For months I’ve been thinking about who I’m going to support for President. For me, it’s not between Kucinich, Sharpton, Dean, Gephardt or another Democrat. It’s between David Cobb, Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney, all possible Green Party Presidential candidates.
I see no contradiction between wanting the Bushites out of office and wanting a viable and visible Green Party Presidential campaign. Run the right way, such a campaign can be one part of a strategy for mobilizing the broad and deep vote necessary to advance the progressive movement at the polls in 2004 and beyond. At the same time, a strategically sound Green Party Presidential campaign can help to build the Greens at the local and state levels and the Green Party generally.
David Cobb, general counsel of the Green Party of the United States, gets this, and he’s shown the courage to give strategic leadership within the Green Party. He is actively campaigning for the Green Party Presidential nomination (www.votecobb.org). At a national Green Party meeting this past July he distributed a document which said, in part:
“It is not enough 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 real danger Bush poses.
“I propose [that strategically] we consistently articulate Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and Proportional Representation as the only solution to the question of Greens as ‘spoilers. ‘ . . . [The Presidential 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.”
David does not have the name recognition of Nader and McKinney, but he is an experienced leader, a dynamic speaker, a hard worker and a principled person.
Ralph Nader has those qualities, also, as well as name recognition. He is without doubt an inspiring personality, someone who has given of himself for the causes of social justice for decades and, even at the age of 70, is seriously considering giving of his energies, resources, body and mind for what he himself characterizes as “a grueling effort.” But there are a number of concerns I and others have about him being the Green candidate for the third time in a row. One is just that, the danger that the Green Party will become too closely identified in many people’s minds as the “Ralph Nader party,” rather than the democratic, vibrant, “movement party” that it generally is.
Another concern is that with Nader as the candidate, much of the mass media focus would be on Nader the personality and whether he will be a spoiler (“again,” they will say) for Howard Dean or whomever the Democrat is.
There continue to be political concerns. Nader 2000 was a huge improvement politically over Nader 1996, but I just don’t think that Ralph fully “gets it” when it comes to the issues particular to African Americans, Latinos, women, and other key constituencies. He is very strong with his anti-corporate approach, and that is a great strength, but it’s not enough. At a recent meeting in New Jersey part of his active exploratory effort, he spoke about workers, consumers and particularly youth, as well as conservatives disaffected with Bush, as the primary constituencies for a possible Nader 2004 campaign. He did not mention by name at any point during the evening African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, people of color generally, women, lesbian and gay people or people with disabilities, among others.
There are questions about how a Nader campaign operation would interact with the Green Party. There were more than a few Green activists who were put off by what they experienced as a top down, undemocratic attitude emanating from the D.C. office in 2000, a problem certainly related to what author Micah Sifry once described as Nader’s “legendary aptitude for micromanaging.”
But my major concern is that Nader has publicly come out in opposition to a strategic, or safe, states strategy. Indeed, in a recent article in The Nation magazine, he is quoted by Sifry as saying about the “strategic states” approach:
“‘It sounds to me like political schizophrenia. You either run or you don’t. You don’t say to people in some states that we’re going to ignore you.’ He also argues that the party shouldn’t impose any kind of strategic constraints on its candidates. ‘No candidate will want to be bound by [having to avoid battleground states] and be told by the party that we don’t want you to go into, say, Wisconsin. Imagine the major parties having that kind of restriction.’”
At the meeting in New Jersey, when asked if he would mainly-not necessarily exclusively but mainly–focus his campaign in September and October of 2004 in the 35 or so states where it was almost certain that either Bush or the Democrat would win, he responded that, “I can’t look people in the eye in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Oregon and tell them I won’t be in your state for the last eight weeks.” He questioned how you could determine what is a “strategic state,” and he questioned if efforts made in 2000 to get voters in such states to vote for him really had much effect.
Ironically, at the same time that he took this position, he identified “retiring Bush” as the first of several goals for his campaign, if he decides to run. The second goal he listed was to show the Democratic Party how to run an aggressive, progressive campaign in the hope that they would learn from his example and adopt similar positions and strategies.
This direct interaction with Nader left me feeling very conflicted. I came away, again, with deep admiration for this true man of the people, this historic figure, this fighter who refuses to quit. I was glad to hear his repeated statements about the importance of getting Bush out of office in 2004. But I was puzzled and disturbed that he could take that position in such a strong way and then give as the primary reason for not supporting a strategic states strategy that he couldn’t tell people in the battleground states that he wouldn’t be there over an eight week period. And his questioning of how you can determine what is a “strategic state” is, well, really disingenuous. He knows full well from his experiences in 2000 that in the last period of the campaign it is very easy to know. The mass media will be full of stories about where things stand, what states are close, which are double-digit leads for Bush or the Democrat.
And as far as “not looking people in the eye” in certain states, what about the people in all those states he won’t be visiting-or, at best, visiting only once-in those last eight weeks? I haven’t been able to dig up the specifics, but I’d be amazed if Nader went into every state in September and October of 2000. Can he look people in the eye in those states he didn’t visit then, and that he wouldn’t be visiting in 2004?
But there are other options for the Green Party, Cynthia McKinney in particular, The big question is whether she’s willing to throw her hat into the ring. As of now she has not said “no;” she is seriously considering it and should decide within a month or so.
Five-term Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as the Green Party Presidential candidate would bring instant excitement to the race. As a strong black woman and a former Congresswoman she brings attributes missing with both David and Ralph. She is a clear, intelligent and articulate speaker, and she has been very strong in her stinging criticisms of Bush. She has been a public supporter of the Greens for years. With her as the candidate the Greens and those who would rally to Cynthia’s side would have the opportunity to reach out to African Americans and other people of color, young people, the alienated and the disenfranchised in a way no other candidate would allow us to do. Cynthia’s campaign would most likely galvanize a mass-based independent political movement within the black community, something that is badly needed. And there are indications that Cynthia would run some form of a strategic states campaign.
Think of Cynthia McKinney traveling the South-states where the Greens could use what McKinney will bring and the Democrats will hardly campaign because of Republican strength-agitating the grassroots of all races and nationalities about the need for an alternative to the two corporate parties and a multi-cultural people’s movement. I can hardly wait!
But I, and we, will have to wait until she makes her decision. In the meantime, I would urge all those who know Cynthia to contact her and let her know your views about this possibility. I will gladly forward any messages for Cynthia if sent to my email address below.
If she ends up deciding that the answer is yes, put me on the top of the list as a volunteer, doing whatever I can.
If it’s a no, I expect David Cobb will be my candidate. I’d reconsider if Ralph changes his current position and realizes that, if he is serious about “retiring Bush,” as well as being most effective in building the Green Party through a campaign, that strategic states is the way to go. Even then, I would still question if Ralph is the best for the Green Party in 2004.
It’s good to have choices, candidates you know will not smash you down or sell you out.
Ted Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org), although these opinions are solely his own. More information about Nader’s exploratory effort can be found at www.naderexplore04.org. More information about Cynthia can be found at www.cynthia2002.com. Ted can be reached at [email protected] or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.