FEATURE/Dean Meyerson

Challenges of a Green
Presidential Campaign

The December 20 issue of The Nation contained an article by Micah Sifry that described the developing Ralph Nader presidential campaign [see "Nader Said to be Ready for Green Run," 1/1-15/00 PP]. While the article described many of the issues surrounding how the campaign might be conducted, critical issues regarding the kind of coalition such a campaign could build, the challenges in building that coalition, and even the eternal debate over the wisdom of putting energy into building a third party remain.

Independent politics was once a common activity for progressive activists. A common tool used was fusion, where two parties nominate the same candidate. But in recent years, laws have been passed to make fusion more difficult to use. Recent legal challenges by the New Party have not borne fruit, and most progressive political activities today either focus on litigation, street protests, or in lobbying Democrats, Republicans and corporatists to do the right thing.

Ralph Nader has been intimately involved in such lobbying for decades, and is possibly one of the most successful at it. But after 30 years of non-partisan political efforts, Nader appears ready to take the leap into third party politics. As with many of us who have committed ourselves to building a third party, he must see that all of these efforts, and their successes, were more like winning a few battles while the war is being lost. Even victories against Fast Track legislation or the MAI have not turned the corner on corporate globalization.

The first argument always heard is the "spoiler" argument, that third parties elect the greater of evils. But despite a few Democratic heroes like Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, most Democrats represent corporate and globalist interest as much as the Republican Party. Greens refuse to feel guilty for voting their conscience and believe that strategic voting -- where you vote for someone you don't like to defeat someone worse -- drives voter cynicism and lowers voter turnout. Thus it is a self-defeating policy in the long run. What we need to do is offer progressive Democrats a true home, where their values are dominant.

The impracticability of a successful third party effort has always been a cry of opponents. Comments that third party efforts have not been successful in the past beg the question: do lobbying and street protests have a better record against corporate interests? Analogies with the Civil Rights movement are not relevant because many corporations did not support virulent racism.

But with a candidate like Nader -- whose name recognition level matches that of Bill Clinton -- assumptions regarding the practicality of a third party run must be reexamined. And after Seattle, the potential for a broad coalition to fuel such an effort must be taken into consideration.

There are many ways in which the Spirit of Seattle can be carried forward, and a presidential run by Ralph Nader must be one of them. In a fundraiser Nader gave for the Seattle Green Party, he said that while in 1996 he stood for office, in a 2000 campaign he would run for office. Such an aggressive campaign could be the most significant progressive national campaign in decades. Those who have worked with progressive Democrats -- and in fact those Democrats themselves -- are going to have to look closely at the potential of a Green Party race by Nader in 2000. The same applies to those whose efforts have been in the non-partisan arena.

I am not suggesting that a presidential campaign should be the sole focus for continuing the energy from Seattle. The strength of that event was its diversity. More street protests are needed at every public conference by the neoliberal globalists. We must keep the pressure on in every possible way. Some Seattle protesters have little interest in electoral politics, and I would encourage them to continue the pressure along many avenues.

But a national campaign, accompanied by a strong, serious and credible set of local candidates, is one way to move forward. Election time is when the press provides the best political coverage, and it is the time when non-politicized voters -- the people we need to reach the most -- pay attention to politics. A Nader presidential campaign would complement other protests that could occur at WTO, World Bank, IMF, etc. meetings during the campaign.

But challenges loom just as large for the Green Party. With a few exceptions, most Green Party activists have not been in the public eye, nor do many have experience with broad coalitions. Progressives considering joining a Nader campaign, and seeing how much of that energy will flow into the Green Party, can fairly ask how the Green Party will respond.

The 10 Key Values that define the Greens in the United States present a holistic political vision that is much more inclusive than many Green Party organizations have managed to be so far. Greens salivate at the growth of their party that would certainly result from this campaign, but they have a responsibility to ensure that this growth empowers everyone in the coalition that works on the campaign. Greens definitely seek a broader party, but desiring it is not the same as living with it and making it work.

Greens will need to open the doors to coalition partners. We can't ask our friends to help build our party and then walk away -- we wouldn't want them to. No Green would think of that. But how will we deal with the variations in issue positions that many would not find acceptable within our current organizations?

And what of the broad Green platform? Will Greens be asked to drop some of their more radical positions, in order not to alienate other groups? The phrase "it's not left vs. right, but top vs. the bottom" was popular in Seattle. While I would prefer "top vs the rest of us," this is easier to say when everyone is going home next weekend. Agreeing to disagree is not going to be as easy as some people think.

While the Green Party is smaller than many other progressive organizations, it is the only one that has worked to set itself up for this role. While its count of ballot status states (11) seems small, that is more than all other progressive parties in the United States combined. Other progressives have either dismissed the potential for third party politics, or are still too tied to the Democrats to pursue a race that could harm the electoral chances for a Democratic presidential candidate. I do not think it is a coincidence that groups and political parties which not prepared to unequivocally support a genuinely independent effort that could harm the Democratic Party are better funded.

The challenges described above are not minor. But to not engage and resolve them means that we definitely lose. In Seattle, Jim Hightower asked if the tofu eaters would welcome the steak eaters. I don't believe that any major realignment of U.S. politics has ever occurred without difficult coalitions. Nader told the Seattle Greens that the way to bring a more diverse membership into the Green Party is via common issues. Seattle has presented us with the strongest common progressive issue in a long time. It's up to all of us to rise to the occasion.

Dean Myerson of Boulder, Colo., is a former Secretary of the Association of State Green Parties and is the Coordinator for the Green Party National Nominating Convention in Denver, Colo., in June, 2000. For more information on the Green Party, see www.greens.org or phone 303--543-0672.

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