Greens Nominate Cobb, Send Mixed Signals on Kerry and Iraq

by Mike McCallister

MILWAUKEE, Saturday, June 27, 2004

The Green Party nominated “safe states” candidate David Cobb today after adopting a platform with no mention of the party’s position on the future of Iraq.

Cobb, who managed Ralph Nader’s 2000 Green Party campaign in his native Texas, won 408 votes on the second ballot. “No Candidate,” the option preferred by both Nader supporters and those even queasier about hurting Democrat John Kerry, received 308 votes. Kent Mesplay, who sought to be a compromise candidate, drew 43 votes and last-minute candidate Joanne Bier-Beemon got 8 votes on the second ballot. Three delegates abstained.

The Greens decision was cheered in Democratic Party circles, as it may keep Nader’s independent candidacy off the ballot in California and several other states where undemocratic ballot access laws make it exceedingly difficult for candidates operating outside the two-party duopoly to even get a hearing.

Nader’s running mate and point man at the convention, Peter Camejo, was conciliatory after the vote, according to several supporters who attended a meeting following the balloting. Stressing that the Nader/Camejo campaign would continue, he said that the Green Party would now have to deal with the reality of two strong political tendencies with different orientations.

Camejo had hammered Cobb all weekend over the question of campaign strategy in the “battleground” states where Nader allegedly “spoiled” the election of Democrat Al Gore in 2000. After originally saying he would not campaign in these states, Cobb now says he will campaign there, but “the messaging will be different.”

Cobb has honed his campaign message so carefully that he uses identical sound bites whenever asked the standard questions. The approved line on Kerry is that he is “a corporatist and a militarist who supported the war and the Patriot Act,” but that George W. Bush is a real danger and progressives in swing states should “vote their conscience.” Cobb’s running mate, Pat LaMarche, who does talk radio in Maine, told reporters

Bush was “a threat to the entire world.” People who vote for Democrats “shouldn’t be vilified for making a choice.”

Camejo noted that many of Cobb’s more prominent supporters, like Ted Glick, Joel Kovel, and Medea Benjamin had all cited variations on the theme of Republican Bush as the most dangerous man in the history of the presidency. Asked if Kerry was not a “threat to the entire world,” LaMarche said she didn’t “know anyone more dangerous than George W. Bush.”

Of course, Nader has not been exactly pure on the question of how to relate to the two main bosses’ parties. He has called his candidacy a second front in the struggle to defeat Bush and has called on liberals to “put a scare” into the Democrats. He has accepted the endorsement of what’s left of Ross Perot’s Reform Party (a third capitalist party) and did an interview with a magazine sympathetic to xenophobe proto-fascist Pat Buchanan. He even advised Kerry in an open letter on his campaign website to choose John Edwards as his running mate. Edwards is the pro-war North Carolina senator who adopted a populist message during his run through the Democratic primaries this spring.

At the Green convention Camejo emphasized his own analysis that the corporate rulers are “smart enough to have two parties” and that “the Democrats make the Republicans possible.” Asked about Nader’s comments to the Buchanan magazine against open borders for free immigration, Camejo said that the question of how to deal with mass migrations from country to country was “complex.” Noting that “most migrants don’t want to move—they are forced to move,” he said that Nader is looking for the “most humane way to do this.” He also said that Nader agreed with him on current immigrants’ rights.

When asking Greens to endorse the Nader campaign, Camejo always stressed Nader’s strength in the polls and his ability to draw media attention to what is essentially the same message he carried through the 2000 Green Party campaign. Camejo said that Nader is getting as much as 12% support among young voters, and that up to 10 million people say they support Nader at this point, if the polls are to be believed.

The continuing occupation of Iraq did not actually dominate the attention of the delegates. Camejo in his speeches always cited Iraq and the Patriot Act as the central issues of this presidential campaign. Nader is the only real voice against the war and for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Camejo argued. Cobb has been somewhat more equivocal, saying on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” program on the eve of the convention that the U.S. government “can’t just cut and run.” By the end of the convention, he publicly backed immediate withdrawal. Noting that the generals say they can move five military divisions anywhere in the world in five weeks, he said “we” could get out of Iraq in that time.

The party platform, which few delegates were able to read and was not amendable on the floor, allows Cobb much wiggle room as the campaign goes on. While attacking “preemptive invasions” as “prohibited by international law,” the platform is silent on what to do next on Iraq. A party spokesperson said the platform committee aimed to keep short-term issues out of the platform so it would be valid through the next four years.

Yet in a lengthy section on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is a call for “the complete dismantling of the Israeli ‘separation wall’ in the occupied West Bank.”

Incidentally, the plank on Israel and Palestine (the “Middle East” plank) is excellent, not just calling for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and recognition of a Palestinian state. “We support a U.S. foreign policy which promotes serious reconsideration of the creation of one secular democratic state, for Palestinians and Israelis, on the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan.”

Many working people looking for a way out of the two-party electoral trap joined or supported Labor for Nader committees in 2000. There is strong evidence that large numbers outside the “progressive” Anybody But Bush milieu are still attracted by Nader’s call to break from lesser-evil politics. Camejo’s presence on the ticket can both improve the message and reach out to the politically disfranchised: members of oppressed nationalities and youth. It is unlikely that similar numbers would gravitate toward the Green Party this year.