Scolding the Green Party
For several years we have, from time to time, presented high-quality commentaries from author Norm Solomon, as guest articles here at The Progress Report. Now Solomon has written a piece that we think is quite wrong. We present Norm Solomon's most recent remarks along with our own rejoinders.
"GREEN PARTY TAKING THE PLUNGE FOR 2004"
by Norman SolomonFor the 2004 presidential race, the Green dye is cast.
"The Green Party emerged from a national meeting ... increasingly certain that it will run a presidential candidate in next year's election, all but settling a debate within the group over how it should approach the 2004 contest," the Washington Post reported on July 21. The Green Party promptly put out a news release declaring that Greens "affirmed the party's intention to run candidates for president and vice president of the United States in 2004."
That release quoted a national party co-chair. "This meeting produced a clear mandate for a strong Green Party presidential ticket in 2004," he said, adding that "we chose the path of growth and establishing ourselves as the true opposition party." But other voices, less public, are more equivocal.
Days later, national party co-chair Anita Rios told me that she's "ambivalent" about the prospect of a Green presidential race next year. Another co-chair, Jo Chamberlain, mentioned "mixed feelings about it." Theoretically, delegates to the national convention next June could pull the party out of the '04 presidential race. But the chances of that happening are very slim. The momentum is clear.
Few present-day Green Party leaders seem willing to urge that Greens forego the blandishments of a presidential campaign. The increased attention -- including media coverage -- for the party is too compelling to pass up.
The Progress Report (TPR) points out -- the Green Party, the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party have each run presidential candidates for the last eight years or more. We don't find anything remarkable about that.
In recent years, the Greens have overcome one of the first big hurdles of a fledgling political party: News outlets no longer ignore them. In 2000, the Green presidential ticket, headed by Ralph Nader, had a significant impact on the campaign. Although excluded from the debates and many news forums, candidate Nader did gain some appreciable media exposure nationwide.
Green leaders are apt to offer rationales along the lines that "political parties run candidates" and Greens must continue to gain momentum at the ballot box. But by failing to make strategic decisions about which electoral battles to fight -- and which not to -- the Greens are set to damage the party's long-term prospects.
The Progress Report (TPR) notes -- we have arrived at something specific. Norm Solomon is claiming that the Green Party will be better off by not running a candidate for president. Let's judge the quality of his supporting arguments to see how well he makes his case.
The Green Party is now hampered by rigidity that prevents it from acknowledging a grim reality: The presidency of George W. Bush has turned out to be so terrible in so many ways that even a typically craven corporate Democrat would be a significant improvement in some important respects.
TPR: We don't know of any Greens who have any problem acknowledging that "grim reality." So where's the hampering? And there are many ways to deal with grim reality. One constructive way is to offer Americans a real, meaningful choice in 2004. By contrast, Solomon implies that as long as the Democrats choose a candidate no worse than Bush, no other political parties should run a candidate at all. Is that a recipe for a just, healthy America? America got into its current mess partly because too many Republican and Democrat candidates are corrupt, stuffy and narrow-minded and do not represent true American values. The political process has grown distant from the concerns of citizens. Americans deserve more choices, not fewer -- cutting freedom of choice is not the path to justice.
Solomon is calling for the Green Party to abandon its constituents in 2004, neglect its message of American truth and justice, and stay away so that Democrats can take on Republicans without such inconvenient distractions as honesty, fairness, or peace.
How did the usually sharp-eyed critic Norm Solomon decide that the Democrats are the great savior for America? Hey, let's take the most recent Congresstional elections, shall we? These occurred in 2002, well after 2000, and Ralph Nader was not running for anything. But the biggest stumblers in 2002 were the Democrats. They had their chance to go one-on-one, head to head against the Republicans -- and they did poorly. (Consider other recent mid-term elections -- in 1982, the party not in the White House gained 26 seats in the House of Representatives; in 1994, they gained over 50 seats. But in 2002, the Democrats actually lost seats.) So who is doing a better job of standing up for the hardworking citizens of America -- a shrinking, losing, corrupt Democratic Party, or a growing Green Party? Solomon's logic here falls on the rocks and never recovers.
Fueled by idealistic fervor for its social-change program (which I basically share), the Green Party has become an odd sort of counterpoint to the liberals who have allowed pro-corporate centrists to dominate the Democratic Party for a dozen years now. Those liberal Democrats routinely sacrifice principles and idealism in the name of electoral strategy. The Greens are now largely doing the reverse -- proceeding toward the 2004 presidential race without any semblance of a viable electoral strategy, all in the name of principled idealism.
TPR: Whether Norm Solomon likes it or not, there seems to be a great demand out there for "principled idealism" as the Green Party continues to grow while the Democrats and Republicans shrink. The party that he considers an "odd counterpoint" already has 178 elected officials throughout the USA and Green Parties are part of the governments of many other nations. Let's be proud that more and more Americans are choosing principled idealism over the corruption and pettiness offered by the mainstream parties.Local Green Party activism has bettered many communities. While able to win some municipal or county races in enclaves around the country -- and sometimes implementing valuable reforms -- the Greens stumble when they field candidates for statewide offices or Congress.
TPR: Every political party, especially a relatively new one, will find it easier to win a local election than a statewide one. So what?When putting up candidates in those higher-level campaigns, the Greens usually accomplish little other than on occasion making it easier for the Republican candidate to win. That's because the U.S. electoral system, unfortunately, unlike in Europe, is a non-parliamentary winner-take-all setup. To their credit, Green activists are working for reforms like "instant runoff voting" that would make the system more democratic and representative.
TPR: And where have the Democrats been on the issue of instant runoff voting (IRV)? If they really cared about avoiding a "spoiler effect" in elections, they would be strong supporters of IRV. Apparently they'd rather complain and fuss about the Green Party, than actually get up and work for pro-democracy voting reforms such as IRV.In discussions about races for the highest offices, sobering reality checks can be distasteful to many Greens, who correctly point out that a democratic process requires a wide range of voices and choices during election campaigns. But that truth does not change another one: A smart movement selects its battles and cares about its impacts.
TPR: Yes, "a smart movement selects its battles and cares about its impacts." There are lots of organizations that make up the Green movement. The Green Party is only one of these. The party is not under any obligation to "select its battles" more timidly than the Democrats and Republicans do.A small party that is unwilling to pick and choose its battles -- and unable to consider the effects of its campaigns on the country as a whole -- will find itself glued to the periphery of American politics.
But aside from all that, who's to say that the Green Party is not choosing its battles well? A presidential campaign can inspire more people to become politically involved and to reject the corrupt status quo. Those are great impacts and will benefit America for decades to come.
The mainstream media are so full of short-term focus that even a commentator such as Norm Solomon can overlook the vital long-range issues facing America. The Green Party, more than any other, is about building a long-range alternative, not just a different political party but a different type of party, a fresh, pro-democracy enterprise that can enable all Americans to fulfill their hopes and dreams.
It's a multi-decade project and the Green Party is not going to abandon it. That is reality. Solomon urges "sobering reality checks" and those sound like a good idea for Democrats at least as much as Greens.
TPR: Or that small party will find its principled consistency gradually attracting more and more supporters as the mainstream parties continue to decay. (And by the way, an awful lot of positive change energy comes from the "periphery of American politics.")In contrast, more effective progressives seeking fundamental change are inclined to keep exploring -- and learning from -- the differences between principle and self-marginalization. They bypass insular rhetoric and tactics that drive gratuitous wedges between potential allies -- especially when a united front is needed to topple an extreme far-right regime in Washington.TPR: Norm Solomon would like to see a united front. But he makes the divisive claim, without support, that "more effective progressives" are pursuing unnamed strategies other than those of the Green Party.
One must also question why, particularly since the Bush administration is "an extreme far-right regime," would the mighty Democrats need any help from the puny Greens in 2004? Why don't the Democrats just sail into the White House with a landslide victory?
For some reason that no one seems willing to explore, the Democrats are weak. They could benefit from help from the Green Party. What would be the best way to get such help? Negotiation, perhaps? Probably not insults, anger, bullying, and finger-pointing. Yet such improper, foolhardy treatment is exactly what the Democrats are trying to do to the Greens -- and worse.
Can Norm Solomon explain why the Democrats in New Mexico tried to ban the Green Party (and are still trying to do so)? Can he explain why the Democrats in Maine tried to ban the Green Party? If Democrats continue to blame and insult Greens, is that helping to make a united front?
In an environment such as that, it cannot surprise anyone that Greens would say "building a united front means we must acknowledge that the Republican and Democratic parties have merged, we should allow them to continue to decay and lose membership as more and more corruption is exposed, and we should work on a genuine alternative that is principled and resonates with true American values, not narrow greed." In that case, there's no one better than the Green Party to coalesce the "united front" that Norm Solomon wishes for.
Hard work can achieve a lot. If Democrats are willing to do some self-criticism and soul-searching and work seriously on self-improvement, perhaps they will do better electorally. Or they can postpone this work and fume on and on about the nasty Green Party -- while the Greens quietly earn more and more votes.
Norman Solomon is co-author of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You." For an excerpt and other information, go to: www.contextbooks.com/new.html#target
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