When hundreds of Minnesota Greens met for their state nominating convention two weeks ago, they took a precipitous lunge toward political suicide. By more than a two-thirds margin, they endorsed a candidate to run against incumbent Democrat senator Paul Wellstone -- arguably the most liberal, the most "Green-ish" member of the U.S. Senate, who is fighting for his political survival against a conservative rival backed by the White House. Minnesota, of course, is a veritable mecca for insurgent third parties. Its governor is maverick independent Jesse Ventura. Its own Democratic party is an outgrowth of the Farmer-Labor party. No surprise, then, that its Green party is one of the best-organized in the country.
After winning more than 5 per cent of the state vote in the 2000 presidential election, the Minnesota Greens now qualify for major-ballot status. Taking advantage of the public financing provisions available as a result, the party could snag up to $250,000 to run its gubernatorial candidate this fall. Other Greens will compete for other statewide offices and for state legislative seats. Already, Greens sit on the Minneapolis and Duluth city councils. For those seeking alternatives to a two-party system ever more beholden to special interests, the news coming from the northern plains this election cycle could have been welcome.
Could have been.
Wellstone, a former college professor, is about as liberal as you can get within the Democratic party. He has opposed his own party on the drug war and intervention in Colombia. He faced tear gas and rubber bullets as he marched alongside the Greens against the World Trade Organization's blueprint for corporate globalization in the 1999 Battle in Seattle. His labour record is impeccable. His environmental record is, well, a lush green.
With all this in mind, the Greens' 2000 vice-presidential candidate, Winona LaDuke, sent an open letter to the Minnesota party convention passionately urging it not to endorse a candidate against Wellstone. But LaDuke's plea was pushed aside, and her fellow Greens chose a native American, writer Ed "Eagle Man" McGaa, to run against Wellstone.
Apparently, Wellstone's unpardonable sin was to have supported the U.S. military action after September 11 and to have voted, along with 98 other senators, for the USA Patriot Act.
But here comes the really troubling part of this story. Green candidate McGaa, a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, says he also supported a military response to last year's attacks and that he opposes the Green party's plank on the war against terrorism.
In other words, the Greens -- in the name of principle -- are risking the defeat of the greenest member of the Senate by running a candidate who agrees with Wellstone on what the party evidently thinks is the make-or-break issue. Talk about not being ready for prime time.
Within hours of his endorsement by the Greens, McGaa made a series of confusing and intemperate public statements that revealed him to be anything but a reflective student of political strategy. When asked by the Progressive magazine if he's concerned about being a spoiler against Wellstone, McGaa said: "I'm an American Indian. We're not as analytical as you folks are. We observe and go forth with our life.... We're less materialistic."
Among those Minnesota Greens who wanted to stay out of the Wellstone race was Brian Kaller, co-editor of his party's state newspaper. But even Kaller said McGaa's politically correct credentials proved irresistible. "McGaa was not familiar to a majority (of the delegates)," he said. "But there were at least some people from the native American community there who... vouched for him. And while we are all pro-union, McGaa (was) a union worker. We are all in favour of peace, but he's a Korean and Vietnam War veteran who has also spoken out for peace. He is a member of a historically disenfranchised people. He's a feminist. And an environmentalist." For many Greens, Kaller said, McGaa is simply a "dream candidate."
The Minnesota situation is not, unfortunately, an anomaly in Green politics. Since their emergence in Germany 30 years ago, the party has always had a strain of fundamentalists, known as "fundis," who are allergic to political compromise. Opposing them have been the "realos," the more pragmatic faction, who argue that politics is the art of building coalitions. The success of the realos' approach can be seen in the current "red-green" alliance of Social Democrats and Greens that governs the German Federal Republic.
But how can the "fundi" strategy -- as symbolized by the selection of McGaa to go against Wellstone -- sustain itself in the winner-take-all American electoral system? A Green party that refuses to build bridges with allies outside of its own confines is destined to doom -- as so many previous third-party upstarts have learned. The Minnesota Greens had a good chance to build a model third party. If they don't reverse their recent action, they will be opting instead for a circus. From Alternet
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