IN THE CURRENT railing by liberal journalists and pundits against Ralph
Nader's presidential candidacy on the Green Party ticket, I have yet to see
anyone concede a basic fact of democracy: minority parties do not run
candidates merely as a symbolic gesture or to be "spoilers." On the local
level, they run to win. On the state and national levels, they run to
demonstrate enough clout in the voting booths -- or in the ubiquitous pre-
election opinion polls -- that one or both of the majority parties have to
make concessions on various issues. With an enormous amount of grass-roots
effort, the status quo can thus be moved via the democratic electoral process.
As the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush became almost even in the
final two weeks of the campaign, I expected the Democrats to do what majority
parties all over the world do when they realize they cannot prevail at the
polls without appealing to a particular minority party. In Europe, for
instance, liberal parties have often formed reluctant but effective coalitions
with the Green Party for the past decade. On local levels, Greens and
conservatives have sometimes joined forces when the liberals have tried to
impose overdevelopment. In our own country's history, minority parties have
pressured majority parties sufficiently to effect changes in policy.
This scenario for the Greens seemed so obvious that I included it in a
story I wrote in 1996 as the closing chapter in "The Resurgence of the Real,"
a nonfiction book published by Addison-Wesley in March 1997.
In the story, set in 2024 in an American heartland city, a character
explains what transpired in the presidential election of 2000: Al Gore,
running against unspecified Republican and Green candidates, realized around
the third week of October that he would probably lose without the support of a
large number of Green voters. He finally made some concessions in various
areas and won handily.
This fall, I watched with surprise as the actual Campaign 2000 began to
match my story. When the Gore camp finally began worrying aloud about the
Greens, I thought, "If you want to pick up some Green votes, Al, now's the
time to publicly promise those voters you'll make concessions." Although Nader
declined to meet with Gore, in late October, the Gore camp never revealed
publicly whether they sought the meeting in order to ask him to withdraw from
the election or to propose concessions. If the latter, Gore surely would have
gone public with those proposed concessions in a direct appeal to Green voters.
If the Gore camp never considered concessions, was it because the Democratic
Party is now so thoroughly pro-corporate that no movement whatsoever in the
Green direction is possible?
I am not suggesting that the Green Party leadership (the national
Coordinating Council) would have entered into negotiations with Gore, as
Greens everywhere were working hard to win at least 5 percent of the vote.
However, in the final week of the campaign in the closely contested states,
many Green voters were becoming ambivalent, as the polls showed. Many were
hoping for a way to help Gore without abandoning the Green platform, which was
the product of years of grass-roots effort. Gore could have demonstrated that
he had read the Green Party platform (www.gp.org) and had identified several
issues on which he could publicly promise action, far more action than the
Democratic Party was otherwise likely to take. In that way, he surely would
have gained some badly needed votes.
When Gore finally began to address those crucial Green voters in the
closely contested states, however, it was clear that he and his advisers had
made a colossally self-defeating decision: Gore's response was to lecture,
hector and threaten the Greens. In Minnesota, this strategy reportedly caused
Nader's support to increase by 10 percent almost immediately. Yet Gore
maintained and intensified the attack. The Gore campaign did not even bother
to find out what the 16-year-old Green Party movement in the United States
stands for, assuming instead that we are simply disaffected Democrats with
some ecology tacked on. His failure to make concessions as he canvassed those
crucial states in the eleventh hour reflects the Democratic Party's bankruptcy
regarding issue-based politics.
During the final week of the campaign, the Democrats addressed Green voters
as naughty children who needed to be whipped into shape. That metaphor is now
commonly used by the anti-Nader liberal media: the pro-corporate people are
the grown-ups, while grass-roots groups calling for sound alternatives are
mere children. Yet, Nader noted, after the election the Green Party now has a
national mandate of several million voters and supporters to be the watchdog
party that pressures the corporate parties.
Although the Democrats do not admit it publicly, there is no denying that
one of Gore's crucial errors in the late stages of the campaign was his
decision not to treat the Greens as a legitimate political force in our
Charlene Spretnak is a co-founder of the Green Party movement in the United States and is co-author of "Green Politics: The Global Promise" (Dutton, 1984). She lives in Half Moon Bay.
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle