Stealing from the Greens
The full page advertisement for the Green Party that ran in the New York Times the other day, titled 'Sick of Cleaning Up After Other People's Parties?', reminds me of the miserable history third parties have had in America. As most readers know, in the words of one web site --
When third parties have emerged in American political history, their successes have been short-lived. In most cases, the issues or ideas championed by third parties have been 'stolen' by the candidates of one of the two major parties. Sometimes the issue position taken by the third party is even incorporated into the platform of one of the existing parties. * * * With no unique issues to stand on and depleted voter support, third parties generally fade away.
While a Lafollette, a Teddy Roosevelt, or a Ross Perot occasionally may draw double-digit voting percentages, except in highly unique circumstances such as prevailed on the eve of the Civil War, the same two political parties have enjoyed a monopoly on political power at the national level ever since Washington bade farewell to the nation. The current Green candidate database, sad to say, is contemporary evidence of their continuing marginalized status.
Third parties we shall always have with us. Most of the time they face a struggle more difficult than Ralph Nader staring at a half empty hall of Republican obstructionists in the Portland Memorial Coliseum. Yet, as a reputable historical review points out --
Although no direct link necessarily exists between a third party's espousal of a principle and its eventual enactment into law, it is certainly the case that abolitionist, Free-Soil, and Populist politicians focused contemporary public debate on issues of concern to them. Third parties, either as secessionist spin-offs or wholly new organizations, have also contributed to the formation or realignment of major parties. They organized constituencies that became the nuclei of new parties or that existing parties moved to incorporate.[emphasis added]Some analysts and advocates made an effort during the recently concluded campaign to compare the platforms of the Green Party with those of the two major political parties. But in all of the post-election criticism, analysis, rethinking, and self-flagellation over the Democratic Party's mushy message, "social issues," the extremist Religious Right, and the disappointing results, I haven't seen anyone take a second, serious look at the Green Party platform to see if there's anything there worth borrowing in the future. After all, there was a day when a political party's platform actually was intended to be something more than the media release of the day.
The Democrats dumped their platform like a failed TV pilot the moment they left Boston. The Greens seemed to take theirs more seriously. Within its "Ten Key Values" structure, there actually is much to admire (along with a little that seems naive and a few awkward passages where the Greens wander into vagueness not unlike that of the Democratic platform.) Here and there, the Greens do advance a number of ideas that merit more serious attention than anything you'll find in the Republican Party's mash note to Bush.
To summarize three of the more intriguing Green Party positions:
Both Democratic and Green party platforms included the now-obligatory call for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and, mindful of the 2000 Florida debacle, the imperative of counting every vote "fully and fairly." Beyond that and a series of other platitudes, the Democratic platform does not risk specifics. And the Green Party platform, not surprisingly given the party's diminutive status, urges an expansion of "choices in our political system" through increased application of proportional representation voting systems and cumulative voting methods. Good ideas but a hard sell to the average voter who can barely dislodge a chad from a paper ballot.
More dramatically, though, the Greens call for a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College as "an 18th century anachronism." They also advocate "universal voter registration;" an "election day holiday" for more than a day; re-enfranchisement of convicted felons "upon completion of their sentence;" and "a strict requirement of a voter-verified paper audit trail for all voting machines installed across the United States."
Now, there's a sweeping collection of high "value" proposals. Democrats ought to love them. Republicans should fear them. In the end, they are sound and prudent policy proposals that would advance democratic values and reaffirm the "faith based" hope of personal redemption for all souls, even the least among us. Isn't it worthwhile for Democrats to adopt such proposals as their own and become the champions of Democracy Reform and Renewal?
Among other, more predictable military defense proposals, the Greens note that --
The U.S. is the largest arms seller and dealer in the world. We urge our government to prohibit all arms sales to foreign nations and likewise prohibit grants to impoverished and undemocratic nations unless the money is targeted on domestic, non-military needs. In addition, grants to other nations may not be used to release their own funds for military purposes.
In the post-911 Age of Terrorism, this proposal may resonate with a broader segment of the voting public than either major party presently realizes. To be sure, we've been arms merchant to the Terrorist World for decades:
In the period of 1990-1999, the United States supplied 16 of the 18 countries on the State Department list [of nations with active terrorist organizations] with arms through the government-to-government sales under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, or through industry contracted Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) programs, or with military assistance. Recipients included Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka (see below), where, arguably, the risk of diversion is high. In addition, the U.S. military (and the CIA) has trained the forces of many of these 18 countries in U.S. war fighting tactics, in some cases including individuals now involved in terrorism.
It's only become worse since 9-11.
Stopping foreign arms sales not only protects our own citizens who are at risk in foreign countries (missionaries among them, let us remember), it also prevents deadly weapons from winding up in the hands of children.
[S]ome countries receiving U.S. weapons and/or training continue to recruit children for their official armed forces, and many of the terrorist groups residing in those states rely on children as combatants.
Sure, profits of domestic armaments manufacturers would suffer. But what kind of 'values' would Republicans appear to have if they elevate profits over lives of Americans and children abroad?
The Democratic Party's platform is silent on media reform. So, I ask you: did blinkering itself to the ever shrinking number of oligopolists with ever increasing media market dominance win Democratic candidates a fair shake from, say, Sinclair Broadcasting or NewsCorp?
The Democrats have everything to gain from going on the attack against "the media." Two starting points are the FCC rules and Justice Department insouciance that gift corporate media giants with the free use of the public's broadcast spectrum. So what are they afraid of? That Elisabeth ("Really quick, is God on America's side?") Bumiller or Bill ("Talk dirty to me") O'Reilly will get worse?
The Green Party platform stakes out a wildly populist strategy -- and, I would bet it would become a wildly popular one, too -- for advancing the values of the public interest over the greedy corporate interests of media pirates who for too long have abused their
1. Returning ownership and control of the electromagnetic spectrum to the public. We urge the public to reclaim the public airwaves. The privatization of the broadcast airwaves - one of our most important taxpayer assets - has caused serious deformations of our politics and culture.
2. The problem is that private broadcasters control what the public owns. In return for free licenses to use taxpayer property, broadcasters give us a steady stream of increasingly coarse, redundant, superficial programming, and exclusively decide who says what on our public airwaves.The Green platfr
3. Market-priced leasing of any for-profit use of the electromagnetic spectrum.
4. Reasonable restriction on media consolidation, using a public interest standard.
Thirty-five years ago, Spiro Agnew proved that the best way to win fawning, uncritical, and even obsequious coverage from the media is to call them nasty names and claim they're biased. To this day, the Republicans still follow the strategy by attacking the "liberal media" while helping their corporate keepers to buy it all up and dominate the channels of public information and discourse.
The press, bless their masochistic souls, love them for it. "Beat me again. It feels so good when you get hypocritical."
There's common cause to be made with a majority of voters on many of these and other "value issues" in the Green Party platform. Democracy is at risk, as the Seattle Times publisher warned two years ago. If the Democrats-in-name over at the DLC don't see that, the Republican Party soon will.