Greens running against Democrats, and maybe giving Republicans the edge? Anyone who thinks we'll have to wait till the Bush-Gore rematch in 2004 to get into that can of worms had better look at Minnesota this year. Here's Senator Paul Wellstone bidding for a third term, with the tiny Democratic majority in the Senate as the stake. Writing in The Nation, John Nichols sets the bar even higher. "His race," Nichols wrote tremulously this spring, "is being read as a measure of the potency of progressive politics in America."
Wellstone's opponent is Norm Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul and enjoying all the endorsements and swag the RNC can throw in his direction. The odds are against Wellstone. Coleman is a lot tougher than the senile Rudy Boschwitz, whom Wellstone beat in 1996, and many Minnesotans aren't enchanted about his breach of a pledge that year to hold himself to two terms.
But ignoring Wellstone's dubious future, liberals are now screaming about "the spoiler," who takes the form of Ed McGaa, a Sioux born on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a Marine Corps vet of the wars in both Korea and Vietnam, an attorney and author of numerous books on Native American religion. The Minnesota Green Party picked him as its candidate on May 18 at a convention of some 600, a lively affair in which real politics actually took place in the form of debates, resolutions, nomination fights and the kindred impedimenta of democracy.
Aghast progressives are claiming that even a handful of votes for McGaa could cost Wellstone the race. Remember, in 2000 Ralph Nader got 127,000 in Minnesota, more than 5 percent. Some national Greens, like Winona LaDuke, Nader's vice-presidential running mate, didn't want a Green to run. Some timid Greens in Minnesota are already having second thoughts, backstabbing McGaa.
For his part, McGaa confronts the "you're just helping the Republicans" charge forthrightly: "Let's just let the cards fall where they're at," he recently told Ruth Conniff of The Progressive. "It will be a shame if the Republicans get in. On that I have to agree with you. I'm not enamored by George Bush's policies." But McGaa says he'll probably get a slice of Jesse Ventura's Independent Party vote too: "So you Wellstone people can just calm down."
McGaa's own amiable stance contrasts markedly with liberal Democratic hysteria. Wellstone is now being pitched as the last bulwark against fascism, whose defeat would lead swiftly to back-alley abortions, with the entire government in the permanent grip of the Bush Republicans.
A sense of perspective, please. Start with Wellstone. This was the guy, remember, who promised back in 1991 that he'd go to Washington with his chief role as Senator being to work "with a lot of people around the country--progressive grassroots people, social-action activists--to extend the limits of what's considered politically realistic."
So what happened? Steve Perry, a journalist with a truly Minnesotan regard for gentility and good manners, wrote in Mother Jones last year the following bleak assessment: "10 years after he took his Senate seat, Wellstone has disappeared from the national consciousness. …