OAKLAND – Now more than ever, candidates, party officials and voters seem to be saying that it’s getting easier to be Green.
It certainly wasn’t an effort for a packed, standing-room-only crowd of several hundred that wedged into the University of Creation Spirituality in downtown Oakland Monday night for a Green Party rally headlined by the party’s presidential nominee, Ralph Nader.
Preceded by Oakland city council candidate Rebecca Kaplan and U.S. senate candidate Medea Benjamin, Nader tore into candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush with all the enthusiasm of Evil Knieval in a ramp factory.
Fresh off his second consecutive nomination as the Green presidential candidate at the party’s convention over the weekend in Denver, Nader referred to Democrat Gore as having “broken more written promises than probably any presidential candidate in modern times” and called Republican Bush an “ex-Yale frat boy who has trouble putting together three sequential sentences” and “the corporate welfare king of all time.”
Between jabs at the two major parties and their candidates – whom he described as too beholden to special interests to represent the people of the United States – the well-known consumer advocate touched on insufficient health care, the widening gap between the rich and poor, the degradation of the environment, campaign finance reform and the death penalty.
“The majority of workers are actually making less now adjusted for inflation and working 160 hours a year more on average. This is not supposed to happen after almost 10 years of booming stock market prices and economic growth,” said Nader. “We have an apartheid economy where the top 5 percent do very well, and the top 1 percent do astonishingly well. The rest of the country is increasingly just hanging on. Instead of a rising tide lifting all boats, the rising tide is lifting all yachts.”
Nader highlighted California as “a state which, in many ways, shows what happens when the concentration of wealth and power is so skewed that millions of innocent people who work hard don’t get their just rewards.” He pointed out that while 15 percent of the state’s children were impoverished in 1980, that figure had grown to 25.2 percent by 1998, with 1.8 million children having no health coverage in California. A total of 47 million people nationally lack health coverage.
Nader stated that the ever growing divide between the rich and poor, environmental concerns, labor issues, and health care were all back-burner issues for the two major parties, who have chosen instead to “compete in an incredibly incessant race to raise more money than each other every month from business interests all over the country.”
“A few weeks ago, the Republicans announced they’d broken the record for one fund raiser; $21.5 million for one back in Washington,” continued Nader. “The Democrats said ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet,’ and a few weeks later they raised $26.5 million. Guess what? The same business interest lobbyists with the same loads of cash showed up at each event. These business lobbyists demand homogenization from their political receivers. They demand any competition between the two parties is only the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when big business comes knocking at the door.”
In a night filled with searing condemnations of both the Democrats and Republicans, Nader made perhaps his most damning criticism of the two-party system when he accused the Democrats and Republicans of avoiding the issues such as corporate crime and corporate welfare because “they are no longer two parties. They have merged to become one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup.”
Nader went on to say that recent nationwide polls showed 52 percent of Americans wished to see both he and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan included in the presidential debates.
That number would probably be much higher in California, where some polls run Nader as high as 9 percent, and, of course, in Berkeley, where Nader was the favorite candidate in the 1996 presidential election by nearly 20 percent.
“When Ralph Nader endorses something, voters have confidence it will be in their interests,” said Berkeley city councilmember Dona Spring, a member of the Green Party. “I think it’s because of his lifetime of activity fighting for the little guy, the little consumers, that he’s so well-respected.”
While recent national news stories in such prominent sources as the New York Times have mainly cast Nader in the role of a thorn in Al Gore’s side, Spring feels the Green Party could glean votes from dissatisfied Republican voters as well.
“I think (Nader) appeals to McCain voters as well,” said the councilmember. “Greens embrace what used to be Republican values; decentralization of the power structure and accountability in the way our taxes are spent.”
Spring said she thought a best-case scenario might be Nader’s capturing of 20 percent of the national vote, an ample enough total that “it would really raise the Green Party to a force to be contended with in electoral politics.”