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April 19, 2002
Responses to Greens or Green (Egalitarian) Democrats? continued

Read the article.

G William Domhoff’s position depends on practical grounds since he generally agrees with the Green Party perspective on the Democratic Party. As is often the case in this debate, he ignores some critical points.

First, recent attempts by progressives to work within the Democratic Party, such as presidential efforts with Jesse Jackson and Jerry Brown, yielded no gains in moving the Democratic Party to the left or in opening it to our point of view. Other recent third-party efforts may not have been any more successful, but that leaves the debating to a different point. The Green Party is already more successful than the Citizens Party or other left parties of recent years, and it continues to grow.

Second, electoral reform is viable. Recent experiences in other countries that have changed from winner-take-all systems, as well as initial movement toward reform in this country, demonstrate that such reforms are possible. They will be supported by the major parties, but only if third parties show independence and longevity. Domhoff’s suggested path would clearly doom any electoral reform.

Third, grassroots participation suffers in the current system. The lower turnout of recent years has mirrored the right-wing shift of the Democratic Party. In fact, it is progressives’ attempts to work within the Democratic Party and the extreme compromises required to do so have contributed to the weakness of left politics in the U.S. Democratic Party politics simply will not motivate the grassroots to get excited and it drives voter turnout down. History shows that higher turnout benefits progressive politics. Domhoff’s strategy weakens us with our base.

Fourth, in most cases, primary elections are a graveyard for progressive politics because media coverage and voter attention and turnout is at a minimum. Democrat Leadership Council mavens advocate this strategy because they can dispatch us without anybody noticing. This is especially true in the 2000 presidential race with its compacted primary schedule, where the expectation that you might win results brings in millions of dollars for a candidate to survive to Super Tuesday.

We currently have a number of elected progressives in the Democratic Party. They are well-intentioned folks who are trying. But it seems that they are most welcome in the Democratic Party when solicited to attack the Greens or Ralph Nader. Their few good votes in Congress have not led to growth in the strength of progressive politics in the Democratic Party or the country.

The Green Party's strategy of standing independent from the corporate parties has the advantage of motivating those who we need most to be politically active. It's true that we have further to go to succeed with this, but the Greens are growing, and our base fully supports our independent stand and unwillingness to protect the Democratic Party. We are the broadest progressive political force in the country and the only global political party.

We only wonder what it will take for those like G. William Domhoff to decide to stand by both their principles and long-term practical considerations, and support those they know to be the best candidates. I don't know the answer, but we in the Green Party will continue to run the best candidates—and elect them—until all progressives see the Green Party as the best route for genuine progressive political change.

Dean Myerson
Green Party Political Coordinator
Washington, D.C.



G William Domhoff’s analysis of the Nader campaign is on target in most respects but contains one major flaw. He is mistaken in saying “there is no way to build a third party without damaging the short-run interests of the everyday people who vote for the Democratic Party as a way of trying to make small gains or just stay even while living their lives.”

There is a way—one that I unsuccessfully tried to get Nader and his campaign director to consider in 2000. We could run “conditional” campaigns, particularly in presidential elections. These are the most important elections for nationally ambitious third parties, because people pay far more attention to them than to other elections. The best overall strategy for a progressive presidential candidate is not, as Domhoff argues, to run only in Democratic primaries but to run first in Democratic primaries and, if not victorious, again in a follow-up third-party conditional campaign.

A conditional campaign is one that asks people to conditionally support a candidate pending an independent survey of voter opinion 10 days or so before election day. If that survey shows that the candidate has no reasonable hope of winning, the candidate and the third party will then make a last minute public appeal to the candidate’s supporters to vote instead for the best (or least bad) of the major party candidates in every state except where the other major party candidate is certain to win. (In those states, people would still be urged to vote for the third party-candidate, because doing so wouldn’t affect the election’s outcome and would help boost the candidate’s national vote total.)

Such a last minute appeal wouldn’t make a third party or its candidate appear weak. To the contrary, it would make them look pragmatic and responsible and would produce the best possible outcome short of an election day victory.

First, a conditional strategy is the best hope for enabling a third party to maximize public support as expressed in public opinion surveys, which nearly everyone takes seriously, including people who loudly declare surveys to be irrelevant or untrustworthy. Had Nader run a conditional campaign, his support in surveys might well have climbed above 15 percent prior to the debates, enabling him to present his case on national TV to 100 million people instead of just at a dozen or so “super rallies” to crowds of 10 or 15 thousand. It is even conceivable that Nader could have pulled off a victory over Bush and Gore if he had run a well-organized conditional campaign.

Second, assuming a third-party candidate receives enough support in opinion surveys to seriously threaten the least bad major party candidate, that candidate (and the major party) will be forced to concede that the third party has significant public support and must be taken seriously and treated accordingly. This will enable the third party candidate to negotiate both pre-election and post-election concessions of various kinds.

At the least, the major party candidate will surely agree to provide financial and other assistance to the third party candidate when she or he makes a last minute appeal to voters to support the major party candidate except in states where that candidate has no chance of winning. That well-promoted appeal, which is also certain to be prominently reported by the news media, will give the third party much additional favorable national publicity in the week prior to the election, when people are paying the most attention.

I never had much hope that Nader would be interested in this proposal, because he had long been insisting that there was no significant difference between Bush and Gore (which made him seem either dishonest or foolish to many voters).

Therefore, I tried to form a “conditional Nader coalition” that would be independent of the Nader Campaign and would run its own conditional campaign whether Nader liked it or not. Such a campaign might have succeeded if I had raised enough money soon enough to get it off the ground quickly. But my fundraising efforts were inadequate, and in any case, I was very late in coming up with my proposal, just as Nader had been very late in making his decision to enter the presidential race.

But a conditional presidential campaign remains the best hope for the Green Party or any other progressive third party that may arise in the future. It could also work for Nader in 2004 if only he would stop pigheadedly defending his antiquated political views and begin paying careful and open-minded attention to Domhoff and other knowledgeable and sophisticated analysts of our single-member district plurality electoral system.

As much as we might like to see the current system radically reformed, it won’t be reformed until we find ways to elect people under the current system who are progressive enough to support the kinds of reforms that are needed.

Ralph Suter



G William Domhoff put a lot of effort into his satire of a Democratic Primary featuring Ralph Nader, and I appreciated it. He splendidly (yet unknowingly) pointed out the faults in the argument that Nader should have ran as a Democrat. Unfortunately, he should have focused his efforts on finding fault with Nader’s run as a Green Party candidate—not because I would have enjoyed reading a better critique of Nader’s Green Party run, but because he would have realized that most of his arguments are weak, and perhaps Nader wasn’t such an elitist, delusional bastard for staying in the race.

“But many Nader voters were probably Democrats who voted for Cantwell and other Democrats,” Domhoff writes. Does Domhoff think that ALL of these voters would have turned out for Gore and Cantwell, or would he admit that perhaps there were voters inspired to go to the ballot box by Nader, who also checked off on Cantwell? Not all Democrats vote, and for good reason.

And I must have missed his argument that new ideas come predominantly from the Republican and Democratic primaries... or was that just implied? Well, how about putting an end to the death penalty (or at least halting it while innocent lives are lost to it)? How about ending the War on Drugs as we know it, the prison-industrial complex, or the military-industrial complex? How about reparations for slavery? Equal rights for gays, lesbians, and transgendereds? Universal health care? Instant Runoff Voting? Publicly-funded elections? Free airtime for candidates on the taxpayer-owned airwaves? How about forcing welfare reform on corporations before forcing it on the nation’s poor? How about ending the tyranny of the WTO and IMF, and the un-democratic trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA?

Those ideas and many others are coming from third parties—most prominently, the Green Party of the United States. Domhoff also dismisses Nader’s claims that he took votes from the center and the right. But I surely know some people who are right-of-center who voted for Nader, simply because the two other choices were an insult to any self-respecting American voter. The campaigns were a joke, the press reporting was a joke, the debates were a travesty, and the elections and their aftermath were proof that our system is fucked. Gore proved that he does not give two shits about his African-American supporters by allowing a conservative Supreme Court to hand the election to Bush on the grounds of equal protection of the law. Voting rights were not asserted, claims of disenfranchisement were ignored, and Gore was silent and obedient.

Instead of further vilifying Nader for having made incorrect assumptions about the support the American people could have for him and his ideas, I think it would be more fruitful to look at the system that kept him from reaching the masses in the first place. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. When he did get heard, he was appreciated. He had a lot to say that Americans of all stripes wanted to hear. But they didn’t hear it. He didn’t play by the allowed rules, and he got slammed for it—in the New York Times, in the Boston Globe. And he wasn’t ignored because he’s a monotonous speaker, or because his views are a bit nutty—he was intentionally and maliciously ignored because his views were dangerous. Dangerous to the system as it stands, to the corporate media, to the corporate government. He had some revolutionary ideas that just couldn’t be given a spotlight or all hell might have broken loose. Ideas like a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Nader’s efforts in 2000 go well beyond “party-building,” though that’s the greatest accomplishment of his run. He reached many millions of Americans (he was getting 7 percent in some national polls before Gore and the media finally acknowledged his presence), inspired several million to get involved in being active citizens for the first time in their lives. He reached the youth of this country—typically labeled apathetic—and gave them reason to be optimistic instead of cynical.

In the end, he came away with nearly three million votes, and encouraged enough people to dedicate themselves to building a party that focuses on issues of importance to them. The events of September 11th and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are even more reason to start searching for alternative thoughts on our foreign policy, our foreign dependencies, and the influence of money on our government. In those three respects, there truly is little difference between the two major parties. It’s not about voting one’s conscience. That’s bull. We each consider our vote to be a tool. And if voting for Gore would have increased the likelihood that we get more and more vile candidates for President every four years, then I am satisfied with my vote for Nader.

Nader didn’t reach the everyday people that Domhoff loves and respects so passionately. But it had nothing to do with his message, and everything to do with the rigged system he was operating in. If Domhoff doesn’t believe that media attention and a spot in the debates aren’t so meaningful when it comes to the final vote tallies, then I ask him this: What was the danger then of simply allowing Nader to debate? The truth is that the media, along with the two major party campaigns, controlled the dialogue. And the dialogue was far more concerned with Gore’s earth-toned wardrobe and Bush’s “major league a-hole” comment than it was with the substantive differences in their records, their platforms and their beliefs.

As Ellen Willis put it best in the March 2001 issue of Dissent, “The Nader campaign ... was based on the idea that the hegemonic corporatism espoused by the major parties was preventing oppositional ideas from reaching the American people in the first place.”

Eli Beckerman
Somerville, Massachusetts

This article was crap. If the goddamned Democrats had been doing their job and paying attention to their party base, the Nader campaign would have had no appeal. Gore didn’t even win his own state, or Arkansas, which should be a complete embarrassment for him. The writer makes no mention of the failures of the Gore campaign. The debates were disgusting for many reasons. If Gore hadn’t spent his response time saying “me too,” and trying so desperately to appear like George W. Bush, perhaps appropriately disgusted Democrats wouldn’t have jumped ship. Nader was the only candidate talking about the real issue of our times, the corporate control of everything. The Green Party will continue to grow and attract new voters, even disaffected Democrats, until the Democrats return to their roots. So how do you make that happen? With third-party candidates who run on issues that are truly important to every American, such as a living wage, campaign finance reform and social justice. Domhoff sounds like just another bitter democrat who was willing to spend a little more time than most to discredit the Nader campaign, and who is not willing to look at the real causes of the failures of the Democratic Party.

Monica Griffin
Texas



Here we go again. More Nader versus Gore. The main point that needs to be emphasized is not how many votes Gore MAY have gotten if Nader wasn’t in the election, but why Gore did not get more votes from Bush. And why, after losing due to a flawed electoral system, the Democrats still haven’t passed any legislation to repeal the electoral college.

The main reason Bush beat Gore (other than the Supreme Court) is that Gore was/is a horrible candidate. He has no character, charm or passion. He failed to appeal to the Democratic base and after eight years of regressive Clinton/Gore, many lefties felt betrayed and apathetic. He could have changed that by speaking more about progressive issues such as alternative energy (rather than “clean coal”), protecting working families (rather than the social security lock-box) and pushing for universal health care (rather than stopping only at prescriptions for seniors). These points combined with the draconian welfare reform make the Democrats sound very similar to the Republicans and thus pushed many liberals and progressives to support Nader.

G. William Domhoff shouldn’t get on the soap box and blame our horrible state of affairs on Nader and progressive voters who refuse to vote for a corporate lackey. Blame them on Gore for being lame, and on the Democrats who can’t get a good candidate. Blame them on the Democrats that, with the exception of Barbara Lee, voted to give Bush dangerous powers to wage war on the world, to spend enormous amounts of money on defense and to take away our civil liberties. Blame the Democrats that had no spine in the early Clinton years (when they had a majority) to pass any meaningful legislation and on the contrary passed NAFTA (with enormous pressure from Clinton AND Gore).

Domhoff’s scenario of Nader abandoning his beliefs to endorse Gore at the Democratic convention made me ill. It was pure fantasy to think that Gore would give more than a few token positions to Naderites in exchange for his support. That is the definition of sell-out. In addition, Jesse Jackson ran once as a third-party candidate, so Domhoff’s point about Jackson’s power is moot.

Let us not dwell on the past but instead talk about the present. Let us inspire activists to prevent the assault by Bush. Let us bring scrutiny to the Democrats that refuse to oppose much of the Bush assault. The precedent was set by the Republicans during the Clinton years, now it is time for payback. The problem is, the majority of Democrats are equally in bed with the money that the Republicans allow dictate their policy. So it would be impossible to have a unified front to protect working people, families and the environment. To continue to support a party that doesn’t support us is demoralizing. Nader was effective in inspiring activists, now it is time to grow!

D. Moore
Seattle, Washington



A response to three (3) comments of G. William Domhoff, a man I have mostly admired over the years:

1. Domhoff says Nader “does not emphasize that the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 actually changed the two-party system dramatically by making it possible for Southern black voters to push Southern white conservatives into the Republican Party. Thanks to that act, the Democratic Party is no longer the instrument of the Southern white rich, with the primary function of keeping African-Americans powerless in the South.” Does Domhoff really think it was “black voters who pushed Southern white conservatives into the Republican Party?” Talk about blaming the victim. Domhoff lets the Democratic Party and the mainstream labor unions off the hook for not organizing the American South beginning in the late 1960’s. Nader’s point in going Green, ironically, was to push for labor rights that a corporatized Democratic Party has promised over the past 30 years, but never delivered. Today, unlike 30 years ago, most Democratic Party candidates don’t even know what 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act is. And yes, they did vote against fast-track, but that’s out of short-term fear. Had Gore won, he would have, as with Clinton, provided them cover to vote for more job-killing and environmentally unsound corporate trade agreements. And if Domhoff can’t see that, he is still smoking marijuana left over from the 1960’s.

2. Domhoff says “Nader tries to (claim)...that he also drew votes from centrists and Republicans, but that argument is not at all convincing or reassuring to the liberal Democrats when they look at the politics of the activists, academics and celebrities who supported Nader. It is as certain as such things can be that a left third party take more votes from Democrats than Republicans, and therefore helps Republicans.”

I guess when you’re a noted professor, as Domhoff is, you don’t need facts to rebut anyone, including Mr. Nader. Did Domhoff not read the polling data showing almost half of Nader’s votes came from people who were either conservative, Republican or independent?

3. Domhoff says “Nader’s entire case against the Commission on Presidential Debates is based on his belief that the media exposure from appearing in the debates would have improved his vote total. In this he is sadly mistaken. Everything he says about the commission and its complicity with corporations and the media is true, as is his point that the candidates of the two major parties really call the shots. But it is trivial, and maybe even totally irrelevant, when it comes to Nader’s major focus, building a strong anti-corporate, egalitarian social movement in the United States with the help of the electoral system.”

Domhoff’s lack of perspective here is breathtaking. Nader was hovering between 5 and 7 percent of the vote in August and September 2000. He had even gotten to 12 percent in a couple of polls during that time. Had he been allowed to join the Democratic-Republican run debates, he would just as likely have smoked the stiff Gore and the ignorant (not stupid) Bush, Jr. with impassioned analyses and sound bites over trade issues, public financing of elections, public health insurance, the failed war on drugs and other criminal justice issues (including the death penalty), mass transit and the revitalization of our civic society. Americans would have heard him say, as did Perot, that we should remove troops from Europe and Saudi Arabia and talk about a more humane set of goals in our foreign affairs. None of these issues were aired in the debates between Gore and Bush. And on each of these issues, people would have learned there is a choice to make--and that Nader agreed with Americans, again with those pesky polls that Domhoff fails to discuss. If Ralph Nader ran against Gore in the primary, the key question would have been not what his issues were, but only “If Gore wins, as he is likely to do, Mr. Nader, will you support him in the fall?” If Nader ever uttered anything other than “yes, sir” they would hound him until he squealed and then continue to attack him as a “disloyal” Democrat. On the issues previously noted, there would have been no gain with a President Gore. Gore, contrary to media spin, means what he says on each of the above issues. Gore is not a liar, or if he is, certainly less than the usual politician.

In all, I think it is important to say the following: It’s not that Domhoff is really wrong because we all have our what if arguments, as I have just aired. What I did not like about his article(s) is Domhoff’s sneer at Nader voters, especially with his lack of authority besides essentially... himself. It is that sneer that makes me say, Domhoff = Dumkopf.

Mitchell J. Freedman
Newbury Park, California

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