Between now and U.S. election day, and for some time thereafter, there will be an intermittent stream of leftist discussion, debate, exhortation, and sometimes recrimination about what to do, when to do it, and with what methods and means.
I think reasonable people committed to justice, democracy, peace, and even â€“ as in my case â€“ uprooting every last vestige of corporate, racist, sexist power and greed â€“ can disagree.
Certainly now, but even as we get closer to the election, I doubt that any single approach will be so evidently correct that disparaging those with other approaches will make sense.
That said, can we at least settle on some criteria for what we would like to achieve by our electoral approach? And if we can come up with criteria, maybe we can even suggest an optimistic scenario worth considering.
What is important about the election is not the time between now and the conventions. It is not the convention weeks, themselves. It is not the time between the conventions and the vote. What is important is the time between the vote and the rest of history. It is the future.
This claim â€“ which seems uncontestable â€“ doesnâ€™t tell us precisely what to do, but it does suggest how to sensibly assess different electoral proposals. We must ask, what will be their lasting effect, post election?
To make a case for election 2004 strategy, we will have to describe the proposed approach, including the steps it implies for the pre-election period, of course. But our argument must rest on claims about post election impact.
If so, here are two simple thoughts.
One post election result we want is Bush retired. However bad his replacement may turn out, replacing Bush will improve the subsequent mood of the world and its prospects of survival. Bush represents not the whole ruling class and political elite, but a pretty small sector of it. That sector, however, is trying to reorder events so that the world is run as a U.S. empire, and so that social programs and relations that have been won over the past century in the U.S. are rolled back as well. What these parallel international and domestic aims have in common is to further enrich and empower the already super rich and super powerful.
Seeking international Empire means war and more war â€“ or at least violent coercion. Seeking domestic redistribution upward of wealth and power, most likely means assaulting the economy via cutbacks and deficits, and then entreating the public that the only way to restore functionality is to terminate government programs that serve sectors other than the rich, cutting health care, social services, education, etc.
These twin scenarios will not be pursued so violently or aggressively by Democrats due to their historic constituency. More, the mere removal of Bush will mark a step toward their reversal.
Think about election night. Think about watching the returns. Think of your heart and soulâ€™s reaction if Bush wins. Think of billions of other people plummeting into passivity from despair over the same picture. Think of Bush and his coterie savoring victory and deciding that they can do anything for four more years. Ee want Bush out.
Second, we want to have whatever administration is in power after Election Day saddled by a fired up movement of opposition that is not content with merely slowing Armageddon, but that instead seeks innovative and aggressive social gains. We want a post election movement to have more awareness, more hope, more infrastructure, and better organization by virtue of the approach it takes to the election process.
Can we chart a course likely to promote both of these outcomes at the same time?
Here is a proposal. The Greens are the clear-cut vehicle for a leftist electoral campaign in the U.S. They have grown in membership and state chapters steadily and are now a relatively formidable entity able to muster considerable visibility and communicative pressure in nearly every state.
Suppose the Greens nominate Michael Moore for President? Or maybe Barbara Ehrenreich, or Ron Daniels, or Ralph Nader, say. How about running their candidate aggressively in all states where the final ballot is simply a foregone conclusion? Moore running in Texas and in Massachusetts seeking as many votes as possible in those and in similarly uncontested states is not going to impact the broader election because were Bush to lose Texas or were whatever Democrat is running to lose Massachusetts, the whole election would be a gigantic stampede uninfluenced by our project. And there are many other such states.
Perhaps the candidate is Ehrenreich, not Moore. Regardless, Ehrenreich's message as candidate in every state, like Moore's or anyone else's, is vote smart. Vote for impact. In the cut and dried uncontested states, do not waste your vote, vote Ehrenreich. In the closely contested swing states, Ehrenreich tells the electorate to vote for the Democrat, but also support Ehrenreich and the Greens.
That is, everywhere â€“ and perhaps it is Daniels who runs â€“ Daniels, or Moore, or Ehrenreich says, whoever wins, we must persist as a social movement forcing the new Washington regime to respect and to serve those in need, those who work, those who endure and persevere, by way of the program the Greens have put forth. And put it forth Daniels does.
But how? Nader -- maybe it is Nader who runs â€“ or Moore, or Ehrenreich, or whoever it is, doesnâ€™t run alone. The Green presidential candidate runs with a whole slate of others, one person designated as his administrationâ€™s chief of staff, another person designated his vice president, a third person designated his secretary of state, a fourth as Press Secretary, and so on and so forth, through the whole Cabinet and West Wing. Nader, or whoever the presidential candidate may be, runs with a pledge that if there is sufficient support for him and for the Green platform he will establish a shadow government beginning the day after the election.
This new shadow government will operate alongside the White House and real Cabinet. It will put forth Green program, analysis, and demands regarding every major undertaking the real government pursues and many others we think it ought to have pursued. It will hold teach-ins, tribunals, rallies, and demos, every month for the entire term of the real government.
It will shadow and pressure Washington, providing a vehicle for the immense range of progressive projects and voices throughout the country to manifest their desires and to organize support and visibility for them and thereby pressure the government. It will take seriously what we want for every side of life, and compare and contrast it with the agendas and actions of the forces of money and power, and it will show why our way is infinitely preferable, and fight for its implementation. And imagine running in 2008, on a foundation of four years of explicitly formulated and explored dissident program.
How does such a vast undertaking get funded? If Moore, Ehrenreich, Daniels, Nader, and others were to run as a slate, seeking votes in some states and in any event seeking support in the form of a submitted name and slow mail address or when possible email address submitted to facilitate future communications in every state, how many people would sign on?
Not how many would vote for the Green Presidential candidate and slate. Those who are willing to vote Green will certainly sign on. But how many would vote for the Democrat as the lesser evil, while still being willing to sign on to a project that allowed them to back the morally worthy and politically savvy Greens beyond the simple act of voting, that is, as wanting to support the Green shadow government? I donâ€™t know the answer. But given the ease of setting up the infrastructure online to do all this, accumulating millions of potential allies and participants is not impossible.
So letâ€™s say 3, 5, or perhaps 10 million people say we like Moore (or whoever). We like what he is saying â€“ even though a very large number of these, at Green request, vote Democrat. And letâ€™s say all during the campaign the Green presidential candidate and the ten or twenty other prominent progressives from every imaginable constituency and background who are in the proposed Green administration are also not only communicating and advocating a wonderfully inspiring platform, but also making clear their commitment to build a shadow government that will create, elaborate, advocate, and fight for change in the years to come, with the support and especially the leadership of its supporters.
How many of the 3, 5, or perhaps 10 million people feeling affinity for all of this would pledge $3, $5, or $10 a month to support the shadow government and its undertakings in coming years? Suppose two million to start at an average $4 a month. Thatâ€™s $8 million a month to get started. How much more would effective effort provoke? How many more people participating?
And the idea neednâ€™t be only national. Couldnâ€™t local congressional, senate, and other Green candidates where appropriate do something similar, with their shadowing of their local administration being part of the national project, feeding it, and being fed by it?
I think something more or less like this is what should have happened post election 2000, rather than relative dissolution after election day. Letâ€™s learn from that mistake. Letâ€™s not repeat it. Letâ€™s demand of our process and its participants a strategy that has staying power.
We talk about periodic elections not being democracy but being mere moments of manipulation. Okay, that is a reason why we should create not only a shadow government, but one that has a rich and highly interactive set of mechanisms for back and forth communication with its electorate and constituencies, for guidance and instruction by that public. If we create that, we will have something so powerful that, in fact, even were Bush to win the election, it would be a much diminished victory for him and his minions. Because our movements would constrain his options and carry on their own agendas, regardless of his presence in Washington.
I think that for election 2004 something like this makes sense. I think the country is ready. It can be done without incurring recrimination and division. It can yield hope and real participation and progress.
I suggest that when the Greens get together to consider their path forward for election 2004, they ought to enlist candidates, conceive program, and establish strategy, not only in light of the diverse details of the current period and the short term virtues of potential candidates and program, but to create a lasting project such as a shadow government.