Chronicle Election Coverage
U.S. presidential races lend themselves easily to sports metaphors, which should tell you a lot about our political thinking. The scene at the Double Dave's pizza joint on 30th and Duval, where the beer was flowing like water and people broke off conversations to catch the latest numbers on the bigscreen TVs, should have been easy to fit into a baseball or football metaphor, but it wasn't. And maybe that in itself says something about third-party politics in America.
There's no room in sports for a third team, and there's precious little room for third parties in network election coverage. Only occasionally did local stations show figures on Texas Green Party candidates -- Gary Dugger for Railroad Commission and Ben G. Levy for Supreme Court being the most prominent of those. On the national stations, Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader was mentioned most often as a spoiler, siphoning swing votes and erstwhile Democrats from Vice-President Al Gore.
It's a charge that the Travis County Green Party took lightly on election night, claiming that 40% of votes garnered by Nader were from people who would never have voted otherwise. There's the slogan -- "Vote Your Hopes, Not Your Fears" -- and then, bluntly, there's the unrepentant party line.
"I don't think it's a matter of spoiling -- Al Gore has spoiled it for himself," said Stefan Schuster, a member and former co-chair of the Travis County Greens. "I think there's a lot of folks who would traditionally vote Democratic who have gotten involved in the Green Party. Until the Democratic Party realizes they've abandoned their primary constituents, there's going to be an opportunity for the Green Party to get votes."
On CNN Tuesday night, Larry King needled Nader -- wasn't he the tiniest bit afraid? Were the two main-party candidates really the same? Wouldn't he rather have the lesser of the two evils? Nader held firm. "I'd rather have a person who doesn't take the marching orders from the corporate paymaster -- and neither of them qualifies."
The Green Party crowd howled and clapped and bought another round of beer.
Not everyone present toed the party line so closely, of course. Throughout the night, more than half the room was cheering -- if not for Gore, then at least against Bush. There was one grim moment and a brief silence when the news shifted to Wisconsin -- Gore and Bush were neck and neck, with Nader pulling a healthy 4%. (Hours later, the state went to Gore.)
Sean Hale, co-chair of the Travis County Green Party, cleared his throat. "There's a lot of brave people in Wisconsin tonight," he said.
But there was none of the sweat-popping, knuckle-cracking tension of the kind found at the Democratic and Republican parties. People started leaving early, and by 1am, with the election still hanging in the balance, Double Dave's was almost empty, and waitresses were cleaning around the handful of people left.
"I think we all know that we're not going to win," Schuster said. "But we're going to make some progress. When they count up everything, they're going to find we've made a dent in Texas politics."
And Texas politics, after all, is what the Travis County Greens are interested in; for them, Nader's presidential bid was a morale booster -- or a publicity stunt, if you want to be less charitable. The positions that the people at the Greens' party Tuesday night have their eyes on, ultimately, are local. "I think there's a lot of local issues that are going to help us maintain a local presence," Schuster said. "That's really what we're shooting for -- to build a credible third party."
A comparison to the once-hopeful and now all-but-defunct Reform Party was shot down almost immediately. "The Reform Party was Ross Perot," Hale said. "If the Green Party were the Ralph Nader party, we could all go home and celebrate now, because there would be nothing more to do."