Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Shades of green



Has it really been three years since we last sat across the table from Eureka’s David Cobb? At the time, Candidate Cobb was in the thick of his political campaign — for the presidency of the United States, at least nominally — and also serving as the focal point for a fractious Green Party dispute over the party’s tactics and purpose. (See “The Candidate,” June 15, 2004.) Since then, he’s secured a weekly column in the Times-Standardand a regular radio spot on KHSU’s “Thursday Night Talk,” in addition to his day job at the anti-corporate nonprofit called Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County. It’s seems he’s been content to work on a smaller canvas.

A depressing glance at the calendar confirms it: three years. We figured it was time to ring Cobb up, and not only for old time’s sake. For one, the Green Party of the United States is holding its annual convention this weekend in Reading, Penn. For another, the past few months have seen the country slowly slip back into the hypnotic state we call “presidential elections.” The steady stream of YouTube clips passing before our eyes — candidate X talking crazy, candidate Y making an embarrassing gaffe — brought back wistful memories of neighbor Cobb appearing on the national news programs, a medium in which the smooth-talking Texan shined. So we gave him a call.

First the scoop: No, Cobb won’t be vying for the nomination this time around. Why not? For the Greenest of reasons: “I think that I’ve said repeatedly since 2005 that the Green Party should run a woman for president, and preferably a woman of color,” he said, using that voice that always sounds like it’s at least halfway to the podium. Turns out that Cobb and several others are trying to encourage ex-Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia to defect from the Dems and carry the Green banner into the fray. And it turns out that McKinney is flirting with the idea. She’ll be among those speaking at the upcoming Green convention.

So Cobb is out, but what of the Cobb strategy? If you remember rightly, several heavy hitters in progressive politics took a sharp stand against the Eurekan back in 2004, when a cornerstone of his campaign was to urge voters in key swing states to “vote your conscience” — a subtle way of saying that George W. Bush had to be defeated at all costs, and Floridians and Ohioans could perhaps further this goal with a vote for the Democratic ticket. This rankled hardcore Greenies like former California gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo, who held to the Nader-esque line that there is no substantial difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. The so-called “Avocados” — green on the outside, green on the inside — held that anything less than a wholehearted run amounted to a sell-out of the party’s principles.

On the other hand, Cobb and his faction believed that the party had to avoid a repeat of 2000, when — rightly or wrongly — the Green Party ticket, led by Ralph Nader, was blamed for throwing the election to Bush in Florida. They felt that the Green Party could not place itself in that position again, not for an election the party stood no chance of winning. The best use of their campaign, Cobb felt, was to use the opportunity to stump for the party’s platform, to use it as an organizing tool.

Well, to hear Cobb tell it now, the time for that debate has passed. “It’s important to remember that that big debate was really about tactics, not about principles, values or goals,” he maintained. “The circumstances in 2008 are not the same as 2004. Those tactical considerations are definitely not part of the equation this go-around.” He said that he and Camejo have talked since the 2004 election, and that there will be no problem with the two sides working together in the future.

Cobb’s not going to be there when the Green Party of the United States convenes in Pennsylvania this week. He said that he has some family business to attend to. But another Eurekan will be there — Budd Dickinson, who moved to town about a year and a half ago. Dickinson, it turns out, is himself a party bigwig. He serves as one of the national Green Party’s seven co-chairs. He said Tuesday that one thing the party hoped to accomplish this weekend would be to come to agreement about its 2008 campaign. “We’re hoping to talk about strategy, and the hopes of finding consensus on how to move forward,” Dickinson said.

Will the Greens try to tiptoe ’round the presidential election in 2008, for fear of alienating voters? Would the “spoiler” factor come into play this year?

“It’s always a factor, but in a sense the Democrats already spoiled it — we’re just trying to do our best to make sure they don’t spoil it worse,” Dickinson said. “They are corporate funded, and they make too many compromises with corporate interests. And they’re funding that terrible war over there.”

The question is one every third party has to deal with, in one way or another: What is the purpose of a campaign that you are certain to lose? Unlike in most of the rest of the world’s democracies, the American political system is strictly winner-take-all, and it’s next to impossible for third parties to directly win a seat at the table. For some, the point of a presidential campaign is to force the mainstream parties to take your platform seriously, by taking votes away from it. In this reading, the “spoiler factor” is the third party’s only power — at least until it somehow develops a constituency big enough to contend for power.

The Cobb strategy was different: less ideological, more pragmatic. It focused on building the grassroots, and keeping big, unwinnable elections out of the way of that goal. If there is a consensus out of Pennsylvania this year, it may be because Greens don’t believe that the two strategies will conflict in 2008. They may believe the Democrats can’t lose.

As religious readersof the Battle Creek (Mich.) Enquirer, we were somewhat flabbergasted when we came across this description of a sideshow on display at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival in the paper’s July 2 edition:

“Other visitors enjoyed Allen’s Original World Famous Redwood Log House, a historic mobile home made from a hollowed limb of a Redwood tree. It is 33 feet long, 8 feet wide and 9 feet 4 inches in height at the largest end. The limb was cut from a Redwood at the Georgia Pacific Lumber Co. near Eureka, California, when Redwoods were still being legally harvested.”

For starters: That’s a hell of a limb!

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