The Democratic Party candidate, Bill Clinton, was not well-known. The Republican Party candidate, George Bush (the incumbent) was not well-liked. In the wake of Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts federal deficits were soaring. As globalization gained steam, jobs were increasingly being off-shored to lower-wage countries. The populace was discontented and the electorate was willing to consider a systemic outsider named Ross Perot.
Perot said he knew how to rein in the deficit. He was a straight-talking Texan who ran as an independent and was able to appeal across party lines. He was actually leading in the polls during most of May and June of that year. If he had made it a three-way race and then went on to found the Reform Party from a position of gravitas, we might now look back on 1992 as the year when the American political system started to accommodate “more voices and more choices.” But Ross Perot had a temperamental personality and very little in the way of political savvy. He failed to assemble an effective campaign team and he wavered in his commitment to the race. He wound up with less than 20% of the vote in November.
Perot was a loner rather than a party builder. His Reform Party never settled on an ideology or a vision. There’s a tendency for third party initiatives to fade into obscurity after about ten years of wheel-spinning. That was the case with Barry Commoner’s Citizens Party, Tony Mazzocchi’s Labor Party, Rocky Anderson’s Justice Party, and Ross Perot’s Reform Party.
The Ralph Nader campaign had notable momentum during the late summer and fall. Nader was holding “super-rallies” that were filling the largest municipal arenas across the country. And he was starting to see the potential to build the Green Party into a real force. Those who worked closely with Ralph during the thrilling crescendo of that campaign (I was privileged to) were aware of how he was making plans to keep barnstorming after Election Day in order to galvanize the growth of state party chapters and Campus Greens locals. But the momentum withered after the December Debacle in the state of Florida (where governor Jeb Bush managed to “adjust” the vote total in favor of his presidential candidate brother, George). Vilification was heaped upon Nader for “spoiling” Al Gore’s ascendancy.
After that Ralph got preoccupied with deflecting arrows. Some Greens became reticent about having such an impact and pulled back from the relationship. So when the anticipated breakthrough of 2000 failed to materialize and the Demonization by Democrats accelerated, the Green Party found itself again consigned to the margins. Nader received about 3% of the vote in 2000, but the Green presidential candidate in 2004 barely got 0.1%.
Yet the Green Party did not disappear, as so many others have done since the only-two-significant-choices system became ingrained 150 years ago. Its endurance under adversity has been notable. It can be attributed to the fact that the Greens offer a distinctive and resonant alternative to all the old ideologies. Such is evident in the growth of the Green politics movement worldwide. It indicates that the Green Party is here to stay.
It’s looking as if GP-US will be represented in next year’s presidential race by the high-profile and much beloved Cornel West. A groundswell of support for him started within weeks of the announcement of his candidacy last spring. In the first poll where he was included among the contenders he registered at 6% support. On that basis he garnered considerable attention from the media—as well as from Democratic Party character assassins!
Starting a campaign early presents the possibility that the Green Party candidate will be able to appear on all 50 state ballots for the first time. It also provides time to make a case to the broad left-of-Dem community. Independent progressive collaboration has been an aspiration for many years. When Howie Hawkins selected Angela Walker of the Socialist Party as his running mate in 2020 he was explicitly taking a step in that direction. Cornel West’s track record of alliance-building and support visibility over the years presents an exceptional opportunity for a synergistic in-gathering.
There has been a consistent background current of advocacy in favor of the idea that the Green Party, uniquely, might be in a position to become viewed as the umbrella electoral vehicle for the leftist social change movement in this country. If the Cornel West campaign achieves its potential to boost the Greens, 2024 may, in retrospect, be remembered as the year when independent progressive politics congealed into a force that finally broke through, opening the door toward eventual full multi-party democracy for the long-suffering American electorate.