Kucinich, Sharpton and the Greens

I was surprised, pleasantly surprised, to receive an email this past week announcing a rally in Baltimore on June 26th at which Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich will be the featured speakers. It’s a good move by Nader, leading by example for those who haven’t yet grasped the importance of Greens, other independents and genuinely progressive Democrats working together wherever possible. And it’s a good move by Kucinich, countering the regressive, anti-Nader, anti-Green attitudes of some Democrats, including relatively progressive ones who really should know better.

I wonder about the longer-term implications of this development. And I wonder where Al Sharpton and the movement he represents fit in the thinking of Kucinich and Nader.

I keep hearing about Greens and independents supporting Kucinich, re-registering as Democrats so they can vote for him in the Democratic primary. I assume, although I have not heard of it, that something similar is happening with some African American independents.

I won’t be doing this myself, but I have no problem with those who are doing so. I believe it would be a good thing if Kucinich and Sharpton get strong vote totals during the early Democratic primaries, as the only two of the nine candidates who have been consistent in their progressive politics over a period of years. Strong vote totals will be a shot in the arm for the peace and justice movement and bring political pressure to bear on the other Democrats to take better positions on the issues.

However, by mid-March of next year, when close to ¾ of the state caucuses and primaries will have been held, it is extremely likely that Kucinich and Sharpton will be out of the running as far as having any chance of winning the Democratic Presidential nomination. What will they do then?

One thing they could do is join together, perhaps with Howard Dean, to form a progressive bloc going into the Democratic Convention. But so what? What could they force the dominant players in the party to do? A better platform? The progressive movement has been there, done that. In 1988 a strong Rainbow Coalition/Jesse Jackson campaign rolled into Atlanta and parlayed its delegate muscle into just such a thing. But it meant nothing after Michael Dukakis was nominated and then ignored much of the platform, articulating only those issues—“centrist” issues—he and his handlers felt would appeal to the electoral mainstream. It was not until the last two weeks of that general election campaign that Dukakis began to use Jackson-like, populist language, attracting growing support from voters as a result, but it was too little, too late.

Contrast this with Al Gore in 2000. Pushed from the left by a Ralph Nader Green Party candidacy that was registering at 7-8% in national polls, Gore used the occasion of his nominating speech at the Democratic Convention to attack oil companies and other corporate targets, wiping out a ten percentage point lead Bush had prior to that convention. And he continued to use enough of that language throughout the campaign that he ended up winning the popular vote and the election, being denied it by five Supreme Court justices.

So what’s the point?

One point is that those who are calling for the Green Party to join the “Democratic Party family,” as Jesse Jackson, Sr. has just done in a Chicago Sun-Times column, should seriously re-think their positions. Depending upon who the Green Party nominates for President and how that campaign is run, a Green Party candidacy may be one aspect of a strategy for a Bush/Cheney electoral defeat. Can we really trust the DLC-dominated Democratic Party not to blow it again, take such moderate and mealy-mouthed, Republican-like positions that they will de-energize millions of voters they need to win?

Another point is that those who are supporting Kucinich and Sharpton need to think beyond mid-March, or the Democratic Party convention in late July. What if Kucinich and Sharpton fall into line—as is likely—and support Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman or whomever wins the nomination? What if the Green Party runs a politically superior campaign—as is likely—and does so taking into consideration the dangers of a second Bush administration by focusing the campaign in the non-battleground, safe states where the winner, Bush or the Democrat, is pretty much already known? Shouldn’t Greens and independents connected to the Kucinich and Sharpton campaigns talk up this option within those campaigns leading up to March, or July?

“Tactical flexibility” has to be the watchword for our electoral approach over the next 17 months. We should not underestimate the challenges, and the dangers, facing us. It is not just the Bushites we need to worry about. We need to counter those who would strip the progressive movement of its badly-needed independent political thrust by calling for the Greens to essentially dissolve into the Democratic Party. But the Greens need to resist tactical approaches—like an all-out campaign, including in the battleground states—that will alienate many of our allies.

The June 26 Kucinich/Nader joint speaking appearance cannot be a one-shot event. The political maturity which underlies it needs to be continued, in all its complexities, throughout the crucial political period in which we now find ourselves.