Media Beat: A GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN 2004?
by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- Two years from now, the national committee of the Green Pa= rty will make a big decision: Should the party run a candidate for presiden= t in 2004?
To hear many Green leaders tell it, the choice is a no-brainer. In = a recent news release, Mike Feinstein, a party member who's the mayor of Sa= nta Monica, Calif., made it sound like a done deal. Green Party candidates = "will challenge Democrats and Republicans at every level of government," he= said.
A key strategist for the Green Party -- newly restructured as a nat= ionwide organization -- seems to be on a similar wavelength. "I think there= 's a general presumption that we will run a presidential candidate in 2004,= if we find the proper candidate," Dean Myerson told me. "I have not heard = any opposition within the Green Party to running a candidate for president = in principle."
But when I spoke with another organizer in the party, the signals w= ere a bit different. "It is not a foregone conclusion that we will run a ca= ndidate for president in 2004," said John Strawn, who is slated to play a m= ajor role on the party's presidential exploratory committee. "We will have = a very deliberate process to make that decision."
The publicity bonanza in store for another Green presidential race = may be a compelling attraction for party activists -- despite the fact that= much of the news coverage and commentary about Ralph Nader's campaign last= year was decidedly negative. Most hostile of all were liberal pundits eage= r to see George W. Bush defeated by Al Gore.
In one of the more gentle attacks on Nader to appear in the New York Tim= es, the newspaper editorialized midway through 2000 that "he is engaging in= a self-indulgent exercise that will distract voters from the clear-cut cho= ice represented by the major party candidates." The year laid bare the arro= gance of commentators who seemed to be saying, one way or another, that wid= e-ranging political debate would be a distraction from the serious business= of choosing between two thoroughly corporate candidates.
At the same time, the Green campaign often gave the impression of aloofn= ess from the very real dilemmas faced by Americans eager to keep Bush out o= f the Oval Office. Such grassroots concerns were legitimate -- and when the= Nader campaign came off as dismissive, it lost credibility.
Overall, the strategic rationales for the Green Party's 2000 presidentia= l campaign (which I supported) were hardly airtight. Sometimes, we heard cl= aims that a strong showing for the ticket of Nader and Winona LaDuke would = push the national Democratic Party in a more progressive direction.
Nine= months after Election Day, that theory is on shaky ground. The Nader campa= ign had a historic effect on the presidential election -- but since then, t= he Democratic Party's hierarchy has retrenched. If anything, it seems more = deeply entangled with corporate fat cats than ever.
Looking ahead, media attention to a Green Party presidential drive in 20= 04 would be substantial. That high-profile scenario alone may make fielding= a national ticket seem irresistible. But one of the worst mistakes that th= e Green Party could make in the next few years would be to glide, as if on = automatic pilot, into another campaign for the presidency.
If the Green Party enters the next presidential race, it will largely ap= pear to a lot of prospective constituencies to be a political party locked = into a counterproductive tactic. Those constituencies will weigh the benefi= ts of such a campaign against the obvious danger that it could help return = Bush to the White House. If the Green Party seems contemptuous of such conc= erns, many progressives are likely to perceive it as a party too impractica= l to merit support.
That would be a shame. The Green Party has gained strength from a grassr= oots approach while fighting against the consequences of anti-democratic co= rporate power, in great contrast to the two major parties.
"The official= Democratic Party has ossified into a Washington-based financial service," = loyal Democrat Robert Reich noted in the American Prospect magazine last mo= nth. "It's become ever more efficient in seeking out likely donors but has = forgotten how to inspire local crusaders. As a result, there's a large and = growing political vacuum at the local and state levels."
Reich added: "Th= at vacuum is being filled by Green Party activists, labor organizers, stude= nts campaigning against sweatshops and for a living wage, Latino community = organizers, and church-affiliated community activists, none of whom are esp= ecially interested in a resurgent Democratic Party."
Ironically, a Green = Party presidential race in 2004 could alienate much of the party's possible= base. For many potential supporters of Green candidates in local races acr= oss the country, such a national campaign would evoke images of a nascent p= arty so lacking in pragmatism that it remains willing to help the right win= g win the White House.
The way things stand, most observers assume that the Green Party will be= waging a campaign for the presidency in 2004. The main disagreements, they= say, will revolve around who should be on the ticket. But the party might = be better off, in the long run, if it can resist the media glitz and short-= term sizzle of another presidential run.
Norman Solomon writes a syndicated column on media and politics. His boo= ks include "False Hope: The Politics of Illusion in the Clinton Era," publi= shed in 1994.