Remember when politics used to be unscripted and fun? David Cobb, presidential nominee of the Green Party, is having fun this year. “I find it exhilarating,” he says, notwithstanding the likelihood he will finish behind even independent Ralph Nader, the Green candidate in 2000. Cobb is a 41-year-old lawyer and community organizer who ran for Texas attorney general before moving to Humboldt County, California, ground zero for green-thinking politics. Cobb playfully ridicules campaign stereotypes with his biographical equivalent of being born in a log cabin.
“I’m proud to say I’m the only presidential candidate in this election who grew up in a house without a flush toilet,” he declares. “I don’t say that to get a pat on the head but to underscore that I grew up in poverty–real poverty–and my running mate [Pat LaMarche of Maine] grew up in a public housing project in Providence, Rhode Island. So when I rail against the corporate capitalist system that oppresses workers, I’m speaking from my own experience. I’ve seen it up close and personal.”
In Houston, where Cobb came of age, he was a dishwasher, construction worker, deckhand on shrimp boats and waiter, working his way through college and law school. “The constant refrain is that Greens are nothing more than upper-middle-class environmentalists, but you know what, that’s the Sierra Club, not the Green Party,” he says. “The Green Party is actually composed of working-class people.”
The Greens’ sensibility is still counterculture, but they’ve become far more inclusive, recruiting union members and urban minorities while also talking about governing issues with less froth, more substance. Double the minimum wage to $10 an hour. Repeal the NAFTA and WTO agreements, also the Taft-Hartley Act. End poverty–literally–with a new system to guarantee “sustainable livelihoods” for all, worthy work and living wages, decentralized economics and politics, an economy transformed to sustain nature rather than destroy it. “There are no good-paying jobs on a dead planet,” Cobb observes.
The electoral reality is that, without the celebrity of Ralph Nader on the ticket, the Green Party will likely finish in asterisk territory with other minor parties. Indeed, a rump group is out working for Nader instead of Cobb. That’s OK with Green Party organizers, who demonstrated party control by nominating Cobb over Nader at the June convention. Their objective is long-term party-building, registering more members, recruiting more candidates for local offices, organizing more state parties. By those terms, they see themselves winning by growing this year, while Democrats and major media direct the heavy fire at Nader.
The Greens in 2004 do not say, as Nader did four years ago, that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans–just not enough difference. A provocative comparison of party positions on the Greens’ website lists what Greens oppose and both major parties support: war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Patriot Act, Israeli occupation of the West Bank, corporate agriculture, corporate welfare, corporate rules for global trade, bank deregulation, increasing military spending, the death penalty. Greens support and Democrats and Republicans oppose: national health insurance, doubling the minimum wage, full public financing for candidates, strict controls on genetically modified organisms, the landmine-ban treaty, real action on global warming, a new legal doctrine of workers’ rights for Americans, electoral reforms that create the political space for a multiparty democracy.