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Power broker
Ralph Nader put the Green Party on the political map in 2000. Will he destroy it in 2004?
BY ADAM REILLY


Why I like Ralph

IíM VOTING FOR Ralph Nader in November, and thereís not a damned thing anyone can say to talk me out of it.

Iím voting for Nader because I believe he is the candidate best suited to be president. Iím voting for him because I share his beliefs, and I admire his willingness to champion them. To some extent, Iím voting for him because his entry into the presidential race has so rankled the Democrats and the nominal progressives who support their apparent nominee, John Kerry.

Iím not voting for Nader because I share his belief that there is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. Certainly, from the progressiveís perspective, differences between the two parties are substantially less meaningful than they ought to be. However slight the partiesí differences may be, though, it remains a fact that there is a significant difference between George W. Bush and John Kerry, just as there was a significant difference between Bush and Al Gore.

But the question shouldnít be which candidate would make the least-bad president. Thereís something horribly wrong with a system in which those who want meaningful change in favor of liberty and equality are expected to support a man who does not support progressive causes, and who will without doubt move as far to the right as he believes is necessary to win votes, simply because his opponent has proven to be underhanded and incompetent. And that system will not change on its own. Not for the better, anyhow.

I do not buy into the idea that whatís most important in November is to get Bush out of office. Ousting Bush would be a short-term fix, which is really no fix at all. Because the real problem facing America is not Bush. Itís the slow, rightward creep that this country has been experiencing for decades.

We spend four or eight years under a Republican administration that jerks us violently rightward, disenfranchising the poor, filling the pockets of the wealthy, promoting an oppressive social agenda at home, making war abroad in whatever manner serves its purposes. Then we spend four or eight under a Democratic administration that moves rightward only slowly, neglecting those trodden upon by its Republican predecessors, kowtowing to the same corporate interests at the expense of the people, failing to advance a progressive social agenda or even to protect Americansí civil liberties. But this, weíre told, has to be enough, if only for now, only until the time is right to make real change. Except the time is never right for politicians to effect real change. There will always be reasons to play it safe, to allow government to slide ever rightward.

Iím voting for Ralph Nader in November because Kerry and the Democrats donít think itís the right time to promote progressive ideas (gay marriage, to name just one) or to fight for progressive causes (youíre either against the death penalty or youíre not, Senator), and Iím quite sure they never will. They donít share my beliefs. They donít want any part of my political agenda. And, despite what they believe, theyíre not entitled to my vote.

ó Sean Glennon

Why I really like Ralph. Not.

FOR THOSE OF US tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, who want someone to fight for us for a change, our champion has arrived in the form of scraggly-haired Ralph Nader. Riding an unprecedented crest of popular support, he has presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry on the defensive. And why not? Naderís record speaks for itself.

He has long decried the homogeneity of the two-party political system, with good cause. Too long have the Republicans and Democrats suckled at the engorged teat of corporate America. When Nader takes office next January, one of his first acts will be to roll back the Bush tax cuts for corporations and the cigar-smoking fat cats who run them. I donít see John Kerry, laissez-faire capitalist, making such bold, progressive claims.

In his efforts to smash the monolith that is American politics, Nader hasnít wasted his time with the trifles currently occupying the presidentís dead-on-arrival Democratic challenger. Consider his courageous civil-rights platform. Nader is the only candidate to wave off irrelevant issues like gay marriage and abortion, preferring to let his opponents run themselves into the ground by foolishly taking stances on, as Nader once put it, "gonadal politics." Contrast that with Senator Kerry, whose firm pro-choice stance is merely a ploy to attract nubile young interns.

Some may question Naderís political experience. Though he narrowly lost the 2000 election (illegitimately, some would say), Nader has been a ubiquitous media presence throughout the Bush presidency. He has railed against the presidentís unethical policies and offered Americans not only sensible alternatives, but a feeling of hope and unity that the great divider John Kerry could never dream of. America was in danger of marching irretrievably down the path to a police state until Naderís brave actions forced the government to repeal the Patriot Act. Um ... never mind.

Ralph Nader is a man of the people. Modest by nature, he resisted entering this yearís presidential race until the rumblings of the populace grew too loud to ignore. Americans are clamoring for a viable alternative to the two-headed Republicrat monster, and Nader has a clear plan to satisfy our needs. Unlike Kerry, who lusts only for power and drinks the blood of the innocent, Nader wants to end poverty, improve the quality of public education, and clean up the environment. My friends, unlike the closet Republican Kerry, Nader wants to create more jobs. We canít afford not to elect him!

My fellow Americans, you have a real choice in 2004. You can go "politics as usual," granting Washington automaton John Kerry a sufficient number of electoral votes to take the White House and begin the process of repairing four years of damage. Or you can stand up to the Democratic machine and send a clear message by voting for Ralph Nader.

That message is, "Four more years, George!"

ó Mitch Krpata

AFTER RALPH NADER announced he was running for president as an independent last month, Democrats braced themselves for a repeat of 2000, when the third-party 300-pound gorilla helped tilt the election in favor of George W. Bush. Judging from a recent Associated Press presidential poll in which six percent of registered voters said they support Nader, itís an all-too-plausible scenario (see "Who Likes Ralph?", next page).

But while Naderís threat to John Kerry has gotten plenty of ink, less noticed is the fact that Nader ó who put the Green Party on the political map in 2000 ó could seriously damage the Greens in 2004. His previous candidacy gave the Greens ballot status for the first time in seven states (Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, and Utah) and boosted Green registration nationwide. This time, the picture is bleaker. With his latest run, Nader ó detested by many as the third-party spoiler of 2000 ó makes it harder for Green candidates to woo prospective voters. And by refusing to say whether heíll take the Green nomination if itís offered, he has muddied the Green presidential-candidate-selection process as well.

If Nader continues his run as an independent, moreover, heíll compete with the Green nominee for volunteers and votes ó which could pull the Green candidate below the thresholds required for ballot status in various states and make it harder for the party to add members and run candidates in 2006. Most worrisome to Greens, Naderís candidacy could drive a wedge between the national and state Green parties. "Hereís Ralph Nader, who committed to growing the Green Party," says one prominent Green, who requested anonymity. "And in the end, he could be responsible for tearing it apart."

RALPH NADER made the Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party what it is today. By pulling in about 6.5 percent of the stateís presidential vote four years ago, he lifted the Green-Rainbows to ballot status for the first time. (In Massachusetts, parties can accomplish this by obtaining at least three percent of the vote in a statewide election; the Green-Rainbows retained their status in 2002, when Green candidates James OíKeefe and Jill Stein won eight and three percent in the treasurerís and governorís races, respectively.) Anyone registering to vote in Massachusetts now has the option of checking a Green-Rainbow box, which is a big reason Green-Rainbow registration has mushroomed from about 3000 to over 11,000 in just four years. Ballot status also allows the Greens to hold primary elections. And it makes it far easier for the party to run candidates for statewide or national office. To get their presidential candidate on the ballot this year, Green-Rainbow officials simply need to tell the state who their nominee is; without ballot status, theyíd have to gather 10,000 signatures.

But as Green-Rainbow candidates try to get their views on universal health care, fair taxation, electoral reform, and environmental justice out to the public, theyíre encountering the dark side of Naderís legacy. "Greens really depend on progressive Democrats, and progressive Democrats tend to go bananas at Naderís running," says one candidate, who asked to remain anonymous. "Then it becomes impossible to change the subject and get down to talking about real issues. We cannot get past the spoiler discussion."

Many Greens knew this was coming. Thatís why, for the last several months, a debate stemming from the 2000 presidential election raged among the nationís Green activists. Some thought the party shouldnít run a presidential candidate in 2004: the Bush administration is intolerable, they argued, and Greens canít afford to run a candidate who helps re-elect Bush or is perceived as making a Bush victory possible. Another contingent advocated a "smart state" or "strategic state" plan, with the Green nominee running hard in solid Red and Blue states but not campaigning, or making only a token effort, in battleground states like Florida. A third group insisted that Democrats are no better than Republicans ó look at Democratic support for the Patriot Act and the Iraq war, they argued ó and that there is no reason not to go all-out.

Nader, of course, hews most closely to the third position. But even Greens who thought otherwise agreed that, before Nader opted to leave the Green fold, the partyís nomination was his for the taking. "I told him ó and many other people told him the same thing ó if you want the nomination, youíre going to get it," says John Rensenbrink, a political-science professor at Bowdoin College and a seminal figure in the American Green movement.

So far, however, Nader seems not to want it. Last December, he informed the Green Party of the United States (USGP) that he would not seek the Green nomination. Then, in a February 22 appearance on Meet the Press, he announced his independent candidacy. During a speaking engagement at the National Press Club the next day, Nader praised the Green platform but said internal Green debates over whether and how to run a presidential candidate, which wonít be resolved until the national partyís June convention, had forced his hand. "We have to pursue an independent course of action," he declared.

With Nader conspicuously absent, the Green presidential field stands at seven active candidates. At this point, Peter Camejo and David Cobb, the top-two vote-getters in the Green primaries to date, look like the front-runners. Camejo is a veteran activist who ran for president as a socialist in 1976 and won five percent of the vote in Californiaís 2002 gubernatorial election; Cobb, an attorney and former general counsel for the USGP, managed Naderís 2000 campaign in Texas and garnered about one percent of the vote in his own run for Texas attorney general in 2002. Each is a charismatic, articulate figure capable of forcefully arguing against the political status quo and in favor of the Greensí vision of political and social transformation, and each appears to be a good bet for the party come November.

But thereís a catch. Cobb, who favors a strategic-state approach, wants the Green nomination. Camejo doesnít. In fact, Camejo has publicly stated that he will not accept the nomination and describes a vote for him as a vote for the "pro-Nader" position; apparently, Camejo plans to use his convention delegates to convince the party to support Nader. Thatís why, in a February 17 interview with FOX News, Camejo suggested that whatever primary success he enjoyed might prompt the Greens, without actually nominating Nader, to issue a formal declaration of support for his candidacy at the national convention. "I personally talk to Ralph Nader, and I am sure ... Ralph would be very happy to have the Green Party endorse him," he said.

On March 2, Camejo won the Green primary in California ó which controls 132 of the Greensí 836 national delegates ó in a landslide, getting 75 percent of the vote to Cobbís 12 percent. Ultimately, Camejo says, the California primary doubled as a referendum on how the Green nominee, or whomever the Greens back, should run this year. "It does say California spoke out more in favor of the hard line," he asserts.

Unlike Camejo, who believes Nader is committed to running as an independent, some Greens still hope their former candidate will return to the partyís fold. Why the lingering optimism? Nader has presented his split from the Greens as a matter of pragmatism rather than principle. Heís also reiterated that he wants Green support as his campaign moves forward. Furthermore, Naderís goal of getting on every stateís presidential ballot would be far easier to attain if he were the Green nominee. To get on 50 state ballots as an independent, Nader will have to gather approximately 620,000 signatures, according to Ballot Access News editor Richard Winger. The Greens, however, already have presidential ballot lines in 23 states. If Nader were to accept the Green nomination, theyíd be his ó and he could spend less time getting on ballots and more time getting his message out.

Most tantalizing, perhaps, is that the USGP officials who have been contacting the Nader camp to see if the candidate might change his mind havenít yet received a firm answer. "They are playing their cards really close to the chest," says USGP political director Brent McMillan.

If Nader does decide to go Green, heíll have the support of a majority of the partyís presidential field. Most of Camejoís delegates would probably back Nader as a late entry. And three other candidates ó Lorna Salzman, Carol Miller, and Paul Glover ó are also regarded as stand-ins for Nader.

His intentions may be clarified when his campaign releases an open letter to the Greens, which has been in the works for weeks. But itís unlikely he will make a firm commitment. For now, Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese asserts that a Green candidacy would make it harder for Nader to attract the independent voters who make up about one-third of the American electorate. "By staying independent, he can pull together a coalition that brings all the third parties and independents together into a real force that could challenge the Republican and Democratic duopoly," Zeese said. (Nader and his campaign manager, Theresa Amato, did not respond to requests for an interview.)

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Issue Date: March 12 - 18, 2004
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