Image: Nader
Ralph Nader criticized a federal plan to ban hemp foods during a news conference in September 2000.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 7/21/2003 8:53:03 AM ET 2003-07-21T12:53:03

The Green Party national leadership huddled here in Washington this weekend to plan strategy for next year’s elections. Some Greens long for their 2000 standard-bearer, Ralph Nader, to run again, while others speak warmly of left-leaning Democratic presidential contender Dennis Kucinich. But mention of one name in particular draws scorn from Greens: Howard Dean, who some strategists now see as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

The Green leaders agreed on a call for the House of Representatives to impeach President Bush for “making false statements to Congress” in order to win support for the invasion of Iraq, for “squandering the resources of the American people to serve the interests of transnational corporations” and for “war crimes,” including the use of cluster bombs in Iraq.

The Greens also called for Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Philippines by Christmas.

They may be unorthodox in their views and relatively few in number — 2.8 million Green votes cast for president in 2000, compared to 100 million for the two major party candidates — but the Greens are likely to play a significant role in next year’s elections.

NADER OR A NEW FACE?

The consensus among Green leaders in Washington this weekend was that the party should field a 2004 presidential candidate — but how and where that candidate runs, whether he should be someone other than Nader, and whether the Greens should collaborate with the Democratic presidential candidate — are all questions that are still very much up in the air.

Others such as Green Party general counsel David Cobb are poised to run for the nomination. Former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who lost her House seat after suggesting Bush knew in advance that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks would occur, is a favorite of some Greens.

Nader kept his irons in the fire this weekend, sending the Greens a letter telling them he’d spent the past two years working to build the party across the nation, but giving no commitment that he’d seek or accept the nomination.

Among rank-and-file Democrats, it has become an article of faith that Nader’s candidacy in 2000 put Bush in the White House.

The Democrats reason that some of the 22,198 votes Nader won in New Hampshire would have been Al Gore’s had Nader not been in the race. Gore lost New Hampshire — and its four electoral votes — by a mere 7,211 votes, or 1.27 percent.

New Hampshire’s electoral votes would have given Gore the White House, no matter what the outcome had been in Florida.

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UNPROVABLE THEORY

But the theory can never be proven, since the secret ballot bars analysts from interviewing the Nader voters. Some Greens say they would never have voted for Gore, even if Nader had not been on the ballot.

In the strategy session this weekend the shadow of the 2000 election fell across the planning for 2004. Some Greens proposed a focused campaign: the Green candidate, they argue, should only exert his or her efforts in “safe” states: places where there’s no chance of the Green vote “costing” the Democratic candidate the election.

So, for example a Green could run energetically in heavily Republican states such as Utah, without any dire consequences for the Democratic candidate who is almost certain to lose that state in any event.

Conversely, in predominantly Democratic states, such as Rhode Island, a Green could run without fear of siphoning so many votes from the Democrat that he would lose that state.

“Were the Green spoiler effect in 2004 real or merely perceived, a Bush re-election combined with a Green spoiler would be the death knell for the party,” warn Maryland Green activists Diane Cameron and Joseph Horgan.

Medea Benjamin, the San Francisco anti-war agitator who was the Greens’ Senate candidate in California in 2000, said, “I’m not even sure we should run” a presidential candidate next year. “It’s a time of great dilemmas when defeating Bush is the top priority. We have to figure out how to grow and build our party and defeat Bush at the same time.”

If Sen. Joe Lieberman were the Democratic candidate, then would-be Green presidential candidate Cobb said he’d run aggressively in “swing” states such as Iowa and Oregon, hoping to draw votes away from Lieberman and prevent him from winning the election.

“Lieberman represents the worst elements of neo-liberal economic policy,” Cobb said, ticking off some of Lieberman’s objectionable stands: support for the Iraq war, opposition to a “living wage,” and opposition to taxpayer-funded elections.

Some Greens abhor the idea of strategic voting or “safe states.” The Green candidate should run all-out in every state, and let the Democrats worry about their own fate, they argue.

WORRY ABOUT THE SENATE

New Mexico Green Carol Miller, who is also seeking her party’s presidential nomination, said, “A lot of progressives are focusing too much attention on the presidential election. I’m very worried about the make-up of the Senate. I would like not to see a filibuster-proof Senate. I don’t want to see 60 senators of a single party.”

As for the presidential election, Miller said, “I think Bush and Cheney are probably not going to run. There are very troubling accusations (about Iraq).”

Miller likens Bush to Lyndon Johnson, who withdrew from the 1968 race after a humiliating showing in the New Hampshire primary. “Johnson should have had his second election in the bag. But he had a war that didn’t turn out as he had planned.”

SCORN FOR HOWARD DEAN

Most Greens scoff at the man who has stirred excitement among Democrats, former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

Referring to those once-alienated people who Dean claims to be bringing back into politics, Miller said, “I feel sorry for those people when they learn who the real Howard Dean is. Look at his very quick willingness to attack Dennis Kucinich. And Dean doesn’t think we should cut the defense budget. The state of Vermont doesn’t have universal health care, even for children, because they have a shortage of health care providers. I think he will play out as very mainstream, middle-of-the-road Democrat in the general election. Those (Dean) people are at great risk of being alienated.”

David Rovics, a Green songwriter and musician from Jamaica Plain, Mass., said, “Dean is not well liked by progressives in Vermont. Under his administration in Vermont, social services were cut. Wal-Marts have materialized where previously there were no chain stores in the entire state. He’s made really ambiguous statements about being anti-war — and I don’t think he really is anti-war.”

“Dean is a neo-liberal who the national media has decided is sufficiently progressive to perhaps win the (Democratic) nomination,” Cobb said. “But he is not sufficiently progressive to me or to the overwhelming number of Greens. Dean did not champion civil unions in Vermont, instead he signed that law as political expediency. He did it privately, with no media fanfare whatsoever. Remember it was the Vermont Supreme Court that said the state law had to change. That was an incredible opportunity to acknowledge same-sex marriage in Vermont — and Howard Dean wilted.”

It isn’t only Dean whom the Greens scorn. There’s a palpable contempt in Green ranks for Democratic leaders in general.

“I think the Democrats should just drop out of the presidential election,” declared Miller, a line that got loud applause from her Green audience.

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