In September, a group of journalists, political activists, actors, musicians, and other prominent Americans issued a short statement titled “Nader 2000 Leaders Organize To Defeat Bush” . The statement urges swing-state voting for Mr. Kerry with the sole purpose of defeating President Bush’s reelection, while admitting that they “strongly disagree with Mr. Kerry’s own positions on Iraq and other issues.”
This essay is a response to the Nader 2000 Leaders’ statement. It’s an open appeal — actually, five appeals to join us in thinking beyond November 2.
In June 2004, the Green Party of the United States held its national convention in Milwaukee and nominated David Cobb and Pat LaMarche. The Green Party is not the Democratic Party, so we did not endorse Sen. John Kerry. Like you, we oppose many of Mr. Kerry’s positions. Since the convention, we worked to get Mr. Cobb and Ms. LaMarche on as many state ballots as possible. Running candidates for election is what political parties do.
But many Greens also respect the fact that so many voters who support the same principles and positions that we do believe that the first goal of the 2004 election is to remove George W. Bush from office. We agree that the damage inflicted by the current administration on human rights and well-being, the rule of law, and national and international security might be the worst in our lifetimes.
Evicting the Bush regime should not be the only goal. The Nader 2000 Leaders’ statement suggests that its signers are as concerned as we are that a Kerry White House will maintain much of the Bush agenda.
There’s one thing scarier than four more years of Bush: another century of politics limited to the narrow debate between Democrats and Republicans. If the best our political system can offer is variations on ‘Bush vs. Kerry’ every four years, we need to take some fast action.
I invite the Nader 2000 Leaders and others worried about our nation’s direction to consider and respond to the following five appeals.
(1) Please follow your ‘safe state vs. battleground state’ appeal to its logical conclusion. If you live in a safe state (one in which the presidential race is not closely contested, such as Republican Texas or Democratic Massachusetts), support David Cobb and Pat LaMarche.
Throughout 2004, the safe-state strategy was a source of contention within the Green Party and among other voters who reject two-party dominance. Green candidate David Cobb is generally associated with the safe-states strategy, while Ralph Nader, running on independent and Reform Party ballot lines, has favored a scorched-earth campaign in every state.
But even Mr. Nader, when pressed, blesses safe-states voting:
Joshua Frank: Why, in swing states, where voters may be worried about your candidacy tilting the election to Bush, should people vote for you instead of John Kerry? Ralph Nader: If they are worried, let them vote for John Kerry. Voters should follow their conscience. (“The Outsider: A Talk with Ralph Nader” by Joshua Frank, CounterPunch, August 7/8, 2004 )
Although David Cobb has campaigned in both battleground and safe states, his message throughout 2004 has been one of respect for the decision of many voters to “follow their conscience” and vote for the removal of President Bush.
Mr. Cobb has repeatedly emphasized that the purpose of his campaign is party-building. “I don’t have any goals for votes except for states in which we need a certain percentage to retain ballot access. In terms of tangible objectives, I want to register more Green voters, support local candidates and retain ballot lines.”
What overrides the safe-states vs. all-out debate is that any political party or campaign must recognize and respect the fact that voters make up their own minds and vote on their own terms, whether they vote strategically or according to political ideals.
Since the Nader 2000 Leaders’ petition urges voters in battleground states to vote for Mr. Kerry, the implication is that some or all of its signers also sanction voting for a real progressive antiwar candidate in safe states, and that a vote for Mr. Kerry in a safe state is a vote wasted.
(2) Whether John Kerry or George W. Bush wins, we can be sure of two things after November 3: the occupation of Iraq and many other Bush policies will be maintained, and the Green Party will still be here. Regardless of your vote for President this year, please join us in building the Green into a major party with the power to rival the Democrats and Republicans.
The US desperately needs a noncorporate independent party.
In the 1850s, the Republican Party emerged as the political arm of the movement to abolish slavery. The abolition movement had such force that, in 1860, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln took the White House.
Third parties have played a necessary catalytic role throughout American history, leading the struggles for the eight-hour workday, child labor laws, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and a balanced federal budget.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Greens have embraced a new historical imperative: a party that challenges global corporate rule and the drift of the US towards empire.
Progressive Democrats have tried to fill this role. But more often than not, progressive Dems have found themselves banging their heads on a brick wall in a party unwilling to wean itself off corporate money and influence. (Greens know this, because many of us used to be Democrats.) Outstanding Democratic presidential candidates like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, and Dennis Kucinich and dedicated organizations like MoveOn.org have served mainly to herd antiwar and progressive voters back towards a party that rejects their ideals.
Since the 1980s, more and more of us have realized that, as Republican ideology grew more extreme and the Democratic Party more acquiescent, the only alternative was an independent noncorporate party. The Green Party, whose counterparts in Europe had already begun to win elections, blossomed in the US.
On November 3, the Democrats and Republicans will still be the parties of war and service to corporate lobbies. The Green Party will still be the party of ecology, democracy, human rights and freedoms, economic justice — including discarded Democratic planks like single-payer national health insurance and repeal of Taft-Hartley restrictions on workplace organizing — and adherence to international and US constitutional law.
Senator Kerry stated in August that he’d still have voted to transfer Congress’s constitutionally mandated power to declare war to the White House, even if he had known that the Bush Administration’s justifications for the invasion of Iraq were fraudulent.
Mr. Kerry voted for much of the worst Bush legislation, from the USA Patriot Act to ‘No Child Left Behind.’ His platform is silent about rejoining the Kyoto agreement and expanding its measures to stem catastrophic global climate change. For all his talk about alternative energy, he favors new drilling in Alaska, a new pipeline through Canada, and coal energy, all of which will expand our addiction to fossil fuels.
If elected, Mr. Kerry will maintain the occupation of Iraq, the destruction of communites and mass incarceration caused by the war on drugs, corporate control (HMOs, insurance firms, drug manufacturers) over US health care, and the power of international trade cabals to override democratically enacted environmental and labor protections.
It’s not accurate to say that there’s no difference between the two major parties. No serious Green Party member believes that Democrat equals Republican.
It is accurate, however, to say that as the Democratic politicians have retreated from their traditional constituencies and principles, they’ve given Republicans a license for ever greater extremes. November 3 will hold few prospects for peace, democracy, and the rule of law, regardless of the winner.
At what point do we declare, “No more votes for the candidates of war and corporate power”? Even if the short-term choice in 2004 is Bush or Kerry, the long-term choice must be Green or business as usual.
(3) If you decide not to vote for John Kerry, a vote for David Cobb will build a permanent and growing independent political party.
A vote for Ralph Nader in 2004 is a perfectly valid protest vote against the Iraq war and occupation, two-party dominance, and the corporate corruption of our democracy. No one can match Mr. Nader’s ability to command attention or his genius for communicating our ideals. But Mr. Nader’s independent campaign will be history on November 3.
When the majority of delegates voted to nominate Mr. Cobb and Ms. LaMarche during the 2004 Green National Convention, they did so for a variety of reasons. Some preferred a nuanced state-based strategy. Others wanted candidates who had worked their way up through the party — Mr. Cobb had already run for Attorney General of Texas and served as the party’s legal counsel; Ms. March had run for Governor of Maine.
Many Greens believed that the party had an obligation to nominate rather than merely endorse, after Mr. Nader decided in early 2004 to run as an independent and announced that he would reject a Green nomination but would accept an Green endorsement.
For these party members, it was difficult to reconcile “The Green Party must run a presidential candidate” with “The Green Party must back a candidate who is neither registered in the party nor willing to run as a Green nominee.”
Some Greens worried that a Nader endorsement would do little to expand the Green Party or promote local candidates, or might cause ballot line problems in certain states, especially after Mr. Nader prohibited a few state Green Parties from placing his name on primary ballots. They favored Mr. Cobb because of his pledge to use his campaign to promote state and local Green campaigns and registration in the party.
The Reform Party’s schism at the end of the 1990s taught Greens the danger of investing a party’s destiny in a single personality. In nominating David Cobb, the Green Party repudiated the idea that one political candidate in one election is more important than the party itself.
(4) Any discussion of voting, party politics, and the future of our democracy must begin with Instant Runoff Voting, auditable paper records of votes, and other measures to ensure fair and accurate elections.
For decades, Democrats and Republicans have guarded their exclusive hold on public offices, maintaining an at-large winner-take-all system, passing prohibitive ballot access laws in many states, and accusing third parties and independents of ‘spoiling’ elections when they attempt to participate.
In September, we learned that Florida Democrats, while excusing the failure of Republicans to file its Bush paperwork by the September 1 due date, used technicalities — and some allegedly more underhanded means — to block Ralph Nader’s access to the ballot in Florida and other states.
Greens have called for Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which allows voters to rank their choices and ensures that the winner has the support of the majority while accommodating third party candidates. In an IRV-based election — the kind that elected progressive Mayor Ken Livingstone of London — none of us would fret over battleground states or the danger of spoiling. (More on IRV: .)
Other necessary reforms include Proportional Representation (especially in the selection of state electors — although Greens also favor abolishing the Electoral College), Cumulative Voting, clean election options, access for all candidates to publicly owned airwaves, shorter campaign periods, repeal of restrictive and unfair ballot access rules, and public funding for campaigns. Greens have also demanded enforcement of the voting rights provision of the Constitution (14th Amendment, Section 2) and auditable paper trails for all votes.
We can limit the political influence of corporations through legislation overturning several 19th century Supreme Court rulings that granted them the status of ‘persons’ under the US Constitution. Repealing corporate personhood would do more to clean up elections than loophole-ridden legislation like McCain-Feingold ever will.
Many of these reforms address complaints from officeholders themselves that they spend too much of their time raising money for reelection. Under the status quo, the public is being shortchanged in the services we expect from elected officials.
Unfortunately, Democratic Party leaders have mostly ignored Green pleas to enact such reforms, and instead directed their ire against ‘spoilers’, especially the Nader campaign in 2000.
Greens have contested the spoiler label, calling it as much a carefully contrived smear by Democrats as the ‘flip-flop’ label that Republicans have pinned on John Kerry. “What they call spoiling, we call participation,” says David Cobb.
Al Gore lost the 2000 election for a variety of reasons: obstruction and invalidation of votes (especially those of African Americans) by the Florida Republican machine; a Supreme Court decision denying the popular right to vote in presidential elections; Mr. Gore’s failure to demand a recount in more than three Florida counties; the refusal of any Democratic Senator to stand in support of the Black Caucus’s challenge to the Bush victory (dramatically captured in Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 9/11); Mr. Gore’s own weak campaign; and more than 8 million votes from registered Democrats that went to George W. Bush — four times the number that went to Ralph Nader.
If Mr. Nader’s 2000 run was a contribution to Mr. Gore’s defeat, it surely falls at the bottom of the list.
In fact, no consensus exists among Democratic leaders on the Nader spoiler factor in 2000. According to Al From, chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, “The assertion that Nader’s marginal vote hurt Gore is not borne out by polling data. When exit pollers asked voters how they would have voted in a two-way race, Bush actually won by a point. That was better than he did with Nader in the race.” (“Building A New Progressive Majority: How Democrats Can Learn From The Failed 2000 Campaign”, in the DLC’s Blueprint Magazine, January 24, 2001) For Democrats like Mr. From, the spoiler accusation is a useful myth.
Even if Mr. From and the DLC have their own strategic reasons, as their party’s conservative faction, for denying the Nader factor in Mr. Gore’s defeat, there’s no doubt that the participation of Greens and other third parties changes the entire dynamic of any election. But it’s difficult to quantify precisely how third parties affect outcomes. There’s no reason to believe that everyone who voted for Mr. Nader would otherwise have voted for Mr. Gore, or would have voted at all.
In 2004, Democratic Party chair Terry McAuliffe encouraged an unprecedented and vicious effort to bar Ralph Nader from state ballots. In local and state races, Democrats have tried to block Green candidates like John Eder, who’s seeking reelection to the Maine statehouse. Maine Democrats tried to redistrict Mr. Eder out of office, borrowing a ploy from Republican legislators in Texas two years ago.
The real lesson of 2000 is that Democratic politicians and their apologists apparently fear an expanded field of political parties and candidates more than they fear Republican victories.
For all the fear that votes for Nader (or Cobb) might throw the 2004 election to Mr. Bush, current poll numbers (about 1% for Nader, a fraction of a percent for Cobb) suggest that their campaigns will probably have less effect on the outcome than faulty felon lists in Florida, defective voting machines in Ohio, or the weather in Milwaukee might have.
As Gore Vidal puts it, “we have only one political party in the United States, the Property Party, with two right wings, Republican and Democrat” (“State of the Union, 2004”, The Nation, August 26, 2004).
The US will either be a multiparty democracy, or it won’t be a democracy at all.
(5) The White House isn’t the only prize in 2004. If you plan to vote for John Kerry for the sole purpose of evicting George W. Bush, you can express your opposition to the war on Iraq and other ideals by supportng Green candidates for local and state office, and by joining the Green Party.
In the 2003 run-off campaign for Mayor of San Francisco, Green candidate (and sitting president of the Board of Supervisors) Matt Gonzalez captured 47% of the vote, including a majority of votes cast on Election Day.
Mr. Gonzalez, numerous other elected Greens, and the many Greens about to win on November 2 are evidence that electorates are ready for Green officeholders. They prove that Greens know how to run for office.
No party ever succeeds by tying its future to a single race. The Green Party is achieving permanance not through participation in the presidential election spectacle every four years, but through its growing base of registered voters and elected officeholders.
A half dozen Greens in Congress by 2010 would ensure an uncompromising bloc of progressive-populist-ecological votes, and a gravitational pull against the temptation of Democrats to rubberstamp Republican bills.
Ironically, elected Greens have kept alive some of America‘s best conservative ideals in their defense of small entrepreneurial business, family farms, public ownership of resources and services, local economic democracy and self-reliance, and traditional ideas of community and personal freedom.
Equally conservative has been the Green Party’s support for the Constitution in the face of the USA Patriot Act, suppression of protest, and other assaults, and adherence to the rule of law against radical ideas like preemptive war and international trade authorities.
The Green Party favors same-sex marriage rights, abortion rights, and the repeal of draconian drug laws that have criminalized hundreds of thousands of African Americans, young people, and the poor — not just because these positions are standard progressive agenda, but because the Greens call the freedom to live one’s life as one chooses as basic a human right as all others. (John Kerry and other mainstream Democrats have shied away from same-sex marriage rights and sane drug laws.)
Much of the Green Party’s platform fits less comfortably on the liberal vs. conservative spectrum than it does on the liberty end of the liberty vs. social control spectrum.
Indeed, the ‘traditional values’ preached by Republicans and capitulating Democrats aren’t conservative at all. They’re really a nostalgia for the Robber Baron era, before the progressive reforms enacted by unions and crusaders like Teddy Roosevelt, before women’s suffrage, civil rights, and the environmental movement.
The Green Party gains more traction every time a Green wins an election. It moves closer to permanence every time a progressive or independent or disaffected Democratic or Republican looks outside the two establishment parties for solutions.
Conclusion: What about November 3?
“How are we to proceed without Theory? What System of Thought have these Reformers to present to this mad swirling planetary disorganization, to the Inevident Welter of fact, event, phenomenon, calamity? Do they have, as we did, a beautiful Theory, as bold, as Grand, as comprehensive a construct…?” asks Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, the “World’s Oldest Living Bolshevik” in Tony Kushner’s play ‘Angels In America’.
It remains to be seen whether the ecological humanism of the Greens will take its place in US history next to the beautiful theories of Tom Paine, the abolitionists, the women of the Seneca Falls Declaration, WEB Dubois, Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others.
Establishing a political party is an act of will, hard work, and risk — as 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Wangari Maathai learned when she defied logging companies, organized Kenyan women, began planting millions of trees, founded the Mazingira Green Party, and ran for Parliament as a Green.
Any list of the emerging crises of the 21st century finds the Democratic and Republican parties, to different degrees, on the wrong side: catastrophic global climate change; wars over resources (oil, water, food, access to medicine); militarization of outer space; conversion of the US from a liberal republic into a global empire; erosion of civil liberties; collapse of international laws and treaties; profit-driven ownership of genetic information and other ‘intellectual property’; concentration of economic power under corporate bureaucracies; the growing gap between the world’s wealthy and the world’s poor.
The Greens are the only organized electoral entity — nationally and globally, with parties on every continent except Antarctica — that takes these crises seriously enough to offer positive solutions, or, in some cases, to talk about them at all.
The only other significant American contribution to political thought at the end of the Cold War is the one declared by the Project for a New American Century, parroted in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, codified in NAFTA and other trade agreements, deployed militarily in the invasion of Iraq, and espoused by most Republican politicians with the acquiescence or blessing of most Democrats. (I leave it up to you whether neocon doctrine constitutes a beautiful theory.)
Perhaps the greatest danger is not neoconservatism itself. The real threat might be that the answer to it is a movement based not on ecology, democracy, human rights, and nonviolence, but on blood, soil, and the supernatural — on the kind of sermons preached by Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan, a Christian counterpart to radical theocratic Islam. Outside of the Green Party, the severest critics of American empire can be found in the Buchananite wings of the Republican and Reform parties.
The neo-cons have already anticipated such a movement, knowing that their vision offers little to anyone outside their own major-shareholder class. It’s why they adore a President who straddles both camps: George W. Bush, Crusader and CEO.
Green candidate David Cobb will not win the 2004 election. Neither will Ralph Nader. With less than a week left before Election Day, I’m less concerned with who anyone endorses or votes for president than with their plans for November 3.
Bipartisan consensus, American Taliban, or the Green Party. Take your pick.
(Scott McLarty is media coordinator for the Green Party of the United States. He lives in Washington, D.C. The opinions he expresses above are his own and not necessarily the opinions of the Green Party. He can be reached at . The web site of the Green Party is ; the Cobb/LaMarche campaign site is .)
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