A shocking scenario is unfolding before our eyes which, if carried through, will constitute the greatest mistake made by the left in many years. A small but very determined fraction of the Green Party is prepared to package Ralph Nader with Peter Camejo, the Green Gubernatorial candidate in California in 2002 and Nader’s just-announced Vice-Presidential choice, in a drive to capture the Green’s "endorsement" (Nader is not eligible for the party’s nomination) in the upcoming national convention this weekend in Milwaukee. Camejo’s presence on the ticket undercuts the objection that Nader has no real connection to the party’s base, and it touched off the internet equivalent of jubilation on the lists controlled by Greens of this persuasion.
"Imagine hundreds of thousands of Greens hitting the streets all across the country energized by the strongest progressive ticket in a generation," waxed one such Naderite, omitting to ponder the fact that a strenuous petition campaign for Nader barely managed to clear 300 signatures among Greens. But in one of those flukes tossed up from time to time by history, it may actually turn out that a tiny coterie could squeeze an endorsement out of the convention . . . which could turn over the 22 state ballot lines controlled by the Greens to Nader/Camejo . . . which could result in toss-up states like Oregon, Wisconsin and New Mexico going over to the Republicans . . . which could give us four more years of you-know-who.
Nader has been straining to argue that he will pull in as many disaffected Republican as Democratic votes. But the selection of a Vice-Presidential candidate demonstrably to his left puts the quietus to that dubious line of reasoning. The only practical "success" he can now have will be to bring W. back to the White House. Remember the nursery rhyme about how, for want of a nail, the battle and then the war was lost? Well, the same could be said for the scenario now unfolding, except that what is wanting now is political intelligence and a sense of proportion among some Greens who should know better.
The Naderite Greens scoff at such arguments, having convinced themselves that the chief thing in this world is to defeat the Democratic Party so the Greens can take over rightful ownership of the Progressive side of the political spectrum. To this fraction, the Democrats are like the image of Moby Dick in the mind of Captain Ahab: the concentration of all evil in the universe. Thus you will learn, if you read their unending email postings, that criticism of Nader is a plot engineered by the Democrats, that Kerry is a greater danger than Bush because he will be more effective, that the notion of "anybody but Bush" is a sign of cowardice, and that the real problem is not Bush but "Bushism," a new word for a phenomenon as old as G.W. Bush himself, namely, that both mainstream parties share in the crafting of US imperialism.
The Naderite Greens can’t seem to understand that a necessary concept may not be sufficient to explain what is taking place politically. In fact, they don’t really reason politically at all, but reduce politics to economics. Because both mainstream parties are tools of big money (think of the $100 million Kerry has raked in by running as a centrist Republican), big money is the puppeteer pulling their strings. And as big money demands militarism and imperialism, then its puppet parties will dance its dance. But politics is about much more than economics. It also includes struggle over the way people live, the way governments achieve legitimacy, and the conditions that allow or block change. These things really matter and they cannot be reduced to a simplistic economic formula. The Naderite Greens pass them by, because if they admitted that there can be real differences between the mainstream parties, they might have to give up their fantasies about party-building and their attachment to the charismatic Nader.
The problem is, however, that a very big difference between Democrats and Republicans has evolved over the past generation or so. It has taken root in the Bush administration, who have every intention of making it a permanent feature of the political landscape. Look at Bush, at Rove, and at Ashcroft, and you can see the newly malignant face of big business linked with a massive social base of Christian fundamentalism. Its inner logic points to the demolition of the Constitution and the replacement of the Republic–however compromised this may be -by a theocratic brand of fascism, in which the space for political change will shrink drastically, and the lives of those who do not fit–women, homosexuals, Muslims, anyone in the crosshairs of the police apparatus -will be greatly worsened. Nobody in their right mind can say that the wretched Democrats promise the same.
Nader seems incapable of grasping this qualitative distinction, and his loyal band of Greens goes along, caught up, for the third time, no less, in hero worship, and oblivious to the fact that the essential principle of Green politics is grassroots democracy. The Greens have a perfectly respectable candidate in David Cobb, who rose through the ranks. But because Cobb has shown some sensitivity to the extreme danger posed by another Bush administration, the Naderites attack him as a virtual agent of the Democratic Party as they fantasize about the great social movement Ralph Nader is going to unleash in America.
A lose-lose situation looms. To the extent that Nader succeeds, so does Bush. And in any case, the left will emerge weaker and more divided from this Quixotic escapade. Once again the left has become its own worst enemy.
Joel Kovel ran against Ralph Nader in the 2000 Green Party presidential primary in New York and California, and was the Green Party’s candidate for US Senator from NY in 1998. His two most recent books are Red-Hunting in the Promised Land and The Enemy of Nature.