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Is there a real alternative in 2004?

January 2, 2004 | Page 3

WITH PRIMARY elections for the Democratic Party presidential nomination fast approaching, the big story in Washington politics was how far leading Democrats would go in attacking the man most likely to be the nominee. During December, for every endorsement that frontrunner Howard Dean picked up--including from 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore--he faced a furious attack from leading figures of the Democratic establishment, especially the pro-business Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

DLC leaders Al From and Bruce Reed led the way in denouncing Dean as a dangerous radical who is so "out of touch" with American voters as to be completely unelectable. Some activists may have concluded that any enemy of the DLC--which has long campaigned for cutting the Democrats' ties to such "special interests" as organized labor and African Americans, the party's most loyal supporters--must be a friend.

But they need to take a look at what Dean actually stands for. The DLC's attacks have obscured the fact that Dean is no liberal. He went from an obscure dark horse candidate to frontrunner because of his willingness to criticize George Bush--and the conservative leaders of his own party for rolling over for the Republicans.

But his actual political positions come directly from the mainstream of the party. Thus, during the Bush administration's gloat-fest following the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Dean piled on more praise. "This is a great day of pride in the American military, a great day for the Iraqis, a great day for the American people, and frankly, a great day for the administration," Dean said.

The truth is that the most convincing argument for Dean isn't what he stands for, but who he is standing against--Bush.

The backbiting and maneuvering among the Democrats show once again the need for a real political alternative to the Washington status quo. But the possibilities for a serious third-party campaign in 2004 were thrown into question last week when Ralph Nader--who won 2.7 million votes as the Green Party presidential candidate in 2000--wrote to the party's steering committee that he was withdrawing his name from consideration as a potential nominee this year.

In his letter, Nader took issue with the fact that the Greens won't decide on their candidate--or even whether they will run a candidate--until their convention in June, as well as support among some Greens for a "safe-state" strategy in which the party wouldn't put campaign in states where it might cost the Democrats a win. "[U]ncertainty expressed by the party's leadership regarding the conditions under which the party may or may not field presidential and vice-presidential candidates in 2004 can only be interpreted as a confused retreat," wrote Nader.

But Green Party members criticized a possible Nader campaign independent of the Greens for splitting the third party vote. "If he does choose to run as an independent, his candidacy will be seriously weakened from what it would have been had he chosen to seek the Green Party nomination," said Green Party co-chair Ben Manski.

All this could mean that the building of a viable third-party alternative--which Nader supporters worked so hard for in 2000--would be postponed. There will be more discussion and debate on these issues in the coming weeks. What remains clear, however, is that an opening exists for a left-wing alternative to the Democrats in 2004--despite the huge pressure to vote for a "lesser evil" against Bush.

The sentiment was expressed in the campaigns of Matt Gonzalez, the Green Party member who narrowly lost a runoff election for San Francisco mayor last month, and Peter Camejo, who ran for governor as a Green in the California recall election. These left-wing campaigns injected much-needed class politics into the political debate--and showed the importance of not postponing the building of a left-wing alternative.

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