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Red Over Green Party Moves | The Nation

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Red Over Green Party Moves

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Minnesota can be considered a veritable mecca for insurgent third parties. Its governor is maverick independent Jesse Ventura. Its own Democratic Party is an outgrowth of the Farmer-Labor Party.

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Marc Cooper
Marc Cooper, a Nation contributing editor, is an associate professor of professional practice and director of...

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At the biggest Democratic event of the campaign season, Obama argued that the coming election is a choice between the past and the future rather than a referendum on his first two years in office.

He'll probably fend off J.D. Hayworth, but in order to win he's lost most of his principles.

No surprise, then, that its Green Party is one of the best organized in the country. After winning more than 5 percent of the state vote in the 2000 presidential election, the Minnesota Greens now qualify for major ballot status. Taking advantage of the public financing provisions available as a result, the party could snag as much as $250,000 to run its gubernatorial candidate this fall. Other Greens will compete for other statewide offices and for state legislative seats. Already Greens sit on the Minneapolis and Duluth city councils. For those seeking alternatives to a two-party system ever more beholden to special interests, the news coming from the northern plains this elections cycle could have been welcome.

Could have been. But unfortunately, when hundreds of Minnesota Greens met for their state nominating convention two weeks ago, they took a precipitous lunge toward political suicide. By more than a two-thirds margin, the Minnesota Green Party endorsed a candidate to run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone--arguably the most liberal, themost "Green-ish" member of the US Senate. Wellstone is already engaged in a touch-and-go fight for his political survival. The White House is pouring in support for his conservative rival, Norm Coleman, as the Bushies hunger to retire the obstreperously liberal Wellstone and to simultaneously win back the Senate for the GOP. It is an election in which every vote counts, and even a relatively small Green vote could tip the scales in favor of Coleman.

A Green running against Wellstone has little in common with Ralph Nader's presidential run in the 2000 elections. Greens and other progressives opposed Al Gore because he was too timid on core issues of social justice. By running Nader in the 2000 elections, the Greens had a chance to qualify for millions of dollars in public matching funds, build up their state and local party organizations andinflict some well-deserved and corrective pain on a national Democratic Party that continued to drift rightward.

But what's this got to do with Wellstone? The former college professor is about as liberal as you can get within the Democratic Party. In the 2000 primary Wellstone also opposed Gore, stumping for (and often outshining) candidate Bill Bradley. Unlike Gore (but like the Greens), Wellstone has fought for single-payer health care. He has opposed his own party on the drug war and intervention in Colombia. He faced tear gas and rubber bullets as he marched alongside the Greens against the World Trade Organization's blueprint for corporate globalization in the 1999 "Battle in Seattle." His labor record is impeccable. His environmental record is, well, a lush green.

With all this in mind, the Greens' 2000 vice presidential candidate, Winona LaDuke, sent an open letter to the Minnesota party convention passionately urging it not to endorse a candidate against Wellstone. But LaDuke's plea was pushed aside and her fellow Greens chose a Native American, writer Ed "Eagle Man" McGaa, to run against Wellstone.

Apparently Wellstone's unpardonable sin was to have supported the US military action after September 11 and to have voted, along with ninety-eight other senators, for the USA Patriot Act.

But here comes the really troubling part of this story. Green candidate McGaa, a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, says he also supported a military response to last year's attacks and that he opposes the Green Party's plank on the war against terrorism.

In other words, the Greens--in the name of principle--are risking the defeat of the greenest member of the Senate by running a candidate who agrees with Wellstone on what the party evidently thinks is the make-or-break issue. Talk about not being ready for prime time.

As a backlash against this silly move builds, the Greens are now scrambling to explain away the mess. Some say they "had" to endorse McGaa, otherwise anyone off the street could have paid the filing fees and wound up on the Green primary ballot--and ultimately running as the Green candidate in the final election. But McGaa himself, with little prior visibility among the Greens, seems to have been chosen on the spot and with virtually no serious scrutiny. Within hours of his endorsement by the Greens, McGaa made a series of confusing and intemperate public statements that revealed him to be anything but a reflective student of political strategy. When asked by The Progressive magazine if he was concerned about being a spoiler against Wellstone, McGaa said: "I'm an American Indian. We're not as analytical as you folks are. We observe and go forth with our life.... We're less materialistic."

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