Huge numbers of Greens, Democrats and Independents, a couple of stray Republicans and one Libertarian responded to Micah L. Sifry’s “Ralph Redux” [Nov. 24], about reactions among Democrats and Greens to a potential Nader run for President in 2004. Herewith a sample.   –The Editors

New York City

Message to Ralph Nader: Stay out of the 2004 election. Despite your foolish rhetoric to the contrary, George W. is a helluva lot worse than Gore could ever have been. Don’t even think about it!

MURTON EDELSTEIN


Princeton, NJ

I’m dubious about Micah Sifry’s claim that among the Greens “a distinct minority…backs Nader as the party’s best spokesman and wants him to run an unconditional national campaign.” My sense is exactly the opposite. Here in New Jersey, at a meeting held specifically to address this issue, an overwhelming majority voted to run a strong national campaign in 2004 with a high-visibility candidate. The preferred candidate: Ralph Nader.

STEVE WELZER
State coordinator, Green Party of New Jersey


New York City

One looks in vain in Micah Sifry’s article for any statement of what Democrats might do to gain cooperation from Greens; instead, only anxious pleas among Greens to accommodate the Democratic nominee. Sifry nonetheless concludes that, “as long as the two-party duopoly misrules America, third-party efforts will percolate and independent voters will proliferate.” One might add that such misrule will continue so long as parties outside the duopoly hold themselves and their voters responsible rather than those within it.

RONALD MACKINNON
Green Party of New York State


Detroit

Here’s a news flash. If you’re depending on the Democrats to defend us from Bush’s policies, you have no defense. They did not oppose the war in Iraq and they did not expose the vicious right-wing agenda hidden behind Bush’s “war on terror.” And they are just as corporate-dominated as the Republicans. Look at the past twenty-five years: The Republicans are elected and push things to the right; the Democrats (in “opposition”) move almost as far right; the Democrats are elected and we get NAFTA, the WTO and a vicious attack on welfare.

The Greens should run a strong candidate and get support from progressives everywhere. If we decide not to run due to the wave of hysteria that has been whipped up against us, it will be a setback for progressive politics. If the 2004 election proceeds without a strong progressive voice, this country will continue to move to the right no matter which major party wins.

PAUL FELTON, co-chair
Detroit Green Party


Burlingame, Calif.

All that discussion on what the Greens are up to and what they are thinking–what about the Democrats? What are they up to, besides blaming their inadequacies on the Greens? How about they take a look at their own act? Democrats backed the war, the tax cut for the wealthy, the Patriot Act, the gutting of our social programs and are taking part in the movement toward fascism in our nation. Democrats support the GOP foreign policy that is causing the international community serious concern. The Democrats don’t seem to know that the oil is running out, the climate is warming and the environmental systems of the planet are under terrible stress. Democrats and The Nation need to give attention to the Democratic Party and its position on the issues listed above.

We in the Bay Area know that the Democrats are scared of the Greens–Demo fat cats spent millions to beat Matt Gonzalez’s run for mayor of San Francisco. Democrats: Look in the mirror and stop attacking Greens. Greens and Democrats want to get rid of Bush.

PAT GRAY
Green candidate for Congress


New Haven, Conn.

Micah Sifry is correct that running a Green presidential candidate risks alienating the potential support Greens need for their bottom-up electoral strategy. But he neglects to mention why the Greens feel that a national run is necessary. The only way the Green Party is able to get attention from the establishment progressive media is in its role as potential spoiler. Although the Greens have been making contributions to local politics–in many instances beating corrupt machine Democrats, so that even a skeptic like Norman Solomon admits that Greens “have bettered many communities”–they have been ignored by the media.

The reaction from the progressive media to Nader’s 2000 run ranged from a few instances of tepid support to intense hostility. Even so, the Greens made significant gains on the local level following the 2000 election. There is, therefore, reason to believe that much of the Greens’ potential support does not come from readers of The Nation, The Progressive or Z. Nader’s campaign was the mechanism by which these formerly alienated voters discovered the Green Party in 2000 and became active members of their local chapters. It may be that a Nader candidacy will have the same effect in 2004.

While I do not support that position, it is the logic according to which many Greens feel they are forced to make a presidential run, taking down themselves and the Democrats’ nominee. Should this worst-case scenario materialize, the Greens, the progressive media, including The Nation, Nader and Sifry himself will share the blame.

JOHN HALLE
Green Party alderman


San Diego

As the only elected Green Party member in San Diego County (city of San Diego’s community planning board), I agree with Micah Sifry’s opposition to a Nader run in 2004.

While the hero on the white horse bit was fine for 2000 and got many new voters involved, we must evolve, grow and get tough, not only with those we oppose but with ourselves as well. This year Green Party members must work to defeat an Administration that is the world’s greatest threat to peace, social justice and ecological sustainability–and that means no Green candidate for President.

In addition, we must continue to build on our expanding strength in tying the party’s ten core values to local issues and campaigns. As treasurer of the Affordable Housing Coalition and as executive director of the Renters’ Union, I need to build coalitions with progressives and Democrats in this citadel of conservatism and corporate-bought government. I need allies to fight for tenants’ rights, affordable housing and a just wage, and that will be very difficult to do as a Green if we do not unite with Democrats.

I have given up a run for San Diego’s City Council this year to do exactly the two things Sifry suggests: work to defeat Bush and the evil he represents and concentrate on making the Green Party a source of change and hope in my neighborhood. I have gotten ahold of my ego, for the Green Party’s sake and on behalf of my community. I don’t see why Ralph can’t do the same.

ROCKY NEPTUN


Seattle

Micah Sifry is absolutely right in characterizing the conflict between the Green Party and the Democrats as a “death struggle”–one from which we’ll all suffer if the Dems don’t get a clue. I’m a Green who voted for Nader in 2000, and I regret absolutely nothing. I can’t tell you how many of my Democratic friends continue, three years later, to attack me and blame Nader and his supporters for Gore’s “loss” in the presidential race. They refuse to acknowledge that about 20 percent of registered Dems voted for Dubya and that over 300,000 did so in Florida alone–more than enough to overcome hanging chads, butterfly ballots and disenfranchised felons. But it’s easier to find scapegoats than to take a good, long look in the mirror.

Consider this: After the Supreme Court hijacked democracy in 2000, tens of thousands of people were out in the streets to protest the Bush coronation. Here in Seattle there were Nader supporters/Greens everywhere, ready to take a stand with Gore against the coup and to fight for democracy. When I mentioned the protest to a staunch Gore supporter he said, “What good is that going to do?” He and other Democrat friends stayed home–probably to sit in front of their TVs and curse Nader.

I continue to have nothing but admiration and respect for Ralph Nader, but despite the fact that I disagree with Howard Dean on many issues, I’m supporting him in 2004. I even plan to campaign my butt off for him. I have no illusions about how much he is capable of accomplishing, or that he will be much less beholden to corporate interests than Clinton-style Republican Lites, but Bush is such an unprecedented disaster that I’m willing to do almost anything to end his horrendous reign.

However, there’s only so much abuse I’m willing to take from Dems. If they continue to attack my party or resort to Texas Republican tactics by redistricting Greens out of legislative seats, then they’ll just doom themselves. By further alienating some of the most active, motivated, caring and ethical people the country has to offer, they’ll nail their own coffins in 2004. Let’s hope they see some sense.

GLENN REED


Ojo Sarco, NM

Micah Sifry quoted a snippet from the tail end of a well-documented and inspiring speech about why we Greens must run a presidential campaign. I described how narrow the national discussion would be without a Green candidate raising the issues that really matter. I outlined the past sixty years’ waste of trillions of dollars on nuclear weapons, the persistent US crime and child-poverty rates, the out-of-control prison-industrial complex, the two-tier healthcare system and the bipartisan destruction of the global environment. I raised my primary issue, the need for a transformation to a peace economy and an end to the government’s addiction to the toxic, racist war economy. I concluded with the statement that I had not heard one Democrat talk about those issues, and that none would be discussed unless there is a Green candidate. Then, as Sifry noted, I did say that if the Dems were not going to run on these issues, then what was the point of their running? Change the system. It is time to demand a multiparty democracy.

CAROL MILLER


Topsham, Maine

Micah Sifry quotes me as saying of Nader that “he doesn’t get the racial issue,” which borders on my attributing to Nader a racist edge. This is unfortunate. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from my intent, my posture, my belief, my sense of values and my judgment. I disclaim it totally.

JOHN RENSENBRINK


Washington, DC

Throughout the discussion in the progressive press on the risks of Green participation in the 2004 presidential election, there’s been little about what happens if the Green Party doesn’t run a candidate. Without a Green, the race will be limited to two corporate nominees, with minimal or no debate over the invasion of Iraq, space-based missile defense, international trade cabals, oil dependence, national health insurance, privatization, Taft-Hartley, the war on drugs, the USA Patriot Act or the corporate corruption of the political arena. Indeed, most of the Bush agenda was passed with Democratic support–or was already enacted under Clinton. Furthermore, Greens are addressing what really spoiled in 2000 and what might spoil in 2004: racist voter disenfranchisement; manipulated vote counts (a greater risk now, thanks to computerized voting); at-large winner-take-all elections (which could be remedied by instant-runoff voting and proportional representation).

As Democrats have retreated from their stated principles and constituencies, they’ve given Republicans a license for ever-greater extremes. The Green Party is thus not a passing leftoid fad but a historical imperative–as was the Populist Party, before it committed suicide in 1896 by fusing with the Democrats to defeat McKinley, who won anyway.

Greens are struggling to overcome difficult state ballot-access rules, enacted by Republicans and Democrats to block third parties and independents. These rules ironically compel Greens, many of whom would prefer to concentrate on local and state races, to run presidential candidates in order to achieve and maintain ballot status.

During the national meeting of the Green Party of the United States (www.gp.org) in Washington, DC, this past July, a nonbinding strategy discussion was held at which participants expressed overwhelming support for a national campaign; since then, several state Green parties have held forums with similar outcomes. State Green parties will make the decision democratically at the national Green convention in Milwaukee next June. Micah Sifry documents the wide range of opinion within the party, but what’s clear to many Greens right now, even as they debate over whom, how and whether to run, is that they must prepare for an aggressive presidential campaign in 2004.

SCOTT MCLARTY
Media coordinator
Green Party of the United States


SIFRY REPLIES

Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

Steve Welzer reports that an overwhelming number of New Jersey Greens who showed up at a meeting want Nader to run. This only proves that small pockets of Green-Nader activists exist, not that there is anything more than a minority of self-identified Greens hankering for Ralph to run an unconditional national campaign. If Welzer’s larger claim were true, surely we’d be hearing about activists flooding Nader, and by extension the public square known as the Internet, with appeals for him to run, now that the news of his presidential exploratory committee has leaked. But I doubt the energy is there, and I see no evidence of the 1995 and 1999 groundswells that drew Nader into presidential politics twice. One person close to a “Draft Nader” committee set up earlier this year tells me they “haven’t seen much excitement.”

Ronald MacKinnon must have read only the online version of my article and missed my sidebar on the “Democrat-Green Death Struggle.” In it I make clear that Democrats ought to stop trying to strong-arm the Green Party out of existence and instead pass reforms like instant-runoff voting, or change ballot-access laws so third parties aren’t forced to run a presidential candidate as the only way to maintain their line on the ballot. Democrats in Maine and New Mexico–two states where they control the governorship and both branches of the legislature, and where Greens have demonstrated that they have a loyal base of voters–could take these sensible steps tomorrow.

Paul Felton and Pat Gray make no sense. If Democrats in Congress are selling out, the way to hold them accountable is to run for Congress, not President. If Greens put one-tenth the energy they’re devoting to the presidential contest into trying to punish corpocrats like Senators Max Baucus, John Breaux or Dianne Feinstein, perhaps such Democrats would back off from the right’s agenda. Indeed, one could argue that this is exactly what Nader–and the 2.8 million who voted for him–did in 2000, and that the more progressive tilt of the current presidential field is the response.

I’m heartened by the letters from John Halle and Rocky Neptun, who, as elected officials, both validate my argument that Greens in public office–who have to work with Democrats and earn support from local voters–understand the stakes in this year’s election better than party activists accountable to no one but their own consciences. Likewise, Glenn Reed’s passionate letter ought to be read by smug Democrats who, pigeonholing all Greens as ideologues, ignore the problems inside their own party that led so many Democratic voters to opt for Bush in 2000.

My friend Carol Miller, on the other hand, demonstrates that very rigidity in her letter. Carol thinks that demanding equals achieving and that putting a Green presidential candidate forward equals getting her far-reaching issues addressed. But hope is not a plan. The Libertarian Party nominates a presidential candidate every four years, but that doesn’t get its issues onto the agenda. Context is critical, and while in 2000 the similarities between “Gush and Bore” and the anger among progressives at the Clinton-Gore betrayals created enough space and energy for a viable independent national presidential campaign, in 2004 the differences between Bush and the likely Democratic nominee, and the anger at Bush, are making such a campaign an exercise in futility.

And Scott McLarty, speaking in his official capacity as the Green Party’s media coordinator, is only a tad more supple in his argument. If the Greens don’t run a candidate, it’s far from clear that the race will be limited to two corporate nominees. Unlike every Democratic frontrunner since the Green Party first sprouted here, the likely nominee, Howard Dean, is dependent not on a small group of large donors or power brokers but on a huge base of small contributors. No one can prove this, but it sure looks like lots of grassroots Democrats and independents (and no doubt some Greens) are with Dean not only because they don’t want a repeat of the past two disastrous election cycles but also because, at some level, they agree with Nader’s trenchant critique of Democratic establishmentarianism and want to overthrow it–from the inside!

Moreover, McLarty’s effort to tar the likely Democratic nominee with the sins of corpocrats in Congress just doesn’t wash. Unlike Gore in 2000–who was a close companion of Bush on almost everything except guns and abortion, and to the right of Bush on military spending–Dean is an outspoken opponent of the invasion of Iraq, an advocate for universal health coverage (albeit implemented in steps), a late but welcome skeptic on NAFTA and other so-called free-trade deals, a counterpuncher against corporate corruption who has talked about “re-regulating” some sectors of the economy, a critic of the worst features of the Patriot Act, a friend of working people and organized labor who has called for raising the minimum wage to $6.65 and for a $100 billion jobs program, and a scathing foe of big money in politics–to take some salient examples.

Dean is also standing up for gay civil rights and trying to meet Republican racebaiting head-on with a call to common economic interests. I also don’t see him endorsing the hasty execution of a brain-damaged African-American man in order to shore up his standing among Southerners. (And speaking of race, it’s depressing that no Green letter-writer gives acknowledgment to the anti-Nader views of Hartford City Council majority leader Elizabeth Horton Sheff, one of the Greens’ few elected people of color, as I reported. I stand by my quote of John Rensenbrink, by the way, which I understood to mean that Nader didn’t grasp the need to campaign harder among communities of color, not that he was in any way a racist.)

Is Howard Dean a perfect progressive populist? Hardly. But I don’t see anyone better emerging this year. Is he the same person who governed Vermont as a business-friendly centrist for more than a decade? Certainly, though the process of running for President–especially when one is forced to find a maverick path through a field already crowded with establishment types–seems to have opened Dean’s eyes in many important ways. Will he betray the hopes he is now lifting, like the last Democratic governor from a small, rural state elected to the White House? Maybe. But what impresses me most about Dean is the way his campaign is giving his supporters the tools and motivation to hold him accountable to his own promises.

Will they seize the power that Dean keeps telling them they have, or will they subordinate their potential to decide for themselves how to direct their own organizing to whatever the doctor prescribes? The technology they are creating–the MeetUps, the blogs, DeanSpace, Get Local!–could make this into a vital and organic movement from below. But the psychology of civic engagement needs to change too. To Dean’s credit, he tells audiences–like Nader, in fact–that they shouldn’t believe any politician who claims that his election alone will solve their problems. If Dean’s network of self-activating supporters keeps growing and learning, it hints at a democratic promise that we haven’t seen since the intense local, face-to-face organization of the People’s Party of the 1880s and ’90s.

In this context, does another campaign by Ralph Nader make sense? Not if it tries to indiscriminately tar the Democratic candidate with the same pro-corporate, antidemocracy brush Nader justifiably painted Gore and Bush with in 2000. And certainly not if a third Nader campaign puts energy and resources into swing states where a popular front against Bush is most needed.

Of course, Nader has the right to run wherever he wants, and voters who can never stomach the thought of compromising even one of their principles can have the satisfaction of voting their conscience by supporting whomever they want. But the vast majority of progressive voters–concerned about preserving the chance for a more humane, more democratic and more hopeful future–will choose the candidate who has the best chance of removing Bush from the White House next November. How alienating those voters with an indiscriminate run for the presidency builds the Green Party or advances Nader’s vision is beyond me.

MICAH L. SIFRY