[Editor’s note: David Cobb refused to allow the text of his interview to be edited for clarity, brevity or to conform to the merciless but inexorable laws of grammar.–JSC]
JOSHUA FRANK: Mr. Cobb, thanks for agreeing to this interview. How do you respond to the claim made by many Greens, including your primary opponent Carol Miller, that you only garnered a mere 12% of the nation-wide vote during the Green Party presidential primary, but still managed to capture the party’s nomination? Do you believe this support provides legitimacy for your campaign? Or does the Green Party have a democracy problem because its delegates are disproportionably divided among states?
David Cobb: Joshua, I’ll be happy to address how I earned the Green Party’s presidential nomination but before I do, I’d like to make two points. The first is this: the primary season ended three months ago. It’s time to focus on the general election and getting the Green message out. It’s time for our party to unify and these types of discussions aren’t particularly productive at this point in time. If people have concerns with the primary and nominating process they should have addressed those concerns when the rules were being drafted. And, of course, after the election, I would encourage them to work to make the Green Party as democratic as is humanly possible. I have to say I’m skeptical though, because many of the people who are crying “foul” now seem to be doing so only because their preferred candidate lost. I suspect that many of them will lose all interest in genuinely strengthening the democratic character of the Green Party at the conclusion of this campaign.
The second point concerns the questions you’ve posed to me in this email interview. Just about every one attempts to challenge the legitimacy of my campaign or somehow compares it to Nader’s previous or current efforts. I’ll answer all your questions to provide a perspective that’s been missing from articles of this nature: my perspective. However, your questions only once mention the words “George Bush” or “John Kerry” whom I happen to be running against. And the only substantive policy question you’ve asked concerns a misstatement I made on Iraq.
So, in case anyone who reads this is wondering: I’m running for president to present a genuine, progressive alternative to the corporately-financed and morally corrupt two old establishment parties. I’m running on a pro-peace, anti-war platform and yes, I call for bringing our troops home from Iraq as quickly as they can be transported — which I’ve been told should take five weeks. I call for a repeal of the so-called “Patriot” Act, for a Living Wage, for single-payer universal health care and for an end to the hypocritical and racist war on drugs. I call for D.C statehood and for upholding treaty rights with Native nations. I call for a 50% cut in the Pentagon’s budget over a ten-year period and for investing those funds in developing alternative energy resources such as wind, solar and biodiesel. I call for an end to commercial logging on public lands. I call for easing ballot access restrictions and am offended by the tactics used to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot. I believe we should get private money out of our public elections and I support open debates, Instant Runoff Voting and proportional representation. I support reparations for the descendants of people brought to this country in chains. I support equal rights for people to marry whom they choose. I support clemency for Leonard Peltier. I think your readers want this information and should be presented with it.
And yes, I’m running to grow the Green Party which is getting bigger, stronger and better organized in each election cycle.
Now, as to how I earned the Green Party’s presidential nomination, I believe it is because of three things. First, the Green Party was ready for a grassroots campaign by someone who is a member of the party, who would campaign on the party’s platform and who worked shoulder to shoulder with them as I have. I joined the Green Party because of Ralph Nader but there are many Greens, myself included, who thought it was time for a different candidate and a different kind of campaign. I’ve spent the last eight years working with the party as a grassroots organizer, candidate, candidate trainer, lecturer, fundraiser and lawyer. So I’m well known within the party and my work has been respected and appreciated at the grassroots. Incidentally, I think we would really have to question our commitment to grassroots democracy if we had the same candidate for national office three times in a row.
The second reason I won and earned the nomination is because I worked my tail off for it — harder than anyone else. I traveled to forty states and spent months on the road all across the country. I visited states where primaries, conventions and caucuses were held and I participated in debates with my fellow candidates.
The third reason I won and earned the nomination is because I actually sought the nomination and I agreed to accept it. I participated in the internal democratic process which the party established. Ralph stated explicitly to the Green Party, in a public letter, that he was not seeking nor would he accept the nomination.
Now, as to this “12%” myth, you know that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. This “12%” business falls into at least one, if not all three, of those categories. People who are interested in how this myth was propagated and how it has been deconstructed can check out www.greensrespond.org.
Please keep in mind that I received the majority of delegates’ votes at the convention and that I agreed to not accept the nomination unless there was majority support. I agreed to this even though the party rules say that a candidate can win a nomination with a plurality. No other candidate willing to accept the nomination had a chance of winning even a plurality of the vote. In other words, I made this agreement even though I was the only candidate who stood to lose out on the nomination by agreeing to it.
The Green Party operates as a representative democracy and I encourage and welcome all efforts to make it more democratic.
Frank: What is the largest crowd you’ve spoken to along the campaign trail? It was reported that in mid-August during a major rally in California, only three-dozen supporters showed up. Is that a typical number for your gatherings?
Cobb: I suppose if you figure in the coverage I’ve received in the New York Times, CNN, ABC, NPR, CSPAN, and newspapers and radio and television stations all across the country, that I’ve addressed millions and millions of people. In person, I’ve addressed gatherings from thousands of people, including a crowd of over 3,000 in Wisconsin about a week ago, to a handful. Something in between is “typical.”
Frank: Are you planning on holding any super rallies like the Green Party during the 2000 election?
Cobb: We’re focusing on other ways of getting our message across. My running mate, Pat LaMarche is doing a two week tour of homeless shelters where she’s sleeping in a different shelter each night to draw attention to this critical issue. I’d like to see Dick Cheney do that. I just completed a Green Tour which focused on alternative energy, green architecture, green businesses and sustainability.
We are also debating other third party candidates when invited and have been the major force behind organizing alternative debates to the corporate-sponsored debates in Florida and Ohio.
I don’t think this is the year for super rallies and I haven’t heard of Ralph doing any either. Oregon was the birthplace of the super rally and, as you know, Ralph drew tens of thousands of people, people paying to see him, in 2000. This year, Ralph found it pretty difficult in Oregon to get 1000 people to attend a nominating convention for him. It’s safe to say it’s a different political climate than it was four years ago.
Frank: How many votes do you hope to get? And will getting less than 0.5% of
the popular vote make the Greens politically irrelevant?
Cobb: The Green Party is the fastest growing party in this country and we have elected hundreds of people to office including state legislators, city and county councilors and mayors. Regardless of our presidential vote total, we won’t be politically irrelevant; we’ll go on making real differences in people’s lives at the local level.
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.
Besides, in our winner-take-all system, the number of votes received at the ballot box is one of the least important indicators of support. For example, 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.
Frank: Many frustrated Greens I’ve spoken with that have decided to back Ralph Nader this year are concerned as to how the Green Party will mend the fences with Nader-Greens. If Mr. Nader does have the support he needs to move ahead with his own third party (he has registered the Populist Party in several states, and said he’ll go forward if there is support), how will this affect the Greens? What if popular Green Party member Peter Camejo follows? It is hard to discount the fact that Ralph Nader helped build the Greens into a national force — won’t many of the people he brought on board the Green Party follow his lead as opposed to yours?
Cobb: I think your question, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, presupposes a hierarchical, individual-centered movement — a cult of personality. I’m running as candidate following the lead of the Green Party; it’s not the other way around. I am not a cult figure and 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. It reminds me of the Eugene Debs line: “I wouldn’t lead you out of the wilderness, even if I could, because if I could, someone else could lead you back in.”
Your question also presupposes that Green Party members who support the duly nominated candidate of their party, a candidate — unlike others — who actually sought and agreed to accept the nomination, are somehow the ones who have to be mending fences. While there’s an argument to be made that it is those who have “left” the party, at least in the presidential race, who should be doing the mending, I think it is up to all of us to come together again and find the common ground that brought us together in the first place.
Ralph has never been a member of the Green Party or any other party so there isn’t really a question of him “leaving” the party. As to Peter Camejo, I think Peter is the best person to be discussing his future plans.
Frank: Do you still believe that Nader is “supported by racists”, as you said to a New Mexico audience last month?
Cobb: I believe that Pat Buchanan is supported by racists. So, while building coalitions is a worthy endeavor and the need for ballot lines is a political reality, Ralph has nonetheless courted the support of the remnants of Buchanan’s political organization.
Frank: One last question regarding the Nader-Camejo campaign. Do you still think it is appropriate to focus on fellow Green, Peter Camejo’s socialist history — something many saw as red baiting — as was done on your presidential web site after he was chosen as Nader’s VP — when he has headed an investment firm for the last two decades?
Cobb: Let’s be clear: the only reference on our site to Peter’s former socialist affiliation was in a news article where I answered a journalist’s question about my opinion on the choice of Camejo as Nader’s running mate. I don’t have a problem with anyone being a socialist and in fact, as many activists are aware, we have the Socialist and Communist parties to thank for many of the New Deal proposals which were successfully co-opted by Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.
Frank: How many Green ballot lines do you expect to gain for the Green Party this year? Do you expect to lose ballot access in any states? If not, how will you get the required percentages needed in the states that call for them? If you do lose some ballot lines, how will this in effect grow the Green Party?
Cobb: The Green Party will be on 28 or 29 ballot lines this year and is growing and will continue to grow, regardless of how well we comply with restrictive and anti-democratic ballot access laws designed by the two old parties to keep the competition at bay. We need to work on changing these laws — as has been successfully done by Green activists across the country. Some ballot access laws are nearly impossible to comply with. Until the laws get changed, or until the Green Party achieves major party status, we will inevitably lose ballot status in some states in some election cycles. The U.S. is the only democracy where a presidential ticket has to comply with 51 different sets of rules and regulations just to get on the ballot.
Ballot access requirements vary incredibly from state to state. Most require petitioning, some require voter registration, some require fees. A number of states require a certain percentage of the vote — in the case of Minnesota, for example, it’s a hefty 5% — to stay on the ballot. I think it is inevitable, given the political climate and the fact that there are two candidates running on an anti-war platform who will split the Green and Independent vote, that we will lose some ballot lines.
Frank: On the Iraq war, do you still think the US should not, as you said to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, “cut and run?” Did you realize that when you said this, that it was the same position of both George Bush and John Kerry?
Cobb: I knew saying those words in particular was a mistake the moment they left my mouth and I have clarified my position ever since. Thank you for giving me that opportunity yet again since I know that some people have refused to admit or recognize that I have clarified my position, consistently and repeatedly. What I meant by that rather unfortunate comment is that the U.S. has an obligation to provide resources to a sovereign–not a puppet–Iraqi government to rebuild Iraq. You can check the consistency of my position on Iraq from the press releases we’ve issued for the past ten months or so: bring the troops home; end the occupation.
JF: Do you expect to get into the “official” presidential debates? Are you willing to be arrested as an act of civil disobedience if you are not allowed to participate?
Cobb: Frankly, I do not expect to be invited to the “official” corporate-sponsored debates and I’m one of four candidates — Nader, Badnarik of the Libertarian Party and Peroutka from the Constitution Party are the others-who are on enough ballots to theoretically win the presidency who are being excluded. And yes, I have said repeatedly, on the record, in print and on broadcast, that I am willing to commit non-violent civil disobedience to protest the exclusion of the Green Party.
I think we’ve done an admirable job of presenting alternative viewpoints to the voters. Michael Badnarik and I debated in Miami across the street from the first corporate debate and we also debated during the RNC. He and I will debate in Texas on October 7 and we’ll both participate in debates with other candidates at Cornell and Eastern Tennessee University, too.
I think we need to pressure not only the corporate debates but the “open” debate sponsors to set realistic standards which will allow for independent and third party participation. Frankly, I think the standard should be whether a candidate is on sufficient state ballots to win. And I say that not because I’ve met that standard, but because qualifying for the ballot is a daunting enough prospect as it is. Opening up debates to people who qualify by this standard won’t let so many people in that the critics can say that they would become unwieldy. There would actually be fewer participants than there were in the Democratic primary debates.
Frank: You’ve said that you are not running a “safe-state” campaign, and that you would campaign for Greens in any state if asked. Will you campaign for yourself in any state, particularly swing-states, where presidential votes matter most?
Cobb: I’ve already campaigned on behalf of our ticket and local candidates in swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine. I am not avoiding any states. I am running a strategic campaign designed to grow the Green Party and make the most of limited resources.
JF: Mr. Cobb, thanks again for your time.
Cobb: Thank you, Joshua. I look forward to seeing this interview published in its entirety.
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 email@example.com.
This interview originally ran on Lefthook, the online journal of radical youth.