This dispute has been roiling Green Party ranks for some time [see Ronnie Dugger, "Ralph, Don't Run," December 2, 2002]. In May, Rensenbrink and Tom Sevigny (then one of the party's five national co-chairs) circulated a memo proposing that the Greens run a vigorous, "home-grown" candidate for President, not Nader. This candidate would run with the intention of supporting the Democratic ticket if the race was very close, concentrating on "safe" states where Bush or a Democrat would be very likely to win and thus a Green effort would pose little risk of helping Bush. (Only seventeen states are generally considered to be "in play.") Greens would focus on a handful of Congressional races, with Nader running for Senate from Connecticut, his home state.
This proposal prompted a strong counterstatement circulated by Ben Manski, a youthful firebrand who was Nader's Midwest field coordinator in 2000 and has been a party co-chair since 2001. Manski's manifesto, titled "2004 in Perspective: Green & Growing," rapidly gained the endorsement of more than 160 party activists, including at least ten elected officials. It starts with a restatement of the party's hopes to effect the political transformation of America. Recalling the corporate free-trade inclinations of the Clinton/Gore years, bipartisan support for intervention and empire, and unaddressed issues like global warming, "Green & Growing" asserts that the party is ready to aim for and achieve "realistic" goals as a genuine opposition to both major parties. And the manifesto insists that the 2004 presidential race "is vital for the Greens":
It's the race which deals directly with national policy, and which defines for the voters the Greens as a real party.... A strong Green presidential ticket will provide voters with the means to confront the establishment parties for their disastrous economic, international, ecological, and social policies. A strong Green ticket will force the establishment to address the failures of the electoral system, and to choose between the implementation of reforms such as Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), and the continued loss of votes to the Greens. A strong Green ticket will bring nonvoters into the arena of electoral politics, and thus strengthen the overall movement for democracy in the United States.
Dean Myerson, until October the Greens' national political coordinator and thus formally neutral in such arguments, disagrees--and, indeed, believes 2004 is the "most dangerous year" in the party's existence. "The best strategy to build the party," Myerson tells me, "is to not focus on states where we'll do poorly. Why should we hook ourselves to the Democrats' strategy and campaign against them? We should campaign in nonbattleground states and safe states. In medium-sized cities Nader will be on the front page--he'll actually get to talk about his issues and keep the focus there, not on his being a 'spoiler.'" Myerson insists that this is the year the party has to demonstrate its political maturity. "Many people just say to me, look at how the party grew in 2000; that's why we need to run again in '04. And I say, 'Lots of parties run presidential candidates and it doesn't help them grow.'"
Right now, the Green debate over 2004 breaks into three distinct camps. There are those, a definite minority, who don't want the party to run any presidential candidate at all. There is another group, also a distinct minority, that backs Nader as the party's best spokesman and wants him to run an unconditional national campaign, though their motivations run from hard-core oppositionism to wanting to maximize their leverage in the event the race is close. The third group wants some version of a "safe states" strategy, and holds all shades of opinion as to whether Nader is the best candidate for it.
Ross Mirkarimi, an investigator in the San Francisco district attorney's office, who ran Nader's 2000 California operation and has often functioned as the state party's media spokesperson, has perhaps the most nuanced view. "We can devise a campaign plan that can contribute to the unseating of Bush while building the Green Party," he argues, noting that "we may be shopping for popular votes while the Democrats are shopping for electoral votes." Choosing his words slowly, he insists, "Democrats need to drive carefully as to where Greens may go, and the Greens need to do the same thing. A mechanism may be needed, whether it's over the table or covert, a sort of red phone to avoid danger and exercise diplomacy" [see "The Democrat-Green Death Struggle," opposite]. Is Nader capable of playing such a flexible role? "Ralph alone is not capable of acting in this manner," Mirkarimi says. "Ralph and a team and the party together are capable of devising such a strategy." Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and the Greens' 2000 candidate for US Senate in California, agrees that it's hard to see Nader calibrating his message and strategy in this way on his own. "I worry about the reputation of the Greens," she told me. "I think we'd get less votes with Nader this time than last time." Benjamin wants the Greens to be players in the presidential election, but only if the overarching goal is beating Bush.