kucinichThe choices of the principled progressive voter in the November US elections are looking more and more dismal.

I’ve been reading the damning reports on Ralph Nader’s egomania, which has now led to a falling out with the US Green Party. Nader’s attempt to get on the ballot in all fifty states has attracted a cynical coalition of nihilistic leftists and split-the-left-vote rightists. Unlike some of his moving speeches in the 1990s, Nader’s recent diatribes seem spiked with bitterness, spurious argument and ludicrous idealism. Depite his plaints to the contrary, there is almost no doubt that in a first-past-the-post electoral system, the few people who will be inspired to come out to the polls just to vote for Nader (who otherwise would not vote at all, and who might cast votes for other progressives while they’re at it) are miniscule compared to the number that might vote for Nader instead of Kerry, and risk a repeat of the 2000 disaster. Or for that matter, a repeat of what happened in Canada last week, where the two progressive choices outside Quebec, the NDP and the Greens, split the vote and between them got 20% of the votes but only 6% of the seats, in the lowest-turnout federal election in over a century.

Meanwhile the US Greens aren’t looking any better. They were bitterly divided on whether to ‘endorse’ Nader again in 2004, even though he’s running as an Independent whether or not he gets their endorsation, and even though he refused to attend the nominating convention. The alternative was to nominate instead David Cobb who pledged to run only in states where either Bush or Kerry has a large lead in the polls. They opted to nominate Cobb, but now it appears he is planning on running, like Nader, in as many states as possible, including swing states, so there are now two progressive candidates who could siphon off anti-Bush votes from Kerry. The US Green Party websites (there are several, which is confusing), are a mess — badly laid out, self-contradictory and full of broken links, and unlike the situation in 2000 where the Platform was a work of art, the party looks strictly amateur this year.

And after some promising early missives, the Kerry campaign is looking more and more right-of-centre, to the point of being almost indistinguishable in substance from Bush’s. Progressives looking for a clear endorsement of the Kyoto Accord, a repudiation of NAFTA and other pro-corporatist legislation, immediate cancellation of the despicable Patriot Act, serious political campaign finance reform, an end to the grossly undemocratic and disenfranchising scourge of gerrymandering, the introduction of proportional representation and instant runoff voting, or a plan for a swift military exit from Iraq and Afghanistan, will look in vain on the Kerry website, that is instead filled with platitudes and vague homilies. Progressives have said the Democrats are just as beholden to rich corporate and military imperialist interests as the Republicans, and there is nothing in Kerry’s messages so far to deflect such criticism.

Such a squandering of the opportunity to unite and rid America of the worst president in its history and present voters with an unmistakable choice and contrast in 2004 is inexcusable. To hope and expect Bush to defeat himself by sheer incompetence may be a viable election strategy, but it is a cowardly one, and an insult to the electorate, which deserves assurances of immediate and unequivocable rollbacks of this miscreant president’s ideological and criminal agenda of the past four years, and decisive constitutional actions to prevent their recurrence. It is almost as if Nader, the Greens, and the Democrats are daring progressives to stay home on election night.

It is foolish and naive for progressives to ignore the realities of the current political system and to run candidates who cannot possibly win or even get reasonable press and public attention for their causes by running. Nader and the Greens should be furiously lobbying electable progressives in the Democratic and Republican parties (yes, there are a few progressive Republicans) to vocally support and work towards specific legislation and regulations that will improve the social and environmental welfare of America and the world, defeat corporatism, and improve the political and electoral system. The power isn’t all in the presidency. Focusing so much time and attention on futile attempts to get individuals elected diverts energies from broadly-supported programs to being about legitimate, urgently needed and sustainable progressive reforms to the social, political, economc, regulatory, judicial, financial and tax systems of America.

The only responsible approach for progressives to take now, and in November, is to fight at the grassroots level for better legislation, and enforcement of legislation, that advances the progressive cause, and to vote for the most progressive candidate in each contest, from the presidential race on down, who has a reasonable chance of winning. Instead of running Quixotic campaigns, Nader and the Greens should be providing progressive voters with comprehensive, well-documented lists of recommended candidates in every race in the country, and then, when a disproportionate number of those candidates win, getting those candidates to return the favour by supporting progressive legislation and enforcement of it.

Dennis Kucinich was the only candidate with a clear progressive voice during the 2004 campaign. Progressives need to give him their total support, and work hard to keep him and his ideas in the limelight. The idea that he is unelectable is nonsense — he is far more moderate in his views than Bush, and while his views are threatening to the corporatist establishment, that establishment has no more power than the grassroots of American politics. He is certainly more likely to be elected than an independent or fringe party candidate in a system rigged to favour just two parties. Kucinich can reform the system from the inside, and there are important precedents for this in American history. Rallying around Kucinich, giving him a continuing voice in the IndyMedia, encouraging him to be the spokesman for the progressive movement, makes far more sense than wasting a precious vote on a candidate with no chance of winning, and no significant influence in the halls of power.

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  1. Cyndy says:

    It’s depressing to see what’s happening inside supposedly progressive groups at the moment. The fear of Bush getting re-selected is being pitted against the nonsense of Cobb and Nader and very few people are looking at the big picture. The Democratic platform is a joke and Kucinich, with support, could have the power to influence it. I’m just afraid that people are too caught up in their arguments to get busy and support him. I’m definitely going to pass your words around because they are the best I’ve heard in months!

  2. Rob Paterson says:

    I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday and I am so depressed Dave. The capture of the Hill by Corporate America is complete and I think that you are correct that kerry is just as much a slave as Bush. How does one have a grass roots revolution in the west? for surely the issue is wider than the US and includes most western states?

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, Cyndy. Maybe we need a coalition of progressive groups to get together and ‘select’ Kucinich to be their/our ‘Thought Leader’ and give him a regular platform. If Kucinich became a sustained meme in the left half of the blogosphere it would be hard(er) for the mainstream media to ignore. Ideas and (in both senses of the word) intelligence are our weapons, mightier than either pen or sword.Rob: There’s a prescription in an unlikely place — Richard Manning’s book “Against the Grain”. I’ll be blogging on it tomorrow.

  4. Clarity says:

    Thanks so much for this! There is a wonderful site which is working on setting up Democratic Progressive Caucuses in each state. We have one here in Utah – check out http://www.udpc.orgClarity

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Good stuff, Clarity. This is especially encouraging because it’s old-style grass-roots organization mostly by and for young people. Woody Guthrie would be proud.

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