Enron? Nader Is Glad You Asked
But are the Greens really a viable alternative? The party has never won a Congressional election, and looks unlikely to do so this year. While it has a greater presence at the local level, its entire class of elected officials numbers roughly 130. The party even faces sniping from the Libertarian Party, to the effect that were it not for the strength Nader showed in 2000, the Greens would actually rank as America's fourth party. Nader admits he experiences "lots" of frustration with the Greens. He warns that the party is not running enough candidates to achieve critical mass at election time, and he says it must do so--even where that means challenging relatively liberal Democrats. He frets that some state parties remain mired in internecine "bickering, trivia and process-mania" that make them unappealing to grassroots Americans who simply want to put a few hours a week into building a political alternative. "The Greens are terrific in a lot of states," Nader explains. "But in a few states there are longtime Greens who, if they are not careful, are going to turn away the vast numbers of people who are going to make their party into something."
Nader's impatience with some Greens is paralleled by impatience on the part of some Greens with Nader. During a question-and-answer session in Portland, a veteran West Coast Green activist, Robin Denburg, rose to repeat a not uncommon complaint that Nader's Washington-based aides have approached independent-minded Green activists and groups less as political partners than as affiliates of "Team Nader." Yet Nader remains enormously popular with the Green cadres--people like Pacific Greens campaigner Jennifer Malidore, who after Nader's Portland talk announced, "He really is the heart of this party. He's our national presence. I would love to see him run again in 2004."
"I am thinking about how to do it," says Nader, as he reviews the mistakes of the 2000 campaign: starting late, putting too little money into the development of a grassroots organization and get-out-the-vote drives. Nader goes on to describe how he has been encouraged not just to mount another Green candidacy but to enter the Democratic primaries or even to run as what he actually is: a confirmed independent. The discussion is serious and detail-oriented, so much so that Nader finally interrupts himself. "This is not like a sure thing in 2004. There are a lot of things you have to see in order to make a decision like that," he says. But, he explains, before reflecting on how a third presidential run would need to expand dramatically beyond a base that remains too white, too middle-class and too frequently clustered in college towns, "if a decision is made, it is going to be a campaign that no one has ever seen--in terms of its strategy and diversity."
Does Nader worry, even just a little bit, that another candidacy might divide progressives and produce another Bush presidency? "Look, I'd rather be engaged in the nonpartisan work of building a civil society. For me, there has been a gradual commitment to getting involved in the electoral process, and I still cling to this civic, nonpartisan vision of how to do things," Nader says. "But if you do an acute analysis of why things don't change in this country, you come back to what has happened to the Democratic Party. When I look at how the Democrats have responded to Enron so far, it seems to me that we all have a responsibility to try to jolt them into an understanding of what is at stake. If Democrats respond effectively, there will not be much point to me or anyone else challenging them. But if they do not, something has to give. People realize that. People know what the Enron scandal means. This is a test. Are Democrats capable of addressing massive corporate crimes effectively? If Democrats cannot, if they are in such a routinized rut that they are incapable of responding, then how could anyone make a case that they should be given deference at the ballot box?"