By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Certainly, Nader would have stolen much of the thunder of John McCain, especially on campuses. McCain’s candidacy gives the lie to the idea that you only really alter the political agenda by running outside the major parties. Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, whose 1968 candidacies effectively and irrevocably turned the Democratic Party against the Vietnam War, would disagree. So would Jesse Jackson and Pat Buchanan.) Compare Buchanan’s ability to alter public discourse in his ’92 inside-the-GOP race to his impact today, where he’s crying inaudibly in the wilderness.) For that matter, the three main left-wing third-party presidential candidates of the past hundred years — Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas and Henry Wallace — all ran before presidential primaries really came into being, at a time when Democratic delegates were entirely selected by party bosses. It’s not at all clear that they (particularly Wallace) would have opted for the third-party route had they run in a post-1968 system. (1968 was the last election in which machines, not voters, selected the major party nominees.)
It could be argued, I suppose, that primary-candidate Nader might have had a hard time holding together his progressive forces and shaping them into a permanent organization after the Democratic National Convention. It wouldn’t be nearly as hard, however, as shaping the Green Party into that kind of force. No one who’s looked at the actual Greens would come away thinking that this was an organization capable of such a task. Many Greens have come to the party precisely because they have an anti-organizational perspective. Others, including a majority of the Green activists I’ve encountered, are there to insist on a kind of lifestyle purity, arguing, for instance, that the party must officially endorse veganism.
Indeed, if Nader were to cross the magical 5 percent threshold, the party might not even be up to defending its own ballot line, so few and inept are its members. At this summer’s national convention, New Mexico Greens were busily leafleting against their own nominee for a congressional seat, a non-member with no particularly Green beliefs who’d won their primary as a write-in candidate. With the party all but nonexistent in two dozen states, a takeover of the kind Pat Buchanan conducted in the Reform Party is more than plausible. That knocking on the party’s door would likely be Lenora Fulani.
Worse yet, the party chases away the handful of genuine members who actually have the skills to win election. In 1998, Audi Bock became the first Green to win a partisan office in California, when she was elected under somewhat flukish circumstances to the state Assembly from a Berkeley-Oakland district. Last year, however, she left the party after it objected to the fund-raising she’d undertaken to campaign for re-election. Late last week, three of the five Greens on the nonpartisan Seattle City Council announced they were resigning from the party to vote for Al Gore. Green sectarianism is already driving away the Greens who can actually function in real politics. This vehicle for building a national progressive movement is — to use Daniel Bell’s description of the old socialists — in but not of the world. Yet even this collection of stumblebums is capable of tossing a 51-to-49 percent Democratic district to the Republicans.
Indeed, the split between realists and fundamentalists in the ranks of the Greens seems also to be taking place within Nader’s inner circle, if not within Nader’s own mind. Just this Saturday, I received a fund solicitation from Public Citizen — Nader’s signature organization, which he founded in 1971 and over which he remains the guiding spirit. The gist of the letter is that Public Citizen is the main organization fighting for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, which has fallen short of enactment by just a “handful of votes” (the letter’s emphasis) in the Senate (where, in fact, the Democrats are expected to pick up several more members Tuesday). Of course, Al Gore has pledged that McCain-Feingold will be his first priority, while W. has said in no uncertain terms that he would veto it. Yet Nader is prepared to sacrifice the number-one priority of Public Citizen to his candidacy. When he told Moberg that “this is war,” he apparently meant: against the Democrats, against Dem ocratic progressives, against progressive groups that need the Democrats, against his very own organization and its most important goal.
Enough about parties. What about movements? For when Nader claims to be building a left, he asserts that his candidacy will be good for the groups that really do the day-to-day drudge work of building a decent America — the unions, the environmental organizations; the civil rights, feminist, pro-choice and anti-poverty groups working both in Washington and in countless neighborhoods across the country.
Time and again, Nader has argued that even if he draws so many votes from Gore that Bush becomes president, one of two things will happen. The first possibility is, it won’t really matter: Just this weekend, he argued on one of the Sunday talk-shows that “Even if Roe v. Wade is reversed, that doesn’t end it. It just reverts it back to the states.” (Young women in the anti-choice South, I guess, will just have to be prepared to travel, or look around for some back alleys.) His second possibility isn’t quite so dismissive: If a Republican Supreme Court does overturn Roeor the civil-rights statues it has already begun to erode, if W.’s minions at the Interior Department start selling off the national parks, it will lead to a huge, reactive resurgence in the strength of progressive movements. “There’s never been a retrenchment in civil rights since the Dred Scottdecision,” he told me when I interviewed him shortly before the Green Party convention this summer, ignoring a string of recent 5-to-4 court decisions that limited the applicability of federal civil-rights statutes to the states. “These things are not going to be pulled back — and if they are, it would probably be the greatest source of a revival in civic action in our generation.”