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A GREEN PARTY CAMPAIGN FOR PRESIDENT IN 2004?


Solomon

Two

years from now, the national committee of the Green Party will make a big

decision: Should the party run a candidate for president in 2004?

To

hear many Green leaders tell it, the choice is a no-brainer. In a recent news

release, Mike Feinstein, a party member who’s the mayor of Santa Monica, Calif.,

made it sound like a done deal. Green Party candidates "will challenge Democrats

and Republicans at every level of government," he said.

A key

strategist for the Green Party — newly restructured as a nationwide

organization — seems to be on a similar wavelength. "I think there’s a general

presumption that we will run a presidential candidate in 2004, if we find the

proper candidate," Dean Myerson told me. "I have not heard any opposition within

the Green Party to running a candidate for president in principle."

But

when I spoke with another organizer in the party, the signals were a bit

different. "It is not a foregone conclusion that we will run a candidate for

president in 2004," said John Strawn, who is slated to play a major role on the

party’s presidential exploratory committee. "We will have a very deliberate

process to make that decision."

The

publicity bonanza in store for another Green presidential race may be a

compelling attraction for party activists — despite the fact that much of the

news coverage and commentary about Ralph Nader’s campaign last year was

decidedly negative. Most hostile of all were liberal pundits eager to see George

W. Bush defeated by Al Gore.

In

one of the more gentle attacks on Nader to appear in the New York Times, the

newspaper editorialized midway through 2000 that "he is engaging in a

self-indulgent exercise that will distract voters from the clear-cut choice

represented by the major party candidates." The year laid bare the arrogance of

commentators who seemed to be saying, one way or another, that wide-ranging

political debate would be a distraction from the serious business of choosing

between two thoroughly corporate candidates.

At

the same time, the Green campaign often gave the impression of aloofness from

the very real dilemmas faced by Americans eager to keep Bush out of the Oval

Office. Such grassroots concerns were legitimate — and when the Nader campaign

came off as dismissive, it lost credibility.

Overall, the strategic rationales for the Green Party’s 2000 presidential

campaign (which I supported) were hardly airtight. Sometimes, we heard claims

that a strong showing for the ticket of Nader and Winona LaDuke would push the

national Democratic Party in a more progressive direction. Nine months after

Election Day, that theory is on shaky ground. The Nader campaign had a historic

effect on the presidential election — but since then, the Democratic Party’s

hierarchy has retrenched. If anything, it seems more deeply entangled with

corporate fat cats than ever.

Looking ahead, media attention to a Green Party presidential drive in 2004 would

be substantial. That high-profile scenario alone may make fielding a national

ticket seem irresistible. But one of the worst mistakes that the Green Party

could make in the next few years would be to glide, as if on automatic pilot,

into another campaign for the presidency.

If

the Green Party enters the next presidential race, it will largely appear to a

lot of prospective constituencies to be a political party locked into a

counterproductive tactic. Those constituencies will weigh the benefits of such a

campaign against the obvious danger that it could help return Bush to the White

House. If the Green Party seems contemptuous of such concerns, many progressives

are likely to perceive it as a party too impractical to merit support.

That

would be a shame. The Green Party has gained strength from a grassroots approach

while fighting against the consequences of anti-democratic corporate power, in

great contrast to the two major parties. "The official Democratic Party has

ossified into a Washington-based financial service," loyal Democrat Robert Reich

noted in the American Prospect magazine last month. "It’s become ever more

efficient in seeking out likely donors but has forgotten how to inspire local

crusaders. As a result, there’s a large and growing political vacuum at the

local and state levels."

Reich

added: "That vacuum is being filled by Green Party activists, labor organizers,

students campaigning against sweatshops and for a living wage, Latino community

organizers, and church-affiliated community activists, none of whom are

especially interested in a resurgent Democratic Party."

Ironically, a Green Party presidential race in 2004 could alienate much of the

party’s possible base. For many potential supporters of Green candidates in

local races across the country, such a national campaign would evoke images of a

nascent party so lacking in pragmatism that it remains willing to help the right

wing win the White House.

The

way things stand, most observers assume that the Green Party will be waging a

campaign for the presidency in 2004. The main disagreements, they say, will

revolve around who should be on the ticket. But the party might be better off,

in the long run, if it can resist the media glitz and short-term sizzle of

another presidential run.

Norman Solomon writes a weekly syndicated column on media and politics. His

books include "False Hope: The Politics of Illusion in the Clinton Era,"

published in 1994.

 

 

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