[From December 2004:] An Independent Green Party Can Be the Majority Political Party in the United States in 20 Years

What follows is an article I wrote ten years ago, when I was an active member of the Green Party. I post it here for readers who want to find out a little more about the Greens, particularly about the struggle within the party during the crucial years of 2003 and 2004. I also recommend Independent Politics: The Green Party Strategy Debate, edited by Howie Hawkins. I believe it is still available from Haymarket Books.      —Jerry

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AN INDEPENDENT GREEN PARTY CAN BE THE MAJORITY POLITICAL PARTY

IN THE UNITED STATES IN 20 YEARS

Jerry Kann, Green Party member in New York City

December 2004

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Where do you want the Green Party to be in 20 years?

In 2025, I want our party to be the majority political party in the United States. I want most of the members of Congress, most governors, and most members of state legislatures, to be Greens.

This is a very ambitious goal, but by no means an unrealistic one. The modern age has many examples of small, upstart parties rising to majority status, most notably the Republican Party under Lincoln and the British Labour Party in the first decades of the last century. Such a transformation can happen here in the U.S. with the Green Party.

In fact, the times favor a bold new party that will unapologetically challenge the existing power structure. The vast majority of people in this country are ready for a political movement that stands for peace, environmental sanity, social and economic justice, and greater democracy. They are ready to vote for candidates who stand up for Green values. What’s more, they are heartily sick of major party candidates who claim to believe in those values but who have shown by their actions again and again that in fact they don’t believe in them. As disgust with those major party candidates and elected officials grows, the popular appeal of the Green Party will grow as well.

Thus we Greens have a historic opportunity to take up the fight for the interests of working people and poor people, and to sweep out of power the pious frauds who now control our government. We have a chance to build a genuine political party of the people to replace the two corrupt and irredeemable major parties.

But people aren’t stupid. They don’t want to throw out Republicans and Democrats only to replace them with Greens who will carry out pretty much the same policies. If they see the Greens making common cause with, say, the Democratic Party in presidential elections, people will begin to ask what makes us Greens different. They will ask the perfectly reasonable question: Why should I bother supporting Greens if it’s just a roundabout way of supporting Democrats?

To win over millions of voters and to convince them that we Greens are for real, we must be completely independent of other political parties—particularly of the Democratic Party. The Green Party as an organization must not collaborate with the very powers in our society whose corruption and decay have made the Green Party necessary in the first place. The party must not negotiate away—must not give away—its hard-won credibility in order to protect the dubious future of the Democratic Party. We cannot hope to grow the Greens if the general public sees us as a mere extension of the Democrats.

Peter Camejo and others have established a caucus called Greens for Democracy and Independence (GDI). The name is uncomplicated; it declares exactly what the caucus is about. GDI will advocate for a one person/one vote system within the Green Party for selecting leadership bodies and our presidential ticket (the “Democracy” part) and for complete independence from other political parties. The formation of this caucus is one crucial, positive step in helping us Greens begin to take control of our own destiny and open up healthy debate and discussion about the future of our party.

I will argue below that an aggressive, independent strategy is the one that will make us a genuine force for change in the years to come. I contend that it is the only strategy that will lead most people to take us seriously. Yet once they do, I believe, the Green Party can become the political home for the majority of Americans—people of average means, progressive views, and good intentions.

The Danger of Playing It Safe

Is it wise for the Green Party to give up its independence and take what some believe is the “safer” route of cooperation with the Democrats? Is it wise to do this “strategically,” that is, only in some elections and not others?

No, it is not wise. On both counts, it’s a big mistake. It is a sure way to make the Green Party irrelevant in American politics. But in order to demonstrate why this is so, we first need to look at our recent experience in the election of 2004.

Some Greens no doubt would argue that the 2004 campaign was a special case—even an emergency that called for extraordinary measures. George W. Bush is such a heinous monster, the argument went, that any candidate the Democrats come up with should receive the support of the Green Party, directly or indirectly.

There are some qualifications to this argument that must be noted here. In late 2003, David Cobb proposed that the Greens should run an “all-out” national campaign in all 50 states in 2004 only in the unlikely event that the conservative Joseph Lieberman won the Democratic nomination for president. Cobb also recommended that the Greens not run a presidential candidate at all in the equally unlikely event that Al Sharpton or Dennis Kucinich came to be the Democratic nominee. Finally, Cobb suggested that in the much more probable case of a moderate such as Kerry or Dean winning the nomination, then the Greens must defer to that candidate in the “battleground” or “swing” states (that is, those states where Bush and his Democratic opponent were expected to be running neck-and-neck). The idea was that the Green candidate for president must not campaign in the swing states for fear of tempting people there to vote Green instead of Democrat, which might hurt the Democrats’ chances of beating Bush. The plan called for making the Greens irrelevant in the very states where they might have an influence on the outcome of the election.

Cobb and his supporters all knew, of course, that our nominee in 2000, Ralph Nader, had a very different strategy in mind for 2004. He did agree that a Kucinich victory in the Democratic primaries would make a Nader candidacy redundant. But even before Nader announced his candidacy, he made it quite clear that if he chose to run he would run all-out and campaign in all 50 states. Many—probably most—rank-and-file Green Party members agreed with Nader on this, even if almost all the high-profile Green “leaders” at the national level were breaking with him.

The plan that Cobb proposed had been developed by Greens such as Dean Myerson and Ted Glick during 2003, and became popularly known as the “Safe States” strategy. (Cobb would come to refer to it as “Strategic States,” but it didn’t differ in any essentials from Myerson’s plan. Also, a no less influential Green than Medea Benjamin, in the speech to the 2004 Green Party convention in which she endorsed Cobb’s candidacy, referred expressly to “his ‘safe state’ strategy” as perhaps her primary reason for backing him.) The campaign that Cobb, Glick, et al. envisioned would most likely feature a Green nominee who was not at all well-known outside of the Green Party and would thus cut a much lower profile than the Nader/LaDuke ticket did in 2000. The Greens could thereby avoid “taking away” votes from Dean or Kerry and would not “spoil” the Democrats’ chances of ousting Bush.

The practical effect of Cobb’s plan was that his campaign endorsed the Kerry campaign, albeit indirectly. The result? Those voters who were searching for a genuine alternative to the corrupt major parties either voted for Nader or stayed home, and the official Green Party campaign won only a little over 100,000 votes—not just behind Nader’s 443,000, but even behind the totals of the Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates.

Let’s compare this dismal performance with the accomplishments of those Greens who have run against both major parties or have not shrunk from running hard against Democrats.

Jason West beat two Democrats to become mayor of New Paltz, N.Y., in May 2003. A Nader/Camejo supporter at the Milwaukee convention, West became something of a national celebrity early in 2004. He was only the second mayor in the U.S. to perform weddings of same-sex couples and thus help advance the civil rights struggle for equal marriage laws.

Green Party of New York State co-chair Gloria Mattera ran for New York City Council in 2003. Running against both a Democrat and a Republican, she won about 20 percent of the vote. In percentage terms, Mattera finished ahead of two-thirds of the Republicans running for Council, in a sense making the Greens the second—not the third—party in New York City. (I ran for Council in the same election against the incumbent Democrat and also won about 20 percent. It’s worth noting that I garnered this total having raised only $2000, compared to the $200,000 the incumbent had at his disposal.)

Certainly the best example of a successful Green electoral campaign is that of Matt Gonzales, the Green who very nearly won the race for mayor of San Francisco in December 2003. Gonzales first eliminated the Republican in the general election and forced a run-off against the Democrat, Gavin Newsome. Gonzales was outspent by his opponent ten-to-one. The Democrats flew in no less exalted a figure than Bill Clinton to stump for Newsome. Most significantly, the Republican Party organization in San Francisco phone-banked for Newsome and against the unthinkable outcome of a Green being elected mayor. (My source on this is not Green Pages, but The New York Times for Dec. 10, 2003.) But even with both major parties against him, Gonzales was ahead of Newsome late on election night, and only lost (narrowly) when they counted up the absentee ballots. While it’s natural for Greens to be disappointed by this defeat, we should be enormously proud that Gonzales came so close to winning. And it seems pretty obvious to me that the reason for his excellent performance was not that he made certain to point out that the Democrat in the race was “qualitatively better” than the Republican, as Cobb took pains to do for Kerry. Rather, Gonzales almost pulled off a stunning upset by running aggressively against both corporate parties. We should be encouraged and energized by the achievements of Greens prior to the catastrophe in Milwaukee. Greens of goodwill have every reason to expect a strong resurgence of Green independence and the growth of the Green Party that has followed aggressive, independent Green campaigns.

The Evil of Supporting the Lesser of Two Evils

Cobb, Benjamin, Glick, and the rest are more or less sympathetic with the Democrats on the doctrine of “lesser evil-ism.” This of course is the view that, when confronted by a choice between two evils, the responsible thing to do is to choose the one that is, by all appearances, less evil.

At first blush, this idea makes sense. One can imagine all sorts of cases in which it would obviously be preferable to cast a vote for some mediocre candidate over a truly awful one.

But two questions arise. One, why must we resign ourselves to only two choices? And two, just how evil can a lesser evil get before it becomes unacceptable?

Regarding the “only two choices” dilemma, I think Greens should simply reject the proposition that we have to accept an electoral system in which there are only two choices. Ours is a “third” party (for the time being), and we must make room for it on the political stage alongside the two major parties. The majors may try to push us off that stage, but we don’t have to help them do it. After all, doesn’t it defeat the whole purpose of establishing a third party if you pull it out of contention with the first and second parties?

On the matter of how much evil people should tolerate in their political system, many people seem to be willing to tolerate an awful lot of it. Democratic Party voters reached a new low in 2004 in terms of tolerating evil. This is nowhere so evident as in their attitude toward John Kerry’s pro-war position.

Many Democrats might describe themselves as peace activists, and yet they were prepared to bite their tongues and utter not a word of criticism when Kerry said in the first debate that he would “lead the troops to victory.” They kept silent when he said he would have voted for the Iraq war resolution even if he had known the truth about the phantom weapons of mass destruction. He had no exit strategy for our troops, and no deadline for withdrawal. Many loyal Democrats may have been inwardly horrified at Kerry’s pro-war stance, but if they were, they kept it to themselves. (I should note here that during the campaign a lot of liberals were saying that Kerry was just posing as a hawk in order to get elected. This is about as convincing as the comment I heard in 1996 from people who told me that Bill Clinton would certainly overturn the Welfare Reform Act that he had just signed once he was safely re-elected. Last time I looked, Clinton’s pledge to “end Welfare as we know it” was one promise he never went back on.) Our politics in America have deteriorated to the level where people who marched in peace rallies in 2003 ended up supporting a pro-war candidate in 2004. And the Iraq war, of course, is no trivial issue. In fact, what issue could have been more important in 2004 than the occupation of Iraq?

Yet the refrain always came back: “But Bush is worse…Bush is worse…” Yes, of course Bush is worse. And in fact most “Nader Greens,” myself included, agree with the “Cobb Greens” on one important point: George W. Bush is scum. I say this without irony or sarcasm, but just as a statement of fact. Bush is one of the worst presidents in American history and a menace to world peace. But where I (and many other Greens) differ with Cobb & Co. is on the proposition that the Democrats can be trusted to effectively oppose Bush.

Most Democratic elected officials do not disagree with the basics of Bush’s foreign and domestic policy. John Kerry, indeed, tried to out-Bush Bush, calling for new tax cuts for U.S. corporations and an even more hawkish military policy. And while there are a few Democrats in Congress who have had the moxie to stand up to Bush—Kucinich and Cynthia McKinney come to mind—most have made an art out of caving in to him.

I contend that the Democrats are completely inadequate for the task of opposing the hard-right Republicans. In fact, many Democrats relish having Bush and his gang around because it gives them somebody to blame for all our problems. It’s much easier for an elected Democrat to position herself or himself slightly to the left of the Republicans, go along with them on most important issues, and then complain that the very existence of the Republicans makes it impossible to pass any progressive legislation.

The Republicans will always be worse than the Democrats. But that is just no argument for supporting Democrats over Republicans when both are in a race to the bottom, politically and morally. Once the “lesser evil” begins to agree with the “greater evil” on issue after issue—and particularly on life-and-death issues like the U.S. occupation of Iraq—then the “difference” between them becomes almost meaningless. The minor differences that do exist cannot justify supporting one evil over the other, because both have become just too evil altogether.

In truth, a monster like Bush is only possible because liberals have dedicated themselves to the lesser-of-two-evils system. Republicans win because the Democrats don’t offer a credible alternative that voters will come out for. This state of affairs has only gotten worse over the years because liberals and progressives have so appallingly lowered their standards for what a Democrat needs to do to get their vote. When presidents such as Kennedy and Johnson at least held to a few progressive positions, registered Democrats and independents would come out to vote Democratic. Enter Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and the Democratic Leadership Council with its pro-corporate orientation that is so similar to that of the Republicans. What do the voters do? Many continue to vote for Democrats, but an awful lot just quit voting altogether. Some even go over to the Republicans; at least they know where Reagan and Bush stand, and they do not have to read the tea leaves about what the Democrat “really means” when he makes this statement or that.

Lesser-evilism only encourages the Democratic Party leadership to ignore progressives and instead give their loving attention first to the people with the big bucks and second to the shadowy “swing” voters who drift so easily from right to left and back again. Ironically, well-intentioned people who want to support the “lesser” evil end up effectively taking themselves out of the equation altogether. Or rather, they actually help take the progressive agenda off the table. In practice, they abandon their own core beliefs—in peace, in economic justice, in democracy—to adopt the vague, easily manipulated program of the centrists. And they do this in the bizarre hope of promoting progressive reforms which they have doggedly convinced themselves they have no right to expect will ever be accomplished.

Some liberals, sadly, protect their own contradictory positions by spitting on their fellow citizens, particularly poor and middle-class Republican voters. Such liberals take the haughty but strangely self-defeating attitude that rank-and-file Republicans are drooling morons who always vote against their own interests. But what are voters supposed to do when they see the Democratic nominee going along with the Republican on so many issues?

Let us suppose that the voters are not quite as stupid as so many liberals seem to think they are. Then let’s assume that a few Republicans (as well as many independents and non-voters) do indeed have some doubts about the Iraq war and might listen to a coherent argument for withdrawing U.S. forces in favor of a multi-national policing force. But where are they to go to hear that argument? To John Kerry? Not with Kerry defending his support for the invasion and his plan to call up 40,000 more troops. So these voters have to search for peaceful solutions among the third-party candidates. But our corporate media, which could tell you on any given day during the campaign what the major party candidates had for breakfast or what color tie they wore, can’t be bothered to adequately report the anti-war proposals of Nader, Cobb, or the Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik. Yet according to many liberals the average voter is supposed to ignore the sane and sensible ideas they are hearing from the third-party candidates and instead give their vote obediently to the pro-war Democrat. This is a politics of masochism, a downright irrational state of mind. When voters reject it, they are showing intelligence, not stupidity.

The lesser-of-two-evils crowd ends up giving the Democrats a powerful incentive to become more evil, not less—which in turn encourages the hard-right Republicans to govern like out-and-out fascists. Thus people who start out employing lesser-evilism as a way of saving democracy only succeed in helping to destroy it. As for the alleged “lesser” evil, John Kerry: If he had come out against the Iraq war, I think he would be president-elect today. His supporters would have served him much better by demanding that he take a stand for peace instead of war. But by pledging to vote for him no matter how far he departed from their own core beliefs, ironically they helped him lose.

Taking Responsibility for the Election of 2000

In order to develop a successful long-term strategy for the Green Party, we need not only to look 20 or 30 years into the future. We also need to take a hard look at our past. In that spirit, let’s ask the blunt question: Do we Greens bear any responsibility for “handing the election” to George W. Bush in 2000? My own first inclination is to say No, and I think most Greens would respond the same way. Our task in 2000 was to offer our fellow citizens an alternative to the major party nominees for president, not to help prop up a corrupt system. In short, we did what we had to do. Yet this answer is a little too easy, at least all by itself. We need to look a little deeper. So let’s take another look at the question from the vantage point not of abstract principles, but of feelings.

We political people spend a lot of time arguing about “ideas” and not enough time discussing the raw emotions that may be driving us. I don’t believe we should dismiss our strong feelings about things political and pretend that we are only interested in the dispassionate examination of ideas. Even when these feelings seem a little overwrought or even irrational, they are still valid, if only because they no doubt have a powerful influence on our actions. For my own part, I confess that when it comes to politics, I am much more driven by emotion than by intellect. (And I seriously doubt that I’m unique in this respect.)

Let me illustrate what I have in mind with a brief story about some of the feelings I experienced during the 2000 campaign. One evening at Nader headquarters in New York, I noticed a fellow volunteer who looked very distraught. He was pale and seemed to be a little dazed. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “The polls…” he said. “They haven’t moved in weeks. Bush and Gore are dead even. We could make the difference between them…” I shrugged and said, “Yeah, well…we knew we were taking that chance when we started this campaign.” That didn’t seem to make him feel any better. He was a good guy, and I felt bad for him, even if I didn’t feel bad for myself.

What surprised me later on was that I found myself feeling the same way he did. For a short time, anyway. The grim reality of a Bush presidency—and the horrible feeling that we had helped make it happen—hit me hard on election night when the networks pronounced Bush the winner. I walked around muttering to myself about it for days but didn’t share my feelings with anyone. Finally, a couple of weeks later, toward the end of November, I confided in some fellow Greens via e-mail. As I recall, I wrote something like, “We have to face the fact that we helped put a Republican in the White House…”

Then, strangely, over time that guilty feeling began to fade away and I haven’t been troubled by it since. Or rather, once I shared the “dirty secret” of how I felt, I began to realize that I didn’t, in truth, really feel that way. I came to feel much as I had before Election Day, when I was convinced that we Greens were doing something that just had to be done. Somebody had to do it. Someone had to take responsibility for breaking everyone out of the lesser-of-two-evils trap that the Democrats—and the Republicans—love having us in. But in order to “get back” to feeling proud of that conviction instead of feeling ashamed of it, I first had to admit to the “guilt” I was feeling and confront it.

Let me hasten to add that when I’ve told other Greens this story, almost all of them have said emphatically that they did not have the same guilty feelings in 2000 that I experienced. But I wonder. And far be it from me to try to psycho-analyze thousands of Green Party members. But just for the sake of argument let me suggest that some Greens have yet to fully deal with, yes, their feelings about the 2000 presidential election. I think it’s possible that some Greens may have found a way to “atone” for their actions in 2000 by getting behind the Cobb candidacy of 2004. David Cobb, after all, was no Ralph Nader. He would be much harder to spot on the media radar and much less likely to attract votes. He would most likely not win the 2.7 million votes that Nader won in 2000, the votes which Democrats claimed would have rightfully gone to them had Nader not been in the race. Backing a Green candidate—any Green candidate—other than Nader would go a long way toward “undoing the damage” done by the Greens and Nader in 2000. Such may have been the reasoning.

But I think those Greens may have been trying to have their cake and eat it too. They said again and again that we of the Green Party were not to blame for Bush becoming president, defying the conventional wisdom pushed by most Democrats (and quietly seconded by most Republicans). Yet they also insisted on nominating a relative unknown to be the Green Party standard-bearer in 2004, even though our nominee from 2000 was offering his services, the only condition being that we agree to share him with other independent parties and groups. The most ardent Cobb supporters were content to turn their backs on Nader, who they all knew had done far more than anyone else to build the Green Party in this country. They seemed to be trying to put as much distance as possible between Nader and themselves. They looked for all the world like people trying to apologize for the Greens’ role in the election of 2000 and trying also to assure their fellow progressives that they were not going to allow the Green Party to “cause” another Bush victory in 2004.

How can the Cobb supporters credibly deny responsibility for making Bush president in 2000, and then behave like haunted sinners begging for forgiveness from their friends in the Democratic Party? If we Greens did the right thing by challenging both major parties in every state in 2000, why should we feel the need to go through the strategic contortions of avoiding the battleground states in 2004? The Cobb Greens—as opposed to the Nader Greens—are contradicting themselves. On the one hand they are saying the Green Party did not help “elect” Bush in 2000, but then they go out of their way to restrict and weaken the Green presidential campaign to prevent “throwing” the election to Bush in 2004. The Cobb supporters seem more interested in protecting the illusions of their “fellow progressives” in the Democratic Party than they are in working with their fellow Greens, the ones who want independence. This, I submit, is a not at all a good way to take responsibility for the election of 2000, but rather a strategy for dodging it.

Obviously there are solid arguments that all Greens employ to defend themselves from furious Democrats who blame us for Bush. There’s the fact that 250,000 registered Democrats in Florida voted for Bush in 2000—far more than the 100,000 voters who opted for Nader. There’s the Democrats in the Senate who failed to join members of the Congressional Black Caucus when they were refusing to certify the election, particularly on the grounds that so many voters—most of them Black—had been disenfranchised in Florida. There are plenty of such ways we Greens can justify our actions in that campaign. But I, for one, am comfortable relying on the reason that motivated me to join the Greens and volunteer for Nader in June of 2000—that somebody had to stand up for American democracy, so it might as well be us.

The Cobb National Strategy and Its Long-Term Implications

It is very important to study the Cobb strategy for 2004. It helped set a precedent for Green action in future elections, and thus it needs to be thoroughly evaluated. Furthermore, we must study it bearing in mind the question: Do we follow the Cobb precedent or break with it?

In his statement, “Green Party 2004 Presidential Strategy” (first published online in 2003, but apparently not archived on VoteCobb.org; see Appendix), David Cobb presented a case for Green Party collaboration with the Democratic Party. The statement doesn’t come right out and say that, but that’s plainly what it means. By “collaboration” I am referring to an arrangement that would ensure a meager or even invisible Green presence in the battleground states. Cobb apparently thought this would help us win friends and influence people within the Democratic Party. Yet he said nothing about how it might demoralize and alienate 100 million non-voters, many of whom had become thoroughly disgusted with the Democrats and their own craven brand of collaboration with the Republicans.

Examples? Let’s start with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, a piece of legislation Ronald Reagan used to salivate over but could never get passed, and which Democrat Bill Clinton managed to make law. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which still holds the record for the most money ever spent by corporate lobbyists to shove a bill through Congress. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which the AFL-CIO and all the big unions opposed but which Clinton often held up as one of the finest achievements of his first term. The USA PATRIOT Act, which has turned the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution into a dead letter. The failure of Democrats in the Senate to filibuster to stop Bush’s tax cut for the fat cats in the top income brackets. Most notorious of all, there is the Iraq war authorization of October 2002, whereby Congress ignored its constitutional responsibility to debate and vote on a declaration of war, but instead saw fit to hand over full war-making powers to our mentally and morally deranged president. Many Democrats in Congress—including Senator John Kerry—took part in these atrocities, all of which were on record long before Cobb put forward his proposed strategy.

It’s useful to review Cobb’s plan in detail. In the section under the heading “The Proposed Overall Strategy,” Cobb leads off with the premise that George W. Bush is a crisis all by himself, a menace of historic significance, which implies that the little Green Party is not a sufficient force to deal with him. He then suggests that the Democrats aren’t so bad after all: “It is unacceptable to claim there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties.” We Greens are then admonished to protect our relationship with “progressive voters” and to show that we are ready to “work across party lines with genuine progressives.” Finally we come to the Safe States pledge itself—Cobb’s promise that he will not devote resources to those states where Electoral College votes are “in play.”

Let’s look more closely at the statement to make sure we’re getting Cobb’s meaning. First of all, I have to wonder why Cobb insists on scolding people who make the “unacceptable” claim that there is “no difference” between the two major parties. What Green has ever said there are no differences whatsoever between them? For that matter, when did Ralph Nader ever say that? Cobb’s statement is designed to put Nader supporters in the position of defending a stand we never took. What Nader did say, repeatedly, was that there are “few important differences” between the two major parties, and on the issue of corporate control of our government there is almost no difference. There is no way to attack that statement, because it is true, as Cobb well knows.

As for working “across party lines” with Democrats, why should we Greens be so concerned about that? When have Democrats ever been interested in working with us? For that matter, when have they ever been interested in doing anything besides trying to destroy us? Have I missed all the peace offerings, all the earnest appeals for dialogue and consultation? I don’t recall any such overtures from the Democrats. So why should we go hat in hand to them? Why not let them come to us?

The 2004 campaign, for Cobb, was designed to “culminate with George Bush losing the election.” And Cobb’s statement suggests none too subtly that the way to do this is to let the Democrats take the lead, while the Greens—especially in the swing states—lay low. This is presented as a growth strategy. But in this scenario, the growth is seen as coming only after the 2004 election, once the Greens have proven themselves “responsible” and “team players” and so forth. But it will be a hard sell. Who will want to leave the party that the Cobb Greens themselves suggested was the only one with the clout to beat the Republicans? What positive incentive have the Cobb Greens given them to join the Green Party?

In his statement, Cobb shows no interest whatever in the 100 million non-voters in this country—those who are the Greens’ natural constituency, because they plainly don’t have anyone else to represent them and their interests. Instead, Cobb’s main concern is with “progressive voters.” But who are these voters? Cobb does not define the term, but I think it’s safe to assume he is not referring to Republicans or the non-ideological independents. So who does that leave? Democrats, of course. Or anyway, those people who habitually vote for Democratic candidates, whether those candidates take progressive positions or not.  I maintain that we Greens can grow our party much better by seeking to represent those who do not feel they now have any representation at all. In opposition to Cobb & Co., I don’t believe we should trouble ourselves with people who have demonstrated again and again that they are perfectly happy as Democrats and don’t show any sign that they want to become Greens.

Yet there is something even more troubling here than the obvious defects of Cobb’s plan as a growth strategy. What’s missing is a focus on the Green Party. In the “Overall Strategy” portion of Cobb’s statement, the candidate really focuses much more on the Democrats and even seems to push the Greens out of the picture. In a sense, the two-party system—which we all know is the problem—is pushed forward as the solution.

Of course Cobb gives us what he regards as an excellent reason to fall back on the old failed system: George W. Bush. The “unelected” president is served up as the excuse deluxe, as the grim answer to every question, the man whose evil is so immense that he must be stopped by any means necessary—including copying his entire foreign policy and much of his domestic policy.

Let’s take one more look at what appears to be, for Cobb, the heart of the matter: “It is not acceptable to claim there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties.”

This one sentence, it seems to me, is the heart and soul of the whole Cobb campaign. Without saying it in so many words, Cobb is begging us to give the Democrats just one more chance. He even goes so far as to suggest it’s in our own best interests to do so: “If we want our party to grow, we must demonstrate to the American people…that we hear their concerns of the danger Bush poses.” But he obviously wants us to do more than simply “hear their concerns.” Cobb wants us to “demonstrate” it by surrendering the one thing that makes us relevant in American politics—our independence.

Instead of sticking up for his own party and talking about what positive action we Greens should be taking at such a critical moment in history, Cobb rushes to bring in the Democrats and asks us to go sit on the sidelines. A document that starts out focusing on the Greens and the challenges that confront us, suddenly turns into a pathetic apology for the Democratic Party.

A narrow majority of delegates to the Milwaukee convention followed Cobb and adopted his strategy. It resulted in a campaign in which the Greens garnered a tiny fraction of the votes we won in 2000 and effectively split our party right down the middle. And Bush is still in the White House.

IRV: the Only Solution?

It’s very instructive to examine what Cobb’s strategy statement has to say about electoral reform. The candidate states the following as a key principle: “We consistently articulate Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as the only solution to the question of Greens as ‘spoilers’.”

Why is the dread “spoiler” question such a burning issue for Cobb? Why is he so concerned with whether or not Green candidates “take away” votes from Democrats—as if those votes somehow “belonged” to the Democrats in the first place? It can only be that Cobb regards the Democrats as worthy of Green support. This attitude would seem perfectly natural if Cobb were a Democrat, but it sounds a little peculiar coming from a Green.

Let’s take a close look at Cobb’s use of the word “only” in the statement: IRV is “the only solution to the question of Greens as spoilers.” (Now, I contend that the spoiler issue is not the “problem” that Cobb imagines it to be. But for the moment let’s accept his premise that it is.) So, in order to solve the grave problem of Green spoilerism, our only possible chance is to pass IRV and make it the law. But…when is this likely to happen?

Consider: Al Gore lost the election of 2000 in large part because of the outmoded, anti-democratic Electoral College system. The Democrats had four years to propose abolishing that system, but did nothing. Greens propose all sorts of progressive reforms—universal health insurance, substantial subsidies for renewable energy sources, abolition of union-busting laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act—in addition to the call for IRV. Yet only a handful of Democrats in Congress support such reforms, while most—including John Kerry—do not even consider them to be up for discussion. Are we really supposed to expect these same do-nothing Democrats—much less the Republicans—to pass IRV anytime soon? The Democrats didn’t even stand up for themselves when a presidential election was stolen from them in 2000. Yet David Cobb wants us to wait patiently for them to help the Green Party by passing IRV!

And don’t forget: IRV is the only possible solution to this problem.

Shouldn’t it strike Green Party members as a bit odd that our own nominee for president seems to be urging us to lock ourselves into a no-win situation? We Greens dare not run against prominent Democrats (such as John Kerry) for fear of spoiling their chances, Cobb is saying. At the same time, we must wait patiently for those same Democrats to pass a law that will make it easier for Greens to compete. What is the way out of such a dilemma? There isn’t one. It’s designed to be a trap, a cozy rut in which the Greens are supposed to wallow indefinitely. It is designed to confuse and frustrate people. It is not a strategy for growth—it is rather a plan for demoralization and decay.

I would argue that the way to pass IRV is to run Greens aggressively for public office right now, under existing electoral law, rather than to postpone serious campaigns until the glorious day when we have the ideal, “spoiler-free” system Cobb envisions. We will pass IRV a lot sooner by first electing Greens to office and then introducing the legislation ourselves—rather than waiting for our “friends” currently in power to do it for us.

We Want Two Different Green Parties

What we’ve got here is not so much a failure to communicate as a failure to come to grips with the inevitable growing pains of a new political movement. But now we simply must confront the reality that some Greens still feel connected—emotionally, culturally, or what-have-you—to the Old Politics of the two-party system. Other Greens, however, are enthusiastically embracing a new world in which the Green Party has thrown off the shackles of the past and is pursuing an independent course, and in which each Green Party member has an equal opportunity to take part in our internal affairs. Essentially, we want two different kinds of Green Party. Rank-and-file members—old, new, and prospective—will sooner or later have to decide which one they want.

Since the conflict I’ve described here is fairly new, it is helpful to review the features of the two primary factions (or what some people call “currents”) within the Green Party today. One wants complete independence from the major parties…and the other wants to be subordinate, in some respects, to the Democratic Party. One wants to have internal democracy and employ a one person/one vote system for decision-making…while the other wants to grant heavily weighted votes to smaller state parties in frank imitation of the U.S. government’s anti-democratic Electoral College system. One has the lofty but inspiring goal of building a large, mass-based political party that one day will be the majority party in the United States…and the other aspires to being one party—and presumably a small one in relation to the Republican and Democratic parties—in a “multi-party democracy.”

I base my assessment of this last item on what I’ve heard from advocates from the “multi-party” group, and also what I have not heard from them. What I’ve heard is a description of a future Green Party that may attract 10 or 15 percent of the vote in major elections. (This is considerably more than we attract now, surely, but it is still a lot less than a majority.) This plateau is to be reached by first passing certain electoral reforms, especially IRV and Proportional Representation (PR). These reforms (as noted earlier) are often presented as the utterly indispensable changes in the system that we Greens will need to win significant support at the polls.

What I have not heard from these advocates is what they expect will happen, under their plan, to the two major parties that are presently in power. I think that omission is very telling. I can only presume, since they don’t even address the question, that they do not foresee Greens ever threatening to eclipse one major party or the other. They appear to be saying, by default, that the Republicans and Democrats will continue—perhaps even should continue—to command the lion’s share of the votes in U.S. elections.

There is no reason for us to settle for such limited goals—to forever be content with being small fish in a big pond. We can accomplish so much more than we usually think we can. Trite as that may sound, I feel it’s true. We often impose limits on ourselves in the name of being “realistic.” This is bad politics, because it tends to empower cynics and often discourages the idealists who bring about positive change in the world.

In any case, one thing is certain: If we tell ourselves at the outset that we have no chance to grow into the majority party in this country, then indeed we won’t. But why shouldn’t we shoot for the big goal, the one we really want? We should try to stop listening, just for a while, to all the gloomy “realists” who surround us and simply set about attempting to do what they think is so impossible.

The reason I am bringing the reader’s attention to these matters is because we Greens simply do not talk about them enough. I have heard precious little discussion about long-term strategy among the Greens. In New York we talk a great deal about preparing for 2006 and the next gubernatorial election, in which we need to win 50,000 votes to get back permanent ballot status. I’ve heard some folks toss out questions about what kind of national campaign we will run in 2008. But no one seems to be talking about where the Green Party will be, or should be, not four years from now, but ten years from now…or 20 years from now.

Let me return for a moment to the example of the British Labour Party and why I think it is a good model for Greens to follow. A hundred years ago, Labour was just getting started, and politics in Britain was dominated by two major parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. Generally speaking, these two parties represented only the interests of the very wealthy, and working people really had no meaningful role in making policy. (Sound familiar?) But about 30 years after its official founding, the Labour Party had not only displaced one of the two upper-crust parties—the Liberals—but they had won a near-majority in Parliament. In 1945, they won a majority outright. After centuries of giving their time, their taxes, and, yes, their labor to their country, the working people of Great Britain finally had control of their own government. And though the Labour Party today, under Blair, is a bad imitation of our own corrupt Democratic Party, still in the early and mid-twentieth century it played an absolutely vital role in giving political voice to the people in Britain who did the work and created the wealth. This historical precedent is one that should give Greens confidence in themselves and their prospects for winning majority power here in the United States.

It’s prudent to have short-term goals. But long-term goals are just as important. Without them, we are liable to drift. That is, we are in danger of letting the years go by and end up getting nowhere, or getting lost. If, however, we set long-term goals for the Green Party, we are much more likely to actually achieve something close to our heart’s desire in American politics. Life is short. We need to start taking control of our future, to the extent that we can, right now.

At this stage the reader may be wondering about the future of this conflict between “Cobb Greens” and “Nader Greens”—between collaborationists and independents. The reader may ask: “Do we really have to have this fight between the two groups?”

Yes, we do. We could try to sweep it under the rug and pretend the problem just isn’t there, but all that would do is postpone a fight that has to be fought one of these days. At the very latest, the conflict will erupt in 2007 when debates start to break out concerning the question of our presidential campaign for 2008. We gain nothing by putting off the inevitable. So it seems to me that we are better off having the debates—which are liable to get heated—right now rather than later.

Our unfortunate choice of national strategy in 2004 set a precedent that everybody—Cobb’s “progressive voters” above all—will expect us to stick to from now on. In 2007 and early 2008, some Greens will no doubt argue that a new Republican monster—Rudolph Giuliani, for instance—looms on the presidential horizon and must be stopped. The beleaguered Democrats will once again beg us to stand down from running an aggressive national campaign, telling us that we must not tempt would-be Democratic voters into voting Green. The Safe State Greens will come forward again with the same bizarre formulation: “Let us grow the Green Party by urging millions of people not to vote for us!”

After we’ve slugged it out regarding whether Cobb’s strategy really amounts to collaboration—and of course I contend that it does—then we must return to the question of whether collaboration is a good thing or a bad thing. Some Greens seem to feel that it is a good thing. But first we have to face up to the fact that we disagree on this question and that it is a major disagreement, not a petty snit about tactics or a conflict between personality types. From there we can begin to have an honest discussion about what kind of Green Party we want over the long term.

Can the Green Party survive such a struggle? Of course it can. It certainly has a better chance of survival if such basic issues are openly debated and discussed. The exchange itself will make us stronger. It will challenge all of us to think about the party’s future and our own individual hopes and aspirations. The better we know our own minds about that, the better we will be prepared to persuade people to join us. New Greens will have much more confidence in us and in themselves if they feel they have a sense of long-term mission, if they feel they can ride out short-term crises by having a prize to keep their eyes on, and if they see the more experienced Greens sticking to their guns and refusing to retreat in the face of intimidation from either of the major parties.

Can the two sides co-exist? Yes, for a time. A year or two, perhaps. But not longer than that. The merciless regularity of the election cycle will eventually force us to take one of two roads—the one less traveled by, or the path of least resistance. The latter leads right back to serfdom within the Democratic Party, and probably in short order. The harder road promises a long march with no end of difficulties. But it leads to freedom and self-respect. How can we possibly fail to choose the right road?

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APPENDIX

Green Party 2004 Presidential Strategy
By David Cobb

Introduction

The Green Party is the electoral arm of a growing worldwide movement for peace, social justice, ecology and democracy.  The fundamental question facing us is one of sovereignty.  Who shall rule – “We the People” by shared public decision-making or unelected and unaccountable corporate executives in private boardrooms?

The seriousness of the question cannot be overstated.  Unrestrained corporate power is literally destroying the earth, and creating an unjust and ultimately unsustainable world with the plunder.  Against this somber backdrop the Green Party must consider how we can continue to grow, and evolve beyond our current role as the party of opposition to the party of transformation of politics, culture, and economics.

Growing Our Party

I propose that the Green Party run a strategic presidential campaign in 2004 that establishes concrete goals to build the party at the local, state and national levels.

Specific Goals

  • Increase Green Party membership
  • Build and strengthen our internal infrastructure
  • Help local candidates and initiatives
  • Create state and local chapters were they do not yet exist
  • Hone our skills as citizen organizers by providing trainings to local chapters

Cobb Pledges

I commit that all actions of a Cobb Green Party campaign will work toward that end.  If I seek the Green Party nomination for President, I make the following pledges:

  • I will publicly support the Green Party Platform as adopted at the Green Party national convention.
  • I will immediately share all volunteer lists generated during my campaign with the respective local and state Green Party.
  • I will share (at no cost) all donor lists generated during my campaign with the Green Party National Committee by January 2, 2005.
  • I will coordinate all hires at the national level with the Green Party National Committee, and at the state and local level with the respective state and local Green Party.
  • I will hire Green Party activists to work on my campaign at the national, state and local level.

The Proposed Overall Strategy

The Green Party stands at a crucial moment in our history.  The unelected Bush regime has deeply divided the American people.  It is unacceptable to claim that there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties.  If we want our party to grow, we must demonstrate to the American people (and especially progressive voters) that we hear their concerns of the danger Bush poses.

I propose the following strategy for the Green Party Presidential campaign in 2004:

  1. .  We consistently articulate Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as the only solution to the question of Greens as “spoilers.”
  2. .  The candidate should publicly state that if Dennis Kucinich or Al Sharpton wins the Democratic Party nomination, we will withdraw from the race.  Greens know that the DNC leadership and their corporate funders will never allow a Kucinich or Sharpton nomination.  By publicly making this statement we demonstrate our willingness to work across party lines with genuine progressives, and when Kucinich and Sharpton are rebuked by the Democratic Party leadership (as were Jesse Jackson and Jerry Brown), it will continue to illustrate that the Democratic Party is not the progressive party in the US.
  3. .  The candidate should publicly state that if Joseph Lieberman wins the Democratic Party nomination our Presidential campaign will be run so as to prevent his election.  We will not back away from an absolute rejection of such a corporate conservative candidate.
  4. .  The candidate should publicly state that if a marginally “moderate” (but still woefully inadequate) candidate wins the Democratic Party nomination, we will follow a Strategic States Plan for our campaign.  Most of our resources should be focused on those states where the Electoral College votes are not “in play.”

The Green Party can run a strong campaign in 2004 that grows our party, garners millions of votes, and culminates with George Bush losing the election.  The Green Party has grown larger, stronger and better organized with every election cycle.  With such strength comes a responsibility to exercise it wisely and effectively.

Response and Feedback requested
David Cobb – cobbweb@greens.org

 

Please Just Keep an Open Mind

Aside

The first key to wisdom is frequent and assiduous questioning.

— Peter Abelard (1079–1142)

My friend Don Butterfield is the spokesman on a two-minute introductory video for the High-Rise Safety Initiative. (See the home-page of http://highrisesafetynyc.org and the video, “For the Safety of All New Yorkers,” which you can also find on YouTube.) Visit the website and read a little bit of what’s on the home page. And take a minute or two to watch the video.

The High-Rise Safety Initiative is a New York City ballot proposal to investigate the collapse of World Trade Center 7 on Sept. 11, 2001, and any similar collapses that may take place in the future. I hope New York City residents reading this will consider signing the petition before July 3rd to help get the proposal on the ballot this November.

My approach to the issues around 9/11 is to ask a lot of questions. I wouldn’t bother doing that if I already had all the answers. I don’t. So I ask a lot of questions.

Do I ever draw conclusions? Sure. But tentative ones. Provisional ones. I hedge my bets like that because, frankly, I have the somewhat childish fear that, if it were to turn out that the official story of 9/11 is true and accurate in every detail, then people would giggle at me for ever being foolish enough to question it.

I think most people have that same fear of being ostracized or ridiculed, that same need for approval and acceptance. No one likes to be scorned as a fool or a crackpot. But this case is so important that I feel like I have to take the chance. If people want to laugh at me for asking too many questions, I’ll handle it. I hope you’ll consider joining me in that endeavor—just asking some pertinent questions.

But before you do, it might be helpful to get some background on the case, in addition to what’s on the Initiative website. I’ve read a fair amount of material from both sides of the story, that is, from the perspective of those who adhere to the official theory and from the point-of-view of those who challenge and criticize it.

Let me suggest that you check out the 2008 final report of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on the collapse of World Trade Center 7. (NIST is a bureau within the U.S. Dept. of Commerce.) The version that I read can be found toward the end of the widely read book, Debunking 9/11 Myths. It consists of selected sections of the full report. It is only 12 pages long. After reading it, ask yourself if you find it convincing.

It bears repeating that I do not have all the answers. But I do have so many unanswered questions about the official U.S. government theory of 9/11 that I believe we absolutely must have a new investigation of what happened on that terrible day 13 years ago.

Jerry

My response to “What Is the New Populism?”

Re: “What Is the New Populism?” by Robert Borosage

To Portside Editors:

Doesn’t the “New Populism” need and deserve a new political party to achieve its goals? Like, say, a party called…the Populist Party?

That sounds like a good idea to me. After all, why should we expect the Democratic Party to pass Populist legislation? The Democrats sold out organized labor on NAFTA in the ‘90s, caved in to the Bush administration on the illegal invasion of Iraq in the ‘00s, and joined the Republicans in bailing out the big bankers who caused the Crash of 2008. Why would any sensible Populist trust them?

Yet it is not so much what Robert Borosage includes in his speech that makes me so doubtful about his message, but rather what he leaves out. He doesn’t mention proposals that are certain to be crucially important to Populists.

For example, he doesn’t say a word about Single-Payer national health insurance. He says nothing about repealing the 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments, which would surely help millions of workers form unions to raise their standard of living. There’s nothing in his speech about a carbon tax to combat global warming, or about getting rid of NDAA Section 1021 and other attacks on traditional American guarantees of liberty. Yes, he does mention the initiative for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle. But that development is largely thanks to new city council member Kshama Sawant — who happens to be a Socialist, not a Democrat.

Let’s not get bamboozled by the phony-baloney Democrats (and Republicans) anymore. Go to www.populistclubofnewyork.wordpress.com to learn more.

Sincerely,

Jerry Kann     25-60 42nd St., #1F   Astoria, NY 11103    JerryKann99@Yahoo.com

P.S. I am already a registered Populist and have been for years. In 2008, Ralph Nader ran on a Populist line here in New York, and I was happily one of the volunteers on that campaign. So it’s interesting to note that Borosages’s piece starts by identifying the problem in our country today: “Too few people control too much money and power…” This is almost a direct quote from Nader’s Green Party campaign for President in 2000.

The “Affordable” Care Act: The Best Illustration Yet of Why We Need a New Major Political Party

TV, radio, and newspapers are always telling us that the Democrats and Republicans in Congress are sworn enemies. They are locked in a battle to the death. They despise each other, and they have fundamentally different ideas about where they want to take the country.

It’s a lie.

The truth is, they agree on just about everything, especially when it comes to the big ticket items. They only pretend to disagree. It’s all an act. They’re faking the whole goddamn thing.

They don’t pretend very well—the act is very crude and easy to see through—but they are very consistent and they religiously stick to the script. Only a few members of Congress ever speak the truth about what’s really going on.1 What’s more, major media play along and report all the noisy theatre and windbag rhetoric as if it were an honest debate about real alternatives.

Worst of all, a lot of voters pretend to believe the lies peddled by their own parties. Many “conservatives” pretend to buy the free-market ideology that they get from the Republicans, and “liberals” pretend they’re dumb enough to believe the lies they hear from the Democrats.

But when it comes time for Congress to vote on legislation and for the President to sign it, suddenly the D’s and R’s come together. They always manage to come up with something nice and juicy for the big banks and corporations and the speculators and the war profiteers. Republican or Democrat, they always seem to make sure that the people who are already very rich get even richer. And who gets screwed in the process? The vast majority of Americans—the people who do the work and pay the taxes.

For a list of examples of how this evil practice has worked over the years, see the footnote at the end of this article.2 But for the best example of all, take the Affordable Care Act.

On this issue of healthcare “reform,” what do the Republicans say they want? To de-fund the ACA and stick with the old health insurance system, which has been very profitable for the big insurance companies for decades. What do the Democrats say they want? A new system under which people who have no money get squeezed for an average of $328 a month by a private, for-profit insurance company for a health insurance plan they can’t afford. (Full disclosure: I do not have health insurance coverage of any kind. Neither of my two jobs offers coverage and I don’t have any disposable income, to speak of. I cannot possibly afford a private insurance policy that costs $328 a month or anywhere close to it.)

If these financially strapped people refuse to sign up for one of the plans on offer, they’ll get nailed for a tax penalty by the IRS. If they can’t scrounge the money to pay the penalty by April 15, they will undoubtedly go into debt to the government. More debt! More bills they can’t pay! And all to support a new system that will probably be even more profitable for the big insurance companies than the old system was.

No matter which of the two major parties “wins” this “fight,” the big insurance companies will be the real winners. They will remain very rich or get even richer. Their top directors and shareholders will continue making money hand over fist, as usual, or they’ll also rake in billions of dollars in new profits. And millions of Americans who are already struggling will get even poorer.

That’s a pretty weird outcome for a country that’s supposedly based on democracy and majority rule, isn’t it? But wait. It gets weirder. Because you almost never hear about the best option of all—a Single-Payer national health insurance plan. The U.S. government, under this plan, would be the “single payer” for all health insurance claims, while most physicians and hospitals would remain in the private sector. The plan is often called “Medicare for All” because it would simply extend the very successful Medicare system, which now exists for older people, to everyone.

Under Single-Payer, the high cost of healthcare would disappear because the profiteers—the big insurance companies—would be phased out over a period of 10 to 15 years. And why shouldn’t they be phased out? Their tremendous greed is what caused the healthcare crisis in the first place.

But the Democrats and Republicans in Congress made damn good and sure that Single-Payer did not get any traction, or even a mention. In May 2009, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing where 16 groups had been invited to testify about proposals for managing health insurance in the United States. Not one of the 16 would be testifying about Single-Payer.

Luckily, in the gallery were eight people of conscience who made sure that the audience watching the hearings on C-SPAN and the reporters in the hearing room got an earful about Single-Payer. Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action, Katie Robbins of HealthcareNOW!, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese and several others literally stood up for a truly rational and fair national health plan. As the hearings began, they stood up, one after another, and forcefully made their case for Single-Payer before being arrested.

This is how desperate things have become. This is what the two major parties have done to the highest deliberative body in our supposedly free country. The Senate wouldn’t even allow the best idea to get a hearing! Even if a reasonable person can have doubts about Single-Payer, is it therefore right to keep it from even being discussed? Is it fair? Is it honest? Is it democratic?

Naturally, blaming the two major parties for this state of affairs is not the same thing as blaming all their members in Congress. There are a precious few individual exceptions, a handful of honest, courageous people. Dennis Kucinich really was sincere when he said he was dedicated to a public, not-for-profit health insurance system for this country. He was one of the last hold-outs standing up to the stupendous vote-buying power of the big insurance companies. The very fact that he held out—when most of his colleagues were busy selling out—shows that he was sincere. But during the winter of 2010, as the vote on the ACA approached, Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership all piled on Kucinich and bullied him into voting Yes. They thus destroyed one of the few good people they had left.

A few Republicans are probably just as sincere about their own beliefs—“free” markets, “free” trade, limited government, and so on. Most Republicans, however, don’t believe any such thing. Any candid observer can see that, because their actions speak much louder than their words. If they really did believe their own P.R., they’d fight “big government” by opposing the biggest, costliest armed forces in the world. They’d support an international free market in labor, allowing workers to cross international borders as easily as corporations do. And they’d be honest about their assessment of Obamacare and give up the ludicrous charge that it’s “socialism.”

The Affordable Care Act is not, as the Republicans pretend to believe, a government take-over of the health insurance industry. It’s a health insurance industry take-over of the government. It’s not socialism. It’s fascism.

It’s very instructive to look at how the insurance companies reacted when the ACA was passed. I cannot find a transcript or audio of the interview I heard on NPR the morning after Congress passed the Act, but I do recall the NPR reporter suggesting that this legislation represented a “windfall” for the insurance industry. Did the industry spokesperson respond indignantly and complain about how much money the big insurance companies stood to lose from the enactment of the ACA? No, not at all. She calmly went into an explanation of how the ACA was going to work. And she certainly did not deny that the Act was going to lead to windfall profits for insurance companies.

The name Liz Fowler hasn’t come up much in the few days since October 1, but that name draws over 20,000 hits on Google and 14,000 on Bing, mostly in stories from 2010 and 2012. Take, for instance, a story by progressive stalwart Bill Moyers (with copious quotes from the man who brought us the Edward Snowden revelations on the NSA, Glenn Greenwald; see http://billmoyers.com/2012/12/13/washington%E2%80%99s-revolving-door-is-hazardous-to-our-health/). The story notes that Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (yes, the same committee at whose hearings the “Baucus 8” caused such a ruckus and got arrested for it), is a big fan of Fowler’s. ”After Obamacare passed,” Moyers writes, “Senator Baucus himself, one of the biggest recipients in Congress of campaign cash from the health care industry, boasted that the architect of the legislation was none other than Liz Fowler.” Moyers also informs us that Fowler once worked for WellPoint, the largest health insurance company in America. She then had her brief but momentous stint working for the Obama administration. Where does she work now? Johnson & Johnson.

All this chicanery cries out for action. Yes, we have to keep digging on important issues like health insurance in America, in order to separate the truth from the propaganda. But there comes a time when you have to take action.

The time has come, it seems to me, to go beyond merely “speaking truth to power.” The time has come to simply take the power away from the people who have abused it. This can be done legally, constitutionally, and non-violently. People who support the Medicare for All idea must run for public office. They only need to speak truth not to the powerful, but to the voters.

The voters have gotten so used to being lied to that, at first, they will blow the raspberries and wave these new candidates away. But after awhile they’ll begin to see that these candidates are really telling the truth. Finally, some of those voters will say to themselves: Hey, what have I got to lose? I think I’ll vote for one of those Single-Payer advocates. Soon the idea will catch on. Hey, you can vote for a decent, honorable person instead of a scoundrel. And you have a shot at sweeping the scoundrel out of office in the process!

It can work. It does mean actually competing with the Democrats and Republicans—not cozying up to them. It means conflict. But, once again: it’s legal, it’s constitutional, and it’s non-violent. And it’s probably the only thing that’s going to work. We must give it a serious try as soon as possible.

1    Senator Dick Durbin must have startled quite a few of his colleagues when he said, “Frankly, the banks run this place.”

2   Some of the instances of give-aways to the big corporations and the upper-bracket “earners” include:
—Barack Obama’s refusal to let the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich sunset late in 2010, when he still had a chance to get it passed while the Democrats ostensibly controlled Congress. (See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/16/AR2010121606200.html) Naturally Obama could have let taxes go up on the wealthy and negotiated for preventing them from going up on middle-income taxpayers, but he chose not to do that. If the Democrats—including, of course, the President—can’t deliver on one of their progressive promises even when they have the opportunity to do so, then it’s pretty clear there’s no meaningful difference between the two major parties. And, once again, take note who the real winners were: the fat cats. They did just as well with a Democrat in the White House as they did with a Republican.

—The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton, and overturned the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking that had worked so well since it was established by Congress in 1933. The FSMA led to a giddy celebration among the Wall Street bankers—and to the Crash of 2008 a few years later.
—The Obama campaign’s promise to end the Iraq war in 16 months. May 2010 came and went seemingly without a soul even whispering about the Democratic President’s obvious failure to do anything to end the occupation of Iraq. Instead, Obama & Co. kept the war going until the end of 2011, exactly as the Republican George W. Bush had arranged, and no doubt pleasing the contractors and mercenaries who got another year-and-a-half to do business in that ruined country.
—The big bank bail-out of 2008. Congress at first rejected the Bush administration’s proposal to gift-wrap $700 billion and send it to the very Wall Street bankers who had caused the crisis. (It’s interesting to note that more Democrats than Republicans in the House voted with a Republican President on the bill. Party lines? What party lines? See http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/04/business/fi-bailout4) But within minutes of the vote in the House being announced, the market took a nose-dive and ended the day almost 800 points down. Suddenly both parties got the message. Within a few days the Senate passed, in effect, another version of the bill that the House had already rejected (which may not even have been constitutional, since appropriations bills are supposed to start in the House, not in the Senate; see Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution) and the House dutifully passed it in short order. You’ve hardly ever had a better example of the tail wagging the dog—the tail being the Wall Street gang and the dog being their loyal puppies in the U.S. Congress.

#     #     #

We Need a New Political Party

March 21, 2013

 

The time has come to create a new major political party.

A new major political party. An independent party big enough to compete with the two existing major parties, the Democrats and Republicans—and hopefully big enough, someday, to sweep them both out of power.

The two major parties are not permanent fixtures of the landscape. They’re not immortal. They’re not in power as the result of some law of nature or an act of God. They’re fallible and corruptible. And they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Both major parties are corrupt beyond redemption. They’ve been taking bribes from the Big Business bosses for so long that now they really only represent rich people and the big banks and corporations. Many Americans have been faithfully voting Democrat or Republican for years, or for decades, and they will be shocked at the suggestion that those two parties need to be broomed out of office. But in fact, their time has come. They’ve gotta go.

In order to save American democracy, we need thousands and thousands of honest, smart, articulate, angry people to run for public office. We need candidates who have never run before, but who have always known deep down that they have something valuable to contribute. We need new blood, and lots of it.

Why do these new candidates need a party? Well, why do workers need a union? Why do community activists need a club? Such organizations give people a way to divide up the work and to give every member a chance to participate. Sure, a person can run for office as a lone wolf, as a full independent. But that’s a very hard way to do it, perhaps much harder than it needs to be for most people. Doing politics takes time and effort. And money. And organization. That’s what a political party is for.

How many people could be brought together in such a party? Well, millions of people want a single-payer healthcare system that covers everybody, not one that excludes some folks and forces everybody else to buy health insurance from a private insurance company. Millions also want labor laws that make it easier to form unions—to raise their standard of living and give them more power in the workplace. And certainly millions want to bring all the troops and mercenaries home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and even from many other U.S. bases all over the world that pointlessly stand guard against rival superpowers that don’t exist anymore. There are millions of Americans who agree on all these issues, but the Republicans and Democrats keep throwing up roadblocks. What’s the obvious solution? Form our own party and do the job ourselves.

What’s It All About?

 Politics is about power. It’s about competition just as much as it’s about cooperation and compromise. Yes, it would be wonderful if all of us—rich and poor and middle-class alike—could converge in a gigantic group hug and agree to share our resources and responsibilities. But the world at present is dominated by a very small, fabulously wealthy group of people who want all the money and power for themselves. For a long time they only hoarded money, but for the past 20 or 30 years they have been hoarding political power as well. They have become a grave threat—a near-mortal threat—to American democracy.

But there is a way to save our democracy. We can do it by using the democratic process itself. Competing for power in elections—competing for the support of our fellow citizens and indeed for the support of people of goodwill all over the world—that is the instrument we can use to save democracy in the United States.

Nowadays it’s fashionable to be cynical about electoral politics. That’s not surprising, considering how completely the Democrats and Republicans have sold out to the big corporations. Many people seem to feel it’s a waste of time even bothering to vote. But feeling discouraged and giving up altogether are two different things. There is no reason to give up, when there is such vast potential for working people to take public power into their own hands. If thousands of activists take responsibility for their own future, if they finally graduate from being voters to being candidates, then we can transform and renew American democracy. And we can win. If we are the 99%, it shouldn’t be any great trick to win elections by a simple majority of 50% plus one.

Some people—particularly those in the Occupy movement—seem to have given up on the electoral process entirely. We should abandon the old system, they argue—not so much overthrow it as leave it behind. We must not try to reform the old politics but instead simply ignore it and build new institutions. Also, many Occupy participants want to rely entirely on direct action—demonstrations, marches, and acts of civil disobedience—rather than engage in party politics of any kind.

Maybe they’re right. I’m proud to be a member of Occupy in New York City and in my own neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. I’m certainly willing to consider Occupy’s non-electoral, “non-partisan” approach. After all, I can’t knock success. Occupy Wall Street captured the attention of the world in the fall of 2011, before it was violently put down. And indeed the day may come when the corporate state becomes so powerful that civil disobedience will be our only possible way of fighting back.

But that day hasn’t come yet. Direct action, as effective as it has been in many countries, is not our only possible means of resistance. We’ve hardly even begun to tap the potential for creating a large, dynamic, growing political party of working people. We’d be downright irresponsible not to try to bring that potential to life.

What’s more, it’s not very likely that the millionaires and billionaires who have taken over the government will be content to live and let live. They’ve shown disrespect for the rule of law and contempt for the general welfare of the people. They attack us without provocation. They attack union members, journalists, and peaceful protestors. We can’t just wish ’em away. We have to take action.

When Malcolm X toured Africa in 1964, he saw that several nations on that continent had won their freedom the same way the United States had won its own freedom from Great Britain: They made up their minds they wanted independence from their colonial overlords, and then they threw them out. They marshalled their own power. “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression,” said Malcolm upon his return to the U.S., “because power, real power, comes from conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

Electoral politics is one means of asserting power. It is lawful. It is constitutional. It is non-violent. And it has the potential to be very, very, very—well, powerful.

If people who call themselves “progressives” really do want progress, they have to take the struggle to the next level. They have to assert themselves. They have to compete with those very rich, pathologically greedy people who have bought up the services of both major parties. They can no longer rely on Democrats who have lied to them and betrayed them again and again and again. They have to declare their independence and break free.

This Can’t Wait

Back in October of 2000, Ralph Nader showed up at the first debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush. The event was put together by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private organization formed by the Democratic and Republican national committees and a few big corporate sponsors. At that stage Nader, the Green Party candidate for President that year, was polling at around 4% or 5%, which translated to about 4 or 5 million supporters. (Democrats often complain that Nader “took away” votes from Al Gore, as if those votes somehow belonged to Gore and his supporters. But Democrats know deep down that by 2000 they had driven away many loyal voters by acting so much like Republicans that many people couldn’t tell the difference anymore.)

That night Nader had a ticket to a screening of the debate and an invitation for an interview with Fox News, both set to take place on the campus of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Yet when he tried to enter the compound, as a supposedly free man in a supposedly free country with every right to be there, he was approached by a representative of the Debate Commission and a Massachusetts state trooper—and threatened with arrest.

Nader and the Greens were using the democratic process to challenge the fat cats and to speak up for the 99%. What was the response? Police state tactics. A threat of arrest when no crime was being committed. All Nader had to do was show up and the major parties and their corporate bosses freaked right out. They were terrified of an honest man daring to meddle in an election process that they obviously thought they owned.

The Greens had taken all that talk about “the land of the free” at face value and acted on it. Who stood in their way? An unelected, unaccountable, corporate-funded “commission” and a state trooper. The corporations and the cops. Sound familiar?

That was twelve years ago. We were already living in a corporate police state in 2000, but a lot of people must have been looking the other way, trying not to see what was already so plain and evident. They can’t look away anymore. The actions of the corporate elite are just too crazy, their tactics too crude, their guilt too obvious, and their wanton destruction of our country too hard to ignore.

The corporate bosses who run American politics do have a lot of money. But so what? We have ’em outnumbered by a staggering margin. They’re just people, and they’re vulnerable. And we can defeat them. And we can do it democratically. We just have to make up our minds that we can do it. That’s the first step.

                                   

 

How Elected Community Councils Can Make New York City Government More Democratic and More Responsive

How Elected Community Councils Can Make New York City Government More Democratic and More Responsive

by Jerry Kann—–Green Party candidate for New York City Council in District 22—–Astoria, Queens

June 23, 2005

The basic idea of the Community Councils is not new. Other members of the Green Party have proposed it, and probably all political parties in New York have put the idea forward at some time in the past. But it first struck me as a change that is absolutely necessary for New York City in 2001, during the battle over new power plants in Astoria and Long Island City. There were many public hearings on the proposed plants. Sometimes hundreds of residents showed up, almost all of them saying very emphatically that they did not want the power plants in this area. Yet somehow every single one of the proposed power plants was approved by the state government—as if the wishes of Astoria and LIC residents meant nothing at all. This made me angry. It still does.

I know many people will dismiss this as just the usual griping on the theme of “not in my backyard.” No one wants an air-polluting power plant in their neighborhood—or a waste transfer station, or a sewage treatment plant. So we are told that somebody has to make this sacrifice, and we’re scolded like children for objecting to the city’s or the state’s plans. But it is almost always the same people who are expected to make sacrifices. Usually, although not always, it is poor people in poor neighborhoods. One example is the sewage treatment plant on the Hudson, in West Harlem. While the public park that tops off the plant and overlooks the river is very pretty, the powerful odor from plant is still something no one would want near their home. Yet somehow the plant was dumped on the relatively disadvantaged inhabitants of West Harlem and not on the well-to-do residents of the Upper West Side.

We have seen this happen time and again in New York, as for instance with the small power generators based in West Queens and the South Bronx, areas with very high rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases. As for Astoria, a relatively middle-class area, residents get the shaft from power plants because the old infrastructure for the plants is here and has been here for over a hundred years. Naturally it would cost billions to build new infrastructure in other parts of the city. But shouldn’t that be the cost of doing business for the extremely profitable electric power industry? Why must the people in Astoria pay the price in terms of negative impact on their health and safety?

If New York had elected “Community Councils” based in City Council districts, city residents would have more direct say-so and oversight on important matters that affect their health, their safety, their level of taxation, and other things that directly affect their lives.

The Current Community Boards Are Insufficient

Most of the members of the Community Boards are decent, well-intentioned people who care about the neighborhoods they serve. Also, their staffs are generally made up of competent, responsible people who probably should be kept on under any new system we set up. But the current Community Boards are less than perfect, for several reasons:

• They have very little power Their role is more or less advisory. If they object to proposed city planning, that cannot stop the plans from going through.

• They are not particularly representative Community Board 1 in Queens covers an area that includes the Queensbridge Houses, one of the largest public housing projects in the country. Most of the residents there are African-American, and yet Board 1 had (as recently as a year and a half ago) only one African-American member. (There are two today—on a board with almost 40 members.)

• They are oriented toward the Borough, not the City Under the old Board of Estimate system in place until 1989, Borough Presidents had substantially more influence over how the city was run than they do now. What is needed today are Boards or Councils based in City Council districts, oriented not toward the fairly meaningless Borough Boards but toward City Hall, where the real decision-making power lies.

How the Community Council System Would Work

In each City Council district, we might elect a relatively small number of people—say, ten or twelve, or perhaps an odd number to prevent ties and deadlocks. They might be elected at-large or within “wards” (sections of the larger district). This second option is probably better, since it would ensure that the different small neighborhoods within a given district—which are often very different indeed—would be represented. (A walk around City Council District 22 illustrates the tremendous diversity of our area, and probably the same could be said of many other districts. There are ethnic differences, and sometimes very stark differences in terms of how poor or well-off people are. Two Coves has community concerns that may not be relevant for Astoria Heights, and vice versa. Issues that are important in Old Astoria might be very different from those in North Queensview. And so on.)

A dozen or so elected representatives in each City Council District shouldn’t seem extravagant to anyone. New York’s 51 City Council districts contain about 160,000 residents each. That’s a lot of people. Certainly a town of 160,000 in some rural county upstate deserves a city council or a town board. So why shouldn’t the same number of people living in New York City have an elected Community Council in their own “little city” of Astoria or Woodside or Jackson Heights? (Or Greenpoint or East Harlem…and so on.)

The Council should meet at least monthly. And an important part of those meetings would be a report from the district’s member of City Council—our representative at City Hall. This would ensure that everybody would be more up to speed on issues that concern us all. And perhaps they ought to be paid. A small stipend of perhaps $500 or $1000 a year would make the members more accountable to their constituents, since the people in the communities would certainly expect their Community Council members to justify that stipend by reaching out to their fellow residents and making themselves available. (If people think this is a grand sum of money, you only need to do the math. The cost of a dozen Community Council members in 51 City Councils districts citywide, paid $1000 annually, would amount to a little more than $600,000—not even one-tenth of one percent in a total budget of $48 billion.)

How the System Would Improve Our Quality of Life

Some of the benefits of the Community Councils would include:

• More help for City Council—–The offices of City Council members are overworked and understaffed. City Council would be better informed and better supported in its work if they were assisted by a body such as the Community Council in their district.

• More responsiveness from City Council—–Certainly a City Council member who has to report to his or her constituents twelve times a year will be more responsive and more accountable.

• Help in making Local Laws—–The Community Councils could bring their knowledge of their neighborhoods to bear in helping to make Local Laws. They could propose legislation that City Council (as it’s presently set up) cannot formulate now, due to lack of information and input from residents.

• Better organization and increased clout in dealing with Albany—– Much of the local authority that New York City lost in the fiscal crisis of the 1970s can come back to the city now. At that time New York’s population was about 7.1 million. As of the 2000 census, it is over 8 million—more populous than it has ever been in history, thanks in large part to increased immigration. (About 40 percent of New York City residents today are foreign-born; in Astoria the figure is about 50 percent.) Neighborhoods have more residents, less crime, and a better tax base than they had 30 years ago. Now is the time to rev up the organization of New York’s 51 little cities and start demanding what we deserve from New York State—such as the billions for city schools already awarded to us by the courts but denied to us by the governor.

• Shining a light on corruption—–A Deputy Commissioner of Buildings in the Giuliani administration, one Richard Visconti, in 1998 issued a so-called “technical memo” that allowed cell phone companies to skip the approval process to start putting up cell phone antennas on rooftops all over the city. The legal process calls for public hearings in the communities where the companies want to build the antennas. If it weren’t for the courage and tenacity of the Astoria Neighborhood Coalition, headed up by activists Evie Hantzopoulos and John Campos, we might never have found out that the cell phone antennas were installed illegally and without timely review by the residents of Astoria.

• Making everybody more accountable—–When SCS Energy (a Massachusetts-based power company which goes by the locally adopted name of “Astoria Energy”) first proposed a new natural gas-burning power plant at the north end of Steinway Street, they had to submit to local hearings held by the state Dept. of Public Service and Dept. of Environmental Conservation in April 2001. The proposal was for a huge plant with capacity of 1000 megawatts. Elected officials from West Queens held several very well-publicized rallies protesting a much smaller proposed plant (with capacity of 88 megawatts) that was eventually built on the East River next to Silvercup Studios. But while freshman Assemblyman Michael Gianaris and City Council candidate Peter Vallone Jr. were able to show up at those rallies protesting the smaller plant, they never organized rallies to protest the much larger plant at the site on Steinway Street. In fact, on the evening of the hearings for the bigger plant—which were attended by dozens of out-of-district building trades workers and covered for TV news by Channel 2 and Channel 4—Gianaris and Vallone Jr. were nowhere to be seen.

Obviously it would be helpful for people in Astoria to be able to question their elected officials about matters like this more regularly and more often—not just once a year at a Town Hall at the Museum of the Moving Image. If this were the case, we might be able to find out why it was so important to protest a very small power plant project…but OK to do nothing to protest a project that was more than ten times the size.

We would lose nothing by making our system of city government more democratic and making our elected officials accountable to the people who do the work and pay the taxes. Throughout American history, more democracy—more power for the average person—has improved life for everybody. From the abolition of slavery, to the gains of the organized labor movement, to the winning of the vote for women, to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s…these changes made our country a more fair, decent, and humane place to live. We can be confident that more democracy for our communities would have the same civilizing influence on life here in New York City today.

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A Fast Word about American Fascism

Fascism was different in the twentieth century. It was more open and obvious and in-your-face. Hitler and Mussolini had their own political parties that made lots of big, noisy promises that they mostly followed through on. And when they came to power, no one had any illusions that they would be promoting political choice or democracy.

But in our country—in the United States in 2012—our whole system is based on the illusion that there’s a meaningful choice between the two major political parties. The elected officials of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are, by and large, well-paid flunkies for big banks and corporations. Everybody knows that. Yet almost everyone buys into the myth that great “partisan” battles are going on in Washington at all times, that the D’s and R’s are forever going at it hammer and tongs over their “differences.”

People believe this myth—or say they believe it—because they must be listening to what elected officials and candidates say and paying almost no attention to what they do. What the D’s say is designed to sound like the polar opposite of what the R’s say, and vice versa. But what each party does…pretty much amounts to the same thing.

One example of how this works (out of dozens I could cite) is Barack Obama’s decision to stick with the Bush tax cuts for rich people in December 2010. Here he had yet another chance to prove that he represented a “change” from the rule of Bush and the Republicans. Between Election Day and the swearing in of the new Congress, Obama had a Democratic majority in the House, and he could have thrown out those tax cuts. Instead, he caved in to those who wanted to keep the cuts going for another two years. He did exactly what the Republicans wanted him to do. Or rather, both D’s and R’s did exactly what the fat cats in the top tax brackets wanted them to do.

When that happened, millions of registered Democrats should have been furious. Maybe they were. But if they were, they didn’t speak out about it. When they saw their own choice for president—a “Democrat”—acting just like a Republican, they seemed to accept it as if such behavior were normal and sane.

Millions and millions of Americans watch these Orwellian rituals over and over again, and they nod their heads in agreement, mindlessly—almost out of habit, or out of desperation to convince themselves that the lies they’ve just heard have something to do with reality. It’s like a vast opium dream. It’s deranged, and sick, and it’s destroying our country.

There’s almost nothing of substance that the two major parties really disagree about, and the more alike the Democrats and Republicans become—that is, the more they end up passing laws that are good for rich people and bad for everybody else—the harder they have to pretend to be fighting each other.

There are other illusions and static that we have to contend with. For instance, it’s very hard to see who’s giving the orders in American fascism, probably because no single individual is in charge—not even the president. It wasn’t always this way. President Richard Nixon was probably the last president who was something like his own man. He really did give orders, and his staff usually obeyed. But U.S. presidents since the time of Ronald Reagan seem much more like actors playing a part. Front-men. After-dinner speakers. Stooges.

Nixon himself was a kind of fascist, but he wasn’t like our present-day American fascists. It’s true that he had more in common with Adolph Hitler than any recent U.S. president— the temper tantrums, the paranoia, the maniacal need for real individual power. But the fact is that our country was much less fascistic in his times than it is today. The relative power of corporations versus the power of organized labor, the peace movement, the feminist movement, and even the civil rights movement (which by the time of Nixon’s presidency had won most of its big gains) was altogether different then. Ordinary people had more power, and corporations had less. There was more democracy.

All the progressive citizens’ movements were much stronger 40 years ago than they are today, and the big corporations—powerful as they were then—are now the absolutely dominating force in American society. Government responded to the people, at least a little, back in the 1960’s and early ’70’s, and while Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon really did have their hands dug deep into the actual operations of government, their successors are much more hands-off. The post-Reagan presidents have become merely the public face of the government. To the extent they are the hands, they seem to be merely the hired hands.

What’s more, the fascism of recent presidents has been remarkably successful at building up the power of the giant corporations. Just look at what they’ve delivered: bailouts for big banks…more and more funding for “defense,” with bigger and bigger profits for defense contractors…more and more secrecy in government…more give-aways and handouts to Big Oil, Big Finance, Big Insurance, Big Media. The rhetoric and the theater of recent presidents has varied a little: this one talks a lot about “the middle class,” that one pretends to be a “Christian”…one smiles a lot, another is always trying to “look tough.” But for all the differences in style, Reagan and his successors have been very much the same in terms of substance. They’ve all been very skillful in manipulating and exploiting the 80 or 90 percent of the people who do the work, while helping to funnel the money up the ladder to the big corporate bosses on top.

American fascism does not really need a charismatic leader. There is no cult of personality, no Big Brother or Führer who is supreme leader for life. Presidential candidates compete for corporate cash (and even augment it with lots of smaller donations from hopeful voters, as Barack Obama did in 2008), and generally the best fundraiser wins. But when the time comes for the actor to leave the stage—after four years or eight years—he doesn’t try to make himself a dictator. He bows, he smiles, he exits. Then his replacement comes on stage. And the show goes on.

Still one more important difference between old-style and new-style fascists: speed. Hitler was in a big hurry to conquer the world…and he burned out. Or rather, he was so manic and belligerent that he created his own opposition. He dared people to stop him, and they did. The American fascist, on the other hand, takes his time. He tries to carry out what Ralph Nader has aptly called a “slow-motion coup d’état.” He gets up, he shaves, he puts on a blue suit, and he goes to the office, where he conducts the exploitation of the people and the destruction of the Earth at a steady—but leisurely—pace. He plans far ahead—years, decades into the future. And he doesn’t burn out. Why should he? He’s not a lone dictator, but a more or less equal member of the Committee. He shares the work. Success or failure doesn’t all depend on him. He might work late some nights or handle a rare crisis over the weekend, but generally he can afford to pace himself. He can keep the fascist project going—slowly, yes, but relentlessly.

Oscar Wilde once remarked that the trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings. That’s the dilemma of working people: we go to work, and most of us have to check our politics at the door. We have to wait until after work for a Labor Party meeting or a Green Party meeting or a gathering of Occupy Queens. But the people who own the world actually have the luxury of devoting a pretty fair chunk of the workday to politics—that is, to bribing elected officials, bribing media hacks and pundits, bribing tenured academics. They want the biggest bang for the buck, so they’re undoubtedly very selective about how those bribes are disbursed. But they can afford to be selective and meticulous. They have the money…and they have the time.

Those they can’t bribe directly, such as most people who work for “progressive” non-profit organizations, they set limits for. Strictly speaking, they threaten, albeit very quietly: “Hey, professional liberal: You like your job? Then don’t make waves. Spout progressive rhetoric all you like. Do ‘community organizing.’ But don’t get political. When Election Day gets close, you lead cheers for some Democrat who’s pretty much the same thing as the Republican. When a progressive of true courage and integrity—like Nader—comes along, attack him. Keep your nose clean, and do as you’re told.” It may seem unfair to characterize the political activity of so many people like this. But it squares with the truth. There is a bizarre combination, in most liberals, of progressive “belief” and slavish obedience to the Democratic Party, no matter how much that party abandons progressive values. The Democrat leadership gets more and more beholden to the corporate elite every election cycle, and yet millions of devoted “progressives” vote Democrat without a murmur of protest. Many of them are doing excellent work in their fields, but they wreck the good work they do by kowtowing to the Big Business powers that be. They don’t fight. They obey.

Fascism in America is not overtly racist, as Nazi and Japanese fascism were. America is too polyglot, too ethnically and racially diverse, to tolerate Nazi-style attacks on, say, African-Americans. No U.S. government is likely ever to conduct a genocidal race war of the kind the Nazis carried on against the Jews. This is the case even though the terrorism of the KKK and other hate-mobs was still going on as recently as the 1960’s, and even though there are probably millions of Americans who would support openly racist government policies. But the top managers of the U.S. economy probably will never support a militant racist for the presidency. They might even support a Black man for the job.

Indeed, they already have. The evidence is Barack Obama himself, an African-American who won the “money primary” as far back as 2007, raising millions in campaign funds from Wall Street, and often under the direction of such financial big-shots as George Soros. The soft, toothless regulation of the Dodd-Frank financial “reform” law is evidence of what a good job Obama has been doing for Wall Street. Crude right-wing propaganda denounces Dodd-Frank, of course, but no intelligent, informed person of the Right or the Left really believes that propaganda. Democrats in Congress know Dodd-Frank is weak and ineffectual and no serious threat to Wall Street. Republicans know it too. But the D’s pose as the courageous fighters for working people, and the R’s pose as the defenders of the sacred institution of free enterprise. Both poses are as phony as a Goldman Sachs derivative, and the more pathetically phony the act appears, the harder they try to sell it. Republican? Democrat? What difference does it make? And talk about a safe bet for the bankers! “Heads, we win. Tails…we win.”

In short, it’s all about the money, and the role of race and racism are secondary. For Adolph Hitler, it really was largely about his obsession with the Jews. But it’s very hard to picture the corporate bosses allowing a few racist Republicans to rock the boat too much. Race hatred will probably be with us for a long time, but not as a primary weapon of the people who pull the strings of the political puppets in Washington.

American fascists might finally object to being compared with the Nazis on the grounds that the American variety is “soft” fascism. It’s nasty, yes…but tolerable. But tell that to the civilians killed in Iraq from 2003 on—conservatively estimated at 100,000 or more—or to the families of almost 5000 U.S. personnel who died in the Iraq war. Tell it to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost their homes in the continuing mortgage crisis, while the bankers who caused the crisis had their losses covered by the taxpayers and even collected record bonuses. And tell it to the many Americans outraged by a recent act of Congress that effectively suspends the right of habeas corpus and allows the military to arrest and imprison any U.S. citizen indefinitely, without pressing charges or bringing the accused to trial. Journalist Chris Hedges is suing President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and calling for a federal court to declare the new law unconstitutional. Hedges recently said that if the “indefinite detention” provisions remain on the books, it will be the last step on the road to “corporate fascism.” Hard, soft, or in-between, we can now answer the question we all saw on political buttons and protest signs during George W. Bush’s second term: “Is it fascism yet?” Yes, it’s fascism now.

Despite all these differences between the fascism of the 1930’s and that of the 2010’s, they have one absolutely crucial characteristic in common: their dependence on the big private corporations.There was no nationalization of Krupp or Thyssen or Siemens or other huge industrial enterprises in Nazi Germany. The big corporations went along with the whole Nazi project and generally did what they were told, but they remained in private hands. In this Hitler was only following the Italian model. Mussolini (or his court philosopher, Giovanni Gentile) defined fascism as a system in which the government and corporate interests are more or less the same thing: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

Public intervention in the economy designed to benefit the working majority at the expense of a fabulously wealthy, over-privileged minority might have mass popular support. It might even have the potential to become law democratically, as in the case of much of the New Deal legislation of the 1930’s. But today in the U.S., the dominant propaganda on television and in the newspapers seems to echo Mussolini: “The corporate State considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and useful instrument in the interest of the nation.”

The big corporate interests that have taken over the U.S. government use our elected representatives to give corporate rule the appearance of legality. The attempt to suspend habeas corpus is a case in point: a whopping Congressional majority of both parties passed that bill even though it contradicts any reasonable reading of the Constitution and departs altogether from once-respected traditions of American law and jurisprudence. For Congress to throw away precious civil liberties seems downright weird and irrational.

Yet maybe their actions are very rational indeed, if not especially honest or honorable. Members of Congress depend very heavily on big corporate campaign contributions in order to keep their jobs. So they seem to be content to violate their own oaths of office and to tear up the Constitution if it will keep the corporate money flowing. They’re behaving like drug addicts terrified of losing their connection. They’re addicted to corruption. And it’s no surprise at all that their new authoritarianism emerged in 2011, a year of uprisings against corrupt governments all over the world.

The American fascists have had a great deal of success up to now. They command unimaginable wealth and power, and seem to have our government officials in their pockets. They have a completely dominating influence on media, information, and pop culture. Many of them are smart, dedicated, and ruthless. That’s a pretty tough combination to beat.

But certainly not impossible.