election. We all know how that turned out in 2000. Neither Nader nor his movement (he ran for the Green Party) ever recovered from his presence helping tilt the election to Bush.

Was anything learned by this recent history? Not by Sawant, apparently.

She insisted throughout the week in Philadelphia there’s not much difference between the parties, and therefore the big two presidential candidates can be safely ignored.

“It’s a false choice for America,” Sawant said, “to offer these two and say, ‘You have to pick one.’ ”

It’s not a false choice. It’s the only choice. That doesn’t mean it’s pleasant or visionary. I share in the basic misery many Americans are feeling right now. One candidate, Trump, is borderline insane. The other, Clinton — well, I wrote that she was the candidate of the past way back in 2008, so it would be ridiculous eight years later to suddenly see her as a “change-maker.”

But that’s how it goes in politics. It’s designed to be an exercise in lesser evils and the taint of political compromise because we don’t do monarchy or dictatorship here (this is true no matter how many candidates are on the ballot). So it’s a sideshow indulgence to entertain “voting your conscience.” There are only two choices if you want to be in the arena of this election, as President Obama called it.

Sawant’s philosophy is that big change starts outside the arena, from organizing and protesting. She’s right there: That’s what the unions did with the $15 minimum wage. But voting for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, as Sawant is now urging, does nothing to organize, protest or influence the system. Even Sawant acknowledges Stein has no chance of winning — not this year, anyway. So all it does in a zero-sum election is cast a vote for Donald Trump.

Sawant didn’t protest at the Republican convention, only the Democratic one. This is how it always goes with third parties — they do damage to the major party that most closely shares their ideals. Remember Nader? Bernie Sanders does. It was awkward watching Sanders buckle under at the convention, but I bet he concluded “Let’s not eat our own — again.” Self-sacrifice for a larger national purpose counts as courage in the world of politics.

And what is that larger purpose? Stopping the greater evil. Sawant’s making an epic mistake because more than any election in memory, that might as well be the only thing on the ballot.