Greens Blow It in Minnesota
Bush Camp Cheers as the Greens Fumble in Minnesota,
Endorsing Plastic Medicine Man in Run Against Wellstone
by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice 8/29/02
"All eyes are again focused on Minnesota, this time as Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, universally acknowledged as the Senate's most progressive and liberal member, enters into a to-close-to-call electoral battle against Republican Norm Coleman."
The last two years have provided ample political theater in US national politics. First there was Al Gore's 2000 electoral triumph over George Bush (Gore's 500,000 vote national plurality is uncontested), which was immediately followed by Bush's raucous ascendancy to the White House. In other countries, especially those with histories and understandings of coups, this was seen as a coup. In the US, it was seen as, "whatever," with most folks longing for the return of regular TV programming in the weeks following the Florida fiasco.
Then there was Vermont Senator Jeffords' defection from the Republican party (he is now an independent, like Vermont's lone congressperson), a move that gave the Democrats a 50 to 49 plurality in the Senate. There was the second Bush recession and the concurrent collapse of the stock market, which saw middle class workers lose much of their retirement savings while smart money (rich folks with insider information) made for safe havens in real estate and foreign markets. There was 9-11 and the subsequent Afghanistan war, which saw the earth's richest most powerful nation triumph over one of the absolute poorest, at the same time boosting a bumbling Bush's popularity rating to stratospheric levels, giving New York City a billionaire Republican mayor, and shredding the Bill of Rights. Then there were the side shows. Like the election of former freak wrestler, Jesse Ventura, as Minnesota governor.
The Nation Watches Minnesota
All eyes are again focused on Minnesota, this time as Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, universally acknowledged as the Senate's most progressive and liberal member, enters into a to-close-to-call electoral battle against Republican Norm Coleman. Coleman was hand picked by the Bush family to make the run against Wellstone. Dick Cheney and George W. Bush both lobbied Minnesota Republicans, pressuring potential Republican primary rivals to step out of the way, giving Coleman the party endorsement without a primary. Since then, George W. has made at least three campaign swings through Minnesota on behalf of Coleman, making it clear that defeating Wellstone is the party's top priority in this year's elections.
The Republicans and their corporate allies have good reason to want to see Wellstone gone. Put simply, Wellstone is one of the few Democrats in Washington who is not an invertebrate. He's championing the fight for universal health care, pointing out that we are the only industrialized nation that lacks what the Republicans pejoratively call, "socialized medicine." He's fighting to raise the minimum wage, which in recent decades has been outstripped by inflation. He's opposed corporate welfare, tax cuts for the richest Americans, and school vouchers that divert funds away from ailing inner-city public schools. He's a defender of social security and the environment, an advocate of meaningful election finance reform, and an unabashed foe of corporate power and the pork barrel Star Wars "Strategic Defense" initiative. He supports organized labor as well as human and civil rights. In other words, he's an old time traditional Democrat who still touts what were once that party's bread and butter issues. Today, in the era of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the Republicratic Democratic Leadership Council, he's what passes as a radical.
The problem for Republicans is that suddenly, in this year's elections, many congressional candidates are echoing Paul Wellstone. According to Ruth Conniff, political editor of The Progressive, the reason is simple. They're responding to issues polls. James Carville and other Democratic consultants argue that Democrats will only have an electoral advantage if they clearly distinguish themselves from Republicans. This strategy, which flies in the face of the Clinton strategy of out-Republicaning the Republicans, threatens to revive the two party system. A Wellstone defeat, the Republican logic goes, can nip this trend in the bud.
Jesse Ventura & The Greens
But don't expect this race to be a simple Wellstone verses Coleman referendum on the Bush Whitehouse. This is, after all, Minnesota, where voters range from unpredictable and open minded, to downright wacky and eccentric. It's still, for better or worse, Jesse Ventura's state. And the third party to watch this year is the Green Party.
The Greens aren't happy with Wellstone, who they argue, has taken progressive support for granted. While he's often touted as liberal-left, in actuality, he's no more liberal or radical than Viet Nam era president, Lyndon Johnson (LBJ), author of America's "Great Society." Wellstone is simply a moderate, swimming in a sea of reactionaries, sellouts and corporate whores. Hell, by today's standards in Washington, Richard Nixon, who supported LBJ's anti-poverty programs as well as affirmative action, was a flaming liberal, for to the left of most of today's Democrats.
The Greens point out that Wellstone voted to grant Bush the power to carry out unspecified military actions, against anyone, in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. He also supported military intervention in Yugoslavia and Iraq as well as the oxymoronically named, "Patriot Act," which stripped away our civil rights while laying the groundwork for a surveillance state. Nationally, and in Minnesota, the Green party views their opposition to the War on Terrorism, as well as their activism on global trade matters, to be their two defining issues. Feelings on these issues among Minnesota Greens ran so strong, that at their statewide nominating convention, 88% of the delegates voted to field a candidate against Wellstone.
The stage is set for a repeat of the Gore/Bush/Nader election, where angry Democrats blamed Nader for Gore's loss. The Greens countered that potential Gore voters had already jumped off of the Green ship in the close election, and that the remaining hardcore Nader voters wouldn't have considered voting for Gore. Rather than Nader spoiling the election for Gore, they argue, Gore spoiled the Green Party's chances of getting the 5% of the vote needed for matching federal election funds. This time around, Democrats are sounding the alarm that the Minnesota Green Party may be running a spoiler in this pivotal race, with Greens countering that Minnesotans need an anti-war candidate on the ballot.
Greens Endorse Wacko (again!)
The problem for the Greens, however, is that their nominee for the senate race, Ed McGaa, is not that candidate. McGaa, in fact, has publicly repudiated the Green Party platform statement in opposition to the War on Terrorism. On his own website, he boasts of his service as a Marine fighter pilot. McGaa was not simply a draftee or an enlistee in search of an education or flight experience. He was gung ho. After fighting in Korea, he stayed on to fight in Viet Nam, where he claims to have flown 110 combat missions, earning eight Air Medals and two Crosses of Gallantry." He continues to support both the military and the strategy of "constructive" military intervention - including military action in the wake of 9-11. For most Americans this is a status quo position. For Greens, however, it's an anathema.
McGaa got the endorsement since the Greens were so consumed with the question as to whether or not to field a candidate, then finally so adamant about fielding one, that they didn't pay much attention to exactly who that candidate may be. Basically, it was a long day. McGaa's a well-known Native American. The Greens wanted a diverse slate.
Here, it turns out, is their second major mistake. To the Greens, as well as an assorted smattering of New Agers and hippies, McGaa is a Native American spiritual leader. To Native American political activists, however, he's a "Plastic Medicine Man." A charlatan who makes his money peddling an ersatz version of Native spirituality to spiritually starved white consumers.
Peddling Lies to Fools
McGaa is a self-proclaimed "Oglala Sioux [Lakota] ceremonial leader." He earns his living by traveling the New Age lecture circuit, charging people $600 to attend his five-day workshops on "Native American philosophy and spirituality." At the end of the workshop, participants receive a sort of trophy for their participation; McGaa anoints them with supposed Lakota names before packing them back off to their condos and cubicles. Supporters claim McGaa is teaching "native wisdom" to "thousands," thus fulfilling Indian prophesies. Many Native Americans, however, see McGaa in a different light.
McGaa typifies what Native American author and professor of American Indian Studies and Communication Ward Churchill calls a "plastic medicine man." Churchill writes, "Ed McGaa knows full well he is peddling a lie, that it takes a lifetime of training to become a genuine Lakota spiritual leader (which he is not), that the ceremonies he describes are at best meaningless when divorced from their proper conceptual context, and that the integrity of Lakota cultural existence is to a large extent contingent upon the people's retention of control over their spiritual knowledge." Churchill adds, "He [McGaa] has transgressed against Lakota rights and survival in every bit as serious a fashion as those hang-around-the-forts who once professed to legitimate the U.S. expropriation of the Black Hills." McGaa's only redeeming feature, according to Churchill, is that "most of the information he presents is too sloppy and inaccurate to be as damaging as might otherwise be the case."
Like the "hang-around-the-forts" before him, McGaa praises the early European settlers who participated in the conquest of America, writing, "The Christians did not wipe us out entirely. That is a fact that cannot be overlooked. Some spiritual force must have kept them from doing that." Hence, in McGaa's Eurocentric historical interpretation, Native Americans survived extermination not because of the strength of their culture and spiritual beliefs, but because of the benevolence of white folk.
Over the years McGaa has grown to become the personification of the plastic medicine man. He has even gone as far as to create his own "tribe" for New Age "Indians," which he dubbed, "The Rainbow Tribe" (not to be confused with The Rainbow Family, an international anarcho-utopian movement which predates McGaa's "tribe" by 15 years). With the creation of this ersatz "tribe," McGaa's customers can now not only learn about Indian culture, in their minds they can shed their white skin and actually become Native. The phenomenon of white people claiming to be true Indians is frighteningly analogous to a belief held by many Holocaust-era Nazis and contemporary neo-Nazis who, based on an obscure nineteenth-century doctrine called British Israelism, claimed that Anglo-Saxons were the true Jews spoken of in the Bible, and that modern-day Jews were the children of Satan. New Age Indian impersonators, like Holocaust-revisionist historians, are completing the genocide by identifying as native hence, cleansing their forefather's sins from history while displacing authentic native voices. Hence, Ward Churchill has gone as far as to refer to one of McGaa's books as a "culturally genocidal travesty."
McGaa's New Age white "Indians" also often deny the reality that they are still living privileged lives, while real contemporary Indians are still oppressed. By becoming "Indian," by identifying with the oppressed instead of the oppressor, McGaa's minions successfully disassociate themselves from their own cognitive dissonance. Hence, there is a large market for McGaa's workshops as well as his silly "tribe." And the Minnesota Greens are clearly part of this market.
With the whole nation watching the Minnesota senatorial race, the Greens have clearly fumbled the ball. They took an opportunity to make a strong anti-war stand, and a strong stand against political compromise, and instead simply made fools of themselves.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is an elected representative to the New York Green Party State Committee. Portions of this article have been abstracted from his 1997 book, "People of the Rainbow, A Nomadic Utopia" (Univ. of Tennessee Press).
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