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
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
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?
# # #
Green Party 2004 Presidential Strategy
By David Cobb
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.
- 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
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:
- . We consistently articulate Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as the only solution to the question of Greens as “spoilers.”
- . 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.
- . 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.
- . 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 – firstname.lastname@example.org