2004 is a big year in many ways, what with the Presidential election, the war in Iraq and other pressing issues. It is also a big year for the Green Party of the United States.
The Green Party (GPUS, http://www.gp.org) is in the midst of what I would call an identity crisis, precipitated by Ralph Nader’s decision to run as an Independent rather than going for the GPUS’ Presidential nomination, a nomination he likely would have easily won if he had campaigned for it as he did in 2000.
As the GPUS approaches its national convention in Milwaukee June 24-27, there are three, primary contending positions as to what the Greens should do about the Presidential race:
nominate David Cobb (www.votecobb.org), nominate nobody and then endorse Ralph Nader (www.votenader.org), or don’t run or support anybody. As things now stand and are likely to be the case come June 24th, the pro-Cobb and pro-Nader camps are roughly equal in numbers of declared delegates, both short of a majority, with “no candidate” likely to command between 5-10%. The decision as to what happens will probably lie with a block of uncommitted delegates that will make up between 10-15% of the total.
I believe that, despite very real weaknesses, the Green Party is a critically important part of the overall progressive movement. It is the only national, progressive “third party” that is having electoral success on local levels in many states, with over 200 Greens presently in elected office. It came within a few percentage points of its candidate winning the San Francisco mayoral election. As an organization it is grappling with its overwhelmingly European-American composition, internal racism and with other key issues.
I fervently hope that all Green delegates to Milwaukee, whatever their position on the Presidential question, travel there in a frame of mind which appreciates the importance of what has been built. I hope that the debates which happen are conducted in a way which models the new, respectful way of doing politics that is essential for the entire independent progressive movement if we are ever to win a society of justice, peace and human solidarity.
In that spirit, below is my perspective on the pros and cons of prospective Green Party Presidential nominee David Cobb and prospective Green Party endorsee Ralph Nader. This listing is offered in the interest of seeking clarity about the major differences between them to allow for an informed debate and ultimate decision in Milwaukee, as well as to help non-Greens understand what is going on.
Major Reasons to Support Nader
-His name recognition and political history gets him into the national mass media, brings in significant amounts of money for his campaign and often attracts a crowd to hear him when he speaks in public.
-It is likely that he will get millions of votes although it is premature to know how many.
-He takes progressive populist positions on most issues and is a good public speaker.
-He is committed to and has shown the ability to reach out to individuals whose politics are middle of the road to conservative.
-He is willing to work with individual Green Party members and, he has indicated, some Green candidates and state parties who support his independent campaign.
-He has said that one of the major reasons he is running is to exert pressure on Kerry/the Democrats to take stronger positions on issues.
-His campaign, if he decides to make it so, can widely educate about and advance the cause of Instant Runoff Voting (www.fairvote.org).
-For those who believe there is virtually no difference between the D’s and R’s and that it would be a good thing for the Democrats to lose to punish them/shake them up, his name recognition, fund-raising ability and commitment to campaign in battleground states probably increases that possibility, although Nader doesn’t think so.
Major Reasons to Support Cobb
-He has proven his commitment to building the Green Party over the course of eight years of varied activity and leadership, serving as an organizer, fundraiser, trainer, lecturer and lawyer.
-He has proven his ability to get local and state and even some national press coverage as he has actively campaigned in over 40 states for the past eight months.
-He takes strong progressive positions on the issues and is a dynamic, articulate and energetic public speaker.
-He comes from a low-income, working-class background and has shown an ability to relate well with and interact positively with people of all classes, cultures and identities. He clearly “gets it” when it comes to racism, sexism and homophobia.
-He is actively seeking the Green Party’s nomination and is working within the context of the party’s internal democratic process. He has said repeatedly that he will support whatever decisions regarding candidate and strategy are made by the national Green Party convention.
-He has made support to local Green candidates and ballot access efforts and building the Green Party the top priority for his campaign.
-He has been a trade union member and has successfully recruited Green Party candidates from communities of color.
-A Cobb campaign will bring pressure to bear on Kerry to articulate better positions, if less so than Nader’s campaign.
-He is committed to a campaign which is conducted in such a way that Bush is defeated, running all out in the non-battleground states while consulting with Green parties in battleground states as to the best approach to use there.
Major Nader Minuses
-He has been the Green Party’s Presidential candidate twice already. Being so for the third time, even as an endorsee, will strengthen the public perception that the Greens are the “Nader Party” rather than a party that is dependent on no one individual to continue growing and developing.
-A significant number of Green Party activists were turned off by some aspects of how Nader ran his 1996 and 2000 campaigns and were distressed by the fact that a) it took until 2003 for him to provide the Green Party with the list of 2000 campaign contributors, and b) he didn’t provide the information about the large contributors.
-Because of the strength of the “Bush must go” sentiment and the winner-take-all nature of our electoral system, there is a definite chance he will get fewer votes than he got in 2000 (2.7 million).
-Much of the national mass media attention Nader is getting and will get will have to do with whether or not he is a “spoiler,” rather than a focus on the issues.
-Although his 2000 campaign was much better on issues related to racism and sexism than his 1996 campaign, there are a number of statements made and not made by Nader in
2003 and 2004 which indicate he continues to have real weaknesses in these areas.
-He has explicitly prioritized outreach to disaffected Republicans, conservative independents and Reform Party people. He has brought into his campaign organization top advisors to two former Reform Party Presidential candidates, racist and xenophobic Patrick Buchanan (Pat Choate) and billionaire Ross Perot (Russell Verney), as well as New Alliance Party/Committee for a Unified Independent Party leaders who are widely distrusted among progressives who know them.
-He is unwilling to accept the Green Party nomination, only its endorsement, and such an endorsement would not ensure that he would run on the Green Party line in the states where such a line exists. He has said that he will decide on a state by state basis what line he runs on or if he petitions to get a “Populist Party” on the ballot.
-It is unclear what will come out of Nader’s independent campaign as far as any on-going party-building effort. If something does emerge, it will be heavily influenced if not controlled by one man, and it will involve Greens working closely within that effort with people who are fairly conservative on important issues.
-For those who believe that it is important to get the Bushites out of office, Nader’s plan to campaign “all out”
in battleground states is problematic, notwithstanding his unproven belief that he will draw more votes from Republicans and conservative independents than from Democrats and progressive independents.
Major Cobb Minuses
-He does not have the national name recognition, political history or access to resources that Nader does.
-He would not get as many votes as Nader will.
-Some individuals within the Green Party who are supporting Ralph Nader are strongly critical of Cobb for criticisms he has made of Nader in the past.
-For those who believe it is important that the Green Party work closely with Ralph Nader, a Cobb Presidential candidacy could make that more difficult.
-For those who don’t care whether Bush or Kerry wins, Cobb’s nuanced strategy regarding the battleground states is seen as a negative.
Some progressives view the internal debates within the Green Party as of little relevance. However, how the debate is conducted and the decisions that result in Milwaukee in late June will be of importance to all who believe that, in addition to a removal of the Bushites, we need to take steps this year to strengthen the movement for a genuinely progressive alternative to both corporate-dominated parties.