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Here We Go Again

What’s more important: running a Green for president or beating Bush?

"November 3, 2004: George W. Bush was returned to the White House for another four years after Green Party candidate Ralph Nader drew off enough votes from the Democratic challenger . . ."

The prospect of postelection stories like this is giving many environmental voters and Democratic Party strategists night sweats. It also worries some Green Party activists—but not enough to stop the party from deciding at its national meeting in Washington, D.C., in late July to forge ahead with a 2004 White House bid. Several presidential hopefuls were on hand to address the gathering, and former Georgia representative Cynthia McKinney (D) and 2000 party candidate Ralph Nader sent their compliments. Nader has yet to formally commit himself, but his statements suggest a strong inclination to run again. He promises a decision early in 2004.

Many Democrats are still convinced that Nader’s presence in the 2000 race—particularly his vigorous campaigning in the closely fought "swing states"—cost Al Gore the election. (If one-third of Nader’s 22,198 votes in New Hampshire had gone to Gore, for example, Gore would be in the White House today, Florida notwithstanding.) Even some who voted for Nader are having a change of heart: "It’s time to repent," says an open letter from repentantnadervoter.com, "because Bush is so bad."

Unrepentant Greens, however, deny having any electoral effect whatsoever. They even provide a downloadable flyer (at www.gp.org) insisting that if the election was spoiled, it was by anyone but them: the Supreme Court, Gore’s weak campaigning, and so on (a position lampooned by Democrats as "Gore is to blame because he didn’t stop me from harming my own interests").

Some Greens worry that without a candidate, they will be ignored. "The more votes we get, the more seriously our alternatives will be taken by the public," argued New York Green activist Howie Hawkins at a regional meeting this June. "We cannot rely on the slick soft-right Democrats to fight the crude hard-right Republicans."

Mark Longabaugh, a senior vice president at the League of Conservation Voters, foresees a possible split in the party over the issue: "I think there’s going to be much more concern about a Nader candidacy," he says, "now that we’ve experienced the worst environmental president in the history of the country." Several prominent Greens, like Texas Observer founder Ronnie Dugger and 2000 Green California senatorial candidate Medea Benjamin, are speaking out against a 2004 Green presidential bid. Even Nader’s 2000 running mate, Winona LaDuke, says that she’s going to sit 2004 out and "do whatever it takes to get George W. out of office."

The Greens could still reverse course at their national convention next June, or Nader could withdraw from consideration. At this point, however, neither seems likely. Although generally sympathetic to the Greens, columnist Norman Solomon notes that the party "has become an odd sort of counterpoint . . . to the liberal Democrats [who] routinely sacrifice principles and idealism in the name of electoral strategy. The Greens are now doing the reverse—proceeding toward the 2004 presidential race without any semblance of a viable electoral strategy, all in the name of principled idealism." —Paul Rauber

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