President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are dominating the airwaves, but they aren't the only people running for president. Dr. Jill Stein is running as the Green Party nominee. She started her career as a medical doctor and is now campaigning on issues like the economy, education and health care. Host Michel Martin speaks with Stein about her "Green New Deal" and why she says choosing a third party is anything but a wasted vote.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, the 19th International AIDS Conference begins this weekend and some of the world's most important scientists, leaders, and activists trying to address the epidemic will be gathering in Washington, D.C.
We decided to start our coverage close to home and have a conversation about the state of the disease among gay and bisexual black men in the U.S. We'll ask our guests why they think it is important to focus on this group. But first we want to start with a newsmaker interview with a candidate for the presidency of the United States, and no, we are not talking about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
You might remember that previously on this program we spoke with Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, who's running for president under the Libertarian Party banner. His name will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Today the candidate of the Green Party. Her name is Dr. Jill Stein.
She is trained as a medical doctor and she beat out comedian Roseanne Barr to head the Green Party ticket. She spoke at the party convention in Baltimore this weekend when she locked up the presidential nomination.
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JILL STEIN: We need real public servants who listen to the people, not to the corporate lobbyists that funnel campaign checks into the big war chests. That's what brought me to the Green Party, the only national party that is not bought and paid for by corporate money.
MARTIN: And Dr. Stein joins us today from her home base in Boston. Dr. Stein, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
STEIN: Thank you, Michel. Great to be with you.
MARTIN: Now, I think a lot of people will know that the Green Party is a force in European politics, where it is associated with, you know, strong environmental policies, as you might imagine. But could you talk a little bit about what the Green Party's core principles are here?
STEIN: You know, as the only party which is not funded by corporate money - I should say the only national party which is not funded by big corporate money, by Wall Street money - we actually have the amazing liberty to respond to the needs of American people.
So that is what the party is about. It is about real democracy that meets the crises that the American people are facing. Our priority is to provide jobs, to have an economy that works for everyday people, not this phony economy of high finance where 40 percent of corporate profits are now coming from the financial services industry that's mainly, you know, rearranging the deck chairs.
We're talking about a real localized economy. We want health care as a human right, which people deserve and which we can provide at the same time that we actually save trillions of dollars over the next decade. We want to see higher education as a public good, to make it tuition-free, like high school education was throughout the last century.
We want to see student debt forgiven. We forgave the banks who got us into this mess for a much higher price. And finally we want to downsize the military so that our dollars are going into true security which comes out of creating a people-powered economy here at home that really meets our needs.
MARTIN: You called your platform the Green New Deal, which I would assume is a reference to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal to end the Great Depression. And you also talked about a couple - just now you talked about a couple of the elements of that platform, like placing a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions as well as forgiving student debt.
You talked about cutting military spending, but does cutting the deficit play any role in your plans?
STEIN: Absolutely. I mean, we see cutting the deficit as an outcome of using our dollars wisely. So instead of spending, you know, our tax dollars now on wars, Wall Street bailouts and tax breaks for the wealthy, instead we're going to put that money into truly cost effective systems stripped of the incredible corporate boondoggles that now really drag them down and drag us into enormous national debt.
Creating a true health care system rather than a sick care system, for example, will save us an enormous amount of money, and we know that 75 percent of our health care dollars are being spent on diseases which are preventable at a fraction of the cost if we actually had a healthy infrastructure for our communities up front.
What does that mean? It means healthy local food production. It means an active transportation system. We have a right to recreation. Integrate it with transportation and, voila, you get healthy, active people. We want to see pollution prevention, which is a part of the Green New Deal. All of this is actually part of the Green New Deal.
MARTIN: Well, let me just ask you this, though. Let's just say - let's assume for the sake of argument that significant numbers of people agree with you on the substance. I don't know that that's true, but let's say for the sake of argument that that is true, that significant numbers of American citizens do agree with you on the substance of your platform.
The party isn't on the ballot in all 50 states yet. Even Gary Johnson, who has complained bitterly about being shut out of, say, you know, debates during the Republican primary - he started his political life as a Republican - is on the ballot in all 50 states. If you can't get on the ballot in all 50 states, why would a voter have the reasonable expectation that you could bring enough political consensus and institutional backing with you to allow you to effectuate these policies?
STEIN: Sure. And we do presume that we will be on the ballot in just about all the states. If not 50, then 45, 47, somewhere on that order. So far we have basically made all of the ballot access deadlines and thresholds. So some of them haven't yet come to their due date but we are on track to make most of the rest of them.
So we expect to basically be there, to give voters a real choice in the ballot box. They don't have to simply give their vote as a mandate for four more years of corporate rule that's been hurting us so badly. And in terms of, you know, how would we have the credibility? Let's say we're on the ballot in 90, 95 percent of - you know, for voters. How would we move forward?
Because we are not, you know, we don't have a Congress full of Greens, obviously. But I think what we really have out there is that we have people. We have people, we have voters and citizens who are incredibly frustrated. They want to be a part of this system. That's what democracy is. It should be everyday people who are the driver here and not the lobbyists.
The president has the unique ability - if she wanted, the president could be not simply the commander-in-chief but the organizer-in-chief and give people a heads-up about what's coming up, when is it coming up, what are the three critical talking points. Now go to it. Instruct your representative how they should represent you in this vote.
MARTIN: Well, that sounds like a talk show host, though. I mean why not field a full set of congressional candidates who would help you carry a mandate forward? I mean that is how the Green Party operates in Europe. I mean those are parliamentary systems which are different, but they field candidates who are actually in a position to make a difference in elections.
STEIN: And that's where we want to go.
STEIN: For sure. I agree. We do want to go there. We want to be a multi-partisan democracy. We want voters to be able to have a whole set of choices and to actually hear a wide variety of options. We want voters to be really informed and empowered, but we don't have that right now and there are all kinds of blockades to do it.
If we can push forward in the presidential race, that would be a great way to break open the system. But that said, we actually do have a lot of people in local office and we are running a lot - certainly dozens, scores, I believe, of congressional level candidates. So we are pushing forward on all levels.
MARTIN: We're joined by Dr. Jill Stein. She is a physician turned presidential candidate for the Green Party. I'm sure you know this as well as anybody. You know, the history of third party candidates in this country, generally people think of them as spoilers. For example, in 1992, Ross Perot, even though, you know, the data is very mixed on his role, whether he actually really did tip the balance one way or another.
I think many people would say that he didn't. But in 2000 the Greens got a lot of criticism because, people argued, that the party took away votes that would otherwise have gone to Al Gore and in a very close election tipped the balance to George W. Bush.
So the question is, you know, it looks as though we're going to have another very close race. Do you ever worry about another situation where your party is the spoiler and pushes the election to the party that is actually further away from you on the political spectrum, even though you're critical of both?
STEIN: Here's what I really worry about, and this is why I'm in the race. This is why I've been involved in the political process as a mother, as a medical doctor, as an advocate, really, for the last 20 years and running for office for the last 10 years, what I really worry about is that our jobs are going overseas, our wages are declining. We have more free trade agreements which are being negotiated now. Our climate is warming and hitting some really critical tipping points from which we may not be able to withdraw.
We have an entire generation of students now who are effectively indentured servants who cannot pay off their student debts and who are working low wage, minimum wage jobs, if they're working at all. You know, they may be flipping burgers at McDonald's.
You know, we are not offering our young people a future and, you know, that is what I worry about. I don't worry about a politician's career or even the status of our political parties, particularly. I'm really worried that we don't have a future. The Republicans have gone a long way to destroy that future and, unfortunately, the Democrats have proven themselves incapable of fixing it.
So we need a party. We need public servants with integrity who are not bought and paid for by Wall Street, who can actually stand up for the urgent desperate needs of the American people and who are not afraid to do that and have the solutions which we have that the American people are clamoring for.
As far as I'm concerned, you've got to start. We are only accelerating in the wrong direction. We've been told we dare not stand up and vote for ourselves. We dare not even stand up and speak for ourselves, but we have got to do that and the sooner we start doing it, the more quickly we will move forward.
And, in fact, if you look back over history, how is it that we've made progress? We've made progress socially and economically, abolishing slavery, establishing women's right to vote, establishing the right to unionize, to have a 40-hour work week, Social Security. It all actually came through independent parties. They are not spoiling it. They are actually creating it.
You don't have to win the office in order to win the day, by driving real solutions forward. So we've got to start. We've got a long way to go, and the longer we wait, the more we are accelerating in the wrong direction. We have real evidence for that. Over the last 10 years, we've seen that silence is not an effective political strategy, and the politics of fear, silencing yourself, has actually delivered everything that we've been afraid of. Absent our voices, what do you have? You just have corporate spin.
MARTIN: That was Dr. Jill Stein. She is the presidential candidate for the Green Party and she was kind enough to join us from member station WBUR in Boston, Massachusetts.
Dr. Stein, thank you so much for speaking with us.
STEIN: It's been great talking to you, Michel.
MARTIN: And if you'd like to hear our previous conversation with the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, please go to our website. Go to NPR.org and go to the Programs tab and go to TELL ME MORE.
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MARTIN: Coming up, Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela. He's turning 94 today and people around the world are honoring him by doing 67 minutes of public service, one for every year Mandela spent working for human rights. But his granddaughter is going to be with us to tell us how the family is celebrating the special day. That's in just a few minutes on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.