July 21, 2003
Ever since the morning-after of the 2000 US presidential election, which saw the Supreme Court select Mr. Bush against the popular vote, there has been a concerted effort to bring the Greens back into the fold of the so-called progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Following the 2002 mid-term elections that gave control of Congress to the Republicans these efforts significantly intensified. The first salvo came from an ardent Nader supporter and friend, Ronnie Dugger, the founder and former chairperson of the Alliance for Democracy. In a December 2 article in The Nation, "Ralph, Don't Run," Dugger implored Ralph Nader not to run again in 2004 and made the case that the Greens should join the Democrats in order to defeat Mr. Bush in next year's presidential elections. Mr. Dugger based his argumentation on two major premises: that the government under Mr. Bush and his conservative cabal rules the land in a "crypto-fascist" fashion (therefore, must absolutely be defeated) and that the Greens should not spoil the electoral process. He further asserted that the "spoiler" effect had cost Al Gore the 2000 election and that the only realistic approach, if one wants to oust the Bushites, was to follow the 1972 take-over-the-Democrats strategy.
This argumentation is deeply flawed and, for the millions of US citizens who are looking for genuine change in the way their government operates, assuredly self-defeating. The case to be made is quite the opposite. It's not the Greens that should join the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. It's the progressive wing, or at least its remnants, that should bail out of the party and join the Greens who need to run their own candidates. Alternative voices and proposition are direly needed.
To date, sadly, while the 2004 presidential campaign has already begun in earnest the Greens have yet to announce whether they will slate a presidential ticket. Ralph Nader has remained conspicuously silent. Activists are confused and many already demoralized.
The views of this observer run against the grain of conventional wisdom, which, if one follows Mr. Dugger's reasoning, can be summed up as "we'd rather be a party of the majority than a party of principle."
By March 2004, following the first democratic primaries or caucuses -- Iowa (Jan 19), New Hampshire (Jan 27), Missouri (Feb 3), Michigan (Feb 7), California (March 2) -- the progressive candidates for the democratic nomination will all be out of contention. Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun (if she lasts that long), already largely ignored, will leave the stage and most probably a DLC Democrat or populist demagogue Howard Dean will win the nomination. The progressives will be left once again to their solitary and silent journey.
A bicephalous system dominated by corporate interests
American politics, personified by the two-party system, looks much like the competition between two giants of industry, Ford and General Motors. Their products serve the same purpose, look quite alike, yet families swear by one or the other brand. The Ford crowd resents the current successes of GM as much as the Democrats loathe the Republican bandwagon in both Congress and the White House. The differences are about shades of color -- more or less taxes, more or less prurience and Puritanism, more or less foreign adventures (unilateral empire or co-opted empire), more or less (exported) jobs, more or less ecological disaster (aka environmental "sensitivities"), more or less stock market bubble, more or less education and healthcare (it's always less), and the perpetuation of the same "dumbing-down" myths.
Differences between the two parties do exist, as they also do within both parties -- it would be irresponsible to deny them. As Professor Michael Bérubé once wrote, "anyone in the U.S. who has had any direct contact with government agencies since January 2001-- in Health and Human Services, in Labor, in special education, in civil rights, in commerce, in environmental policy, and in workplace safety -- has learned to their horror just how much remarkable damage a change in administrations, from centrist-Democrat to nearly-Fascist, can do" (correspondence with the author, March 1, 2003). He is evidently correct. The social conservatism of the Bushites is undoubtedly quite reactionary and eminently damaging to the social fabric of the country. But the extent of these differences is a matter of degrees. To wit: When asked, "Are you arguing for a more benign type of policies, yet still within the frame of references of the American duopolistic system?" Prof. Bérubé, a self-defined Democratic Socialist, answered, "More benign and less duopolistic" (correspondence with the author, March 21, 2003).
Furthermore, these differences all but disappear in the realm of international affairs. Both Democrats and Republicans are interventionists, in the name of "free markets," "democracy," and trade and financial globalization. Foreign military adventures, whether framed as humanitarian interventions, wars of liberation, or carried out under the banner of safety and security for the American people, are bi-partisan affairs. When Paul Krugman, who has consistently been denouncing the Bushites' patterns of corruption in his New York Times columns, notes that "an honest intelligence assessment would have raised questions about why we were going after a country that hadn't attacked us," he refers to Iraq (NYT, July 15, 2003) -- but he could as well have written the exact same sentence in 1999 when the Clinton Administration launched the devastating war against Serbia. The intelligence was as flimsy and as hyped then as it was in the months preceding the second Iraq war, and that country (Serbia) had not attacked us either. Operations launched by the "International Community" of yesteryear and the recent unilateral war against terrorism originate in the same capital, Washington D.C. Put it another way, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been able to befriend both Clinton and Bush without a hint of hesitation. And, if memory serves, no president has ever been impeached for misleading the American people into war with a foreign country (e.g., Johnson-Vietnam, Reagan-Nicaragua, Bush I-Gulf War I, Clinton-Kosovo, to name a few).
To argue that the sky will altogether fall if the current White House resident is finally elected to a second term in office misses the inherent contradictions of our economic system. Neither party is able or willing to address these contradictions. So, the choice is between a more or less "benign" chief intent on pursuing the same dysfunctional recipe. What a choice, indeed!
When one observes the sudden flurry of accusations originated in the main media and in the bowels of the Democratic Party -- "We've been duped," the intelligence was "hyped," "we've been lied to," this "nearly-Fascist" administration is led by the most extreme right-wingers this country has ever known (which may or may not be factual, but is highly doubtful), a few questions come to mind.
Is this a tactical move about political and/or mind control (no conspiracy theory intended here)? Could it be that the movers and shakers have recognized that the growing discontentment of a substantial part of the American people has become alarming enough that it needs to be dealt with? Ford and GM are about business as usual. So is the entire corporate apparatus. Democrats and Republicans understand the language of business and the perks that accompany power. Any attempt to move away from the herd is viewed as a threat. In the past few years, since the anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle, a growing movement has become increasingly visible, coalescing around an antiwar agenda and an attempt to redefine the rules of the game to take into consideration economic disparities, environmental degradations, social and justice issues. Many, quite possibly a majority of them, viewed the loose coalition of the Greens as a potential vehicle to break away from business as usual. The Greens made substantial gains in the 2002 mid-term elections and at the local levels (PTA boards, county seats, city councils, etc.).
That's when the call came forth to rally the troops. Mr. Dugger was the first to act. Soon thereafter with an increasing antiwar movement taking shape thanks to the incredible efforts of left-wing organizations such as International ANSWER, the institutional Left, through Todd Gitlin, David Corn, Marc Cooper, Nathan Newman, et al., began their relentless attacks on the movement -- and the drums went into full beat. The "enemy" had to be redefined, from globalization, antiwar and social justice into a fight for the soul of the American system. Mr. Bush became the scarecrow. The Greens were made to feel guilty. The Nation, LA Weekly and other "liberal-minded" publications around the country heard the call from their "sponsors;" played the tune to the hilt; and did a magnificent hatch job.
The invasion of Iraq was the final knife in the heart.
The "spoiling syndrome"
Mr. Dugger's accusation notwithstanding, Ralph Nader did not bring Mr. Bush to the US presidency. A Supreme Court decision did. Al Gore did win the vote count. And Al Gore would have won Florida, had the Supreme Court not stopped the recount (this is now part of the historical record). But beyond what is history, the contention that a Nader vote was a stolen Democratic vote is utterly ludicrous. All of the usual culprits who initially expressed an interest in Nader but wanted to play safe ran back to the herd. The phenomenon repeated itself during the 2002 gubernatorial election in California. According to the polls, Green candidate Peter Camejo was expected to receive 10 percent of the vote. On Election Day, he got 5.4 percent. The chickens had gone home to roost... People who actually voted for Nader in 2000 would have most probably stayed away from the polls, had he not run -- or would have entered another name on their ballot (as my companion did in 1996).
The "spoiler syndrome" is nothing else but a crude scheme based on guilt to keep the system in place. Worse, combined with the tired old electoral shenanigan of the lesser evil, it leads to discouragement and disfranchisement of a segment of society that is looking for actual changes and to further fragmentation of any serious political formation that wants to challenge the system.
This prevarication is used to muffle the voices of dissent and control the political discourse in such a way that no alternative can be offered. It's a prevarication because the Greens could -- and should -- field strong candidates and let the Democratic Party know that should one of its progressive candidates (Kucinich?) win the nomination the Greens would withdraw their candidates. Not only would this approach invalidate the "spoiler" argument but it would allow the expression of alternative voices long after March 2004.
A progressive voice
Utilitarians will object and argue that the Greens cannot win and that the only way to influence the process is to be part of it. But the issue is not about winning; it's about changing a dysfunctional, fast-breaking system and it's about having alternative voices heard. One cannot expect those who maintain and support that system to be a part of the solution. This is common sense. Dennis Kucinich is a passionate and honest man. He must have long realized that the influence of progressives on the Democratic Party is close to zero and that he has little in common with a Tom Lantos (another member of the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party who happens to be a rabid hawk on foreign policies) or a John Kerry. The same could be said on the Republican side (e.g. Lincoln Chafee vs. Rick Santorum). In both parties conservatives carry the day and have for decades. The two catch-all parties offer practically no room for progressive voices. It's a bankrupt system and the antinomy of political alternatives.
Progressives like Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, and others would make a much stronger contribution to the nation's future by stepping away from the Democratic Party and joining a third party. Meantime, in response to the defeatism of Mr. Dugger and other utilitarians, the Green Party should field the strongest possible slate (read again the title of this article). It would send a message of hope to millions of Americans who genuinely want change.
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The Greens on Swans
Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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