Winning the Next War

Democrats and Greens seem intent on re-fighting the last war indefinitely as Democrats continue to blame Ralph Nader and the Greens for sabotaging Al Gore's election chances in 2000. Greens reply that Gore beat himself, though they add that even if they helped Gore beat himself they had every right to do so.

It's a fascinating argument replayed on our letters page nearly every edition since the election, but we're not so much interested in fighting over the last war as we are in winning the next one. As we have said before, a big part of that effort is to see that Republicans don't regain control of the Senate.

Greens are now nominating candidates for this fall's election and they promise aggressive slates. But Minnesota Greens haven't done progressive populists any favors with their decision to challenge Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Wellstone, perhaps the most progressive populist in the Senate, already faced the determined opposition of the White House, which recruited former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman to run against him. Republicans have made ousting Wellstone a priority precisely because of his vocal opposition to most of what George W. Bush stands for.

Ken Jerome-Stern writes on page 17 that a maturing Green Party decided to nominate Ed McGaa, a political novice also known as "Eagle Man," for the Senate. We disagree. Causing this mischief for Wellstone, who supports many of the Green Party's core values, looks more like a sign of the party's immaturity.

Green leaders in other parts of the country have said they intend to put up candidates against moderate and conservative Democrats in part to force Democrats to adopt more progressive positions.

Some Minnesota Greens said they supported McGaa because Wellstone supported the use of military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and he also voted for the USA PATRIOT Act. However, McGaa, a US Marine Corps veteran of Korean and Vietnam wars, also supports those measures and has professed that he is unfamiliar with the Green Party's values.

The main attraction of McGaa appears to be that he is a Sioux and and an author of books on Native American spirituality. Reports from the convention indicate that delegates did not know much more about his position on political issues.

Winona LaDuke, Nader's running mate in the 2000 race, appealed to the convention to pass up the Senate race, but as Green spokeswoman Holle Brian told The Progressive's Ruth Conniff, "People came to the convention with the goal of endorsing a candidate come hell or high water."

Ultimately, as we have said before, voters will make the choice. We hope they recognize that Wellstone needs their support for a third term. We also hope the Greens will choose their fights better.

A better course this year would be for Greens to offer to pull back races this fall against Democrats who agree to support instant runoff voting (IRV) and proportional representation.

Under the plurality voting system used in most Senate and congressional races, it would be hard to endorse even so estimable a candidate as our own columnist Ted Glick against as flawed a product as Sen. Bob Torricelli, D-N.J., knowing that a vote for Glick would help to reinstate Trent Lott as majority leader and remove the last meaningful oversight to Dubya's rule by executive decree.

It would be better to see if Torricelli would commit to support IRV, which would eliminate the threat of spoiler candidacies, and proportional representation, which could be used to replace congressional gerrymandering and ensure minority representation.

State legislatures can adopt instant runoff voting in state and federal races but they need the approval of Congress to set up proportional representation in congressional districts. Having prominent Congress members pushing for those changes will perhaps help get them out of committee. Republicans should be amenable, with Ross Perot's spoiler role in 1992 and '96 presidential races vivid in their memory.

If Torricelli and other Democrats agree by Oct. 1 to push for IRV in statewide races and proportional representation in congressional races, Greens might withdraw from those races. They could still concentrate on races where they need a certain proportion of the vote to remain on the ballot for the next election, as well as races against those Demos who refuse to commit their support to IRV and proportional representation.

In the meantime, Democrats had better get over their murderous rage at the upstart Greens. They are here, they are determined to be heard, and there are just enough of them to make life difficult for the Democrats. It would be better for Democrats to work in coalition with Greens, particularly when IRV would do away with the spoiler role that neither side wants the Greens to maintain. And with Bush's Justice Department bringing back the FBI's domestic spying program and sending off US citizens to military brigs for indeterminate detention, there just aren't enough progressive voters out there to allow us the luxury of splitting our side and allowing Bush and his right-wing cohorts to consolidate their hold on the government.

Priest Scandal No Joke

The crisis in the Roman Catholic Church over complaints of priests sexually abusing minors is a symptom of the lack of accountability of bishops rather than a widespread depravity among priests. Although news reports in the past few months have focused on the coverup of abuse complaints against Catholic priests, making the priesthood the butt of many two-bit comedian's jokes, some reporters have noted that Protestant denominations also have faced sex scandals involving the clergy. Richard Ostling of the Associated Press in April quoted Penn State historian Philip Jenkins, author of the 1996 book, Pedophiles and Priests, who said the incidence of clergy molesting children may be about as frequent --or infrequent --in Protestantism as it is in Catholicism. Jenkins, an Episcopalian, said a 1992 survey found that of 2,252 priests serving the Chicago Archdiocese over four decades, 39 priests --1.7% --apparently abused minors. (Only one of those abusers could be termed a pedophile under the strict definition --meaning the victim was prepubescent, Jenkins noted.)

The Washington Post reported June 9 that at least 866 Catholic priests in the US have been accused of child sexual abuse over the past four decades, less than 1.5% of the estimated 60,000 or more men who have served in the Catholic clergy over that period. A Texas lawyer who tracks complaints against priests believe there may be 1,500 cases nationwide.

Any abuse is unacceptable, of course, but the Roman Catholic response has varied dramatically, in part because each diocese operates independently, with each bishop reporting only to the pope. Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times noted March 25 that the Seattle Archdiocese in the early 1980s began exposing the problems and commissioning training materials. By contrast, as recently as January, church officials in Boston were accused of having reassigned as many as 80 priests suspected of molesting minors.

Relaxing celibacy rules or ordaining women aren't the answers, although they are worthy of debate and might make it easier to replace abusive priests rather than shifting them to another parish. The Church has survived corrupt and errant leadership through the centuries. The Romans couldn't kill it; neither could the English. The trial lawyers might clear out the Church's bank accounts to settle lawsuits with victims of abusive clergy but the Church will survive as long as there are faithful. How long the faithful will put up with autocratic and unaccountable hierarchy is another matter. --JMC

(See also the National Catholic Reporter at www.natcath.org/crisis/)

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