The Universal Notebook: What’s left of me?

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Over the 14 years I have been writing this column, I have grown accustomed to being called a communist and a socialist by anonymous posters who disagree with my liberal political views.

But I am not as far to the left as some folks seem to believe.

I am not now, nor have I ever been a communist, though I do see value in the forms of democratic socialism that exist in Scandinavian countries, where they have a higher standard of living than the U.S. as well as better education and better health care.

Most of the time I am defending myself from people who are to the political right of me, but a few weeks ago I found myself in the novel position of defending myself from someone more liberal than I am.

Bowdoin College professor emeritus John Rensenbrink, a founder of the Green Party in Maine and the nation, challenged me at a neighborhood gathering to defend my support for Hillary Clinton, who he sees as just another military imperialist. I told Rensenbrink I respect his idealism, but the political purism of the Greens is just not pragmatic in my view.

In a recent issue of Green Horizon, Rensenbrink reflected on the 2016 election by suggesting that Trump voters were people “left in the lurch by the madness for imperial power and military solutions by top Democratic echelons.”

“They voted against the party that had for decades claimed to be their succor of support,” he argued, “but which had gradually over those decades switched more and more to imperial and attendant military adventures and militarist thinking.”

It’s my impression that Trump supporters want more militarism, not less.

Rensenbrink rejected the observation that he is farther to the left than I am, saying he doesn’t think in those terms. Fair enough, but I do and, along the American political spectrum from socialism on the left to constitutional nationalism on the right, what’s left of me are Greens and socialists.

I would label myself a progressive Democrat, to the right of which are moderate Democrats, libertarian Democrats, conservative Democrats, Main Street Republicans, libertarian Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Party Republicans, far right Republicans and Constitutionalists. Out on the far fringes of solipsism, where left meets right, there are the anarchists who embrace radical individualism.

I voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, foolishly accepting the mistaken idea that there was no meaningful difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore, both solid establishment candidates. I will never make that mistake again.

So when Green Party candidate Jill Stein said, “There are differences between Clinton and Trump, no doubt, but they’re not different enough to save your life, to save your job, to save the planet,” I frankly wrote her off as a self-righteous fool. The fact that she sat at Putin’s table at that infamous Russian TV gala along with Gen. Mike Flynn pretty much confirmed as much.

Third-party and independent candidates reflexively reject the suggestion that they are spoilers, but they often are. If you can’t win, you can’t help. Ralph Nader was the spoiler in the decisive Florida race in 2000, and Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson were the spoilers in 2016. Just as Eliot Cutler’s quixotic quests for the Blaine House delivered Maine into the darkness of eight years of Paul LePage, so Stein is partially responsible for the pall the Trump presidency has cast over America.

In the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump eked out his shallow victory, Stein and Johnson took away enough idealistic votes to deliver a Trump Electoral College win. Trump only won by 11,000 votes in Michigan, for example, where Stein got 51,000 votes and Johnson 172,000. Were it not for these wasted spoiler votes, the United States would not be the laughing stock of the world on the brink of nuclear war.

No meaningful difference between Trump and Clinton, Ms. Stein? Not in Supreme Court nominations? Environmental protection? Energy policy? Civil rights? Health care? Foreign policy? Don’t be ridiculous.

I believe pretty much what Buddhists believe, but I am not a Buddhist. I am a Congregationalist. And I believe pretty much what Greens believe, but I am not a member of the Green Party. I am a Democrat. That’s because the perfect is the enemy of the good. If you demand ideological purity you hand power to your opponent.

The narrow Republican victory in 2016 was in large part a function of the fragmentation of the left, the failure to unite behind a candidate who could win. That candidate was not Bernie Sanders. It was not Gary Johnson. And it certainly was not Jill Stein. That candidate was Hillary Clinton.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Ted Markow

    Here’s the difference between you and me, Ed: While I voted for Hillary Clinton (believing that the stakes were too high not to), at no time have I blamed the election on any single entity or group – there were simply too many things that happened to do that. And even if there were on entity, blaming and shaming is a losing tactic. You can shame publicly, but the electorate retaliates privately.

    So, if you want to build any kind of consensus with those in your milieu (and win critical elections), you might want to drop the finger-pointing.

    Oh, as noted by Hillary Clinton in her book, “What Happened,” the reasons she thinks cost her the election:
    1. James Comey
    2. Vladimir Putin
    3. Barack Obama
    4. The media
    5. Bernie Sanders (and his supporters) – even though Bernie supported Hillary after the primary
    6. Jill Stein
    7. Sexism
    8. White resentment
    9. Hillary Clinton (“You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want – but I was the candidate. It was my campaign. Those were my decisions.”)

    To that, I will add:
    10. Huma Abedin’s use of Anthony Weiner’s laptop
    11. A diffuse and uninspiring message by the Clinton campaign and a disconnected candidate who didn’t realize that time and technology had changed.

    P.S. Did you catch 60 Minutes last night?

    • EdBeem

      Hillary is right on all counts. I guess I reject the “Be nice to stupid people or they will do something stupid just to get back at you.” We just need to unite behind a good D.

      • Ted Markow

        “Hillary is right on all counts.”

        So stop cherrypicking.

        “We just need to unite behind a good D.”

        If you can find one, people will unite.

        • EdBeem

          Apparently not. Hillary Clinton is most qualified person ever to run for president — eight years inside the White House, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, a lifetime of public service. We wouldn’t be in the position we are in now with Trump the Tweeter if not for Sandernistas who bought the Big Right Lie about Clinton and if Stein-Johnson hadn’t persuaded hundreds of thousands to waste their votes. Anyone who did not vote for Clinton voted for World War III.

          • Just Sayin’

            Ed, while I agree with you most every week I come here. I frequently see you spouting the line that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified person to ever run for president, and I have to speak up.

            She wasn’t the most qualified, simply due to the fact to the vitriolic hatred so much of the country holds her in. I’m not trying to argue whether that hatred was earned or not, but the simple fact of the matter is, that while many people voted for her just to stop Trump, just as many people voted for Trump just to stop Hillary.

            You can’t ignore that kind of effect on people when considering how qualified she is. We may have wanted someone with her skills to win, but more importantly, we wanted to -win-, and she didn’t.

          • Ted Markow

            “Anyone who did not vote for Clinton voted for World War III.”

            Well, that’s an unfortunate line.

            Anyway, what I’m seeing, once again, is a devolution into internecine war between liberals and leftists – each trying to hold their piece of ground at any cost, like Cheyenne Dog Soldiers tied to stakes in the ground, making death a certainty.

            I don’t know if you’re interested in bending toward understanding or working with those you seem to excoriate, but there is a fascinating article at Current Affairs called “HOW TO HEAL THE LEFT-LIBERAL DIVIDE”:

            “These divisions may have started the left-liberal conflict, but what has sustained the conflict has been the fact that both sides are developing into integrated political tribes.”

  • Christopher White

    In 2016 I joined the Democratic party … the first time I’d enrolled in ANY political party in my life … to caucus for Sen Sanders. The venom many lifelong Democrats displayed toward those of us who supported him was astounding, often vicious, and yet sadly predictable. The way Sen Sanders and his supporters have become scapegoats for Sec Clinton’s defeat among so many self-styled liberals within the Democratic party has tended to confirm my low opinion of the Duopoly system.

    John Rensenbrink’s criticisms of Sec Clinton are harsher than mine, but we are in fundamental agreement about her core values. It seems to me she would have made a stellar ‘Rockerfeller Republican’. We’re also in agreement that the Right/Left spectrum we use to discuss politics is too often simplistic and has become severely distorted, bearing little relation to the definitions of ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ that existed a few generations ago and obscuring, more than clarifying, things when used in many political discussions and debates.

    The Duopoly system itself has become a hindrance to the sort of REAL reform and change we need if we are to thrive in the XXI century. Both parties know incumbency beats all other factors in getting reelected. Both sides also fear making it easier for candidates who are NOT in one of the Duopoly parties to appear in debates or on the ballot. To argue the ONLY ‘practical, pragmatic, and plausible’ path forward demands a ‘liberal’ Democrat is to accept this sad state of affairs rather than seeking to improve things in any significant way.

    • EdBeem

      Chris, your first sentence says it all. You weren’t a Democrat and neither was Bernie.

      • Christopher White


        On the other hand, for decades there has been a steady decline in the percentage of Americans belonging to either of the Duopoly parties. Sen Sanders set forth the argument that, because the system makes alternative parties and independent candidates ‘spoilers’ that tend to advantage the Duopoly party candidate one most disagrees with, perhaps we need to reverse the trend, accept the reality of the Duopoly system, join the Democrats and work from within for the issues we care about. Absent Rank Choice Voting becoming the way we conduct national elections many of us were willing to give it a try.

        The DNC, however, quickly made it clear they had no use for us newly minted Democrats … unless we were willing to shut up and do what we were told by our betters. While I am sure some who supported Sen Sanders in the primary voted for Stein or stayed home, everyone I know personally who caucused for him voted for Sec Clinton. Now, however, we are the scapegoats for the failures of the Clinton campaign, most of which can and should be attributed to the DNC & the candidate herself. You seem to be perpetuating the problem here, lashing out at ‘Sandernistas’ as if it were 1954 and we’re all closet commies that need to be purged from the party if not America itself. This looks to me like doubling down on failure.

        • Ted Markow

          “You seem to be perpetuating the problem here, lashing out at ‘Sandernistas’ as if it were 1954…”

          Reminds me of the ’60s saying: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

      • Ted Markow

        Bernie Sanders was a Democrat as much as I was when I joined in order to vote for him in the primary( and then voted for Clinton, also as a Democrat).

        These tiresome and divisive purity tests about Democratic Party membership must end or more people will simply be disaffected and insulted…and go elsewhere.

        ‘It’s hard to support the idea that Sanders hasn’t worked hard to advance the party. Sanders’s efforts in service of Clinton’s campaign match or exceed the efforts of prior primary losers. Sanders readily acknowledged that “the election of Donald Trump as president would be a disaster for this country,” and committed to doing “everything that [he could] to see that that doesn’t happen. When I campaign,” he promised, “I campaign very, very hard.”’

        ‘If the Democrats were able to affirmatively define what they did stand for, Sanders might not appear to be such a threat. Unfortunately, summarizing their own principles is where Democrats struggle. Identity-based slogans like “I’m With Her,” and “Stronger Together” failed to galvanize the Democratic base in the last election, and core Democratic interests, such as labor, have been alienated since the 1990s when the New Democrats dismissed them in favor of banking interests and the technocracy. By contrast, Bernie easily makes the case for his brand of democratic socialism: it’s an embodiment of the very “progressive” values that Barbara Boxer insists she, Hillary Clinton, and the rest of the Democratic Party support. It’s about guaranteeing people the basics in life: healthcare, education, well-compensated work, and making sure a tiny cabal of rich people doesn’t control the lives of everyone else. Unless the Democratic Party doesn’tstand for those things, it’s hard to see what they could possibly object to about Sanders’ agenda.’

        • EdBeem

          No one objected to Bernie Sander’s agenda, they objected to Bernie. And the purity test you speak of cuts both ways. Progressives who couldn’t support Hillary Clinton are the worst offenders.

          • Ted Markow

            “No one objected to Bernie Sander’s agenda, they objected to Bernie.”

            And Bernie Sanders was supposed to promote his agenda, how – by taking out ads?

            “And the purity test you speak of cuts both ways.”

            Agreed. I wish Democrats and Greens could see that.

          • EdBeem

            All I meant by that first statement is that a lot of people, myself included, agreed with Sanders on many things but feared that he was unelectable and that his criticism of Clinton would help defeat her.

          • Ted Markow

            It seems a lot of people were wrong.

    • Ted Markow

      Well said, Chris.

  • Philistine

    I would offer that we have only had two outsiders lose to an insider in a Presidential electon since 1948. Those two losers were Gov. Dukakis and Gov. Romney. The reason Clinton lost was that she represented the status quo. Trump represented change.
    If Democrats nominate another Senator or Congressman/woman then Trump will win again. Clinton was forced into saying that she represented change while saying that Obama did a great job. In a time when most folks feel that the country had lost its way (as demonstrated by Sanders’ and Trump’s populist insurgencies), being an insider was/is an election loser.
    I agree that Stein and Johnson were drains on both candidates. However, most folks who voted Johnson, had they still voted, would have gone Trump. Had Stein not run, it is not a guarantee that her voters would have still voted. – Your VA Cousin.

    • EdBeem

      I know Status Quo v. Change is the way the uninformed saw it, but, my God, you don’t effect change by voting for a lunatic unless the change you are seeking is nuclear annihilation. And there was nothing wrong with the status quo. It was a whole lot better than the circus of chaos we have now. Love and laughter.


    When I studied economics in college, that’s when I first found out that there was no substance to liberalism. Its all sophistry and sloganeering. Karl Marx was great at theorizing how evil capitalism was. The only problem is he never theorized a system that was any better. And the real joke is once this country got past the classic capitalism stage and advanced into monopoly capitalism with the rise of the robber barons, the robber barons took the system that made them wealthy and perverted it into socialism so that they and their heirs could rule society indefinitely. How many generations of Rockerfeller millionaires have we had already? As Shakespeare said, does the line not stretch out to the crack of doom? And the liberals and liberalism are something they created to make sure that other struggling capitalists never have a chance to challenge their monopoly power. So It’s very amusing for me to see dunderhead-ed liberals trying to out sophisticate each other with their sloganeering and nonsensical gibberish. They take themselves seriously, instead of realizing what clowns they are.

  • Chew H Bird

    The most qualified candidate is the candidate that won the election. That said, our current President did not earn my vote and I was disappointed throughout the entire process. While some may argue (with some merit) that two major parties is a good thing, I disagree. The two major candidates by our major parties made me wonder what would have happened if we had an actual “Ron Paul”, or “Ross Perot” in the mix?

    The Republican party displayed their ineptitude throughout their nomination process and the Democratic party nominated the only candidate that could have possibly lost to Donald Trump.

    I want to reduce the influence, money, and power wielded by the two major parties to encourage more diversity in the election of the most powerful individual political position our country has to offer. We the people deserve better and we were handed dual albatrosses and many of us voted against a candidate more than we voted for a candidate. In my opinion, both parties disrespected the majority of citizens throughout the entire campaign and now we are paying the price.

  • Queenie42

    What really burns me up is the righteous political disconnect of the Green Party. By running a candidate this past election they really shot themselves and their ideals in the foot, didn’t they. It must take a really super-sized ego to think they had a snowball’s chance in hades of winning the nomination. So why did they do it? Search me. I’m too busy learning the words to “Waltzing Matilda”.

  • J D

    I know its popular to believe that magically Russia’s massive interference in the 2016 election had no effect on the outcome, but it did. How much is the only question. In other words, the spoilers were not the green party candidate nor who ever that other guy that ran was, it was Putin. In conjunction with gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement by the Republicans. And I suspect Putin by now is having serious buyers remorse.

    • EdBeem

      You got some of it right, but Hillary Clinton was the best candidate in the race and the most qualified person to run for president in my lifetime. If you bought the Big Right Lies about her, the Koch Bros and Putin might have gotten to you, too.

      • J D

        I’m wide awake Ed, no one ‘got to me.’ I voted for Clinton, for one reason, she wasn’t Trump. She seemed to be sleep walking through the campaign half the time, with nothing to get folks enthusiastic, and then least we forget, there was the Russian dump of Dem e mails, bashing Bernie. And that’s not Sanders fault. And that’s not just Puntins doing, its those around Hillary who wrote the nasty hacked emails in the first place. She was a weak candidate, disliked by too many, but still, she should have won… because she wasn’t Trump, and had some decent ideas, though not forcefully articulated.

        • EdBeem

          I understand. But I also think that she faced unprecedented underhanded opposition and that she did not realize, as few did, that this bloated windbag with no qualifications whatsoever was for real. I still can’t believe Americans were so reckless and stupid.

          • Ted Markow

            “But I also think that she faced unprecedented underhanded opposition…”

            How does a smart person with “…eight years inside the White House, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State…” not understand the game? And wasn’t it Hillary Clinton who used the term “vast right-wing conspiracy” while defending her husband who was then president?

            Sorry Ed, this one doesn’t pass the smell test. Hillary Clinton either didn’t know the game as she should have, or she ran an inept campaign…or both. That’s ALL on her. Trump may be an unmitigated disaster, but so was the Clinton campaign.

            I suggest we leave it at this: Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump…and move on without poisoning the well.

  • Moishe the Beadle

    Hmmmm, in the past you’ve admitted your were in the tank for B.S. an avowed unapologetic socialist. Once he was ousted by the Clinton machine, you supported her.
    Seems to me that if you support socialists, then you’re a socialist. A “progressive Democrat” is just a euphemism.

  • Little crow

    The reason people get confused with political labels is that the left-right spectrum has only one linear dimension, when it’s really better described as a 2-dimensional quadrant, with left-right on one line, and libertarian-statist on another line at right angles to it. To see where you are you can take the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz”, available on line. For example, most progressives and Democrats today would land on the leftist-statist part of the quadrant, while most Republicans would be center-right statists.

  • gusmac

    To state we’ve had 8 years of Paul LePage because of Eliot Cutler doesn’t pass the straight face test. Libby Mitchell was the spoiler in 2010, not Cutler. Two weeks before the election her numbers were tanking and Cutler’s were rising in an almost perfectly correlated fashion. She was a weak candidate and the party knew that but felt the democrats would have a better chance of winning the governors race in ’14 if LePage were in office rather than Cutler. It was, and remains, a craven political calculation in favor of the party over the best interest of the State of Maine. Add that to the personal distaste the democratic political establishment had for Cutler and the behind the scenes machinations of the likes of Dennis Bailey (remember the Cutler files?) and you have the real culprits, imo.

    • EdBeem

      Eliot Cutler was never a legitimate candidate.

      • gusmac

        100K votes more than the Dem candidate and u copy and post an article from Politico as your retort? That’s pretty lame, candidly. Do you have any opinions of your own on the matter, since you offer the conclusions in your opinion piece as your own?

        • EdBeem

          I figured you wouldn’t take my word for it, so I thought I would offer third party conformation that Cutler was a spoiler.

  • Moishe the Beadle

    Ed, my man, are you working for the SPLC? You sure spew a lot of hate for Trump and conservatives. Not a good thing for a Congregationalist to be doing.

    • EdBeem

      Trump is a contemptible man.

      • Moishe the Beadle

        So what’s happening with the certification of NerO’s Iran Nuclear Deal and the NerOcare insurance subsidies? I’d vote for B.S. or the wannabee Columbia professor if they pushed these two agenda items and I probably have far more contempt for them than you have for Trump. Try to separate the man from his policies for once before you give yourself a coronary.

  • funfundvierzig

    “The narrow Republican victory in 2016 was in large part a function of the fragmentation of the left,…”

    “Narrow”?? More misleading propaganda from unabashed Hillary Hugger and exterme leftist, Beam, who incidentally once amusingly compared himself to Trotsky.

    The opposing party had its most massive victory countrywide since Harding’s win in 1920. Democrats were defeated in numerous Governors’ races, state legislatures, local offices, and of course, on Capitol Hill and the White House.