Sunday, September 21, 2008

A matter of fairness and the public interest Green Party warrants better media coverage

By John Rensenbrink
The Times Record (Maine), September 19, 2008

In this season of elections, it should be common knowledge that there is a serious political party in Maine with official ballot status which is neither Democrat nor Republican. Yet I would bet that most of your readers, upon reading the sentence I've just written, would be scratching their heads trying to figure out who or what I mean.

One reason is that your newspaper (and yours is no exception) gives very little attention, on your own, to the Green Party. Yet there are thousands of registered Green voters in the Mid-coast region served by your newspaper. Surely they deserve, require, news about their party. You don't cut Republicans and Democrats off from news about their parties.

The Green Party had its presidential nominating convention in Chicago in July. I looked carefully for some notice of that in your newspaper. There was none.

Many Greens from this area attended as delegates. The convention nominated two women, both persons of color, Cynthia McKinney as presidential nominee and Rosa Clemente for vice president. That in itself is a first ever in the history of our republic. Worth a story I should think.

It's not as if McKinney is an unknown. From Georgia, she served in Congress for many years. The McKinney-Clemente ticket will be on the ballot in November in 33 states. That number is an achievement of some magnitude.

The bar to ballot status is high in almost all states. But it is so very high in states like Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania and others, a bar created by Republican and Democratic state legislators and sustained by Republican and Democratic judges in the courts ? that it is next to impossible for third parties to get on the ballot. It's been that way for 100 years.

The monopolization of politics by the two dominant parties started with the election of 1896. One could argue here for affirmative action on the part of the media ? to make these glaring inequities widely and deeply known.

The Libertarian Party could make the same complaint as I am making. They would be justified. Their candidate for president, Bob Barr, is a strong choice and will be playing a role in this election along with McKinney.

But ignoring the Green Party is even more surprising given the fact that the Green Party in Maine has been in continuous existence since 1984 ? and won ballot status in 1994. The Green Party in Maine won 10 percent of the vote in the last two gubernatorial elections. Earning 5 percent of the vote for governor provides a party with official ballot status. In the state as a whole, more than 29,000 Maine voters are registered in the Green Party.

The Green Party has emerged as the second party, after the Democrats, in Maine's largest city, Portland. In this election year, the Maine Green Party is fielding a dozen candidates for the Legislature, two of them in the area served by The Times- Record. David Frans is candidate for the House in District 66 (Brunswick). Jason Bergquist is candidate for the Senate in District 10 (Brunswick, Harpswell, Freeport and Pownal).

The public interest

Thus far, I have made a claim for fairness. But there is also a strong public interest that can and should be served. We've watched the conventions of the two dominant parties, filled with hoopla and election-year rash promises, and featuring cutting attacks on rival politicians.

Both of these parties do this, and do it abundantly, though I felt that the vice presidential candidate for the Republicans outdid everyone in snide attacks and what the media later called "stretching the truth." Her comments should be called for what they are: brazen falsehoods.

From now until the election in November, these two parties will engage in an orgy of attack ads featuring ever more "stretching of the truth," that is, falsehoods.

Politics in America has been brought this low. The people of America who go to the polls will have very little real information and very little basis for making an informed judgment. They are truly short-changed by the Republicans and the Democrats.

The voices of other parties could help, if they were allowed to be heard and seen. It's not as if they are the ones that have "The Truth," but they have important and often creatively different points of view. They make critiques of the dominant parties that are otherwise not heard.

They point in a political direction different from the dominant parties, a direction that just might turn our country away from the abyss toward which it is now heading. They can be catalysts to raise the level of political discourse and push the dominant parties to stop their unbelievable and shameful debauching of politics.

The Tom Brokaws and The New York Times and Washington Post will not alter their media policies that systematically exclude other parties' voices. Not even the Lehrer hour on public TV will have Libertarian and Green Party candidates and leading figures on their "talking heads" shows. They should, of course, but they won't.

But community-centered newspapers like yours can do this, if they realize that it is truly up to them to rescue American politics from the slough and slime in which it is now struggling. Giving time and space to the voices and actions of other parties is one important way to do just that.

John Rensenbrink of Topsham is a founding member of the Maine Green Party.

No comments: