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Synthesis/Regeneration 36   (Winter 2005)

Greens Missed Opportunity to Support Kerry

by Dan Coleman

Twenty years ago, Skip and I helped found the first Green Party local in North Carolina. Today, Skip lives in Pennsylvania where the Green Party is on the ballot. He was conflicted about the presidential election. His button said simply, “Green Party.” I still live in North Carolina, a state whose draconian ballot access laws consign a ballot line for the Greens to the unforeseeable future. When I saw Skip, I had already voted for John Kerry. My pin said, “Kerry Sucks Less.”

Skip was conflicted about his roll in the final days of the campaign. A Democratic Party activist had called him and asked him to phone voters identified as Nader supporters in 2000 and ask them to vote for Kerry. Skip was hamstrung by ambivalence, an inability to reconcile his Green Party principles with such a headlong leap into realpolitik.

Even as Election Day 2004 drew near, many in the Green Party failed to understand the vital importance of a Kerry victory to their efforts. By allying themselves with center and left supporters of Kerry, the Greens could have demonstrated sensitivity to the real issues that impact the lives of Americans as well as those of billions more around the planet. Perhaps the biggest mistake that Nader and the Greens made in 2000 was understating the distinctions between Bush and Gore.

By fall 2004, we had three years to see what Bush-style newspeak means for the environment. We had seen him de-fund family planning programs and appoint a host of reactionaries to the nation’s courts. Bush rewarded his friends among the filthy rich and the “captains” of industry and he took the nation to war on a mess of lies in furtherance of the neo-conservative vision of US empire.

Another critically important factor for the Greens is that without Democrats in office, it becomes difficult for us to point effectively to the need for a progressive third party. Had the first George Bush been re-elected in 1992 and been able to pass NAFTA, many progressives would have moaned, “if only Clinton had won.”

. . . the grassroots, ecologically-informed politics of the Greens is just not amenable to presidential politics, certainly not in 2004.

When Clinton pushed NAFTA through a reluctant Democratic congress, the Greens were in a position to say to labor, human rights activists, and environmentalists: look what you get with the Democrats; you need the Green Party alternative. The same was true for much of the key legislation of the Clinton Administration from welfare reform to the Defense of Marriage Act to the 1996 Anti-terrorism Bill. That is why we had so much support for our 2000 presidential campaign.

Rest assured that a Kerry victory would have given the Greens many similar opportunities to distinguish ourselves from the two-party “duopoly,” to build party membership, and to elect more candidates to lower office. Bush’s re-election will mean another four years with most of the Left focused on how to elect Democrats.

Finally, the grassroots, ecologically-informed politics of the Greens is just not amenable to presidential politics, certainly not in 2004. National politics is a lot like boxing—you have to show that you can beat the little guy before you get a shot at the champion. An up-and-coming boxer might buck the system and try to prove himself against a top contender in a street fight, perhaps hurting the latter’s chance to win the title, but the upstart will not gain respect that way. Nor will the Green Party, which has yet to elect a member of Congress, gain respect by standing aside from the movement to defeat Bush.

It is that movement, not the Green Party, which galvanized liberals and progressives across the country this year. It was a movement that found its embodiment in the campaign to elect John Kerry. The stadiums that were filled in 2000 with thousands of Ralph Nader enthusiasts were instead packed with those listening to Michael Moore go after Bush or with fans of Springsteen and company’s “Vote for Change” tour. For all the faults of Kerry and his party, he does suck less and in 2004 that was a quality that mattered.

The Green Party purports to be a party of principle and, in that manner, to differ from the majors. The driving principle of 2004 was the necessity of defeating George W. Bush. We could have been a key contributor to that effort. It was the best way to strengthen the party and to link the development of progressive politics in the US to the Green vision. As it was, for most of the country the Green Party was off the radar.

Dan Coleman is a political columnist for the Chapel Hill Herald and the author of Ecopolitics: Building a Green Society.

[22 jan 05]

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