It amazes how much anger normally sane people in the democratic party have for the Greens and Ralph Nader. There have been a string of virulent attacks in the past few says. Notably The American Prospect’s Michael Tomasky, who argues that the Greens should learn to be more like the Christian Right and work within the party:
First, if it was the intention of Nader voters in New York or Massachusetts (or any state Al Gore was certain to win in 2000) to send a message to the Democrats, that’s an understandable and respectable intention. But as the Christian Coalition model shows, such messages are far more effectively sent inside the party than outside it — the Greens really influence almost nothing in this country, whereas the Christian Coalition, with its power in the GOP, influences almost everything. I’d have actual respect for the Greens if they were working within the Democratic Party to take it over.
I’m surprised to see this post being picked up by the likes of Talk Left and CalPundit, who are normally quite level headed. Presumably it is because they all blame the Greens for having lost the election. That is patently wrong, as this excellent article by Manning Marable shows.
First of all, he shows that the Green’s impact on the election results was mostly insignificant on the Gore-Bush race:
Nader received most of his votes in states that were not competitive
Then he points out that Gore underperformed compared to other democrats in numerous states, including his own and Clinton’s where he should have carried a much larger margin of the vote:
Al Gore had been elected and re-elected to both the House and Senate from Tennessee. His father had also served for decades in the Senate. Nevertheless, he failed to carry his home state, 47 percent to Bush’s 51 percent. Nader’s 20,000 votes in Tennessee would not have made any difference. The same story happened in Bill Clinton’s Arkansas, which Gore lost to Bush, 46 to 51 percent. Nader’s one percent in Arkansas didn’t affect the outcome. West Virginia is so Democratic that Republican presidential candidates have carried the state only three times in the previous half century. Nevertheless, Gore managed to lose West Virginia by five percentage points to Bush. Nader’s 10,000 votes in West Virginia were well short of the margin of difference between Bush and Gore. Had Gore carried either his own home state, or even West Virginia, he would be president today.
Gore’s statewide vote totals consistently lagged behind those of Democratic candidates in gubernatorial and Senate races. In Georgia, for example, Gore’s statewide vote of 43 percent in the presidential race was significantly less than Democratic Senate candidate Zell Miller, who won 57 percent. In Connecticut, Gore trailed Democratic Senate candidate Joe Lieberman, 56 percent vs. 63 percent. In Wisconsin, Gore’s 48 percent was less than the 62 percent Democratic Senator Herbert Kohl received in his successful re-election bid.
Gore ran a bad campaign. He should have swept the country, but he flubbbed it and we were stuck with recounts to determine the winner (which brings up the whole question of whether we can even say that Gore lost…).
But the analogy that Tomasky makes to the Christian Right is foolish. The reason the Christian Right work within the party and not outside of it is because they know that the party has their interests at heart. If it wasn’t for the opposition of the left and the center you know that Bush would be pushing through an even stronger pro-Christian Right platform. The same can’t be said of the Democrats. The Democrats have long stopped caring about their own Left flank. One reason is that while many on the far-Right vote, many on the far-Left do not. Rather than trying to target their platform to draw these people into the part, the Democrats have gone after the swing-voters in the center (some of whom are those very same far-Right voters who will, for instance, vote for a pro-Life Democrat), moving their party platform along with them. And those who do vote will vote for them no matter what — so why bother courting them? I honestly believe that the only way that the Democrats can really take back control of this country is to target those alienated voters on the left who don’t vote. Only then can they really claim to represent a clear moral vision rather than simply trying to chip away at the outer edges of the Right’s constituency. While Gore might appear to be somewhat liberal, look at who he chose as his running mate — a republican in democratic clothing who was hand picked by his own state’s republican party to run against a Republican who was too liberal!!!
It is also the wrong analogy. The Greens represent a broad coalition of groups much more diverse than the Christian Right. Labor, Minorities, Environmentalists, Consumer Rights, etc. are all issues that were the traditional heart of the Democratic platform. That these interests now seem to be the lunatic fringe shows just how far the Democrats have drifted away from those who should be their core constituents. Part of this has to do with the need for money. These groups can’t cough up the kind of dough necessary to run today’s political campaigns. But instead of trying to reform the system, the Democrats are simply adopting republican methods of raising funds. This is a mistake, because Bush and his buddies will always be better at this game. Again, that is why the Democrats need a different strategy. It is the democrats who need to embrace the Greens to save themselves, not the other way around!
In a recent speech Bill Moyers gave an account of the history of the Populist Party:
Predictably, the Populists were denounced, feared and mocked as fanatical hayseeds ignorantly playing with socialist fire. They got twenty-two electoral votes for their candidate in ’92, plus some Congressional seats and state houses, but it was downhill from there for many reasons. America wasn’t — and probably still isn’t — ready for a new major party. The People’s Party was a spent rocket by 1904. But if political organizations perish, their key ideas don’t —
keep that in mind, because it gives prospective to your cause today. Much of the Populist agenda would become law within a few years of the party’s extinction. And that was because it was generally shared by a rising generation of young Republicans and Democrats who, justly or not, were seen as less outrageously outdated than the embattled farmers. These were the progressives, your intellectual forebears and mine.
The Greens are fighting for social justice, and while this election might bring Dean to power on a purely anti-Bush platform, the Democrats will ultimately fail to change America in any fundamental way unless they change how American’s think about the nature of democracy, economy, freedom, and security. The Republican’s have long understood the power of ideas — spending millions of dollars to successfully recast the very nature of how American’s discuss politics. The Democrat’s need to do better, otherwise we may win the next battle but we will lose the war.