This weekend, the Green Party convenes in Colorado to pick its presidential nominee. With Ralph Nader, hero of mainstream liberals in the '60s and '70s, a shoo-in as their nominee, the movement that began as a search for a new kind of radicalism has established itself instead as the last political inn open to the older left. It hardly matters whether Naderism is compatible with Green principles: The candidate hasn't even joined the party that's poised to nominate him, and he says he doesn't plan to either.
It's not just '70s liberalism that has found a home among the Greens: Two more remnants of earlier eras have enough of a foothold in the party to challenge Nader for the nomination. They will lose--badly--but they deserve to be noted.
One candidate is Stephen Gaskin, founder of a famous Tennessee commune, The Farm. His 10-point platform sometimes sounds like it could have been drafted by Ross Perot, if Ross were in the habit of swallowing mushrooms rather than looking like one: One plank, for instance, says we should "fix" the veterans benefit system, without elaborating as to why and how it can be repaired. Gaskin also endorses the Equal Rights Amendment (while ignoring the pressing matters of Seabrook, OPEC, and Patty Hearst), and says we should establish Universal Health Care and "argue about the money later." (If President Gaskin decides to send men to Mars, he'll probably decide to argue about the technology later.)
"The effective silencing of all those hippie voices must end now if our country is going to pull itself together," Gaskin notes on his Web site. "I want it to be understood that we ARE a bunch of tree huggers and mystics and greens and that there are about 35 million of us, about twice what Ross Perot had. I want to get them registered." Most of my hippie friends aren't eager to register with anybody, but then, they don't try to translate their stoned patter into presidential platforms either. If Gaskin is a hippie, he's the kind that made punk necessary.
As it happens, there's a punk in the Green race, too: Jello Biafra, former frontman for the Dead Kennedys. Those of us who grew up listening to the DKs might be surprised to see Jello in such company--this is the man, after all, who lampooned the Mellow Dictatorship two decades ago in "California Über Alles":
Zen fascists will control you
You will jog for the master race
And always wear a happy face
Close your eyes, can't happen here
Big Bro' on white horse is near
The hippies won't come back, you say?
Mellow out or you will pay!
But there always were two Jello Biafras, one a liberal statist and one a punk anarchist. The former once said that California voters passed the tax-chopping Proposition 13 because they were "too greedy to pay for things like schools"; the latter wrote songs like "Straight A's," which didn't give the impression that schools were worth paying for.
The anarchist Jello ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, with a colorful platform that called (among other things) for establishing a board of bribery to set official rates, requiring downtown businessmen to wear clown suits during working hours, and re-hiring laid off civil servants as panhandlers at 50 percent commission. The Green Jello (forgive the expression) is much less interesting: Aside from an admirably daft proposal to lower the voting age to five, his platform lacks the inspired absurdism of his earlier campaign. Oh, there's jokes aplenty--a call for "drug and sex education using actual drugs and sex in class," a proposal to "fight gentrification by allowing those under siege to spray whipped cream on those who flaunt their upwardly mobile invader status"--but they aren't very funny. (There's also a call for a maximum wage--"No taxes up to $100,000; after that it's payback time"--but I suspect he's actually serious about that.)
Jello hasn't had much time to campaign: His former bandmates have distracted him with a lawsuit, alleging that Biafra--who owns their record label--hasn't been paying them all their royalties. Jello disputes their account, of course, but if worst comes to worst I'm sure he could find some way to accommodate such ripoffs to the Green family. There already seems to be room there for everything else under the left-wing sun.