For those who wondered why the U.S. left has never built a social democratic or labor party, last weekend’s Green Party convention in Milwaukee offered a bird’s-eye view. America’s largest independent left-wing political party, which won 2.7 million votes and garnered ballot lines in 22 states and the District of Columbia after Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign, rejected an endorsement for Nader in 2004–nominating David Cobb instead.
“David who?” many outside the Green Party will ask. Don’t be too concerned if you have never heard of Cobb–his campaign intends to be quite muted. The Green Party candidate will campaign only in so-called “safe states,” where either Kerry or Bush holds such a solid lead that Cobb’s campaign is irrelevant to the outcome. Cobb will avoid as many as 20 “contested” states, where a Green Party presidential campaign could threaten a Kerry victory.
More than a year ago, a group of prominent Greens set an election-year objective of “replacing Bush with a Democrat (since we’re not yet strong or organized enough to replace him with a Green or an independent),” as Ted Glick, national coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network, wrote in July 2003. Nader rejected the “safe-states” strategy from the outset, saying it “sounds to me like political schizophrenia. You either run or you don’t.”
Nader’s 2000 Green Party candidacy did much to propel the Green Party to national prominence, but this didn’t spare him from a stream of invective from the Anybody-But-Bush faction that led the well-organized Anybody-But-Nader rallying cry at the convention.
Peter Miguel Camejo, the Green Party candidate for California governor in 2002 and in the 2003 recall election–and now Nader’s running mate–was booed loudly by some Cobb supporters as he addressed the convention. “The only practical ‘success’ [Nader] can now have will be to bring W. back to the White House,” scoffed Nader’s 2000 Green presidential rival Joel Kovel shortly before the convention began.
“Ralph Nader turned his back on the [Green] party and announced earlier this year that he would mount an independent campaign for the nation’s top job,” the Nation’s John Nichols sniped on June 28. In reality, those in the Anybody-But-Bush left–both inside and outside the Green Party–had ruled out support for Nader long before (See, for example, the Nation’s “Ralph, Don’t Run” feature article immediately after the 2002 mid-term election).
Cobb supporter Ted Glick has admitted that a Kerry campaign would be a “centrist, corporate-friendly, more-troops-to-Iraq Democratic campaign” that will “inevitably dampen the enthusiasm of the labor, community, feminist, people of color, peace and other activists.” Yet Cobb couches his campaign as an effort to “build” the Green Party, even as the safe-states strategy undermines the Greens’ political independence.
Glick, for example, maintains that a safe-states campaign “will put pressure on the Democratic presidential candidate to use more populist-sounding, anti-corporate language, as was the effect of the Nader/2000 candidacy on Al Gore, which then increased his standing in the polls and helped lead to his popular vote victory.” True, but the job of an independent left political party should not be to help prowar, neoliberal John Kerry to sell himself more effectively at the polls.
History has shown that, however tepid the left’s support for a Democrat (“Half the way with LBJ,” anyone?), the end result is strengthening the hold of the Democratic Party on the left, not the other way around. As the Avocado Declaration, initiated by Camejo in January, stated plainly, “[I]t is precisely by openly and sharply confronting the two major parties that the policies of the corporate interests these parties represent can be set back and defeated.”
And as Nader supporter Howie Hawkins argued recently, “We can’t defeat war, repression and economic austerity from the Republicans by supporting Democrats who also support war, repression and economic austerity.” As such, the Green Party convention, marked the latest missed opportunity by the U.S. left, perpetually ensnared in the politics of lesser evilism, to escape from the chokehold of the Democratic Party.
SHARON SMITH is a columnist for the Socialist Worker and a contributor to the book, Iraq Under Siege.