Turning Crisis Into Opportunity

There are two approaches toward Ralph Nader and the Nader/Green Party movement on the part of the Do-or-Die Democrats that are beginning to emerge now that the Presidential election is more-or-less over. One is the sledgehammer approach, typified by the New York Times, an overt effort to smash this nascent effort to inject some political choice into an increasingly narrow political system. The other might be called the “come home” approach, a call for Nader to come to his political senses and rejoin the ranks of those liberals who have learned to adjust their political principles to the corporate, two-party reality.

Both of these groups have a major problem in their efforts to derail this movement: they have little to offer except deception, scare tactics, political bombast and rhetoric. The Democratic Party they are desperately trying to defend is an institution which, now that the campaigning is over, will go back to business as usual. And business as usual for the Democrats over the past 25 years or longer is not the business of their popular constituencies–labor, people of color and low-income people in particular.

Sure, there will be an occasional program here or there which has some limited, positive effect. And there may even be an infrequent occasion when, because of major political pressure from the grassroots, a fairly significant reform is backed by most Democrats. But the fact is that in 21st century USA, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have anywhere near as many “goodies” to dole out to keep people in line as used to be the case. Two-party government these days is mainly about serving the corporate paymasters.

However, it is essential that those of us who voted for Nader or who supported the main thrust of his campaign differentiate between the liberal politicians, “leaders” and pundits who are defending the Democrats and the much larger group of registered progressive Democrats who, over time, we need to win over. They are not the same even if, temporarily, swept up in the “get Nader” disinformation campaign initiated by the Gore/Lieberman campaign, some of this latter group express open hostility to the third party cause.

How, practically, can we hope to get to the kind of political alternative so desperately needed in this country, one which can seriously contend for political power?

It is critical that we run candidates on third party lines and link those campaigns to the development of independent organizational forms engaged in grassroots organizing around the issues affecting working people. We need candidates like Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke willing to stand up and be crystal clear about their allegiance to the interests of the people and not the corporate-dominated parties, able to demonstrate that there is a base of voting support for independent candidates.
Building these two-pronged, electoral and non-electoral forms of independent organization is essential, strategic work.

We must also be about the process of changing the electoral rules-of-the-game. Let’s be honest about it: it is primarily as a result of the Nader/LaDuke campaign that significant openings have now emerged because of the closeness of the Presidential election and the spotlight that is being thrown onto our regressive electoral system. We must go from winner-take-all to a system in which proportional representation and instant runoff voting are used in the election of government officials. We need to take big money out of the political process and move towards public financing. Other pro-democracy reforms, like same day voter registration and voting rights for ex-prisoners, should also be supported. All of these reforms can open up the political system to those who have been historically disenfranchised and make possible major political and economic transformation.

At the same time, we must work with those within the Democratic Party who are progressives, who are good on the issues and who are willing to work with us. We must take the higher ground following this election and show by example that our primary concerns are the issues, building a movement to take on the reactionary right wing and the corporate rulers. Strategically, we must build unity of action with those within the Democratic Party who are open to or moving towards political independence. It will be difficult to build a broad, national independent party without the active involvement of a growing number of these people.

These three aspects are mutually dependent. If we fail to carry out our specifically independent tasks, running candidates and organizing around issues, there will be no pole toward which those people moving towards independence within the Democratic Party can gravitate. If we do not change the electoral rules of the game, it will be hard to build up the critical mass of electoral victories that any mass electoral movement and party needs to attract growing support. And if we do not build unity of action with the best of the progressive forces within the Democratic Party, it will be difficult to reform the electoral process, and we will be relatively isolated and unlikely of long-term success.

Nobody, literally nobody, could have predicted the Presidential election results that continue to play themselves out and probably will, in one form or the other, for weeks to come. Whoever ends up as President, Bush or Gore, the need for a more firmly grounded and more unified, issue-oriented, activist third party movement will be just as strong. Let’s take this time of crisis and turn it into the historic opportunity it also provides. The need is very great.