I admit it. When watching the acceptances of the Green Party candidates last weekend, I audibly groaned. Anyone would have groaned — not only those who, like me, support the Green Party, or who, also like me, sit home on a Saturday night watching third-party conventions on C-SPAN. (The Libertarian convention was in late May; their presidential nominee is Austin-based computer programmer Michael Badnarik.)
At the Green convention in Milwaukee, Pat LaMarche, the party’s newly minted vice-presidential candidate, gave the worst political performance I have ever seen, going into great detail about the jacket she was wearing, personally thanking endless numbers of supporters and giving no indication that she was qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
David Cobb, the presidential nominee and former Green candidate for Texas attorney general, cited exhaustive statistics on Green Party ballot access, passionately advocated D.C. statehood and explained the intricacies of instant runoff voting but failed to mention any of his campaign’s major themes or issues.
The Green Party’s nomination process was complicated by any number of procedural issues, but it essentially boiled down to two candidates: Cobb and Ralph Nader, the party’s former standard bearer who is currently running an independent campaign for president. But the delegates were not measuring Cobb against Nader with regard to who would make the best presidential candidate. If they were, Nader is unquestionably a better choice: He has more name recognition than Cobb, and his candid style and command of the facts on any issue are equal to any player on the U.S. political stage.
Instead, the Green delegates seemed to understand that when 5 percent of the vote would constitute an unbelievable showing, the question of the best campaigner is a largely irrelevant one. Instead, two major factors motivated Cobb’s nomination: A desire not to contribute to the re-election of President George W. Bush and a recognition that the party’s growth will suffer from a widespread belief that it is indifferent to putting republicans in office.
With regard to “spoiling,” Nader implausibly insists his candidacy would hurt the Bush and Kerry campaigns equally. Cobb, on the other hand, has advocated a “safe states” strategy, campaigning only in red or blue states, while urging citizens to “vote their conscience” (read: for Kerry) elsewhere. Similarly, Nader continues to prove himself politically tone-deaf in maintaining that there is little relevant difference between the mainstream parties, while Cobb maintains that “the difference between John Kerry and George W. Bush may be nearly incremental, but it is not inconsequential.”
This strategy allows the Green Party to have its cake and eat it, too. While criticizing the Democrats (and Republicans) at every turn in order to gain publicity for their message and downticket candidates, Greens should nonetheless largely avoid democratic bile.
Indeed, there are rumblings that the center-left establishment is very pleased by the Greens’ repudiation of Nader. The Boston Globe published a story with the headline “Green Party’s Choice could be Kerry Boost.”
Garance Franke-Ruta of the self-proclaimed “progressive” — but very pro-Democrat — American Prospect recently wrote approvingly of this development, quoting Green vice-presidential nominee LaMarche: “The voter has now been placed in a position where the president of (his or her) country is a threat to the entire world. … It’s not about being a benefit to Kerry. It’s about being a benefit to the voter.”
With left-of-center sentiment so strongly united against President Bush, perhaps now is a time for the Green Party to give without getting. Its willingness to do so shows not only a growing political maturity but also a faith in the possibility of leftist coalition-building. I hope the democrats remember this gesture when their turn comes.
Mike O’ Connor, Daily Texan,University of Texas-Austin