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government | political theory selection 2004

Greens at a Crossroads

The Political Editor at The Progressive talks about the Greens and this election.
It's probably unfair to be too hard on the Greens for taking such a
complicated view of the 2004 Presidential election. At their
convention in Milwaukee at the end of June, the arguments were
flying: for running all out against the Democrats again, for running
only in "safe" states where they wouldn't affect the outcome of the
Presidential election, and even for not running a candidate for
President at all. While it was confusing trying to sort out all the
Greens' various positions, it's easy to sympathize with them. What
is the right thing to do? Fold the tent on building a progressive
third party when the going gets tough? Or stay true to principle and
ride a wave of opposition to the war in Iraq and the corporate
takeover of our democracy--all the way to another victory for George
W. Bush?

The Greens are still dealing with the hostility of half the nation
for Ralph Nader's "spoiler" effect in 2000. Add to that the
penumbral presence of Nader, who didn't even attend the convention,
seeking the Greens' endorsement from an aloof distance. It was no
surprise that David Cobb, champion of the "safe state" strategy,
emerged as the party's nominee.

Nader left it to his running mate, Peter Camejo, former Green
candidate for governor of California, to make an impassioned
argument at the convention for running aggressively against the
Democrats. "This campaign will stand against the Bush/Kerry pro-war
stance," Camejo told the convention, "because the biggest political
error made by progressives is instead of opposing a policy, they
oppose an individual, and think that if you change the individual,
you change the policy." Kerry calls for more troops in Iraq, and the
Democrats and Kerry are little better than Bush on many issues,
Camejo says.

But Nader himself has said that there is a substantial difference
between the two political parties, and he told Tim Russert on Meet
the Press that beating Bush is the first priority in the next
election.

Chasing Camejo across the skyway from the Hyatt Regency to
Milwaukee's downtown convention center, I tried to get it all
straight. Why isn't Nader running as a Green? What are we to make of
the possibility of reelecting Bush?

Nader didn't come to the convention, Camejo said, "because he
promised not to interfere" with the Greens' decision, and "because
he wants to build a broader coalition. He welcomes people who
wouldn't come in if he were just a Green." Or, as another Nader
supporter at the convention put it, the Greens are just too "kooky"
for Ralph.

As for the question of reelecting Bush: "Ralph will never withdraw,"
says Camejo. "We should have the right to run. People should be able
to run without fear. People who tell Nader not to run, what they're
really opposing is the right of citizens to pull another lever
besides Kerry or Bush."

Other Nader folks at the convention repeated Camejo's outrage at the
Democrats' efforts to keep Nader off the ballot in various states.
Carl Mayer, the Nader campaign's treasurer, told me that Nader had
called Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe to say if
the Democrats keep tearing down his signs and trying to block ballot
access "he'll camp out in the swing states." Nader told Russert on
Meet the Press he would come back on the show to reassess his
candidacy if he is taking more votes from Kerry than Bush as the
election draws near. Could sheer stubbornness--and anger at the
Democrats' tactics--keep him in the race?

"Those are very important issues," says Mayer, "process, democracy,
the third party movement." In other words, yes.

David Cobb takes a milder view. The great uncovered story of the
Green Party, he says, is its tremendous growth at the local,
grassroots level. He cites statistics: In 1996, there were ten
organized state Green parties, five with a ballot line. In 2000,
twenty-one parties, ten ballot lines. In 2004, there are forty-four
state parties with twenty-three ballot lines (largely an effect of
Ralph Nader's 2000 campaign). There are 205 Green officeholders
across the country, Cobb points out (though most of those are in
nonpartisan local offices).

"And we're doing it in a voting system that attempts to force
progressives to vote against what they hate instead of for what they
want!" Cobb proclaimed at the convention to loud cheers. He got the
crowd to chant along with him: "The solution is instant runoff
voting!"

(This focus on process and election reform is an unsexy but
fundamental concern for the Greens. If voters could cast ballots for
first- and second-choice candidates in an "instant runoff" election,
there would be no downside to voting for quixotic progressive
candidates.)

Cobb got big cheers as he extolled the formation of the Green
Party's black caucus, and announced at the end of the speech that
the caucus had endorsed him. "No, we did not!" "Yes, we
did!" "That's not true," caucus members shouted at each other from
the audience. A correction was issued--the caucus had not formally
endorsed Cobb, but, instead, something called the "D.C. voter
exchange" had. More procedural disputes. More Green growing pains.

Cobb takes strong exception to the idea that Bush and Kerry are
interchangeable.

But for procedural reasons, the Greens need to run someone for
President in 2004. "Many of our hard-won ballot lines will be lost
in many states if we don't have a Presidential candidate on the
ticket," Cobb explains. Besides which, the Greens are the only real
anti-war party. Cobb and his running mate, Pat LaMarche, urge
progressives in "safe states" to vote Green, and tell those in the
swing states to "vote their conscience"--a hint that lefties might
want to go for Kerry this year that caused Camejo's lip to curl.

In any event, it won't matter much what the Cobb/LaMarche message
is. With only $30,000 raised and virtually no name recognition, the
Green Presidential candidate won't pose much of a threat this year.

But Ralph Nader is a different story. He'll have fewer ballot lines
without the Greens but could get into a serious battle with the Dems
in a few key states. "Nader wants to campaign nationally and appeal
to independents, Reform Party members, progressives, populists, and
contest corporate power, which controls everything, including the
election process," says Mayer. "The Democrats have been harassing
and filing lawsuits and trying to deny him the right to be in the
debates. Do Democrats want to have a debate on ideas or challenge
signatures? They have to decide what they want to do." Mayer
concedes that on judicial appointments it makes a difference if the
Democrats or Republicans win the White House. But "not one whit on
the war, the occupation, campaign finance reform, or the fact that
corporations control the elections, or federal agencies."

Sounds like the old Nader campaign of 2000. But 2004 is a different
year.
Great Article 03.Aug.2004 07:10

Brian Setzler

Excellent article from an exceptional voice.

I love The Progressive and recommend it as an alternative news source.