Synthesis/Regeneration 10   (Spring 1996)

A Green President?

by Lloyd Strecker, Ralph Party of California

I am permitting the Green Party of California to put my name on their March 1996 primary ballot to broaden the narrow agenda that the 'major' party candidates parade before the electorate. I intend to stand with others around the country as a catalyst for the creation of a new model of electoral politics, not to run any campaign. The campaign will be run by the people themselves and will be just as serious as citizens choose to make it. It will be a campaign for democracy waged by the private citizens who choose to become public citizens. I will not seek nor accept any campaign contributions—but I welcome civic energy to build democracy so as to strengthen and make more useable our democratic processes for a just, productive and sustainable society.
          —Ralph Nader

With these words Ralph Nader became a candidate for the Green Party of California's (GPCa) nomination as President of the United States of America.

There's lots of good stuff here: an acknowledgment that the political agenda as set forth by the Demopublicans is "narrow" and needs to be "broadened," by a candidate who intends to "stand with others;" a project to create a "new model for electoral politics;" a campaign, "for democracy waged by private citizens who choose to become public citizens."

Sounds great, yes?! And better yet, "our" candidate "welcome[s] civic energy to build democracy ... and make more useable our democratic processes..."

Best of all, perhaps, he doesn't want any of our money!

So what's the problem? Doesn't this statement indeed "sound great;" aren't we Greens extremely fortunate to have such a widely respected progressive crusader acknowledge our efforts, our programs and platforms struggled over for more than a decade, our "community-based" political strategy? Aren't we indeed fortunate that, as the "new kids on the block," we are suddenly important enough to worry the liberalists at the New York Times?

Well, for starters, in case you haven't been paying attention, Nader's campaign has nothing at all to do with the Greens. To my knowledge, Mr. Nader is not even a member (in any definition) of any Green organization. I'm told that he has read the GPCa's Platform, and says it's "the best he's ever seen," but it's not clear to me that his campaign has any association with this document (and I have no idea whether or not he has seen, or commented upon, the G/GPUSA Program-if this is to be a national campaign, this seems relevant).

I'm glad to hear that he likes the California Platform, of course, especially since the GPCa virtually wiped out its bank account to publish our Policy Directions for him to read (while the Party "locals" are starving for funds...). It would be a shame to have spent all that time, and money, to generate a document which great men didn't read.

No: Ralph Nader is not graciously assenting to "permit" us to use his name in order to further a specifically Green agenda, he is running to manipulate the Democrats, to turn Clinton to the "left" and to return that dying organization to its "traditional constituency" which is, of course, the long-abused strata of white middle class consumers. (Those of us who had imagined that constituency to be organized industrial workers, Americans of color, family farmers, the poor, the homeless, and the otherwise disenfranchised, seem to have slept through the 1980s; there is a "new tradition" on the "left"...)

Of course, many have fled into our leafy embrace to escape the chill they have experienced in the Democratic Party's triumphal march to the right. The most frequently voiced concern among these (temporarily?) wayward Democrats is that the Party of their fathers seems to have rolled over to expose its throat in submission to corporate interests. For these folks, it probably seems like less of a hike to leave the Demos with Ralph on board. One thing which must be acknowledged about Nader is that he has for decades been seeking to leash corporate power.

The "citizens' campaign" is proposed as a means of placing the "right" people in positions of power over us, not to accomplish a thorough re-organization of power as such. He does not here, and has not anywhere that I am aware of, challenged the corporate form per se...

But let's notice a couple of things here. For one, Nader asserts the importance of making "more useable our democratic processes...". No sense here that we ought to question, as many Greens do, the whole notion that "our processes" are in fact "democratic" in the first place. Our problem is not, according to Nader, inherent in the existing political structures and the theoretical basis for them-Lockean individualism; "normative elitist liberalism;" and the sanctity of "private property." The problem lies in the abuses upon and intrusions into this "best of all possible" political forms, made increasingly easy by its own diminishing authority to regulate corporations. Thus Nader, it would seem, is comfortable with the idea that one group of people makes decisions, and enforces their implementation, while the rest of us merely perform the periodic ritual of marking a ballot. The "citizens' campaign" is proposed as a means of placing the "right" people in positions of power over us, not to accomplish a thorough re-organization of power as such. He does not here, and has not anywhere that I am aware of, challenged the corporate form per se, neither in government nor in the economic sector.

Furthermore, let's also notice that, while Nader wishes "to strengthen and make more useable our democratic processes," to what end? "...for a just, productive and sustainable society (emphasis added)." Isn't it precisely this ideology, the ideology of human beings as "producers" and "consumers" in an endless stream/cycle of commodity production which the Greens have been challenging at the root? How does one reconcile "justice" and "sustainability" with this productivist mentality wherein the basic questions are presumed to be about the "just" distribution of "goods," rather than about the whole concept of homo economicus?

We must be extremely clear about this: "justice" and "sustainability" are objectives which can conceivably be attained through severely authoritarian means. "Freedom," however, is a very different concept than "justice." Freedom—the condition under which we are all nurtured toward the fullest possible development of our individual potentialities—is, or ought to be, our objective; and freedom is something which must be attained by and for ourselves: no one can legislate or mandate the "realm of freedom" into existence!

Turning the Coin

Ralph is going all the way to the general and us Greens are going with him to the White House... —Mike Feinstein, GPCa

Let's look at the other side of this coin; let's forget all that I've said above, assume Nader is "green" as hell, and ask whether or not this "Green Man"—or any Green, man or woman—should receive our support for a run at the "bully pulpit."

This question needs to be addressed from a number of perspectives. First, and most obvious, Nader is a white, middle class heterosexual man. I hope this is not a "crime" in its own right—I am all those things too (though the term "middle class" is, at best, ambiguous, and I gave up being a "White Man," with the help of my friends in SNCC [Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee], 30 years ago). But any Green candidacy for a major, partisan office (especially the Presidency) is, I hope we are all "realistic" enough to see, educational at most. All the cheer-leading and pep-rallies we might hold ought not obscure the fact that, even if Nader runs in the General Election, this fellow will not be "our" next president.

Given that, precisely what is it we are "educating" people about? We are educating people into a re-affirmation of power as structured. Even if Nader were to stand and proclaim (which he definitely will not do) that what must happen is the radical decentralization of all economic and political institutions and processes, he would be doing it from a position above the heads of the people, offering us "empowerment" as we crane our necks looking up at the podium. "Grassroots democracy," "decentralization," and "community-based economics" become "campaign promises" which, even if they could be delivered in such a way (which they cannot), would be meaningless, empty, and hollow—form without substance. No matter what he says, the message received is that we need a hero ("crusader") to invade and conquer the existing hierarchy, to rationalize it and "return" it to "the people" (who, of course, he "represents").

No matter what he says, the message received is that we need a hero...

Building a MOVEMENT

How ironic that a party espousing 'future focus' and long term planning is using Nader as a quick fix for our dwindling numbers... —Margaret Garcia: a GREEN

In my view, it is the project of building a grassroots movement for fundamental changes, both in structures and in "consciousness," that the Greens are about-if I'm wrong, I've been deceived. Many seem to agree with this, but see the Nader campaign as a means to that end; this is the same "many" who have made the same basic argument for the establishment of Green Parties in the first place. Indeed, the Nader candidacy-and the manner in which it has been foisted upon us-indicate the inherent logic of Party formation: what good's a Party without a candidate? (What, he asked rhetorically, ever happened to the "anti- Party party"?)

It may be true that a campaign driven by a high-visibility personality will serve to re-vitalize Green Parties; the question, however, is whether such activities will in any way assist a Green movement. I won't drag out all the arguments about "Party" vs "Movement," but the questions are in fact inseparable. Some allege that a sustainable and free Green future can only be achieved by utilizing the existing institutions, "transforming" them as we go. These folks argue that grassroots democracy = universal suffrage and broad participation in existing "democratic" institutions. The anti-theory "civil society" argument is one with which Nader is comfortable as well.

But a grassroots movement, focusing upon sweeping and substantive social change—a movement which not only explicitly "calls for" but achieves radical democratization by creating expansive counter-institutions—is not something which can be furthered by hitching up our fortunes to any individual personality. Such a movement will only develop if and when we stop believing in "leaders," and successfully propagate our disbelief. And this "propaganda by deed" must be the creation of the future within and ultimately beyond the false and anti-human "limitations" of the present.

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