Bush, the Democrats & the Greens After 2004

Against the Current, No. 115, March/April 2005

Peter Camejo

ONE PECULIAR EVENT around the 2004 elections received almost no analysis or discussion: The overwhelming majority of the supporters of John Kerry disagreed with their candidate on most major issues. This simple fact tells how deep the corruption of the American political system has become.

Even in countries with completely distorted electoral systems, where money dominates and manipulates, it is quite unusual to see people massively voting for some one they consciously disagree with.

The Boston Globe reported that 95% of the delegates at the Democratic Party convention opposed Kerry on the war. But these delegates are part of a system based on careerism and money. They accept the game and call it being realistic. That is to lie to the people, to lie to themselves; to act out a lie does not bother these people at all.

The 2004 elections underscored much of the political reality of our country. Most readers of Against the Current are aware that the media are now under the control of a handful of large corporations, run by worshippers of the market. Still, it seems peculiar how so many crucial issues of our time were barely (or never) mentioned during the presidential campaign by either of the two pro-corporate parties.

Except for a pro-pollution quip by Kerry, little was said about the destruction of our planet and economy through global warming. In Missouri, Kerry stated that buying “a great big SUV is terrific, terrific. That’s America.” Both Kerry and Bush joined in opposing the Kyoto Protocol during the debates to reassure corporate America their commitment to profits over a future for our species.

The fact that 90% of the people have seen no rise in their inflation-adjusted income over the last 30 years in spite of the doubling of our GDP was of little concern. That the only real income gains went to the richest 1%; the consequences income polarization with our minimum wage dropping, inflation adjusted in present dollars, from $8.50 to $5.15 since 1968; was hardly discussed.

The drop in corporate tax revenues, which once provided 33% of federal government revenues but today stands at only 7.8%, was likewise a particularly forbidden  When all forms of local tax are considered (state and local, sales, etc.), the poorest 20% now pay the highest total rate on their income throughout the nation. In California the poorest 20% pay a rate 57% higher than the richest one percent 1% of the population.

As for the single most pressing world issue, the war in Iraq, the central argument of the campaign was whether Kerry or Bush was the best war candidate. We could go on and on.

The Key to U.S. Elections

Our antiquated electoral system, the growing violations of our constitution and the rule of law internationally were never put before the people.

The enormous success of the two party pro-money political system developed in the United States is in getting about half the people simply not to vote, and forcing those who do — even when they disagree with corporate domination — to vote in favor of what they oppose.

Yet people believe they some how have chosen the government. Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean and Al Sharpton along with all the Democratic “left” bought in to this fundamental lie of the presidential campaign. They cannot tell people how the elections are fixed from day one, through the money-controlled “two party” system that prevents the real issues from being heard or debated, and does not allow representative democracy (proportional representation) or even runoffs that would make it possible for people to vote for an opposition candidate.

In a complex modern economy keeping this system in place is essential for the rule of a tiny minority. Open totalitarianism would have a very deep negative impact on the economy. Far better is the illusion of democracy.

Crucial in this equation is the role “progressives,” especially liberal intellectuals, play. Many of these voices openly sought to deny those who disagreed with their capitulation to the Democratic Party the vehicle to express their opinion at the ballot box.

The massive effort to prevent an individual, Ralph Nader, from entering the race for the presidency, was led by so-called “progressive” forces like The Nation and Moveon.org. To find the last time in American history where the kind of viciousness expressed against Ralph Nader was seen we would have to go back to the early abolitionists, the Liberty Party candidates (in the 1840s). They were labeled fanatics for daring to challenge the two pro-slavery parties.

Why is this happening now? Why the new level of panic and accelerated capitulation of the progressive intelligentsia? The answer, I believe, is tied to the shift in the socio-economic reality since the 1970s.

The Challenge

After the Second World War the United States made a worldwide effort to take markets from nations weakened by the war, primarily England and France. The move to gain world domination was combined with a campaign to offer concessions at home in order to win the backing of working people and draw in the power of the trade unions behind corporate international ambitions.

This period ended with the Vietnam War, globalization, and the beginning of the microprocessor revolution during the 1970s. The shift can be traced to the rise of Japan’s economy (actually Asia in general) and the peak in oil prices.

The U.S. corporate world found itself being challenged by international competitors in new ways. It now needed to remove some of the concessions granted. Once the Cold War ended, leaving the United States the only world military power, the shift accelerated.

Unions have been reduced from 37% of our working force to 12%, the minimum wage effectively cut, social safety nets dismantled, the income gap widened and environmental standards lowered.

At each step the Democratic Party rose to the occasion, blocking any effective opposition to the takeback program of corporate America. At each step scattered resistance appeared. As each union was attacked, it would try to fight back alone depending on its “friends” in the Democratic Party.

With little resistance, and the dependability of the Democrats and their control over minorities and labor (later also the NGOs), corporate rulers pressed forward. The USA PATRIOT Act is now an open challenge to the Bill of Rights. The war in Iraq is an open break with any pretense to respect the rule of law internationally.

Since the 1970s the role of the Democrats as the broker negotiator for labor, minorities and women has shifted towards direct support of corporate policy.

The Perot phenomenon showed how shallow the commitment to the two parties was at the beginning of the 1990s. Polls showed a lowering in the support for the two parties.

The Anti-Nader Chorus

Then in 2000 a nationally known figure, Ralph Nader, who had run a virtually unfunded campaign in 1996, came forward with a pro-people platform and was backed cautiously by some progressive Democrats such as Jim Hightower and Ronnie Dugger. Dugger had formed a “populist” party that would not run candidates lest it upset the Democrats.

Other Democrats tried forming a third party that would endorse Democrats called the New Party. Nothing came of these formations. Only the far more clearly independent progressive Green Party that was willing to run against Democrats began to grow, at least a little, particularly in California.

Startled, Democrats quickly set out to stop the Green Party and the Nader phenomenon. Relying on the undemocratic spoiler electoral system, they placed the “blame” for the installation of George W. Bush on Nader (precisely while they helped pass most of what Bush asked of them).

By 2004 the Democrats had scared the Michael Moores, Hightowers and Duggers back into the fold from which I doubt they will dare to stray again. So far, the Democrats have shown they can contain the early attempts to develop a political movement representing the people. The key to the victory for the Bush program is precisely the effectiveness of the Democrats.

The rise of the religious right is the companion to the Democratic Party in controlling the oppressed majority. While a super-oppressed underclass is being created by globalization, new religious formations are appearing, well-funded, offering programs of token material assistance (as the governmental safety net is removed) while indoctrinating people to accept pro-corporate worship of the market with the usual promise of a reward in heaven.

This organizing effort of the right is making gains precisely because a progressive viable alternative doesn’t exist. So on national TV Michael Moore called Ralph Nader crazy for daring to run.

Moore went on to speak about “we,” meaning the future Kerry government, as though there was any connection between what Moore has advocated in his writings and movies and what Kerry would do. This delusion swept an entire current of well- known progressive figures.

The Green Party

Within the Green Party this crisis resulted in the appearance of two opposing political currents. One current bent to the liberal capitulation; the other resisted.

What is new for those of us who have been around for many years fighting for social justice, peace and democracy, was the significant resistance to this capitulation, in comparison to recent decades.

Inside the Green Party two documents appeared expressing these two currents. One called for support to the concept of voting for a lesser evil, i.e. the Democratic Party, signed by 18 leaders of the Green Party, and the other, called the Avocado Declaration, opposing lesser evil voting and supporting Green Party independence. The document of the lesser evil current gave very little historical or socio-economic explanation to back up their views.

The Green Party nomination of David Cobb for president (the choice of the lesser evil current) over Ralph Nader (the choice of the independent current) is now history. But what is not yet fully understood is that Cobb lost the Green primaries and the state conventions.

As New Paltz, New York Green member Steve Greenfield writes, “The will of the great majority as expressed in opinion surveys, primaries and ultimately in the ballot booths was overruled by ‘electors’ whose prime source of decision power was their ability to afford the transportation to Milwaukee.”

Thus the Milwaukee convention of 2004 that nominated Cobb threatened the party’s internal democratic process. It is our hope that the next national convention will return the Green Party to internal democracy and that Cobb and many of his supporters will help to do so.

The lesser-evil current has every right to fight for their ideas and try to win a majority within the Green Party. But the grave problem that arose in 2004 is that the lesser evil current lost the votes of the membership, but still succeeded in getting control of both the convention and the national Coordinating Committee.

The result has been a sharp decline of the Green Party nationally. Its funding has declined and the Green Party’s strongest state organizations have begun to feel uneasy with decisions of the national leadership.

The Green Future

In California and in New York, the Green Party has continued to grow. By themselves these two states represent the majority of Greens in the United States, and both side strongly with the pro-independent politics current.

In New York registration in the Green Party grew by the thousands during 2004, now surpassing 40,000, and in California a new record of Green elected officials (77) was achieved and registration remained just under record levels of 160,000.

It is inevitable and normal that the Green Party will have internal differences and debates on these historic issues. But as I traveled through out the country campaigning I met Green Party organizers who are stunned by what has happened and who are insistent that the Green Party be democratic.

In the present discussion on returning the party to democracy, Marilyn Ditmanson, the Treasurer of the Butte County Greens in California, expressed what many Greens feel when she wrote: “There are those of us who believe that the Green Party is important enough to spend our time to fix it. Right now the Green Party does not represent the will of its people. There are many of us who are on our last campaign for the Green Party — to bring democracy to the party. If we do not get democracy here we will find a political party or start one where we get democracy.”

Maine is a state where the pro-Democratic Party wing of the Greens is well organized and in control of the Green Party apparatus, and where a Green candidate was elected to the state legislature but openly announced his support for Kerry. Maine’s delegation voted 95% for Cobb at the 2004 national convention.

But when we examine the Maine Green Party membership vote for delegates to the 2004 convention, they voted 29.2% for Nader and gave Salzman and Camejo (both of whom supported Nader) another 12.9%, bringing the pro-Nader vote to 42.1%.

Cobb supporters argue the delegates from Maine changed their mind and voted for Cobb. In fact, they know what we all know: The pro-Cobb Greens packed the Maine delegation in open disrespect for the will of the membership, as was done in many other states.

John Rensenbrink, one of Maine’s lesser-evil leaders and editor of Green Horizons, wrote a piece claiming there was a shift in opinions at the last minute. He could not name, however, a single delegate who had “changed” his or her mind.

Rensenbrink added something new in the debate, writing that the real danger to the Greens is socialists, specifically naming the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and International Socialist Organization (ISO) for joining the Green Party. Rensenbrink is an editor so you would think he would show some journalistic integrity and indicate some evidence for his assertions.

In fact, not a single member of the SWP is a member of the Green Party. It is true that there are many socialists in the Green Party. Some, like members of Solidarity, have been members for years, while others like the ISO have recently joined.

Both have played important and extremely positive roles in strengthening the influence of the Green Party. The ISO in particular has brought large numbers of young activists on campuses to help build Green Party campaigns and have done so in a totally principled manner.

Both the ISO and Solidarity, as well as other socialist groups and individuals, have helped expand Green Party influence within the labor movement and both have been welcomed by the majority of non-socialist Greens. Certainly that is what I have seen in California.

The Battles Ahead

Nader’s campaign was an alliance between Greens and Independents expressed in the Nader/Camejo ticket. The Greens who did not vote for Kerry voted in their overwhelming majority for Nader/Camejo, for a slate that favored independence and opposed lesser-evil politics.

The battle to build an independent electoral resistance to corporate domination clearly passed through the Green Party in the year 2000. It may not do so in the future unless the Green Party becomes once again a clearly independent political force.

The lesser evil current in the Green Party has begun to shift more openly to a policy in support of the Democratic Party along the lines originally advocated by the now defunct New Party. Jack Urich, a strong Cobb supporter, wrote an article for Green Horizons making this view quite explicit.

Urich argues that the Green Party is not growing because it does not support Democrats and gives a detailed example in New Mexico. He names which Democrats the Greens should have supported and ends his article by pointing out there is hope since a Green has withdrawn in a race to help the Democrat win.

He explains the decline of the Green Party in New Mexico as directly related to its policy of maintaining its independence from the two corporate parties, especially under the influence of Carol Miller, one of the leading pro-democracy and pro-independence Greens in New Mexico.

But the evidence continues to mount that the lesser evil current is a minority in the Green Party. For instance, at the recent state plenary in California, the largest Green Party organization by far, it was clear that only a small minority believes the Green Party as an institution should endorse partisan Democrats.

In other states, like Utah, the lesser evil wing has promoted splitting the Green Party. In Utah the pro-Cobb current simply declared itself the Green Party and began “expelling” Greens who supported Nader. After emptying the treasury of the state Green Party, Cobb supporters then went into court seeking to have themselves declared the Green Party of Utah. After several attempts they lost.

The national leadership has done nothing to stop the split in Utah and not one Cobb supporter has publicly opposed the pro-split action of their current in Utah.
The future of the Green Party lies in the balance. Some Greens who favor independent politics have quit, while some on the right are joining the Democrats. There is some discussion of forming a new party but most Greens believe the present crisis can be overcome.

Many of the Cobb supporters want there to be a Green Party and believe in democracy. I believe consensus can be reached on the issue of one-person-one-vote and a democratic process for nominating presidential candidates or endorsements.

Accept Diverse Views

The party must accept and learn to live with conflicting political currents. This issue will dominate the Green Party in the immediate future. As I proposed at the 2004 convention, the best way for Greens to proceed is to allow both currents to promote their strategy and for us to learn from each other, debate, discuss, and respect each other.

My unity proposal at the Milwaukee convention, calling for both Nader and Cobb to be endorsed and allowing each state to respect its internal democracy for ballot status, was unfortunately rejected by the Cobb current.

It is clear that such a compromise was not what the Democrats wanted to happen at the Green Party convention. They wanted Nader defeated. The last thing Democrats want is democracy and open discussion.

The Nation immediately ran a congratulatory article quoting only Greens who were Cobb supporters. Open Kerry supporters like Norman Solomon immediately announced he would join the Green Party now that it had come to its senses and was joining in the pro-Kerry effort.

Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) are featuring David Cobb and Medea Benjamin on their website and at their national conference, while they rejected allowing Ralph Nader to speak.

Yet the PDA leadership agrees with the Green Party on many critical issues. Greens should work with them around specific issues. There is nothing wrong for Greens to attend their conference and speak at it; the issue is whether we promote their illusion that working in a pro-war, pro-corporate party is the course progressives should take.

Green Party relations with dissenting Democrats are quite important for the Green Party. The key is how this relationship is maintained. We should seek to work with Democrats around issues where we agree, but at the same time we must keep our independence and work to expose the reality of the Democratic Party.

The Democrats’ Crisis

The lesser-evil current in the Green Party is rapidly moving to an inside/outside strategy because of their illusions in the nature of the Democratic Party. Ted Glick, Jack Urich, John Rensenbrink, and Medea Benjamin are among the most open advocates of this view.

The truth, however, is that the Democrats are now in disarray. They can’t blame Nader for Bush’s electoral victory and they haven’t a clue of their own role in helping Bush win. The polarization of the economy deepens. The war and the attacks on our liberties continue.

In the end a major split in the Democratic Party is inevitable due to the massive internal contradiction between what the Democrats support and who votes for them. All these events point to our need to focus the growth of the Green Party outside of the “liberal” intellectual establishment and turn to the layers which, at least in California, have become the strongest voter support for the Greens. These include the poorest people, African Americans, Latinos and youth.

In opposition to that perspective is the rising development from within the lesser evil current for an “inside/outside strategy,” where the Green Party openly endorses Democrats, works with progressive Democratic Party organizations, and becomes a “fusion” pressure group from the outside.

The problem is that such a strategy fails to understand — and helps cover up — the nature of the Democratic Party as a wholly- owned subsidiary of the corporate world.

We are fighting for the health and life of the Green Party. We need to protect, build, unify and win the Green Party to a combative independent stance.

ATC 115, March-April 2005