DEBATING THE ELECTION
September 19, 2003 | Page 6
NORMAN SOLOMON is a syndicated columnist and the author, with Reese Erlich, of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You.
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ACTIVISTS HAVE plenty of good reasons to challenge the liberal Democratic Party operatives who focus on election strategy while routinely betraying progressive ideals. Unfortunately, the national Green Party now shows appreciable signs of the flip side--focusing on admirable ideals without plausible strategy.
It's impossible to know whether the vote margin between Bush and his Democratic challenger will be narrow or wide in November 2004. I've never heard a credible argument that a Nader campaign might help to defeat Bush next year. A Nader campaign might have no significant effect on Bush's chances--or it could turn out to help Bush win. With so much at stake, do we really want to roll the dice this way?
We're told that another Nader campaign will help to build the Green Party. But Nader's prospects of coming near his nationwide 2000 vote total of 2.8 million are very slim; much more probable is that a 2004 campaign would win far fewer votes--hardly an indicator of, or contributor to, a growing national party.
Some activists contend that the Greens will maintain leverage over the Democratic Party by conveying a firm intention to run a presidential candidate. I think that's basically an illusion. The prospect of a Green presidential campaign is having very little effect on the Democratic nomination contest, and there's no reason to expect that to change. The Democrats are almost certain to nominate a "moderate" corporate flack.
Howard Dean should be included in that category. Let's take Dean at his word: "I was a triangulator before Clinton was a triangulator. In my soul, I'm a moderate." If Dean becomes the Democratic presidential candidate next year, at that point there would be many good reasons to see him as a practical tool for defeating Bush. But in the meantime, progressive energies and support should go elsewhere.
There has been a disturbing tendency among some Greens to conflate the Democratic and Republican Parties. Yes, the agendas of the two major parties overlap. But they also diverge. And in some important respects, any of the Democratic presidential contenders would be clearly better than Bush (with the exception of Joseph Lieberman, whose nomination appears to be quite unlikely). For the left to be "above the fray" would be a big mistake. It should be a matter of great concern--not indifference or mild interest--as to whether the Bush gang returns to power for four more years.
I'm not suggesting that progressives mute their voices about issues. The imperative remains to keep speaking out and organizing. As Martin Luther King Jr. said on April 30, 1967: "When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered." The left should continue to denounce all destructive policies and proposals, whether being promoted by Republicans or Democrats.
At the same time, we should not gloss over the reality that the Bush team has neared some elements of fascism in its day-to-day operations--and forces inside the Bush administration would be well positioned to move it even farther to the right after 2004. We don't want to find out how fascistic a second term of George W. Bush's presidency could become. The current dire circumstances should bring us up short and cause us to reevaluate approaches to '04. The left has a responsibility to contribute toward a broad coalition to defeat Bush next year.
No doubt, too many Democratic Party officials have been arrogant toward Green Party supporters. "Democrats have to face reality and understand that if they move too far to the right, millions of voters will defect or vote for third-party candidates," Tom Hayden pointed out in a recent article on Alternet. "Democrats have to swallow hard and accept the right of the Green Party and Ralph Nader to exist and compete." At the same time, Hayden added cogently, "Nader and the Greens need a reality check. The notion that the two major parties are somehow identical may be a rationale for building a third party, but it insults the intelligence of millions of blacks, Latinos, women, gays, environmentalists and trade unionists who can't afford the indulgence of Republican rule."
The presidency of George W. Bush is not a garden-variety Republican administration. By unleashing its policies in this country and elsewhere in the world, the Bush gang has greatly raised the stakes of the next election.
In an August essay, Michael Albert of Z Magazine wrote: "One post-election result we want is Bush retired. However bad his replacement may turn out, replacing Bush will improve the subsequent mood of the world and its prospects of survival. Bush represents not the whole ruling class and political elite, but a pretty small sector of it. That sector, however, is trying to reorder events so that the world is run as a U.S. empire, and so that social programs and relations that have been won over the past century in the U.S. are rolled back as well. What these parallel international and domestic aims have in common is to further enrich and empower the already super-rich and super-powerful."
Looking past the election, Albert is also on target: "We want to have whatever administration is in power after Election Day saddled by a fired-up movement of opposition that is not content with merely slowing Armageddon, but that instead seeks innovative and aggressive social gains. We want a post-election movement to have more awareness, more hope, more infrastructure and better organization by virtue of the approach it takes to the election process."
I'm a green. But these days, in the battle for the presidency, I'm not a Green. Here in the United States, the Green Party is dealing with an electoral structure that's very different from the parliamentary systems that have provided fertile ground for Green parties in Europe. We're up against the winner-take-all U.S. electoral system. Yes, there are efforts to implement "instant runoff voting," but those efforts will not transform the electoral landscape in this decade. And we should focus on this decade precisely because it will lead the way to the next ones.
By now, it's an open secret that Ralph Nader is almost certain to run for president again next year. Nader has been a brilliant and inspirational progressive for several decades. I supported his presidential campaigns in 1996 and 2000. I won't in 2004. The reasons are not about the past, but about the future.