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The Green monster


Reports of the Green Party's death have been greatly exaggerated.

            In fact, according to David Cobb, who hopes to become the party's presidential candidate, the Greens are bigger and stronger than ever --- despite a widely-held view that the party was hurt by Ralph Nader's run in the 2000 election.

            "While the Democrats were gnashing their teeth and blaming Ralph Nader, we grew," Cobb says. "At the local level, where actual human beings are, we grew."

            Cobb, a Texan who lives in California, passed through Rochester while on a campaign trail to the Green Party convention in Milwaukee next month.

            His sanguinity for the future appears limitless --- he even predicts that a Green Party candidate will be elected president by 2012 or 2016, and when "she" takes office, there will be an end to war and poverty.

Over lunch at a local eatery, Cobb explained his campaign's "smart-growth strategy" to pursue simultaneous goals of increasing Green Party membership and ousting George Bush from the presidency.

            "Progressives, don't waste your vote," Cobb says. "Invest your vote."

            The message to all progressives is to view the upcoming election not as one presidential race but 50, one for each state. The way a potential Green Party supporter votes should be influenced by the projected electoral direction of his or her state, Cobb says.

            If a progressive voter lives in a state that is considered a lock for one major party or the other --- California and Massachusetts for the Democrats, Texas and Utah for the Republicans -- then vote Cobb for the presidency.

            "You know what? If we get all the progressives in Rochester to vote Green, New York is still going to go to Kerry," Cobb said.

            If, however, a progressive lives in a swing-state like Pennsylvania or Florida, the voter must be more nuanced. In those states, Cobb asks progressives to vote Green in all non-presidential races, then, "take a long walk, take a deep breath... and vote your conscience."

            If a progressive's conscience places a higher priority on ousting Bush, then vote for Kerry, Cobb says. But if the progressive's conscience says, "I cannot vote for a corporate militaristic candidate like John Kerry," then vote for the Green Party, Cobb said.

            Besides Bush, one person whom Cobb seems to feel no one should vote for is former Green icon Nader.

            "Ralph Nader has a right to run. I am sad he is running as an independent because I don't see the point," Cobb says. In some states, Nader's campaign has even established a political party, known as the Populist Party, which practically mirrors the Greens.

            "What's the goal of his campaign?" Cobb asks, sounding almost concerned that, ironically, a Nader run may steal votes from the Green Party.

The Greens' growth comes despite a political and cultural environment that Cobb feels seeks to marginalize the group. He claims Greens are ignored by the media and are routinely excluded from presidential debates.

            "The system is literally designed to make it difficult for us to exist," Cobb says.

            The party has 300,000 registered members, but the number would be higher, Cobb says, if more states still offered Green registration.

            "We're always outspent 100 to one and we're still growing," Cobb says.

            The trend holds locally.

            "Greens in Monroe County have not had a quarter where membership has not grown," says David Atias, the party's Monroe County chairman.

            Cobb is optimistic that the party's growth represents a genuine shift in the political landscape. He compares the Greens' ascent to that of the Republican Party, which started as an alternative to the Democrats and the Whigs.

            "Our growth is comparable," says Cobb. "The Republican Party was a third party. Their first candidate received less than one-half of one percent of the vote. We're actually having more success challenging the culture."

            In 1996, which Cobb considers the party's breakout year, the Greens had less than 40 members in elected office throughout the country. Now, there are more than 200, Cobb says.

            "We're growing at the local level, and more importantly, we're getting re-elected because we're proving that when we get into office we can govern effectively," Cobb says.

Cobb and his supporters believe that if, in an election, political parties are not identified and voters are only given a candidate's position on the issues, the Green Party would receive a consistent "15 to 20 percent" of the vote. That figure, they say, would increase as undecideds are educated on the benefits of the Greens' stance.

            They believe the Greens have had more success in Europe mainly because of the use of instant runoff voting, which ensures the winning candidate receives an actual majority of the vote.

            This is where a troubling question arises, however; the Greens do not seem to make room for the possibility that mainstream America is simply not as liberal, or not as agreeable to the Greens' message, as mainstream Western Europe.

            After all, the social mores of France and Holland are much more relaxed than those of Idaho and Mississippi. The United States is such a large and populous nation that what one person believes to be "average America" could be completely alien to a fellow citizen who lives a few states away. A typical Rochester Republican would probably be considered an unabashed liberal if he or she spent time in Mobile, Alabama; likewise, a typical Tulsa, Oklahoma, Democrat would probably be considered a fire-and-brimstone conservative if he or she were to visit Boston or Berkley.

            The original Puritan settlers who fled Europe for the New World did so because the Church of England was becoming more inclusive --- it was too liberal for their taste. Fast-forward several centuries and you have European governments which have long-ago legalized gay marriage and which maintain accessible social programs available to all citizens.

            Meanwhile, the United States has a Republican in the White House, a Republican-controlled Congress, a Republican-controlled Senate, a Republican-controlled body of Governors, and a Republican-controlled Supreme Court.

            Isn't it possible, just possible, that the people of the United States are simply more fundamentally conservative than those who live on the coasts seem to think?

            It may be impossible to tell. In every recent presidential race, over 100 million American adults declined to vote. Who knows who would be elected if everyone eligible actually cast a ballot.

            "There are more people who don't vote in this country than any other industrialized nation," Cobb says. "That's not apathy. That's cynicism."