The Green Party sometimes is loosely referred to as a fringe movement in American politics, but much of what the Greens stand for is -- or at least should be -- part of our political mainstream.
Is there anything extreme about environmental protection? Universal health care? Campaign finance reform? Civil liberties? These issues are part of the foundation of the platform approved over the weekend at the Green Party's national convention, where noted consumer advocate Ralph Nader was nominated as the Greens' candidate for president. Nader doesn't have to worry about preparing an inauguration address, but there is growing interest in a centrist reform movement aimed at restoring those and other core issues to the national agenda. With the national Reform Party hijacked by Ross Perot's ego and Pat Buchanan's ideology, the Greens may offer the most promising alternative for mainstream voters disgusted by the partisan stalemate in Washington.
To be sure, some elements of the Green platform are legitimately out of the mainstream. Nader sounds almost as isolationist and protectionist as Buchanan (though not as xenophobic) when the subject turns to national security or international trade. However, with leading Democrats and Republicans sounding increasingly in lockstep on issues such as a missile defense system and trade with China, the Greens at least provide a thoughtful counterpoint.
What effect will the Greens have on the 2000 elections? Probably only marginal at best. The party has little national organization and a weak candidate base. (Jello Biafra, former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, was Nader's closest competition for the presidential nomination.) Still, Nader is capable of affecting the outcome of the Bush-Gore contest in several states, from the Pacific Northwest to New England.
The Greens' real potential is for 2004 and beyond. Nader has a good chance to win the 5 percent of the vote that would qualify the Greens for federal matching funds and assure the party a spot on the 2004 ballot.
The Greens already have taken root in many communities, with 78 members holding elective office in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Most of that support has come from progressive voters disenchanted with the Democrats, but Nader promises to appeal to conservatives, too. "Don't conservatives, in contrast to corporationists, want movement toward a safe environment, toward ending corporate welfare?" he asked Sunday. "Let us not in this campaign prejudge any voters." If Nader runs a vigorous and responsible campaign, he may at least force the major-party candidates to stop taking voters for granted and start addressing critical issues that Washington has left in limbo for years.
© St. Petersburg Times