“I voted Nader in Ohio and you’ll never catch me!”
— Graffiti on a bathroom wall, Belgium Beer Bar, New York City
A friend of mine, who happens to be a founding member of the Green Party, recently told me he believes that next year will be a great one for independent politics in the United States. He even predicts that a third-party antiwar bid for president could garner more support than Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2000.
“Sheehan’s resignation from the Dems is symptomatic of a lot of grassroots sentiment,” he explained. “If we get Nader or [Cynthia] McKinney to run, it could be bigger than 2000. I detect no lesser-evil sentiment in the Greens this cycle.”
I sure hope he’s right, but I just don’t think he is. While the majority of the country opposes the Iraq war, there is still no viable antiwar movement pounding the pavement, day-in and day-out, demanding that the occupation end at once. It’s almost like dissent by proxy: let others do the dirty work while we wait for shit to change.
In 2000 the story was different. Nader’s campaign was kick-started by the anti-globalization protests against the World Trade Organization. The huge, diverse outpouring on the streets of Seattle eventually led to packed theatres and arenas across the country as Nader voiced our concerns about the destructive global economy.
People wanted change.
In many ways it was a spontaneous development. Nobody could have predicted one-year prior that Nader supporters would fill Madison Square Garden to the rafters. Nor could anyone have known the extent to which Nader would eventually be blamed, right or wrong, for the fallout of Al Gore’s embarrassing demise, and the horrific events that were to follow under the reign of George W. Bush.
The 2008 presidential election already seems to be moving at full-speed. The Democrats argue over petty details of each other’s platforms. The Republicans, for the most part, do the same, although they have the larger challenge of attempting to distance themselves from the failed Bush doctrine. But aside from a few lonely voices within the race on both sides, mainly Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich for the Democrats, and Ron Paul for the Republicans — there is no real fervor. There is no real debate about the issues that matter most. Corporate interests and dutiful allegiance to the American Empire, as Nader explained so well in 2000, dominate the heart and soul of both parties.
We all know why the Bush administration ought to hauled off in handcuffs like Scooter was last week, yet there is little discussion about the culpability of the Democrats in all that has transpired since Bush came to power. And the list is long: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, No Child Left Behind, the PATRIOT Act, CAFTA, The Healthy Forest Initiative, the abuses at Gitmo, the Supreme Court Appointments, the bankruptcy bill, threat inflation toward Iran, and so much more.
There are going to be plenty of readers who still believe the Democrats offer at least a semblance of sanity. But rhetoric is cheap. The Democrats’ rap sheet over the past seven years would make Stalin blush.
Both parties in 2008, as my Green Party pal pointed out, must be challenged. And I don’t think an all-out 50 state campaign is the best approach to holding them accountable. As a minority, we may not be able to beat the Republicans, but we sure as hell have the ability to put tangible pressure of the Democrats. And that’s why we ought to focus our efforts on two states only: Ohio and Florida.
Third-party campaigns are up against many barriers. Ballot access restrictions, fundraising, media attention, and the inability to crack in to the corporate sponsored debates. Attempting to get on the ballot in all fifty states is laborious, not to mention expensive and time consuming. The Democrats, as they did to Nader in 2000, will even go the legal route in hopes of kicking us off the ballot. So why not instead focus our finite resources and energy on the states that matter most to them in our winner-take-all system — the two swing states will the most Electoral College votes.
Screw party building. It’s about movement building, and we have a war to end. Imagine if all those buses to Ohio weren’t meant to elect a Democrat, but were intended to end the occupation. We don’t actually live in a representative democracy, so we may as well exploit the system in order to make an impact. If the Democrats don’t address our issues they will risk losing valuable electoral points, and in turn, their presidential aspirant will lose the election. We may be a minority, but we could be a powerful one. They’d be forced to listen.
This may all seem like a ridiculous proposition. But as it seems now, it is even more outrageous to assume that a 50 state campaign is feasible, given the overwhelming dislike for the Republican Party, and the lack of a politically minded antiwar movement.
The 2008 election is for the Democrats to lose. Let’s spoil it.
JOSHUA FRANK is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in March 2008.