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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Thursday | April 17, 2003

The Greens, the Dems and 2004

Let's get a couple of things straight:

I think the debate over Ralph Nader's role in the 2000 election is a good thing. I wouldn't trust the stock speculator/landlord further than I could throw him, but hashing this out is a good thing.

But let me make my argument:

I think Nader ran a selfish, vanity campaign because he resented Gore's embrace of environementalism. Because, for nearly 30 years, no one had opposed his issues or even offered radically different viewpoints on them.

People truly do not understand exactly how influential Nader was in Democratic circles. His various pressure groups had free rein in helping to set policy among Democratic legislators. Even if they didn't have their day, they always got listened to. No single person has been more responsible for training Demcoratic operatives and even politicians than Nader's groups. He has also set the news agenda for nearly two decades.

Do you think 60 Minutes would have been viable without Nader's muckracking?
Nader's activism remade TV journalism. The emphasis on safety issues was due to the volume of information available to journalists and provided by Nader. The nexus between the Nader-trained pols, the little seen, but highly influential staffers who really make policy, and journalists was not well known, but widely understood inside politics.

It would not be an overstatement to say Nader, more than any single politician, defined the way the Democratic party approached policy issues. It also shifted the Dems focus away from national security and worker rights to far more nebulous issues like consumers rights and health. Instead of the class-based issues which had made Democratic politics successful, Nader moved the party towards issues which resonated with the middle class.

The problem with Nader was that he would never assume responsibility for his stands. He took nakedly political positions on a variety of issues, but never owned up to the politics of his stands. He was a technocratic leftist, as wedded to his ideas as the PNAC Cabal is to theirs and just as dedicated and ruthless. You could chart Nader's former employees and see how influencial they have become in the Democratic Party.

When he ran in 1996, it was a lark. He wasn't serious and he couldn't hope to beat Clinton.

His efforts in 2000 took on a very different cast and one where he took help from the GOP. They actively took the support of the GOP and refused to stop running in close races in Oregon and other states.

The Greens protests were disingenious. They knew the GOP was using them as a wedge among Democratic voters and they played that well.

What has been harmful is the combination of obstinancy and lack of electoral savvy that the Greens have exhibited.

Let's be blunt. The Greens are a party best left to college campuses so grad students and their professor boyfriends have a place to meet which isn't obvious. The NPR set. The party does only the most fragmented and limited outreach work with minorities, yet they expect a fair hearing from that sizable block of voters.

The Greens seem to think that they can get elected by appealing to soccer moms and traditional liberals. Which only gets you to about 20 percent of the vote. You need to reach another 30 percent to win. How does nominating Ralph Nader, who has been completely mute on issues of race and gender, encourage the Democratic base to look at Green candidates. Maybe attracting the sizable number of minorities disaffected with the Dems and uninterested in the GOP would be a road to some electoral power.

The fact is that the Greens leverage is extremely limited. With a concentrated GOTV effort, the Dems can easily grab 2 percent more voters. Yet, they defend their vote by claiming the stock speculator Nader represents some kind of progressive alternative.

If this is the case, what are his plans to protect abortion rights, limit the jailing of minors in adult jails, protect affirmative action and other progressive issues. Forget issues of national security and defense.

Nader is mute on many of the issues that the Dems routinely defend.

The fact is that Nader voters, not the Dems, are coming to a crossroads. That they have to decide to support the Democratic candidate who can win, or help to keep George Bush in office for four more years. The Greens agenda, such that it is, is about as popular as that of Pat Robertson's, a minority opinion.

Convincing Green voters, who are bright and energetic, to vote Democratic, is a worthy goal, but the reality is that the Dems will not be held captive by them. They can't afford to be. And as long as Green candidates accept help and funding from GOP consultants and fundworkers, the Dems are obliged to make sure that Green candidates gain no traction.

Until the Greens, not the Dems, get serious about being a viable electoral party at every level, state, local and federal, they can only expect to be little more than a distraction. One Democratic state committees will seek to crush if they harm Democratic candidates.

Until the Greens decide to stand as more than a spite the Dems party, or as a wedge to get them to embrace issues no electable candidate ever will, they will remain at 2 percent of the vote and the Dems will move on from them and their version of issue politics.

People may not want to hear this, but politics is a business and until the Greens act like people who want to be in the election and governance business instead of the angry protest and point making business, the GOP will play them and the Dems will ignore them.

Steve Gilliard

Posted April 17, 2003 09:23 AM | Comments (504)


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