Signs are increasingly pointing to a second Green Party presidential bid by Ralph Nader
Appearing at a Connecticut meeting of the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP) in early June, Nader gave California delegates permission to enter his name in next year's California presidential primary. Nader, who was urged for two decades to run for president before he allowed his name to be used in the 1992 presidential primary, does not hand out such permissions lightly.
California Green Party rules and state election laws made Nader's permission necessary. But he will make no official announcement until January, he said. Nonetheless, Nader sounded very much like a candidate, down to repeated skewerings of Al Gore for his corporate kowtows to industries ranging from drugs to automobiles.
Nader took pains to resolve nagging questions remaining from his 1996 presidential bid. A number of Greens have been skeptical about a new Nader candidacy because of his self-imposed 1996 $5,000 spending limit and a sense he did not seriously campaign. A better organized and funded campaign could have pushed Nader beyond the 1% he received, many believe.
He seemed to agree. Prefacing many points with "if I run," or the shorthand, "IFRN," Nader promised no limits on fundraising this time and "100 days on the ground" with at least three major appearances in every state where he is on the ballot. He would aim to "catapult the Green Party over the 5% level." Noted Nader, "Six to seven percent is not out of the realm of the possible."
Nader backed that with a powerful electoral arithmetic. In 1996, he said, polls showed only 7% were aware he was running. Nader, in effect, was the choice of at least one in seven of those people. And he was only on the ballot in about half the states. A 2000 race would see him on many more state ballots, 40-45, with earlier and better organized petitioning efforts, he said.
Nader called on Greens to "think unconventionally," to invent "new ways to campaign and catch the imagination of people ... The worst thing is to have a new party do the same thing as the old parties."
For example, Greens should hold not only fundraisers, but also hour-raisers where people pledge volunteer time, "which is better than money." Nader also said "IFRN," campaign appearances will include detailed information on local issues to give them added visibility. Greens will receive confirmed campaign dates at least two months in advance to organize strong local appearances, Nader promised.
As in '96, Nader would continue to focus on "building fundamental structural policies for democracy." At the same time, in contrast to "the poverty of ideas" coming from the corporate parties, Nader would showcase new ideas that work, "the scenario of the possible. For example, people don't know how economic solar has become. We can translate a lot of this information."
Nader made clear a fundamental goal of any 2000 presidential race is to build the Green Party. "I would like to see a tenfold increase in every criteria you use to measure the Green Party ... people, money, candidates ... Then it's really reached critical mass for the future."
"Strong citizen institutions and a strong Green Party go hand in hand," Nader said.
One candidate who will not be returning is Winona LaDuke, Nader's 1996 running mate. The Native American activist was one of over 20 individuals polled by the ASGP Presidential Exploratory Committee. Matters on the White Earth Reservation will keep her busy over the coming year, she said. Nader, who built a strong relationship with LaDuke in '96, expressed disappointment.
Though Nader would be a strong favorite with Greens "IFRN," his nomination is not a done deal.
Nader said Greens would still have to put up with some "idiosyncrasies" -- He will remain an independent and not join the Green Party. "It's very important to have people be for the Green Party as well as of the Green Party." Greens will have to decide how they feel about that.
Scott McLarty, a D.C. Green, distributed a flyer previous to Nader's appearance asking, "But is Mr. Nader really Green?" Also a human rights activist, McLarty and others have strongly criticized Nader for a '96 comment to William Safire that he would not discuss "gonadal politics." The right-wing columnist was baiting Nader with a series of lifestyle-issue questions.
Responding to a question from the floor by McLarty, Nader raised the "gonadal politics" comment himself. In 1996, Nader said, except for that Safire column, he was successful at keeping press coverage on his basic message.
"I don't want focuses on structural abuses to be blurred by having an opinion on everything. You allow the press to destroy your message that way. I don't want to be diverted from these basic structural issues."
Added Nader, "Anyone who knows my work for 40 years knows I don't turn my back on underdogs or the repressed."
State party delegates agreed that the nominating convention slated for June 2000 will consider a "none of the above" option -- Not all Greens are convinced the party should run a presidential campaign next year. And two other possible nominees have expressed interest. Marianne Williamson, author of numerous books including, The Healing of America, said her issues would include restoring democracy, campaign reform, genetically engineered food, military budget cuts and a "Marshall Plan for inner cities." Connecticut Green Ron Ouellette named among his top issues corporate ownership of the election process, living wages, a ban on weapons of mass destruction and renegotiation of trade treaties.
Film maker Michael Moore was reportedly mulling his response to the Presidential Exploratory Committee.
Even refusals to the Exploratory Committee gave strong encouragement to Green Party efforts. Noam Chomsky and Lani Guinier said they wanted continued dialogue with the Greens. Jim Hightower wrote back, "Congratulations to the Green Party for its grassroots efforts to build a real choice into America's closed political structure. Nothing will change until people themselves take charge of the process, and the Greens are showing the way to get a hold of the 2000 presidential process."
"I am very supportive of the idea, the effort, the initiative," said author Paul Hawken. "I am very grateful and honored you would ask."
"I cannot begin to tell you how much it means to me to be asked to consider being the Green Party candidate," said Lester Brown of Worldwatch Institute. "Were I less constrained by circumstances, I might well respond positively."
Though "I'm not really presidential material," author Bill McKibben responded, "I've read the green platform before, and agree with nearly all of it. I hope that you will work hard to keep the focus on environmental issues, particularly climate change, which is the most crucial, and the one our leaders most like to duck. I think you have a crucial role to play -- maybe more in the 2000 election than ever, what with the need to keep Gore's feet to the fire."
Ralph Nader looks ready to flame Gore and other corporate politicians next year, and stoke a powerful Green fire that will burn long beyond 2000.
Patrick Mazza is editor of Common Ground of Portland magazine, as well as Cascadia Planet, a sustainability resource website at www.tnews.com. He is a former co-chair of the Association of State Green Parties. For information and state contacts, see the ASGP web site: (www.greenparties.org) or contact: Nancy Allen (Maine), co-chair: (207) 667-2016, email firstname.lastname@example.org; Annie Goeke (Penn.), co-chair: (717) 394-9110; Tom Sevigny (Conn.), co-chair: (860) 693-8344; Nick Mellis (N.J.), treasurer: (609) 393-4349; Dean Myerson (Colo.), secretary and presidential convention coordinator: (303) 543-0672