Disquieting Green Politics

by Gilles d'Aymery

September 1, 2003


A wrenching debate is taking place among various segments of the American fractured left. Should the Greens field a candidate to the 2004 US presidential election? Many progressives are wrestling with the question and there is no easy answer, as the Greens are in a bind. They are under immense pressure from the Anyone-But-Bush coalition of the willing to fold into the democratic big catch-all tent, but in doing so they are facing a tangible risk -- especially if the democratic candidate loses -- to meet the fate of the Populist Party in the late 1800s, which after having backed a Democrat for president (William Jennings Bryan in 1896) all but disintegrated through internal bickering and dissension. If they field a candidate and Mr. Bush is re-elected, they will be accused once again of being "spoilers" and will be ostracized by the majority of the "liberal" Democrats; and if, on top of it, they show poor results, they fear they may end up marginalized. It looks very much like a no-win situation. Meanwhile, as the debate unfolds, militant activists simmer and are altogether ready to jump the Green ship. Interesting times, perhaps, but disquieting times nonetheless...

Let's forget about the Cruise Missile Left: The Nation columnist Katha Pollitt has thrown her support behind Howard Dean and written that, "it looks like Howard Dean is Ralph Nader's gift to the Democratic Party." (1) The Cruise Missile Left (or should we call them the "Cruise Line Left?") has been in bed with the democrats for so long that they've already jumped on the bandwagon of the Anyone-But-Bush (ABB) coalition. Nothing's new here, but the surprise comes from unexpected quarters where apparently ABB resonates loudly.

Norman Solomon, the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy (www.accuracy.org), writes, "I'm a green. But these days, in the battle for the presidency, I'm not a Green." (2) Michael Albert of ZNet says that "one post election result we want is Bush retired." (3) To disarm the critics, they promptly acknowledge that Anyone-But-Bush will be a bad choice...but not as bad a choice as a second Bush administration... "The record of Candidate X shows that he's a craven servant of corporate America. But I'm going to vote for him because George W. Bush is even worse," says Norman Solomon. (4) "However bad his replacement may turn out, replacing Bush will improve the subsequent mood of the world and its prospects of survival . . . . We want Bush out," asserts Albert. (5)

To be fair, Michael Albert attempts to propose a third way. Having called for all practical purposes to "vote democrat," Albert advances a few ideas based on suppositions and assumptions. Suppose a Green does run after all, whether Michael Moore, or Barbara Ehrenreich, or Ron Daniels, or Ralph Nader, "or whoever it is;" suppose that "whoever it is" runs only in states that are a foregone conclusion -- that is, states that are solidly within the democratic or republican ledger; suppose again that whoever it is that runs does not run alone but with an entire "shadow government" that "will operate alongside the White House and real Cabinet;" furthermore, to fund that lofty enterprise, suppose that "say 3, 5, or perhaps 10 million people say we like Moore (or whoever)" and that they "would pledge $3, $5, or $10 a month to support the shadow government and its undertakings in coming years;" and finally, suppose that 2 million starts at an average of $4.00 a month. Well, that's $8 million a month to "get started." Just imagine what could be accomplished, Albert suggests. (6)

He may be correct -- much could be accomplished, indeed -- but he is not very realistic. The impracticable part of his approach resides not in the sheer number of suppositions but in the numbers themselves. It would take 66.66 percent of 3 million, 40 percent of 5 million, or 20 percent of 10 million people to reach his $8 million goal at $4.00 a pop by 2 million pledgers. This makes no practical sense. To realize it, suffices to compare his assumptions with ZNet's own reality. ZNet sends its free e-mail updates to 140,000 recipients and, according to Albert, (7) about 300,000 people use the Web site weekly. . . . "but," says Albert, " [ZNet] has only a bit over 5,000 'sustainers' paying for it all." As he justly concludes, "imagine what we could do if you were to join the program and support our growth at whatever level you could afford. Would that be worth the price of a pizza each month?" It seems that only 3.6 percent of 140,000 and 1.66 percent of 300,000 think so! In fundraising terms these are decent and reasonable numbers, much closer to the real world than his 66.66, 40 or even 20 percent. So, whatever the non-starting "creative" approach, Michael Albert is essentially advocating a "vote Democrat" strategy, and, whether consciously or not, seems to have essentially jumped on the ABB bandwagon.

More serious is the position taken by Ted Glick, the respected National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org), author of "Future Hope: A Winning Strategy for a Just Society" and the 2002 New Jersey Green Party candidate for the US Senate. Here is a man of integrity who for three decades has been a progressive activist; who for the past 8 years or so has led the IPPN, whose stellar Principles of Unity could be a model for all progressives (with the exception of proportional political representation); who is an ardent supporter of a third party, a Green third party. He advocates a "safe states strategy." (8)

The "safe states strategy" is a concerted effort to keep the Greens going without running the risk to be once again accused of being a "spoiler" -- an accusation that has plagued the Greens ever since 2000. How profoundly unjustified and incorrect an accusation (actually, eminently false: more registered democrats and independents voted for Bush in 2000 than for Nader), the stigma is there, indelible, like a branded longhorn. So, Glick, loyal to his principles but placed between the proverbial rock and the hard place, comes with a middle-of-the-road strategy (also propounded by Tom Hayden and, in a half-hearted way, by Michael Albert). Let's run a Green ticket, he proposes, but only in the states that do not threaten the outcome. He calls for a Green campaign that won't upset or offset the Democrats; and while acknowledging that the Democrats are an integral "part of the problem and in no way part of the solution" he also agrees with the general "leftist" consensus that, "although both the Republicans and Democrats are problematic, the Bushites represent such a particular danger right now that we have modified our campaign accordingly." (9)

Obviously, in talking about "a particular danger right now," (emphasis added) Glick is joining his friend Norman Solomon (Solomon is a member of the IPPN Advisory Committee) in making the "dump Bush" slogan priority #1; but, unlike Solomon, he simply cannot dump the Greens and his dream to see a progressive, independent third party become a viable alternative. Not surprisingly Solomon is criticizing Glick's strategy (without publicly naming Glick) before espousing Michael Albert's convoluted approach. To his credit, Solomon dismantles Howard Dean (it's increasingly clear that the progressiveness of the good doctor has the distinct smell of snake oil) and gives plugs to Dennis Kucinich who's hovering around one percent in the polls (I wish Solomon would not ignore Al Sharpton who's decisively more progressive than Kucinich...). (10)

Now, they are well-meaning progressives, wrestling with a difficult situation and honestly debating the best possible strategy, but their logic is befuddling. If the Democrats are "in no way part of the solution," how can they suddenly become the answer? How can one criticize Glick's safe-states strategy but approve Albert's? How can a middle-of-the-road strategy deflect the "spoiler" syndrome? Remember, this is a souped-up charge that is factually mistaken. Those who perceive that a third party run will spoil the election will keep making the same charge whether a Green ticket runs in only 25-30 states or nationally. Finally, how can well-meaning progressives advocate for years the necessity to break away from the two-party system and when the going gets tough fold back into it?

What's so disheartening to this observer is that the proponents of ABB (and to a lesser extent Ted Glick) all know that building an independent movement or party is not a stop-and-go proposition; they know that a movement is a living creature -- you cannot tell a child that he should stop growing simply because a looming crisis is on the horizon. They have to be aware of the damages their drift toward the Democrats causes to the viability of an independent third party...and to the peace movement.

Meanwhile militant activists are bolting away in droves, further fracturing and diluting the Green Coalition at a time when change is needed more than ever.

Disquieting times, indeed!

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Notes and Resources

1.  Katha Pollitt, "Selling Dean Short," The Nation, August 14, 2003.
http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030901&s=pollitt  (back)

2.  Norman Solomon, "Dean Hopes and Green Dreams: The 2004 Presidential Race," ZNet, August 25, 2003.
http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=41&ItemID=4086  (back)

3.  Michael Albert, "Election Plan?", ZNet, August 12, 2003.
http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=41&ItemID=4041  (back)

4.  Norman Solomon, "A Different Approach For The 2004 Campaign," ZNet, May 29, 2003.
http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2003-05/29solomon.cfm  (back)

5.  Michael Albert, "Election Plan?"  (back)

6.  ibid.  (back)

7.  "Update & Election Strategy Commentary from ZNet, August 12, 2003.  (back)

8.  Ted Glick, "A Green Party 'Safe States' Strategy," Independent Progressive Politics Network, July 1, 2003.
http://www.ippn.org/article.php?ID=fh91.html  (back)

9.  ibid.
See also:
Ted Glick, "Kucinich, Sharpton and the Greens," IPPN, June 15, 2003. http://www.ippn.org/article.php?ID=fh92.html
Ted Glick, "Dump Bush--Build Independent Politics," IPPN, July 01, 2003. http://www.ippn.org/article.php?ID=fh93.html
Ted Glick, "On the Two Democratic Parties," IPPN, August 4, 2003. http://www.ippn.org/article.php?ID=fh95.html
Ted Glick, "On the Internal Struggle," ZNet, August 19, 2003. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=33&ItemID=4064  (back)

10.  Norman Solomon, "Dean Hopes and Green Dreams: The 2004 Presidential Race,"  (back)

Peter Camejo-Cynthia McKinney: A Green Presidential Ticket? - Gilles d'Aymery - July 21, 2003

The Greens on Swans


Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.

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Published September 1, 2003
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