Hillary As Senator: Just Say No
Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign to become the senator for New York offers the New York Green Party a unique opportunity to focus national attention on truly progressive solutions to our health and environmental problems.
Clinton's candidacy is mainly the inspiration of the West Side and Southampton liberals who are long on celebrity consciousness and think progressive politics is a matter of charity rather than self-interest. Briefly, they believe Clinton will mobilize women voters, labor, and minorities in New York City to provide the edge needed to win a statewide campaign. The enormous amounts of money she can generate as well as the glitterati who will campaign for her are extremely appealing. Another strong assumption is that even those turned off by Clinton's shortcomings could not bring themselves to vote for likely Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani. Black voters, in particular, are expected to turn out in large numbers, both to support the Clinton record on race and to express their outrage with Giuliani.
The Republican side is divided by intra-party power politics, but there is little doubt that Giuliani will win the primary. He has considerable strength upstate if only because Clinton is so disliked and despite black opposition in New York City, he would do better in the city than any other Republican hopeful. He has strong support among conservative Jews and significant support among Hispanics. His liberal social views play well in the Republican suburbs and among NYC yuppies. And the fall in crime wins him votes among many of those Nixon termed "the silent majority."
Early polls had Clinton ahead of Giuliani, but in what amounted to a statistical tie. Polls from early July show Giuliani slightly ahead in what remains a near dead heat. All expectations are that the election will be neck and neck all the way. Enter the New York Green Party. In the last election, the Green Party pulled over 5% of the vote for governor to get automatic ballot status. Should the Greens do just as well or better with a good candidate for the senate, it could tip the balance, perhaps depriving Clinton of victory but in any case cutting her chances drastically as most Green voters come from liberal rather than conservative politics.
Two factors argue strongly that the Greens should make such an effort. Most important, anyone with a memory longer than the last commercial will remember that it was Hillary Clinton who almost singlehandedly strangled the momentum that had been built for health reform. With all her committees and studies, she never even considered a single-payer system. With health reform once more heating up as a major issue, a Green candidate running on a single-payer program similar to Canada and Sweden not only would be attractive but will be heard. Intense media will cover the Clinton effort and the prospects that a Green candidate running on a health plank could tip the contest will not go unnoticed. Even the ultra-conservative radio talk shows would take up the issue as the hosts rant against socialized medicine.
The second issue, of course, is the environment. Al Gore has been a total sellout on this issue whether it is allowing genetically altered organisms into the environment or any number of traditional Green issues. The Greens should hold him accountable, and we can be sure that Clinton will be compelled to defend his record. Giuliani's recent assault on the public gardens in New York City provides another attack point totally natural to the Greens. The community groups most affected by Giuliani's attack might welcome a chance not only to cast a vote against their nemesis but for a candidate who has adopted their views as a plank in his or her political platform.
A reasonable objection may be that the national discussion possible by this strategy is not worth the possible cost of putting Giuliani into the senate. That argument falls short on several counts. However objectionable Giuliani's governing style might be, among Republicans he is actually a moderate. Given his abrasive personality, his actions in Washington would likely be a constant source of angina for the conservative wing of the party. His victory would also serve to boost the moderate wing of the party nationally. Hillary Clinton's own worth on the national scene is questionable. She has shown no legislative skill whatsoever in attempting her Frankensteinian health scheme and she would undoubtedly follow the same kind of policies as her husband, which amount to compromising away major political points to get incremental gains at best. In short, her legislative experience is nil, and her administrative record is a disaster.
What could be gained by the Greens and the progressive movement in general is enormous. The media exposure that would be possible is unlikely to recur. If the Greens made a significant showing, not only would the Green movement be enhanced, the major parties might well begin to moderate their policies to stop the vote drain. The long term gains to be scored for the progressive agenda would serve to ameliorate the feeling among some voters that their vote should not be wasted on a candidate unlikely to win. The Greens and all progressives win big with any vote going over 5%. For once, one could, in fact, vote for what was wanted rather than the lesser Tweedledee/Tweedledum evil and the nation would take note.
For the Greens to accomplish this, a dynamic candidate is needed, someone able to show up well in a toe-to-toe with the other candidates. It is not the place of people not in the Green Party to select candidates, but I offer the following suggestions as the kind of candidates that would be effective. The low-keyed Ralph Nader campaign of the last election won't do. What is needed is someone like Jim Hightower who could more than hold his own and whose humor would be in striking contrast to the somber two. Michael Moore might be another person to consider, if only because of the enormous recognition he would bring to the contest beforehand. Another individual who comes to mind is Barbara Garson, a veteran of the New Left who can more than handle herself in this kind of foray and has run for office previously. The point here is that the candidate has to be substantive yet willing to take on the establishment and face the consequences that a defeat of Hilary would never be forgiven by the Democrats…. Dan Georgakas
Dan Georgakas, coauthor of Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, teaches courses in international affairs at New York University.