The 2004 Presidential Race: Green Dreams
The Green Party and the ’04 Presidential Campaign
The Green Party makes no secret that it is different and radical: a multi-decade effort to bring justice and fairness into politics and into every facet of society. Norm Solomon simply won’t admit that the Green Party is unique, growing in a new paradigm that the old decaying parties refuse to acknowledge — and missing out on this truth leads Solomon to make mistakes in his views about the Greens.
by Norman Solomon
Activists have plenty of good reasons to challenge the liberal Democratic Party operatives who focus on election strategy while routinely betraying progressive ideals. Unfortunately, the national Green Party now shows appreciable signs of the flip side — focusing on admirable ideals without plausible strategy. Running Ralph Nader for president is on the verge of becoming a kind of habitual crutch — used even when the effect is more damaging than helpful.
The Progress Report — Ralph Nader has run for president less often than Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., or Richard Nixon. So what? Is there a rule that says Nader is not allowed to run?
It’s impossible to know whether the vote margin between Bush and his Democratic challenger will be narrow or wide in November 2004. I’ve never heard a credible argument that a Nader campaign might help to defeat Bush next year. A Nader campaign might have no significant effect on Bush’s chances — or it could turn out to help Bush win. With so much at stake, do we really want to roll the dice this way?
The Progress Report — Who is this “we” that is rolling the dice? Each political party nominates a candidate for president. That’s their business. If you want to participate, join a party and be active.
We’re told that another Nader campaign will help to build the Green Party. But Nader’s prospects of coming near his nationwide 2000 vote total of 2.8 million are very slim; much more probable is that a 2004 campaign would win far fewer votes — hardly an indicator of, or contributor to, a growing national party.
The Progress Report — That is a reasonable point against nominating Nader, and Green Party members are taking it into consideration. Nader is not currently a Green Party member, and his selection as that party’s nominee for president is not at all certain.
It appears to me that the entire project of running a Green presidential candidate in 2004 is counter-productive. Some faithful will be energized, with a number of predictably uplifting “super rallies” along the way, but many past and potential Green voters are likely to consciously drift away. Such a campaign will generate much alienation and bitterness from natural constituencies. Ironically, the current Green party-building agenda looks like a scenario for actually damaging the party.
The Progress Report — How does Norm Solomon reach this conclusion? He does not say.
Green organizers often insist that another presidential run is necessary so that the party can energize itself and stay on the ballot in various states. But it would be much better to find other ways to retain ballot access while running stronger Green campaigns in selected local races. Overall, I don’t believe that a Green Party presidential campaign in 2004 will help build a viable political alternative from below.
Some activists contend that the Greens will maintain leverage over the Democratic Party by conveying a firm intention to run a presidential candidate. I think that’s basically an illusion. The prospect of a Green presidential campaign is having very little effect on the Democratic nomination contest, and there’s no reason to expect that to change. The Democrats are almost certain to nominate a “moderate” corporate flack (in which category Howard Dean should be included).
A few years ago, Nader and some others articulated the theory that throwing a scare into the Democrats would move them in a more progressive direction. That theory was disproved after November 2000. As a whole, congressional Democrats have not become more progressive since then.
The Progress Report — True, the Democrats have not indicated that they have learned much of anything from the 2000 or the 2002 elections. That is a rather telling point against the Democrats, not the Greens.
There has been a disturbing tendency among some Greens to conflate the Democratic and Republican parties. Yes, the agendas of the two major parties overlap. But they also diverge. And in some important respects, any of the Democratic presidential contenders would be clearly better than Bush (with the exception of Joseph Lieberman, whose nomination appears to be quite unlikely). For the left to be “above the fray” would be a big mistake. It should be a matter of great concern — not indifference or mild interest — as to whether the Bush gang returns to power for four more years.
I’m not suggesting that progressives mute their voices about issues. The imperative remains to keep speaking out and organizing. As Martin Luther King Jr. said on April 30, 1967: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.” The left should continue to denounce all destructive policies and proposals, whether being promoted by Republicans or Democrats.
At the same time, we should not gloss over the reality that the Bush team has neared some elements of fascism in its day-to-day operations — and forces inside the Bush administration would be well-positioned to move it even farther to the right after 2004. We don’t want to find out how fascistic a second term of George W. Bush’s presidency could become. The current dire circumstances should bring us up short and cause us to re-evaluate approaches to ’04. The left has a responsibility to contribute toward a broad coalition to defeat Bush next year.
The Progress Report — This talk about “right versus left” merely serves to divide people when they should be united. The old right-left distinction ceased to be meaningful long ago. As the Green Party of Ontario says, “Rather than Left-Right, the new axis can be described as a green-grey spectrum. Green values include decentralization, sustainability, community-control, and diversity, while grey values are centralization, unsustainable industrial processes, trans- national control, and monoculture.”
For more on the outdated left-right distinction, see Fred Foldvary’s editorial Left Wing and Right Wing
There are some Green Party proposals for a “safe states” strategy, with the party’s presidential nominee concentrating on states that seem sure to go for either Bush or the Democrat. But it’s not always clear whether a state is “safe” (for instance, how about California?). And the very act of a Green campaign focusing on some “safe states” might render a few of those states more susceptible to a Bush upset win. An additional factor is that presidential campaigns are largely nationwide.
In 2000, despite unfair exclusion from the debates and the vast majority of campaign news coverage, Nader did appear on national radio and TV to a significant extent. And of course, more than ever, the Internet is teeming with progressive websites, listservs and e-mail forwarding. It doesn’t seem very practical to run as a national candidate while effectively urging people in some states not to vote for you when they see your name on the ballot — even if the candidate is inclined toward such a strategy. And that’s a big “if.”
For all its talk of democratic accountability, the Green Party is hooked into the old-fashioned notion that a candidate, once nominated, decides how and where to campaign. It’s ironic that the party is likely to end up with a presidential candidate who will conduct the campaign exactly as he chooses, with no built-in post-nomination accountability to any constituency or group decision-making. Kind of sounds like the major parties in that respect; choose the candidate and the candidate does whatever he wants from that point forward.
The Progress Report — Whether Norm Solomon likes it or not, candidates’ campaigns are not mere puppets controlled by a centralized party.
We concur that the “safe states” strategy is a pack of nonsense — no political party should have to tie itself in knots just to be seen as nice by other political parties. Why should the Green Party cut down its own campaigns just to help the Democrats? Remember, please — the Democrats in New Mexico attempted to ban the Green Party. The Democrats in Maine attampted to ban the Green Party. You can’t get much less friendly than that. What national Democrats have deplored those attempts?
No doubt, too many Democratic Party officials have been arrogant toward Green Party supporters. “Democrats have to face reality and understand that if they move too far to the right, millions of voters will defect or vote for third-party candidates,” Tom Hayden pointed out in a recent article . “Democrats have to swallow hard and accept the right of the Green Party and Ralph Nader to exist and compete.” At the same time, Hayden added cogently, “Nader and the Greens need a reality check. The notion that the two major parties are somehow identical may be a rationale for building a third party, but it insults the intelligence of millions of blacks, Latinos, women, gays, environmentalists and trade unionists who can’t afford the indulgence of Republican rule.”
The Progress Report — Norm Solomon cannot have it both ways. Sometimes he indicates that the Green Party is a trivial band of naive idealists, but at other times he implies that it has terrific power to determine the outcome of the 2004 election. Let’s be consistent, shall we?
The presidency of George W. Bush is not a garden-variety Republican administration. By unleashing its policies in this country and elsewhere in the world, the Bush gang has greatly raised the stakes of the next election. The incumbent regime’s blend of extreme militarism and repressive domestic policy should cause the left to take responsibility for helping to oust this far-right administration — rather than deferring to dubious scenarios for Green party-building.
The Progress Report — Again with this left-right trap. Greens have said it a thousand times — the Green Party is neither left nor right, but out in front. Norm Solomon’s descriptions and criticisms are off the mark, because the Greens do not fit into his left-right paradigm. Greens have recognized the new paradigm where “grey versus green” makes sense, not “left versus right.” When Norm Solomon finally gets his hands around this concept (and he will), his remarks will be sharper and clearer.
In an August essay, Michael Albert of Z Magazine wrote: “One post election result we want is Bush retired. However bad his replacement may turn out, replacing Bush will improve the subsequent mood of the world and its prospects of survival. Bush represents not the whole ruling class and political elite, but a pretty small sector of it. That sector, however, is trying to reorder events so that the world is run as a U.S. empire, and so that social programs and relations that have been won over the past century in the U.S. are rolled back as well. What these parallel international and domestic aims have in common is to further enrich and empower the already super rich and super powerful.”
Albert pointed out some of the foreseeable consequences of another Bush term: “Seeking international Empire means war and more war — or at least violent coercion. Seeking domestic redistribution upward of wealth and power, most likely means assaulting the economy via cutbacks and deficits, and then entreating the public that the only way to restore functionality is to terminate government programs that serve sectors other than the rich, cutting health care, social services, education, etc.” And Albert added: “These twin scenarios will not be pursued so violently or aggressively by Democrats due to their historic constituency. More, the mere removal of Bush will mark a step toward their reversal.”
Looking past the election, Albert is also on target: “We want to have whatever administration is in power after Election Day saddled by a fired up movement of opposition that is not content with merely slowing Armageddon, but that instead seeks innovative and aggressive social gains. We want a post election movement to have more awareness, more hope, more infrastructure, and better organization by virtue of the approach it takes to the election process.”
I’m skeptical that the Green Party’s leadership is open to rigorously pursue a thoroughgoing safe-states approach along the lines that Albert has suggested in his essay . Few of the prominent Green organizers seem sufficiently flexible. For instance, one Green Party leader who advocates “a Strategic States Plan” for 2004 has gone only so far as to say that “most” of the party’s resources should be focused on states “where the Electoral College votes are not ‘in play.’” Generally the proposals coming from inside the Green Party seem equivocal, indicating that most party leaders are unwilling to really let go of traditional notions of running a national presidential campaign.
I’m a green. But these days, in the battle for the presidency, I’m not a Green.
The Progress Report — Sorry, Norm Solomon, you are not a green or a Green, because you insist on seeing Greens as just a bunch of forward-thinking sincere Democrats. You need to open up a new space in your mind where the Greens fit. It is not convenient nor easy to do this, but more and more Americans are doing it each day.
Here in the United States, the Green Party is dealing with an electoral structure that’s very different from the parliamentary systems that have provided fertile ground for Green parties in Europe. We’re up against the winner-take-all U.S. electoral system. Yes, there are efforts to implement “instant runoff voting,” but those efforts will not transform the electoral landscape in this decade. And we should focus on this decade precisely because it will lead the way to the next ones.
By now it’s an open secret that Ralph Nader is almost certain to run for president again next year. Nader has been a brilliant and inspirational progressive for several decades. I supported his presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000. I won’t in 2004. The reasons are not about the past but about the future.
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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