America's Political Spectrum
Keeping the Flame Alive: Greens Anchor The Spectrum
by Barrington Daltrey
America was founded on the concept that people are entitled to "life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Today the Green Party is keeping that flame alive.
Unlike the Democrats and Republicans, the Green Party has a rock solid set of values that don't change based on polls and corporate contributions. Click the links above at right, visit the Democrats and Republicans, and see if you can find the values they stand for. Instead, you'll find vague platitudes that obscure the shifting sands of their ideals. Their platforms change as the demands of their funders change.
The Green Party has 10 Key Values and, remarkably, most Americans agree with them. Greens want everyone to have: a
safe sustainable environment; affordable healthcare; and a living
wage. Greens are against killing and war. Greens think that when making social decisions, we should come to consensus, which encourages us to work together instead of launching partisan policies (like aggressive wars). It's pretty hard to
argue against the Green Party position on moral or ethical grounds,
so no one really tries.
Instead, voters are asked to be pragmatic. Greens can't really get
elected, we're told. If we really tried to save the environment, we wouldn't have any jobs. If healthcare were affordable, the public sector would go bankrupt. If employers had to pay a living wage, they'd all go out
And the biggest of all: If we weren't willing to kill
people in large numbers, how would we protect America?
Many common folks have come to see through this nonsense.
Pragmatism vs. Idealism
If we are truly "pragmatic," it's obvious Greens cannot affect the outcome of the 2004 election. There simply are not enough registered Greens to make a difference. As they did in 2000, more Democrats will vote for George Bush than for the Green candidate; even if every Green voted for the Democrat, it still wouldn't affect the outcome in any state. So, Greens can go about happily and diligently pursuing the 10 Key Values without worrying that any "pragmatic"
considerations will get in the way of their idealism -- and without
voting for Howard Dean.
Being a Green is not about pragmatism; it's about keeping the flame
alive. It's about envisioning and pushing for political progress when no one else is. It's about believing America can be a better place and working diligently to make it happen.
Being a Green is also not just about idealism. The Green Party has an influence far beyond its voter registration and the other parties know it.
Green Party candidates regularly draw votes considerably in excess of
the number of registered Greens. And the Green Party is constantly
expanding its registered voter base. Neither the Democrats nor the
Republicans can make these claims.
If Green candidates generally do not get elected, their principles
are nevertheless entering the mainstream. And the more Greens there are, the more quickly this happens. For instance, more and more
groups are now using a consensus approach to decision-making, because it
makes sense. Consensus is not about "winning," it's about finding
the best solution. In San Francisco, Matt Gonzalez was recently
elected President of the Board of Supervisors -- even though the
Democrats held sufficient votes to elect one of their own. They
understood that Matt was there to find solutions, not to "win."
Against considerable internal party pressure, the Democrats selected Matt to lead the Board. [Read G&G's interview with Matt Gonzalez - ed.]
The Growing Power of the Green Party
The Republicans look at the Green Party with a sort of benign
amusement. Green voters were never likely to vote for Republican candidates
anyway, so from their point of view Green candidates divide the
"progressive" vote and help Republicans get elected. (We Greens keep
secret the fact that some of our best activists were once Republicans.)
Still, Republicans are not entirely enjoying the rise of the Greens. Most Republicans joined in bipartisan support for a "no-fly" list that just happens to include many Green activists. After all, vegetarian tree-hugging peace-lovers can be pretty scary: they focus world opinion on
the greedy excesses of the World Trade Organization and NAFTA; they raise uncomfortable questions about genetically modified food; they suggest the poor should not simply keep getting poorer while the wealthy reap ever more financial wealth from supply-side, trickle-down economics; they ask tough questions about troops dying to protect us from weapons of mass disappearance.
Democrats, on the other hand, don't view Greens with amusement at all. They see Greens as wayward Democrats -- though this is often wishful thinking. The Democrats know that Greens have values that the Democrats ought to have -- and maybe used to have. Simply by existing, Greens constantly remind Democrats that they are failing their constituency. And the Greens aren't just existing, they're growing.
So Democrats implore Greens to "join forces" with them. "We are on
your side," they suggest. But looking at where Greens, Democrats
and Republicans stand on the issues shows this isn't true. Check out www.theRealDifference.org. The truth is, Democrats are usually closer to the Republicans than they are to the Greens.
The latest incarnation of "let's join forces" is the "Anyone But
Bush" campaign. Progressives will really be worse off if Bush gets
re-elected, the theory goes. We can't afford four more Bush years!
So we're all supposed to get on the same page and support, for instance, a non-progressive like Howard Dean, because "he can get elected."
The even stranger plea is the theory that Greens should support
Dennis Kucinich. Now, the Democrats are not going to let Kucinich
anywhere near center stage on convention day. They'll take Dean if
they have to, but Kucinich, never. If Kucinich has no chance for the
nomination, why would Greens waste our meager resources backing his
efforts? And, if Dennis wants Green Party support, there is
something obvious he can do to get it. (Hint: Join the Green
If Kucinich joined the Green Party, he could get its presidential
nomination in a heartbeat. Then again, so could Cynthia McKinney.
But crossing the line from pragmatism to idealism is a hard step to take. It's not for the faint of heart.
What The Democrats Are Really After
The Democrats don't need Green Party votes; they need Green Party cover. For Democrats, support from the Green Party is something akin to the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval." If the Greens, with all those 10 Key Values and everything, support the Democrat, then maybe those picky, unenthusiastic swing voters, who sometimes stay home anyway, will support the Democrat too. And perhaps some of the voters who would vote for Bush because "there's no point voting for BushLite" will also reconsider. If the Greens endorse the Democrat, maybe he isn't merely "BushLite."
The thing is, if we are all "progressives," why don't the
Democrats support Instant Runoff Voting? Or real campaign
finance reform? In California, Democrats proposed public campaign
financing that would effectively keep Greens out of office forever.
Democrats think it is a good idea for Democrats and Greens to work
together, but not if the results might lead to better democracy -- or
the possibility more Greens could get elected.
If the Greens endorse the Democrat, maybe he isn't merely 'BushLite.'
Strange as it may sound, we Greens are over here being pragmatic.
Someone's got to keep that flame alive. Someone's got to anchor the spectrum during all this rightward drift. Irrespective of what Greens
do, Democrats and Republicans are going to keep getting elected and
they are going to keep doing repulsive things like passing the
Patriot Act and invading Iraq. But if we continue talking about universal healthcare, real environmental protections, consensus, instant runoff voting, feminism, livable wages, and supporting our troops by bringing them
home -- our issues will rush into a vacuum in the public dialogue.
Oh, and did I mention that around the country, Green candidates are getting elected? It's below the radar for the mainstream media, and the elective offices may not yet be of national importance, but in some places idealism and real issues are beating "pragmatism" and the lesser of two evils.
We will see only more Green victories as the "pragmatic"
choices look increasingly foolish, as the planet looks increasingly dangerous and unlivable, and as we Greens continue to keep the flame alive.
Barrington Daltrey is a lawyer, community activist and member of the
Green Party County Council for Riverside County, California.
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