Nader in 2004?

Nader in 2004?

Common Dreams just ran an excellent article about the Green Party (GP)and 2004, which I am quoting widely from.


Repeating an old refrain, <Nader> says it doesn’t even matter if Dean is for real: “He can’t deliver–he can be George McGovern on steroids, but when he gets into the corporate prison called the White House, he can’t deliver.”

This could well be true.

However, John Rensenbrink, one of the founders of the Green party in the US  and co-editor of Green Horizon Quarterly says of Nader, 

“People…are very focused on stopping the right-wing cabal that has taken over the country. Therefore, the focus has to be on defeating Bush. Beyond that, the Green Party needs to project a sense of urgency around saving the country, saving the Constitution, saving the planet.”

Rensenbrink added with a sigh, “There’s a concern that we’ll be deflected from that message because of the baggage Ralph Nader has from 2000. I doubt he can get over 1 percent of the vote. He’ll have to spend a lot of time dealing with the ‘spoiler’ question, unfairly, but that’s where it is. I’d add to that that he doesn’t want to be a Green, he runs with his coterie rather than party organizers, he doesn’t involve local Green leaders and he doesn’t get the racial issue.

I fear if Nader runs, he’ll drag down every other Green in this country. I love him, but this is sheer practical politics.” 

I am deeply relieved to hear this coming from a co-founder of the Green Party. Greens need to seriously consider what to do in 2004. In my view, 2004 is a turning point, and if Greens blow it then the 2000 Nader run will have been the peak.

Harsh words, but they’re matched by Robert McChesney, co-editor of Monthly Review, member of Nader’s Citizen Works’ Corporate Reform Commission, president of the professors’ council of the US Campus Greens since 2001 and a leading media democracy activist. “I don’t think Ralph should run,” he e-mailed me a few weeks ago. “It would be bad for him personally; I doubt he would get half the number of votes he got in 2000.

And it would be bad for the Greens…. Core elements of progressive constituencies, exactly the groups that the Greens need to build upon, will revolt with open contempt–far worse than 2000–to anything that helps keep Bush in office.”

McChesney concludes, “Running a presidential candidate in 2004 for the Greens is probably a quantum leap off a cliff. It is the Greens’ Jonestown.”

This is precisely my fear. A Nader run could be a disaster. However, running someone with no name recognition could be worse. If a Green candidate for President only polls, say, 1.5%, the GP will probably cease to matter after that.

Right now, the Green debate over 2004 breaks into three distinct camps. There are those, a definite minority, who don’t want the party to run any presidential candidate at all. There is another group, also a distinct minority, that backs Nader as the party’s best spokesman and wants him to run an unconditional national campaign, though their motivations run from hard-core oppositionism to wanting to maximize their leverage in the event the race is close. The third group wants some version of a “safe states” strategy, and holds all shades of opinion as to whether Nader is the best candidate for it.

One major problem, as I’ve detailed here before, is the Green emphasis on decentralization and consensus means there is little actual party apparatus to find and groom potential candidates. Also, there is an unfortunate tendency among many Greens to be suspicious of leaders, which means leaders can’t easily emerge.

Another serious problem is the endless internal bickering and fighting over often insanely trivial stuff. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and the Greens’ 2000 candidate for US Senate in California, agrees that it’s hard to see Nader calibrating his message and strategy in this way on his own. “I worry about the reputation of the Greens,” she told me. “I think we’d get less votes with Nader this time than last time.” Benjamin wants the Greens to be players in the presidential election, but only if the overarching goal is beating Bush.

If the party is to grow outside of the progressive venues where it already has a foothold, it has to control its strong taste for self-indulgent symbolic statements and focus on where its opportunities are greatest, in local races in the one-party cities and counties where many of America’s most alienated and disenfranchised citizens live.

Nader and the Greens made their point about Democratic decrepitude in 2000; now they should make their own demonstration of good judgment or face their own decline.