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David Cobb is a Nader man, no question. Thirty-seven years old, white, socked and Birkenstocked, gray-bearded, thoughtful lenses riding in Pacifica rims, jeans and a stars-and-stripes rugby shirt, Green Party button pinned over his heart. He's smart as a whip, freak-proud, bug-eyed with intensity and charismatic with mission. On a recent morning, he fills the Empire Cafe with voluminous and increasingly voluble riffs on corporate hegemony and nonviolent revolution and quasi-fascist culture and nonhierarchical decentralization and moral ethical capital and proportional representation and disenfranchised electorates and monopolistic global capitalism and -- for Christ's sake -- paradigms.
You intended to read to him a snatch of prose written by the honorable H.L. Mencken in the early part of the last century on the subject of political reform campaigns -- "they belong to popular sport rather than to the science of government; the impulse behind them is always far more orgiastic than reflective" -- and gauge his response. But all you can do is wish him well -- and why not? What sport is more noble and ennobling than the improvement of the world? Besides, let the slightest expression of debate enter your eyes and your whole afternoon has died on the vine. Reformers are like evangelicals. They'll convert you if they can, or wear you out trying.
Cobb remembers his mother teaching him the importance of sharing, and he idolized Atticus Finch. At the University of Houston, he made law review, then quit law school over tremors of moral uncertainty, was lured back, concentrated on social justice work, moonlighted producing alt-rock concerts. Cobb threw himself into Jesse Jackson's campaign in 1988 and Jerry Brown's in 1992, burned out, and listened to records for a couple of years, wondering how to attack injustice broadly, at its root, instead of one ineffectual piece at a time. He finally came to the conclusion that "the corporation as institution was the hijacker of the body politic," and began "looking for vehicles to fight corporatization."
Listening to KPFT one day, he heard Ralph Nader reluctantly accepting the 1996 Green nomination for the presidency.
Since then, Cobb and his wife, Nathalie Paravicini, have almost double-handedly willed the Green Party of Texas into being. They serve as state party secretary and state coordinator of Nader's presidential campaign, respectively. Both are headquartered in the pleasantly artsy little house in Garden Oaks that Cobb and Paravicini call home.
Cobb and the Greens are excited, of course, because they're bringing Ralph Nader to Houston on Thursday, October 19, to speak at the University of Houston's Cullen Performance Hall. The respected muckraker is trolling for support in a state that's hardly known -- the venerable Texas Observer's four-digit subscription list notwithstanding -- as a hotbed of progressive politics.
Still Cobb thinks Nader's got advantages in Texas that he doesn't have many places. The conventional liberalish wisdom holds that even if one prefers Nader, one should vote for Gore, so as not to waste a vote that could be fighting Bush. But a Texan's vote for Gore, Cobb says -- and University of Houston political scientist/pundit Richard Murray agrees -- is just piss in the wind in the first place, since it's the electoral college votes, not the popular, that count. That, Cobb says, opens up the possibility of a guilt-free Nader vote. Not so Nader will win, which everyone knows he can't, but to build the party (Greens are also running candidates for Texas's Supreme Court, Senate and two spots on the Railroad Commission on the November 7 ballot), get those federal matching funds for next time around, and ensure a place on the ballot in 2004.
Just that last is no small thing. Texas has some of the most odious ballot access requirements of any state, demanding over 37,000 petition signatures from voters who hadregistered, but hadn't voted in the last election, with only 75 days to collect them. Texas Greens collected over 51,000 in that time.
One common Green Party complaint about the mainstream media -- and pretty much all media that's even marginally consumable fits the definition -- is that Nader and the Greens are so rarely covered in terms of the ever-loving issues. This is partly because we media often do bad, lazy work, true, but it also has to do with the fact that Green issues never end. Cobb likes to say that every major progressive victory in these historical United States has been effected by energetic fringe voices, maybe 5 percent of the citizenry, first dismissed as utopian and naive until visionary leaders took up the cause. But emancipation, women's suffrage, the 40-hour work week, all had the advantage of being reasonably contained, easy-to-grasp issues. The Green Party platform is a War and Peace of dissent.
The Houston Chronicle singled out the fact that Nader favors the decriminalization of pot, and surely everyone knows that thorough campaign finance reform is his calling card, but Greens also want more political control locused in "communities," a castrated defense budget, abolishment of nuclear weapons, and a foreign policy aimed at "advancing the cause of peace." They want "fundamental change" in the education system, "fundamental reform" of the health care system, a "radical paradigm shift" in welfare programs toward ending poverty, "system-wide" tax reform, a $10 an hour minimum wage, every imaginable civil right, "broad" reform of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, nondiscrimination toward immigrants, and the formation of a Civilian Conservation Corps to restore wetlands.