HOWIE GREEN is a Green Party activist in Syracuse, N.Y.
AS RALPH NADER CAMPAIGNS FOR PRESIDENT ACROSS THE COUNTRY, he is telling audiences, "In 1996, I just stood for election. In 2000, I'm running." In 1996, Nader gave Greens permission to put his name on the ballot for U.S. President, but did not campaign for the office. The Greens got Nader on the ballot in 22 states and he received nearly 700,000 votes, the most for an independent party candidate to the left of the Democrats since Henry Wallace's Progressive Party campaign of 1948.
This time Ralph is really running. Running with him is Winona LaDuke, a White Earth Anishinabe author and activist on environmental and indigenous people's issues, who has agreed to be the vice-presidential candidate. In the first eight weeks after announcing on February 21, 2000, Nader hit the road, stopping in almost every state to kick off ballot petition drives and raise money for local Green parties. These local fundraising events were in addition to fundraising directly for his campaign, where he aims to qualify for federal matching funds and raise at least $5 million. After eight weeks, the fundraising plan was on schedule, with $350,000 raised and ten of the needed twenty states over the qualifying threshold for matching funds. Ten staff had been hired for the Washington DC headquarters and ten field organizers were out organizing ballot petitioning drives. The campaign plan projects hiring fifteen more field organizers to complete the ballot qualification phase and move on to supporting state and local party organization, voter identification, and get out the vote operations. The Nader campaign is going for ballot lines in all 50 states. By the end of April, Nader was on in 15 states, including the high population states of New York, Florida, and California.
Nader centers his progressive populist message around anti-corporate and pro- democracy themes. "The unconstrained behavior of big business is subordinating our democracy to the control of a corporate plutocracy," Nader said in his announcement speech. "Moving on all fronts to advance narrow profit motives at the expense of civic values, large corporate lobbies and law firms have produced a commanding, multi- faceted and powerful juggernaut." Calling for a "new populism," Nader said the focus of his campaign was "to create fresh political movements that will displace the control of the Democratic and Republican parties, two apparently distinct political entities that feed from the same corporate trough."
In his stump speeches, Nader rails against a litany of abuses, linked to concentrated corporate power: corporate-managed trade and investment, corporate welfare, military bloat alongside cutbacks in public services and infrastructure, private appropriation of the common wealth of public lands and airwaves, environmental destruction, stupefying corporate media. He reels off alternatives, linking them all to a common theme of "deep democracy:" consumer and labor unions to counter corporate power, anti-trust enforcement, cooperatives, public enterprise, progressive and ecological tax reform, renewable energy, single-payer health care.
Nader is sometimes criticized for neglecting social issues like racial justice, gay liberation, and reproductive rights, or trying to subsume them under questions of class and corporate power. While sticking to a basic anti-corporate, pro-democracy message, the Nader campaign is well aware of these criticisms. Nader will run on the Green Platform and its support for affirmative action, gay rights, and choice. But the campaign is also making an effort to target messages to particular constituencies. For example, Nader did an interview for a magazine oriented to the HIV/AIDS community, calling for price constraints on AIDS drugs, an end to monopolies on drugs to bring prices down, and "If there's any opposition by the drug companies to this, government should say to them, 'If you're going to engage in profiteering, we'll make them ourselves -- and more cheaply than you.'" "The U.S. could build a plant in Africa and for $300 million supply [AIDS drugs for] the whole continent," added Nader, whose Consumer Project on Technology has been a vital source of expertise for the AIDS Drugs for Africa campaign. Asked about the Vermont Supreme Court's decision upholding same-sex marriages, Nader said it "was right, a humane and touching decision with a very searching rationale -- it's not only a matter of affinity, but of economics on health care and other issues, which makes it all the more needed."1
Nader is no stranger to the labor movement, having been active in the movements to democratize and clean-up the Teamsters and Mine Workers unions and to pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Nader's ally in the latter movement, Tony Mazzochi, National Organizer of the Labor Party, will be one of the featured speakers at the Green Party convention in Denver, June 24-25. Building a Blue-Green coalition of blue collar workers and environmentalists is one of the constant themes in Nader's campaign.
Nader intends to leave a permanent institution in the wake of his campaign, a political party for the people that can take on the corporate oligarchy and its political representatives in the Democratic and Republican parties. The campaign has several benchmarks by which to measure success short of winning the office. One is 5% of the national vote which will qualify the Green Party for two streams of public funding in 2004, at least $2 million for its national convention and at least $10 million for its presidential campaign. If the Nader vote is on this scale, the Green Party will increase its number of states with permanent ballot status from the current 12 to over 40, thus giving independent progressives and radicals ready access to the ballot in future elections and the ability to change the range and tenor of political debate across the country. Saying he wants to see the Green Party expand ten-fold by every measure in this election, Nader is urging people to join and participate in the Green Party. He has repeatedly stated, in Labor Party as well as Green Party forums, that it will take 1 million people giving an average of $100 a year and 100 hours of volunteer time to have a third major party that represents the common people rather than the corporate rich. Nader campaign events are "hour raisers" as well as fund raisers where people pledge volunteer hours as well as monetary contributions.
The corporate media mostly ignored Nader in March and April. But pollsters began including Nader and the initial results showed the goals of the campaign were feasible. A March 30 Reuters/Zogby poll had Nader at 5.3%, more than the 3.3% received by Buchanan, who had had a year of media coverage for his campaign. Nader's 5.3% was considerably more than the margin of difference between Bush at 41.7% and Gore at 40.2%. Zogby polled again and reported on April 10 that Nader was up to 5.7%, including 13% in "western states" and 9% in California. Zogby's poll also showed that 51% wanted Nader in the presidential debates and 18.6% would "potentially vote for Nader."
Interviewed on MSNBC on April 11 by Brian Williams, pollster John Zogby said he was amazed at Nader's numbers with almost no media coverage. A few days later, Jeff Cohen's April 16 column in the Baltimore Sun, "Nader Has the Numbers But Buchanan Has the Limelight," noted how the corporate media still spoke of a three-way race. Although Nader and his associates had been at the center of organizing against corporate-managed trade and global financial exploitation in Seattle and Washington DC, it was Buchanan who was getting most of the corporate media time in Seattle and then Washington to explain the anti-globalization movement.
In April, private polling reportedly had Nader at near 10% in New York.2 Another poll released April 26 by University of Cincinnati researchers found that among Ohio voters, Nader's net favorability was 24 percent, beating Bush at 22 percent, Gore at negative 3 percent and Buchanan at negative 36 percent. Net favorability is the percent giving a candidate a favorable rating minus the percent giving an unfavorable rating.
As the experiences of the Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura campaigns indicate, getting into the presidential debates with Bush and Gore will be key to Nader's media presence and ability to reach millions of voters with his message. The Presidential Debates Commission, a semi-official body controlled by the Democrats and Republicans, has set an exclusionary standard of an average of 15% support in five major polls chosen by the Commission in order to be included in their debates. The Nader campaign is pursuing a range of strategies to open up the debates, from litigation and alternative debates sponsored by major civic or media organizations that Bush and Gore cannot afford to ignore, to mass protests at exclusionary debate sites.
Al Gore may be the Democratic candidate who forces this question on the traditional popular constituencies of the Democrats. It is hard to find any redeeming liberal or progressive legacy in the Clinton/Gore record. During a period of income and wealth polarization not seen since the 1920s, the Clinton administration, in 1996, with Gore leading the charge at Cabinet meetings, decided to "reform" welfare by repealing the federal government's commitment to income assistance to poor mothers and their children, and imposing a five-year lifetime limit on benefits. Their support for the Telecommunications bill facilitated the consolidation of corporate monopolization of the media. Their support for the Financial Services Modernization Act repealed the Glass- Steagall barrier between commercial and investment banking, enabling financial capital to put people's savings at risk in speculative investments. They have toyed with partial privatization of Social Security that would allow the speculative investment of Social Security funds in the stock market. The big investors in Mexican, Russian, and Asian financial crises were bailed out with cash from U.S. taxpayers and from U.S.-backed IMF structural adjustment policies that squeezed even more out of the workers and peasants of these exploited countries. Anemic anti-trust enforcement helped fuel the biggest merger wave in history. Corporate managed trade was codified in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization.
Militarism ran amok despite the end of the Cold War. U.S. military spending increased. A million Iraqis died from sanctions, with over 4,000 Iraqi children a month still dying. Just in 1999, they bombed Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Yugoslavia. Clinton/Gore supported counterinsurgency wars in several other countries, most notably Columbia and Mexico. They expanded NATO and transformed its stated mission from strictly defensive to "out of area" interventionist. They even revived funding for Reagan's fantasy of "Star Wars" missile defense.
They also militarized domestic policy by expanding police and prison funding, pushing the "war on drugs," and passing Crime and Terrorism bills that stiffened penalties to fill the new prisons, added 50 new death penalties, targeted youth, and eroded due process rights. The U.S. has surpassed Russia now having the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 2 million prisoners, 25% of all prisoners in the world.
Gore's strong suit is supposed to be the environment. Indeed, Clinton, who has little interest in environmental issues, let Gore take the lead on the administration's appointments and policies. The record is atrocious. After breaking Gore's 1992 campaign promise to stop a hazardous waste incinerator planned for East Liverpool, Ohio, the administration lined up with corporate polluters against environmentalists on issue after issue: genetically-modified organisms and food, subsidies for nuclear power, organic food standards, ozone-depleting chemicals, greenhouse gases, fuel efficiency standards, wetlands protection, the Everglades, the Redwoods, logging on public lands, oil development in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Gore's former Senate staffers dominated the environmental appointments of the administration. Environmental activists were calling for the replacement of traditional "pollution control" that regulates the release of pollutants with "pollution prevention," which would phase out toxics by sunsetting technologies that use or produce toxics as products or by- products. But Gore's environmental appointees took the corporate environmental approach of "reforming" pollution control by replacing government bureaucracy with the market. So Gore's environmental legacy is tradeable pollution rights, which tend to shift the burden of pollution from rich to poor communities and countries, and prolong the lives of the most polluting facilities because it is usually far cheaper to buy rights to pollute than to retrofit them with cleaner technologies.
The signature approach of the Clinton/Gore administration has been Fake Left and Go Right: symbolism for the Left and substance for the Right. The administration's answer to racism is to highlight appointments for show, but to implement deeply conservative policies in practice that reinforce the racial and class hierarchy. However, Gore will quickly drop the symbolism of racial justice when it suits his political agenda. It was Al Gore, not the elder George Bush, who first raised the race-baiting specter of Willie Horton in 1988 while campaigning against Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson for the Super Tuesday primaries in the South. Willie Horton was used by Gore and then Bush to push a racially-biased, law-and-order agenda that was subsequently adopted. 12 years later, the U.S. prison population has tripled. U.S. rates of incarceration are now higher than they were in South Africa under the regime of apartheid and similarly racist. 70% of those arrested are white, but blacks account for more than 50% of those imprisoned. One-third of black men aged 20-29 are in jail, prison, on probation or parole.
The Clinton/Gore administration simply had no civil rights agenda, according to Lani Guinier,3 who was dropped by Clinton and Gore as the appointee to head up the civil rights division at the Justice Department when the Wall Street Journal dubbed her the "Quota Queen" because she had argued that proportional representation was a better means of representing ethnic and political minorities than gerrymandering majority-minority districts. Gore went to the mat for the drug companies against South Africa when it started to make generic AIDS drugs to address the AIDS crisis in Africa. Currently Gore is defying demands by environmental and human rights groups that he use his family's longstanding ties and $500,000 holdings in Occidental Petroleum to stop oil drilling in Colombia on U'wa Indian lands, which is being conducted under the cover of Colombian military arms that has resulted in the deaths of a number of protesting U'wa people.
Court appointments are often the last line of defense for proponents of the lesser evil. But the Clinton-Gore administration has been as conservative as the Reagan and Bush administrations in their appointments. They simply avoided the political controversy of appointing liberal jurists. By mid-1996, 182 of 187 Clinton-Gore judicial nominees were confirmed without any Senate Republicans voting against confirmation. An analysis of 28,000 federal court decisions found that on civil liberties issues, Clinton appointees issued liberal decisions only 35% of the time, compared to 52% for Carter appointees, 39% for Ford appointees, 37% for Nixon appointees and 33% for Reagan-Bush appointees. On labor and economic issues, Clinton's appointees issued liberal decisions 50% of the time, the same as for Reagan appointees. The Democrats will raise the specter of anti-abortion appointees but the pro-choice majority on the Supreme Court and the pro-choice majority of moderate Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are likely to hold in the next presidential term.4
Gore is not just a particularly bad Democrat. He is the logical result of lesser evilism. Not only has the Clinton-Gore administration implemented a conservative corporate agenda that Reagan and Bush could only dream about, but the potential liberal challengers to Gore like Jesse Jackson and Paul Wellstone never even mounted a challenge. Bill Bradley, the consummate centrist who, in the last election cycle, considered a run for the nomination in Perot's Reform Party, ended up as the standard bearer of the "left" in the Democratic Party. That is the result of settling for "the lesser evil," election after election. The left has lost its voice inside the Democratic Party because it tries to speak through surrogates, the more liberal corporate candidates. Over time, the left withers because it is not presenting its program to the public. The trade unions, civil rights groups, and peace and environmental groups that orient to the Democratic Party are the subordinate partners in coalition with the corporate forces that dominate the Democratic Party. They end up doing the leg work for the corporate agenda and giving it a liberal façade.
Nader and the Green Party are not a strictly workers' party. In outlook and composition, they are a cross-class coalition of "the people," the working class and the middle classes of self-employed professionals and small and medium business people, all allied against the corporate elite. In this respect, they are very much like the 19th century agrarian populists and their contemporary labor movements who saw themselves as representing the productive classes -- independent farmers, sharecroppers, urban workers, small shopkeepers -- against the parasitic class of owners of bank, railroad, and farm supply corporations. So how should socialists relate to the Green movement? Is class independence from the ruling class sufficient, or must it be a strictly worker's party?
Some socialists look at Nader and the Greens and find them wanting programmatically. The Socialist Party, for example, is running Dave McReynolds for President, who has often stated that the Socialists agree with the Greens on just about everything but socializing the Fortune 500. The McReynolds campaign expects to be on the ballot in about a dozen states. It will be doing good to receive 50,000 votes. The Nader campaign expects to be on the ballot in close to 50 states and is aiming for at least 6 million votes to reach the 5% benchmark. The question for socialists is whether it is more effective to be active in a very small educational campaign with a better platform or in a high-profile campaign with an imperfect platform that has the potential to break up the Democratic Party coalition and establish a major independent party on the left.
Many socialists have argued that political independence from the capitalist parties is the key consideration and that the program can be perfected as the movement develops. Commenting in 1886 on the United Labor Party campaign of the land value taxation advocate, Henry George, for New York City mayor, Engels said,
The first great step of importance for every country entering into the movement is always for the organization of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers' party . That the first program of the party is confused and highly deficient, that it has set up the banner of Henry George, these are inevitable evils but also transitory ones.5Elsewhere, and in the same vein, Engels advised:
What the Germans ought to do is...in the words of The Communist Manifesto, to represent the movement of the future in the movement of the present. But above all give the movement time to consolidate, do not make the inevitable confusion of the first start worse confounded by forcing down people's throats things which at present they cannot properly understand, but which they soon will learn . A million or two of workingmen's votes next November for a bona fide workingmen's party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform.6The Socialist Party's Eugene Debs took a similar approach to the Farmer-Labor Party movement of the early 1920s, arguing that socialists should work within the broader independent political movement:
If a genuine labor party is organized at Chicago I shall not expect the platform to go to the limit of radical demands but shall be satisfied with a reasonable statement of labor's rights and interests as well as its duties and responsibilities, doubting not that with the progress of the party its platform will in due time embrace every essential feature of the working class program for deliverance from industrial servitude. The Socialist Party can, should, and I have no doubt will join such a party wholeheartedly, becoming an integral part of its structure, reserving, however, its autonomy unimpaired and using all its powers and functions in building up, equipping, promoting, and directing the general party.7Ralph Nader is not the perfect candidate from a socialist viewpoint. His affinity for anti- trust enforcement and competitive markets seems blind to the nasty consequences for labor and the environment of cutthroat competition. But neither does he subscribe to the dogma about free markets and private enterprise that major party politicians ritualistically recite. He has an equal affinity for cooperatives and supports public enterprise when it seems a practical solution. He is a pragmatic reformer. The rumors about funding for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch from right-wing protectionist textile manufacturer, Roger Milliken, have been flatly denied by its director, Lori Wallich.8
The Greens have their socialist wing. Joel Kovel challenged Nader in the New York and California Green primaries, running on an explicitly eco-socialist program. Though Nader won handily, his viability as a national candidate rather than programmatic issues was the reason. The debate within the Greens over the economic program between progressive populists and eco-socialists is ongoing and basically the same debate going on within the socialist movement between market and non-market visions of socialism.9 More socialists should join this wide open debate where socialist options are being debated by a living movement and not just in theory. How can the Greens' commitment to social justice be reconciled with the exploitation of labor? How can the Greens' commitment to ecological sustainability be reconciled with the endless growth engendered by competitive private accumulation? Capitalism cannot win this argument unless the Greens abandon their values.
The Greens have not resolved their organizational differences. The Greens/Green Party USA (GPUSA) and the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP) did have direct negotiations in April for the first time, but made no progress over the main issue of contention between GPUSA's model of a membership party with nomination by convention and ASGP's traditional American party model based on party registrants and nomination by primary. But both groups have lined up behind the Nader campaign. With the potential to surpass the Debs' 6% vote in 1912, the Nader campaign and the Greens have become a movement in which socialists can practice what they preach about independent politics. Socialists will be more effective arguing their perspectives from inside than preaching at it from outside.
Contents of No. 29