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Of Icebergs and Islands

David Cobb, the Greens and the Collapse of the Left

by JOSHUA FRANK

So we burned all our uniforms
and let nature take its course again
and the big ones just eat all the little ones
That sends us back to the drawing board

-The Shins ("So Says I")

I officially changed my voter registration and left the Green Party this past week. Or, more aptly put, the Green Party left me. Actually, they abandoned many of us last summer when they decided not to run a candidate for president.

Oh, I know what you are thinking: "They are running a candidate. His name’s David Cobb. Give the guy some respect!" My rejoinder: If David Cobb is a presidential candidate, then why have an oppositional party that is supposed to challenge the Democrats and Republicans at all? What good is it? For me, it is not that the legitimacy of Cobb’s nomination is suspect — although it is; Rather, what I find bothersome is the way that Cobb has chosen to run his insipid campaign and the cultish drones within the Green Party who refuse to acknowledge that Cobb’s bid is actually hurting the Party –
and the Left — while aiding George W. Bush’s re-election in the process. Ignorance must be bliss.

As of August 31, the Cobb campaign had raised just a little over $100,000 –
by far the least of any presidential aspirant. The Greens boast of having 600,000 members, but if each only gave Cobb’s campaign $1, he’d have six-times as much money as he does now. This is a clear indication that Cobb does not have even the majority of his own party’s backing, let alone substantial outside assistance. Nevertheless Cobb still contends that he has reached "millions and millions of people." Yet, the only polls that even include Cobb in their totals say he’s polling at around 0.05% nationwide. Last time I checked, such a number didn’t surpass the threshold for bragging rights.

Cobb insists that he is unconcerned with his vote count, though. In fact, he says the vote count is "one of the least important indicators of support" for his campaign. As the presidential hopeful explains, "In our first presidential campaign in 1996, Ralph Nader received less than 1% of the vote, and I think it’s safe to say that we did not become politically irrelevant afterwards." But Cobb fails to mention that Nader’s 1996 (which Nader doesn’t even consider a presidential run because he didn’t campaign) bid marked the Greens’ first real stab at a Presidential election. They had nowhere to go but up.

The pack of Green Party members supporting Nader this year are also of no concern to Mr. Cobb, even though many are swiftly deserting the party to rejoin Nader’s camp. Popular East Coast Green Party member Howie Hawkins is running Nader’s upstate New York campaign, and Pacific Green Party stalwart Lloyd Marbet is supporting Nader in Oregon, not to mention California’s Green Party member Peter Camejo signing on to be Ralph Nader’s vice presidential running mate. None of this seems to phase ol’ Cobb, who surmises the traitors will come running back to the Greens when Nader is finished in November. Could Cobb be any more narcisstic?

Besides, Cobb contends, Nader is just a "cult of personality." As Cobb relayed when I interviewed him, "When this election is over, I, thankfully, won’t be considered the Green Party’s ‘leader’ or figurehead. So if people simply ‘follow’ either Ralph Nader or David Cobb then they’re not following principles or being part of a movement."

Cobb, no doubt, reveals just how bewildered he truly is. If the Left throws their weight into the bourgeois electoral ring, they better be prepared to come out swinging. That means somebody better be ready to represent the movement. After all, it isn’t the movement that stands behind a microphone. It is not the movement that debates other movements. No, it is one person representing that movement. Clearly, Cobb ain’t that guy. It also looks like the Green Party ain’t that party. At least not this election season.

Nevertheless it is not the Greens’ goal this year to challenge the political status quo. As Cobb admits, "I don’t have any goals for votes except for states in which we need a certain percentage to retain ballot access. In terms of tangible objectives, I want to register more Green voters, support local candidates, and retain ballot lines." So Cobb just wants to register some Greens and maintain ballot lines. Forget challenging the two corporate war parties head on. Save that for four years from now when we are still in Iraq, and thousands more soldiers — not to mention countless Iraqis — are dead. We’ve got some school board positions to fill here. I guess Cobb has his priorities. I just don’t happen to agree with them. Cobb is basically admitting he doesn’t think the Green Party can run in local or national elections. I guess he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Besides, when has any social movement been successful when it lacked any type of leadership?

In a debate with Peter Camejo on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! , Cobb even went as far to say that the US can’t just "cut and run" in Iraq. Cobb informed me that he now regrets taking the same position on Iraq as both John Kerry and George W. Bush. "I knew saying those words in particular was a mistake the moment they left my mouth, and I have clarified my position ever since." Glad he’s come clean. But while Cobb offered four long responses to other questions on Goodman’s show, he never did retract his gaffe.

The bottom line? Cobb has failed to step into the ring, let alone lace up his gloves. First, he ran for the nomination of the Green Party on what he called a "safe-state" approach, where he would not focus his energy on those states that could put pressure on Kerry. "And the way that I think we can accomplish both my primary goal and as well as the secondary is to target the very finite resources of candidate time and money into those states which I call the ‘safe’ states, or the states that are not in play," he told the Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel.

What Cobb and most Greens do not realize is that they are inadvertently helping re-elect George W. Bush while giving Kerry a free ride. So who is surprised that Cobb doesn’t have much support, financial or otherwise? I mean, I always root for the underdog, but the Greens aren’t even in the damn game.

Ralph Nader, on the other hand, realizes that many on the Left have lost their spine, and Bush may win as a result. "It is a total loss of nerve," Nader told Goodman in a recent interview. "I mean, first of all, they didn’t ask anything of Kerry. They said to the voters in the close states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon … vote for Kerry, quote, ‘even though we strongly disagree with Kerry on the war and other issues,’ end quote. Well, when you don’t demand anything of Kerry, he gets worse. If you don’t make Kerry better, he gets worse. Because the corporations are demanding 24 hours a day. They’re not squeamish like the Left is. More important is that if the Left believes that their issues are compelling issues to the majority of the American people, they should be proud to pull Kerry toward them so he can get more votes. It’s as if they’re ashamed of their issues, like, ‘gee, living wage, that’s a very important issue, but it’s not a big vote-getter. Like full health insurance for all, that’s very important. We want to pull Kerry in that direction. It’s not like getting out of Iraq, where now a majority of people are saying it was a mistake to send the troops in, and 42% of the people want the troops back yesterday. Oh no, no, no. Don’t pull him into this issue; it’s not a vote-getter.’ This is the collapse of the Left … They have in effect put a figurative ring in their nose. They have said to the Democrats, ‘because the Republicans are so bad, we collapse. We’re going for the least-worse.’ When you don’t make any demands, when you engage in unconditional surrender, why should Kerry ever look back at you? Why should he give you the time of day?"

Nader was not talking about the Green Party in particular, but he might as well have been. The Green Party and the Left have collapsed, and whether Cobb admits it or not, he’s now at the helm of the sinking vessel. How could I remain a member of a party that is committing political suicide? I tried, but quickly found that there was no way I could stay afloat, let alone justify my party’s demise. That is why I jumped ship and swam safely to shore. Only to find that I was not alone.

JOSHUA FRANK, a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is putting the finishing touches on Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press. He welcomes comments at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.

This interview originally ran on Lefthook, the online journal of radical youth.