2004: And They’re Off!

It hasn’t taken long since election day for the articles about 2004 Presidential politics to begin coming forward, in both the mainstream and the progressive media.

Ronnie Dugger, founder and former chair of the Alliance for Democracy, has drawn the first Green blood in his “Ralph, Don’t Run” article about to come out in The Nation magazine (www.thenation.com). The argument is not surprising, and it’s not new. Dugger calls upon Ralph Nader to join him, Dugger, in an effort to take over the Democratic Party since “we cannot afford another division in our ranks that will bring about the election of George W. Bush in 2004.”

There’s a lot of short-sighted, historically-myopic, wishful thinking in Dugger’s article, but he is right about one thing, at least: the progressive movement needs a serious discussion about how we can best function from now through general election day, 2004.

I agree with Dugger that it is to be desired that we get the Bushites out of the White House, for all the obvious reasons. However, I don’t agree that the sky will fall if that objective is not reached, or that this can be the only objective. It will be an important advance if the Democrats win control of at least one if not both houses of Congress AND (a critical “AND”) there is an independent progressive movement truly on the move, broad, unified, visible and growing, keeping “street heat” political pressure on whoever is in office.

Will we have a strong, independent progressive movement post-election-day, 2004 if the Democrats have nominated—as is most likely—another Democratic Leadership Council centrist—Gore, Lieberman, Kerry, Daschle, Gephardt, Edwards, etc.–and there is nobody like Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader to attack the Bushites and critique the Democrats? I don’t think so. We will have, at best, a reinvigorated Democratic Party, feeling good if they’ve won back the White House and/or one or both houses of Congress, combined with a demoralized and dispirited Green Party due to their national invisibility.

I’m glad to see that Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich are mounting efforts within the Democratic Party to challenge that party’s years-old rightwards drift. I hope they are successful in building up a strong progressive challenge. But given big money dominance over the national Democratic Party and the anti-democratic role of the corporate media, it is very unlikely that either will win the nomination. The best that can be hoped for is a large block of Sharpton and Kucinich delegates at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

There is an alternative to Dugger’s tired, take-over-the-Democrats strategy, on the one hand, or a Ralph Nader “take no prisoners” Green Party Presidential campaign on the other. What about this:

-Those people like Dugger, who want to put all their energies into supporting Kucinich or Sharpton, building up a progressive challenge to the DLC within the Democratic Party, go ahead and do so.

-Those people, like the Greens, who continue to believe that there is an urgent need for an increasingly stronger political alternative to both of the corporate-dominated parties, go ahead and do what they believe is strategically and tactically best, including running Ralph Nader or someone else for President.

-Instead of attacking each other, progressive Democrats and Greens and other independents join together in a common front which would have several major tasks:

-an on-going and massive voter registration campaign to sign up the millions of generally progressive-minded non-voters;

-support to grassroots organizing in low-income and working-class communities and among young people, those constituencies who have the lowest voter turnout rates on election day, around a peace, democracy and economic justice agenda;

-planning and implementing a major, national crusade in the months prior to the November 2004 election to mobilize and turn out a sizeable and potentially decisive chunk of these currently turned-off voters, this sleeping giant, the 50% of the eligible electorate who don’t vote during Presidential elections.

Such a peace and justice common front would need to agree to disagree, obviously, on certain questions. It would have to involve people supporting Kucinich, Nader (or whomever is the Green Party Presidential nominee), Sharpton, or other progressive Presidential candidates. It could not address the entire range of progressive issues but, instead, what are determined to be the major issues, issues related in particular to the plans for endless war abroad and economic and political repression at home.

Is this a practical approach? I think it is. I think it is much more practical, much more likely and a much more positive approach to the existing reality of the progressive movement than one which would call upon the Green Party and political independents to undercut, perhaps destroy, what we have been building for the past five-six years. It just ain’t going to happen.

Rather than chasing after mirages, let’s put our shoulder to the wheel, demonstrate our political maturity, rise up and come together at this urgent, critical time.