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Greens Growing Up



Interviewing third-party candidates invariably reminds you of the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes slogan, albeit in reverse: “You May Already Be a Loser!”

Like Sisyphus rolling his famous rock up the hill, third-party candidates are virtually doomed to see the rock of their campaigns roll back down again. But that’s what makes a conversation with one of these people so much damned fun, especially someone like Green Party presidential frontrunner David Cobb, who walks through the door with all the energy of a teenager dismantling a skateboard. Talk with a third-party candidate, and you know you’re talking with someone far more interested in principles than naked power.

A Texas native, Cobb is eminently approachable. He wears boots. “And I say ‘y’all’, and I mean it!” he says with visible energy. You couldn’t ask for a personality more different than Ralph Nader, who inadvertently gave us George W. Bush. Intelligent as Nader was, his self-righteous wonkiness infuriated the moderate left. No one who evokes memories of your crotchety university professor had a chance in hell of being president of the United States. Now, as an independent candidate, Nader contends he can take votes away from Bush in 2004. Right. Notice that the fifth sentence of this paragraph states that Nader “was” intelligent.

Cobb carries with him all the Green Party principles that sound great on paper, but lack specifics. Well, so what? Our two major parties play that same game. At least the Greens, bless their hearts, are out to inject the biggest dose of adrenaline possible into the comatose body of American politics. And, please, don’t call Cobb naïve. The man is more awake than most running for office. That’s why he was in Salt Lake City last week, campaigning for Utah’s eight delegate votes to be cast at the Green Party’s national convention in Milwaukee this June.

“Utah’s one of those places where we might get some traction with the progressive vote,” Cobb says.

Come again? You see, unlike Nader, Cobb knows that he could further alienate the moderate left if Bush wins once more by a harrowingly small margin. So he’s concentrating on states where the vote’s already been cast: die-hard Republican Utah, Democrat-saturated Massachusetts and California. He’ll be on the ballot in vital swing states, but that’s it.

“In Utah, no progressive can cast a ballot to get Bush out of office. If you like Kerry’s politics, vote for him,” Cobb offers. “But don’t waste your vote, invest your vote.”

Cobb hopes you’ll invest it with the Greens. While not happy with the end result of the 2000 election—what he calls Bush’s “judicial coup d’etat”—he admired its effects. Four years later the Greens have more than doubled their number of organized state parties, not to mention elected officials. White House or no, Cobb’s out to grow the party. But should Greens ever outgrow their third party britches, watch out.

“I understand people who say ‘Anybody but Bush,’ but do they really mean anybody?” Cobb asks. “Kerry isn’t Bush, but he’s not a progressive. It’s a delicate balance.” But if alternative parties are to thrive without giving power to reckless leaders such as Bush, it’s a balance that Cobb understands full well.