My instinct, on reading these innumerable back-and-forths, has always been to dismiss the inclination to vote Stein as one only possessed by political imbeciles. But recently, it struck me that perhaps part of the problem with the discourse here was the conflation of more than one type of question. To illustrate this, consider a different voter asking if he should support Donald Trump. To simplify, let's say this voter's political views are as follows:
- By far, the thing he cares about most is insuring the absolute minimum amount of federal regulation on big business. He thinks Wall Street should be able to do effectively whatever it wants.
- If it were up to him, he would not be building an immigration wall or engaging in mass deportations of Muslims, but the issue is of comparatively little importance when weighed against his views on business deregulation.
"Should" this person vote for Trump? On the one hand, we could say "obviously yes" -- Donald Trump matches his policy preferences far better than Hillary Clinton does, and voting for Trump is the best way to bring his political desires into reality. On the other hand, we could as easily say "obviously no," for the simple reason that his policy views are substantively terrible. His preferences are bad and he should feel bad for having them.
The discourse regarding left-wingers voting for Stein likewise blurs these understandings of "should". To be sure, sometimes there is just pure confusion at play -- someone's positions are perfectly compatible with Clinton's but for whatever reason they're in denial about it. That said, there absolutely are sets of preferences where it makes more sense to cast a ballot for Jill Stein than Hillary Clinton. However, given the realities of American electoral politics (at least for voters in battleground states), these preferences would have to include general apathy regarding whatever chaos Trump would wreak upon America and the world -- including another generation of GOP dominance on the Supreme Court, massive rollbacks of labor and environmental regulations, evisceration of reproductive rights, probable crackdowns on racial and religious outgroups (the list goes on) -- at least as compared to the "message" voting Green would send.
Someone who is okay with that calculus -- that is, who finds the possibility of all the terrible things a Trump presidency would bring about less significant than whatever expressive joy or moral satisfaction they get from casting their Stein vote -- can reasonably say they "should" vote for Stein in the sense that she better maps onto their actual preferences, just as a right-wing corporate hack who doesn't even care about the lipservice they give to "colorblindness" "should" vote for Trump. But they "shouldn't" vote for her in the sense that this view is normatively appalling and is worthy of significant scorn, as is that held by our hypothetical Trump voter.
Part of the confusion, of course, stems from the fact that many in Camp Stein fervently contend that they do care a lot about the aforementioned litany of horribles, even as their actual behavior shows that they care about it less than "sending a message" or "rejecting the two-party system" or whatever. They sometimes try to square this circle by suggesting that Trump and Clinton are not meaningfully distinct from one another in the America their presidencies will produce. Once again, sometimes this is just confusion of the normal kind -- not having any clear sense of the actual havoc a Trump presidency could wreak (see "Meh, the Supreme Court will block anything too terrible" -- how adorable). But sometimes it can reflect a cohesive position. If you actually think, as Cornel West apparently does, the "neoliberal" and "neofascist" are morally indistinguishable from one another, then it may well be that the gaps between a Clinton and Trump presidency will likewise not strike you as morally relevant. But once again, while someone who thinks that way may in some sense be perfectly justified in casting a Stein ballot, the real problem with is that the analytical steps that lead to that conclusion are substantively awful.