The Greens Versus
Wellstone...Or, Handing The Senate Back To Trent Lott
By Steve Cobble
I admire Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader. I
also admire Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. That
might mean I'm principled. It might just mean I'm confused. It does
mean that I feel obligated to do my small part to avert the loss of
one of the few progressive Senators worth worrying about, a loss
that could put the U.S. Senate back in Trent Lott's hands.
plea to the Minnesota Greens: take a breath, put aside your anger at
the Democrats, and act in your own best interests, as well as the
nation's -- please reconsider your challenge to Senator Wellstone.
And my plea to the Democrats: stop pretending the Greens do not
exist; it's time to talk to them.
The most unusual spectacle in
politics is for a political party to admit a mistake. We'll all
asphyxiate if we hold our breath waiting for the Democrats to admit
the blunder they made not passing full public funding of campaigns
back in 1993, when they had complete control of the government; and
certainly the President-Select, Tom DeLay, and the tax cut lemmings
who make up the modern GOP will never admit that their
reverse-Robin-Hood tax cuts for the rich have already put us back
into massive deficits.
So I know I'm asking the Minnesota Green
Party to do something politically brave and unusual -- to
acknowledge a tactical error, and to reverse course while there is
still time. Drop this Senate challenge.
Do it not just because it's
in the country's best interests, but because it's in your own best
interests as a new, small party. The strategic move for your party
in 2002 is to put all your statewide energies into the Ken Pentel
for Governor campaign, where you have a known candidate, a four-way
race, public funding, and likely access to televised debates.
Bolster that statewide candidacy with diverse, issue-oriented,
energetic Green candidates for the statehouse and city councils --
campaigns that can be won by candidates willing to knock on every
door, in districts small enough that money is less important.
strategic way to build your party this year is for your
gubernatorial candidate to do well -- and there is absolutely no way
for him to break into double figures without a significant chunk of
Paul Wellstone supporters. The obvious strategy, then, is not to
limit Pentel's potential by linking it with an underfunded Senate
effort that will never break out of the low single digits,
especially against a recognized progressive like Wellstone.
Instead, Ken Pentel should be making a credible argument to the
half of the Minnesota electorate that supports Paul Wellstone that
he is closer to Wellstone on the issues than the Democratic nominee,
that he is the Wellstone of the Governor's race, and that he would
govern in the organizer's tradition that Paul brought to the U.S.
Senate. This argument might have a chance with many voters, except
that the race is now locked into a "Green team vs. Democrat team"
top-of-the-ticket strategy, which will severely limit the Green vote
in all races. So put aside your anger at the Democrats. You should
do this not just because it helps Paul Wellstone win re-election --
which it will -- but because it's in your own best interests.
Respectfully ask Ed McGaa to step aside as the Green's Senate
The surest path to a stronger Green Party future in
Minnesota is a credible gubernatorial campaign this year. Your
Senate challenge to Wellstone gets in the way of that. It's as
straightforward as that.
I suggest putting together a Green
delegation to respectfully ask Ed McGaa to step aside as an official
Green Senate candidate, or at least to pull back any campaigning,
for the good of your party. I think McGaa deserves to be praised for
his willingness to take on the extremely difficult task of running
for office on a third party ballot line. And I think the Greens
would be wise to nominate him for another office; he is, after all,
an author and a Native American who has served in the armed forces
with distinction. This Senate race is just not the right race
strategically. I also suggest that the Greens put together a group
of party members and voting reform allies to ask Paul Wellstone to
lead the national fight for IRV (instant runoff voting), a win-win
voting reform that eliminates the so-called "spoiler" problem.
Instant runoff voting works exactly like it sounds. Invented by an
American in 1870, IRV allows voters to rank their preferences (1, 2,
3, etc.), rather than merely punching out one chad. Then, if no
candidate wins a majority on the first round, the weaker candidates
are eliminated, and their votes redistributed among their
supporters' second choices. This process continues until one
candidate gets a majority.
Why should we care? First of all,
because IRV is more democratic. Second, by opening up our
increasingly stagnant political system, IRV would encourage small
parties, inject new ideas and new voices into elections, and help
increase voter interest. Third, IRV increases the incentives for
positive campaigns, since major parties must also compete for small
parties' second-choice votes. Fourth, through its "instant runoff"
feature, IRV leads to a majority winner, thus eliminating the
so-called spoiler problem, a feature the major parties should like.
I'd argue that Senator Wellstone should also press for cross-party
endorsement, aka "fusion"; continue his long fight for "clean money"
style public funding; and try to push the rest of the country into
joining Minnesota by opening up television debates and using
same-day voter registration. Given the current progressive Democrat
v. Green split, though, I contend that IRV should be a no-brainer on
I would be remiss if I left any impression that the
current poor state of relations between the Democratic Party and the
Green Party is all or mostly the Greens' fault. The national
Democratic Party, or its wiser state parties, needs to move quickly
on several fronts to begin to defuse the current split in
progressive ranks. Since the Democrats control the U.S. Senate, they
can take action right away. If they are concerned about possible
"spoiling" by the Green Party, one immediate legislative strategy is
obvious -- pass an instant runoff voting bill. Congressman Jesse
Jackson, Jr., has already introduced a bill that creates strong
incentives for states to adopt IRV in Presidential elections, a
means of inducing reform without resorting to a Constitutional
In addition, the Senate Democrats could unite behind a
bill requiring instant runoff voting in all Federal races, and
offering incentives to states to move towards IRV in state races. In
addition, holding regional hearings and taking testimony on IRV,
fusion, same-day voter registration, and other post-Florida voting
reforms would be an excellent way to start addressing the split
among progressives. Party leaders could also put together a
committee of credible progressive Democrats -- leaders such as Rep.
Jesse Jackson, Jr., Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep.
Dennis Kucinich, Rep. Henry Waxman, Rep. George Miller -- to
initiate a "common ground" dialogue with Ralph Nader, Winona LaDuke,
and Green Party leadership. (I would also include Dan Cantor and the
increasingly influential Working Families Party of New York.)
Democrats: why not fight for Green Party voters by pressing for
some of their issues?
There is no miracle cure here --
nevertheless, it seems to me that everyone is better off talking
directly than firing rhetorical warning shots over the other party's
barricades. Clearly, we're better off beginning to talk now, rather
than waiting for the heat of the next contest. And it seems to me
that there are political strategies that are win-win, that could
increase the power of progressives both inside and outside the
Democratic Party, if we began to talk. After all, in Europe, where
the political center is in a place that American progressives can
only fantasize about, serious discussions, negotiations, policy and
political trade-offs among left-leaning parties are the norm. Not to
mention that the DLC, the pro-corporate-power wing of the Democrats
of the 1990s, is still there, still funded, still waiting for
Senator Joe Lieberman's ascendance. I think it would also be wise to
stop the heavy-handed rhetorical attacks from prominent liberals.
They are not scaring Greens away -- and as has surely been obvious
since at least 35 years ago when General Motors foolishly tried to
intimidate a young Nader, such attacks certainly do not work on
Ralph -- instead, they are stiffening Green Party resolve,
especially among the young.
Finally, why not make a serious attempt
to fight for Green Party voters by pressing for some of their
issues? The Democratic Party has been unwilling to investigate a
stolen election in Florida; ineffective at holding hearings on
obvious and massive corruption involving Enron and Halliburton, with
tracks leading right into a stonewalling White House; and unable to
force a serious, independent investigation of the events that led to
the tragedy of 9/11 (much less the conduct of a war that looks less
impressive every day). Health care is not just about prescription
drugs for seniors -- what about the 44 million Americans with no
health care at all? Affordable housing is in a crisis state -- why
not propose a variation of the G.I. Bill, the most successful
housing program for average Americans ever invented? Global warming
is a reality that even the Shrub has finally woken up to -- but
where is the "Global Green Deal" program that would actually make a
dent in our carbon emissions?
If you want to convince young people
that they are better off voting for the Democratic Party than the
Green Party, it might be smart not to wait until August of 2004 to
begin fighting for the people against the powerful. We have a rare
"anti-corporate moment" here, and we should take full advantage of it.