When I still lived in California, up through November 2000, I was registered with the Green Party. That wasn’t necessarily because I agreed with all of their platforms and directions — it worries me when someone says they do agree with everything some person or group says or does — although I did agree with a fair number of them. In part, it was to keep the Democrat Party off my back: as a donor to gay causes but not registered with any party, I got way too many presumptuous mailings from them. Mostly, though, it was to help ensure that there was some added variety in the California electoral process, something beyond the double-headed coin of Republicans and Democrats we usually had.
(Now living in Washington, I’m not registered with any party.)
In the 2000 Presidential election, I did not vote Green. In the primary, I voted for McCain. At one time, California had an open primary, where anyone could vote for any candidate, but the state had recently (after a court challenge) shifted to a semi-open primary, where anyone could vote for anyone, but only the registered Republican votes counted for the Republicans (and so on). This is probably a good thing for the parties, especially in states which lean heavily to one side of the coin: if enough Democrats (and Greens and Independents and…) wanted to in the previous system, they could have thrown the state primary to McCain rather than Bush (and left the core Demos to nominate Gore, already a foregone conclusion); with a state like California, this could have tilted the entire national scene. So that option precluded (alas), I still voted for McCain in the primary as an “advisory” vote, a note to the state party and others that a heck of a lot of people who weren’t registered Republicans (for whatever reasons) still cared enough to send a message that McCain and his policies were preferable to Bush’s, in the hope this might end up coloring the national platform beneficially.
(Update: The down side to this is that if your party had no one running for an office, or if you weren’t registered for a party at all, you ended up with no vote in the primary at all, even if you actually favored one party or another. This has the bonus effect of convincing people not to vote in the primary at all, since not being able to vote for some of the races lessens your interest in voting for any of them. Variations of the “blanket” primary are still an option in some states, including Washington. You apparently have the option of choosing a singe party slate to vote for the in the primary. That is, if you pre-choose the Democrat slate, you only get to vote for Democrats in all pertinent races on the ballot, even if you are registered Republican; you don’t get to choose from all the candidates, but you at least get to choose in some fashion.)
Come the general election in 2000, I ran scared. I voted for Gore rather than Nader. I didn’t think Gore was a better candidate than Nader, but I knew Nader could not win and I was scared that Bush might in California (and thus nationally) if Gore didn’t get enough votes.
So now we turn to Florida in 2000, where the popular vote was close enough to cause recounts and grudge-holding and claims of election theft years later, and where the small percentage of Green voters, had they voted for Gore instead (they sure wouldn’t have voted for Bush to any significant degree!), would have solved the whole matter and kept Bush out of the White House.
Thus the question: Should the Democrats blame Nader and the Green Party for Bush winning the White House?
And then the answer: No. They should blame themselves. If anything, the Democrats deserved to have 3% or so of the electorate (6% of their base; the most progressive, extreme, and dedicated-to-their-ideals portion) pulled away from their voting bloc. One of the most depressing facets of the 2000 campaign wasn’t that Bush beat Gore, but that Gore and Bush were the best candidates either party could put forward. (If nothing else, that should shine a light on the folly that is an automatic granting of Chosen Candidate status to the incumbent Vice-President. The only thing worse than Gore in that regard would have been Quayle!) If the Democrats could not offer up a decent candidate, one who could overcome the inadequacies of Bush with a loss of just 3% of the voters — less than that, given the small number which Buchanan pulled away from Bush — then perhaps the Democrats truly didn’t deserve to win. They made the bed, but we all have to lie in it.
And there’s a corollary: The Greens need to pay attention as well. Nader was never electable; no one will seriously claim he was, no projections would have ever given him more than a tiny percentage of the votes (enough to affect the overall outcome but not to win himself). With the result of Bush winning — someone even further from their position than Gore — Greens who voted for Nader in Florida (and anywhere else where the vote was very close) should be taking cold comfort in the idea that by holding to their ideals, they allowed Bush to win.
Ideals are great things to have, but they are even better to have when the country is in a state where you can enjoy them.
[Weblog title reference: “It’s Not Easy Being Green” was a song sung by Kermit the Frog.]
Updated on November 21, 2003
Updated on October 12, 2010
Washington eventually changed its primary structure (via a popular vote) to a “Top Two” primary: voters get to choose from all candidates, and the top two vote getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. This had the political parties completely up in arms, because it meant that a strongly liberal or conservative district could promote two candidates from the same party, if they both got more votes than the others, locking one major party completely out of some races.
(In theory, in a strongly leaning district, this meant that second-tier parties could actually make it to the general election as one of the only two choices. Voters willing to gamble could even throw their votes away from a sure thing primary winner onto a lesser party to try and block the other major party from getting to the general election at all.)
They took this to the state supreme court, claiming that the primary wasn’t about narrowing the field, it was about the party selecting its candidate — and thus the whole bit about having to chose a party ballot and only being able to opt for candidates from that party. As I recall, the supreme court said that the political parties were right, but then it got appealed back to the national Supreme Court who said, “Nope, the voters get the sort of election they want” and tossed things back to a Top Two status. There was something about Montana-style (fully open) and Louisiana-style primaries (top two) in there, too, but I’m not going to bother looking up the details. Okay, I did look up a little.
Fallout from this meant that candidates in partisan races had to declare a party, but they didn’t have to hew to Democrat/Republican/Green/etc. So we got some Repulicans in the 2008 election listing themselves a Conservative party or GOP party or other things intended to distance themselves a bit from the blackball word of “Republican”.