Well ahead of the Republican party, the Socialist Party USA has chosen its challenger to President Obama for the 2012 election. In defense of the Republicans, however, nominating their candidate involves consulting many more people. As Darcy Richardson reported last weekend, it took just 32 votes to put Stewart A. Alexander at the head of the SP-USA national ticket. A bid to exploit the remaining celebrity of antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan by making her Alexander's running mate was thwarted when party leaders insisted that their ticket consist entirely of dues-paying party members. Alexander hopes that his head start will allow him to build momentum by capturing the nominations of other left parties, especially the Peace & Freedom Party -- the one to which Sheehan belongs. Presumably, he hopes to improve on his party's performance in 2008, when it only appeared on eight state ballots.
Alexander claims that the SP-USA is "the true representative of the left," but his nomination was immediately criticized from his own left. His party has been called "ragtag rightists" whose determination to field national tickets is deemed "conservative" by a rival organization, America's Socialist Party. The ASP contends that running a national campaign is a waste of resources that could be better dedicated to organizing on the local level. They are determined not to run a national campaign until they already have the numbers to secure ballot access in all 50 states. At the same time, ASP (or its blog) condemns SP-USA for letting a secretive clique choose its candidate instead of cultivating the Occupations and including occupiers in an "open-air convention." For its own part, ASP claims to be establishing relationships with occupiers, but their involvement with the mass movement begs a question: What if the occupiers want a presidential candidate now? Is the ASP going to tell them no? On one hand, their emphasis on building the support necessary to get past the usual election-law obstacles is admirably practical. But I'd think that any socialist or would be mass movement of the left would find the legal obstacles themselves problematic if not unjust and place some emphasis on overturning them as soon as possible. If anything, ASP's attitude in accepting the conditions set by election law could be described as "conservative" from the perspective of anyone hoping for more immediate political change. If there is a groundswell of disaffected public opinion to be gathered by a left or socialist campaign next year, which party is in a better position to make the most of it? I make no judgment between the parties on the basis of their platforms, which I haven't read. But I will say that both risk missing the movement they've hoped for all along by indulging in their all-too-typical sectarian squabbling. If the occupations have any true political potential, it's imperative for sympathizers to help the occupiers find their own voices and build their own electoral force rather than sell them someone's old party line.