While Mitt Romney trips over his tongue with hysterical predictability and Barack Obama persists in calling America's economic criminal class folks, the two leading progressive candidates for president are putting it on the line, in Dr. Jill Stein's case boldly crossing it.
Less than a month after securing the Green Party nomination, Stein emerged from a Philadelphia jail on Aug. 2 declaring that a night behind bars should be "a required experience for anyone in public office." Both she and running mate Cheri Honkala were arrested the day before for protesting foreclosure policies at a Fannie Mae office on the city's Banker's Row.
And in a lengthy Q&A with The Nation's Sasha Abramsky, Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson called the Democratic Party "irredeemable" and Obama a "phony" on the issue of gay marriage.
"His position on equality was evolving?" the former Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City asked incredulously.
Stein wins, raises money and goes to jail
Stein, a Lexington, Mass., physician secured the Green nomination on July 14, defeating comedian Roseanne Barr at the party's convention in Baltimore by a vote of 193.5 to 72. At a news conference the day before at the National Press Club, she named Honkala, a Philadelphia economic justice advocate, as her choice for vice president.
"These women are like the poster children for the injustice being heaped on American people. One had been thrown out of her home and is living in her car with her daughter." - Jill Stein, Green Party
On the way to Baltimore, the 62-year-old Stein also became the first Green Party candidate in history to raise enough in contributions to qualify for federal matching funds. And that attracted coverage from a wide range of mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, NPR and USA Today. Democracy Now! broadcast live from the convention. The candidates were even interviewed for Comedy Central's Indecision.
"We have identified over 700 news articles that have appeared in print and over 250 video stories since the beginning of the convention," Stein's campaign manager Ben Manski said in a July 20 post on the campaign website.
The party plans to be on the ballot in 40 states, and as of Aug. 1, was more than halfway there with 24, according to the Green Party Watch website.
The only candidate who has debated Romney – 2002 Massachusetts governor race – Stein told the Times that outwitting him was not particularly challenging. Polls taken after one of the events, the paper reported, showed 32 percent of viewers believed Stein had won, with 33 percent saying Romney had.
"It's easy to defeat a robot," she said.
Stein referred to Honkala as the nation's "leading anti-poverty advocate" when she announced her vice presidential choice on July 11. Honkala is a national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation's largest multi-racial, inter-generational movements led by the poor and homeless.
"Compelled by her own experience as a homeless, single mom, Honkala has spent nearly three decades working directly alongside the poor to build the movement to end poverty and has organized tens of thousands of people to take action via marches, demonstrations and tent cities," Stein said.
"It was one of the most powerful events of my life." - Jill Stein, on spending a night in jail
Honkala, she continued, has shown tremendous perseverance and leadership, despite remarkable odds. "Her selflessness and demonstrated capacity to inspire make her the perfect vice presidential candidate to help me reclaim democracy,” Stein said.
Three weeks later, on Aug. 1, the pair joined another 50 or so protesters who attempted to enter the Philly office of the federally backed mortgage behemoth Fannie Mae to demand the company halt foreclosure proceedings against two Philadelphia citizens.
"They heard from Miss Fran and Rhonda Lancaster, the heads of two families evicted by Fannie Mae in its refusal to negotiate an alternative to foreclosure," Stein's website reported. "Fannie Mae executive Zach Oppenheimer had previously promised in writing to meet with the two women in order to discuss other options. Yet no follow-up meeting ever took place, and so protestors today entered the Fannie Mae building and vowed to stay until Mr. Oppenheimer's word was honored."
Fannie Mae officials agreed to meet with the pair an hour after protesters entered the building, the report continued. The meeting, however, produced only promises of more meetings.
Stein, Honkala and three other protesters, an 82-year-old nun among them, then refused to leave, were arrested and charged with defiant trespassing. Attorney Lawrence Krasner told the Associated Press the five spent the night in jail and were released without bail.
"These women are like the poster children for the injustice being heaped on American people," Stein said of Fran and Lancaster in an Aug. 3 Daily Beast article. "One had been thrown out of her home and is living in her car with her daughter."
Both women, she continued, are "victims of predatory loans, while Wall Street continues to make out like bandits."
In the Beast piece titled "Can anyone replace Ralph Nader in the Green Party Race for the White House?" reporter Abigail Pesta described Stein as a Harvard-trained physician and married mother of two who is "mainstream, sharp, and well-spoken."
"Along the way, (Stein) joined a local folk-rock band called Somebody’s Sister, singing about love and social themes."
Stein grew up in Chicago, where her parents were active in the civil-rights movement, Pesta wrote. Her political awakening came after volunteering with an environmental group that advocated for warning labels and lists about the dangers of pollutants in the fish we eat.
"Along the way, she joined a local folk-rock band called Somebody’s Sister, singing about love and social themes," Pesta wrote.
The story quoted 2000 Green Party candidate Nader, who said Stein's biggest challenge will be getting her message heard through the press's “two-party tyranny. The media cannot shake their indentured commitment to covering only the candidates they think have a chance to win.”
Of her night in jail, Stein told Pesta it was like "living in an outhouse in very close quarters." She stood for nearly 24 hours, since there was just one bench for three people sharing a one-person cell.
"The brave ones lay on the floor in front of the toilet," she said, adding the meals consisted of white bread and processed cheese. "It was one of the most powerful events of my life."
Anderson chooses Chicano writer for VP, ridicules Obama, Democrats
Rocky Anderson, who worked with Romney on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, announced on his website July 17 that Luis Rodriguez, a leading Chicano writer, speaker, gang expert and interventionist, would be his running mate.
"The (Democratic) Party and its candidates are feeding at the same trough of special-interest money as the Republicans." - Rocky Anderson, Justice Party
"The search for a highly competent, dignified, principled running mate has been arduous," Anderson said. "Luis exceeds any expectations I had. He will inform, uplift and motivate in this campaign, just as he does every day in his inspirational work."
A San Fernando, Calif., resident, Rodriguez has been an activist for urban peace, the arts, labor and human rights, Anderson's announcement said. He has published 15 books in poetry, fiction, non-fiction and children's literature, including the bestselling 1993 memoir Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. and its 2011 sequel, It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.
Rodriquez's writings have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicano Tribune, The Progressive, Philadelphia Inquirer magazine, The Nation, L.A. Weekly, U.S. News & World Report, Fox News Latino and the Huffington Post, among others.
He said the Justice Party is rising at a crucial time, when the truth about who holds power and wealth is daily more evident, and the failures of the two-party system become increasingly irreparable.
"This is a vision for a new America, new ideas, new forms of struggle – of true justice in our time and for generations to come," he said.
Anderson's website doesn't indicate anywhere how many states the Justice Party has qualified for, and his News & Media page suggests he hasn't been attracting much media attention. The last article/editorial listed was a June 30 piece in the Sunshine State News.
But his interview with Abramsky and The Nation covered significant ground.
The piece began with the usual recitation of Anderson's progressive cred. "Rocky Anderson has long been a leading light among American progressives. As mayor of Salt Lake City for eight years, he championed important reforms in education, anti-drug strategies, housing, environmental protection, public transit and other key areas."
"This is a vision for a new America, new ideas, new forms of struggle – of true justice in our time and for generations to come." - Luis Rodriguez, Justice Party
The story also notes Anderson "was vocal in his critique of Bush-era foreign policy, going so far as to lead a demonstration against the president when he came to Salt Lake to address an American Legion convention."
Not only does Anderson scoff at the president's sudden support of gay marriage, he dismisses his former party as a lost cause.
"I don’t seek to participate with the Democratic Party because I think it is irredeemable," he said. "The party and its candidates are feeding at the same trough of special-interest money as the Republicans."
America is now governed by a plutocracy, Anderson said, government of, by and for the wealthy elites.
"We pay twice as much with very poor or mediocre medical outcomes," he said. "Why is that? Because of the influence of corrupting money from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries."
Obama puts citizens’ names on assassination lists and in 2009 requested the power to indefinitely detain, without any due process, U.S. citizens and anyone else captured anywhere in the world.
"Congress recently passed this with the National Defense Authorization Act, and the president – on New Year’s Eve, so people wouldn’t be paying attention – signed it into law, providing that our government can pick out anyone, anywhere, kidnap them, hold them incommunicado," he said. "… That is a recipe for Gulag America. It’s probably the most un-American act ever passed by Congress."
Such a democratic devolution, Anderson said, happened to the Roman Empire. "There was a republic, a commitment to a system of government that represented the people. The Tribune, elected by the people, could actually veto the Roman Senate."
But, starting with Caesar, a chain of emperors began accumulating more and more power and completely transformed what had been a republic, he said. "That’s very similar to what we have seen in this country."
Obama, Anderson said, is not the lesser of two evils. He's the more effective of the two.
"He’s getting away with things that Bush or Romney wouldn’t get away with without incredible opposition from the Democratic Party," he said.
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative and an adjunct lecturer at the Indiana University School of Journalism. He can be reached at .