David Cobb is not your typical presidential candidate. Sure, he has a background in law like John Kerry; and yes, he has a Texan accent similar to George W. Bush’s; but there’s something different about him. Maybe it’s the fact that when he showed up in Ithaca this summer he only had one other campaign member with him, instead of an entire entourage.
Maybe it’s the way that he made his press conference feel more personal by not using a podium to separate himself from the audience. Or maybe it’s the way that he doesn’t actually expect to be President at all.
Cobb, who is the Green Party presidential candidate, visited Ithaca in mid-July. His stop here, which was part of a larger campaign tour, centered around a press conference on the Commons. At the conference, which drew a small crowd of onlookers, Cobb discussed a variety of topics, including his background, his displeasure with the current administration, the goals of his campaign, and his efforts to be included on the ballot in New York State. His statements, for the most part, drew nods of agreement or applause from the audience. After the conference, Cobb sat down with The Sun for an exclusive interview to discuss himself and his campaign in greater detail.
Cobb grew up in San Leon, Texas, a small shrimping village on the Gulf Coast. He came from a poor family and worked his way through both college and law school at the University of Houston. After college, Cobb pursued a career in law until 2000, when he was asked to manage Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign in Texas. Since then he has been very active in party politics, serving as the Green Party’s general counsel, and running for attorney general of Texas in 2002. Cobb was selected as the Green Party presidential candidate after Nader, who has been their candidate in the last two elections, chose not to seek the nomination this year. Instead, Nader is running on an independent ticket.
Prior to Nader’s run for president in 1996, Cobb was actually a Democrat who had never even heard of the Green Party. However, he became disenchanted with the Democrats after Clinton’s first term as President. He cited Clinton’s treatment of homosexuals in the military and his welfare “deform” act as examples of what turned him away from the Democratic Party.
“Bill Clinton completely sold out the progressive community,” Cobb explained.
“[During] his first term in office [he] probably did more to create the conditions for the Green Party than anybody else,” he added.
Despite his lack of experience, — he has never held an elected office — Cobb feels that he’s up to the challenge of running the country, with a little help.
“I would immediately surround myself and bring in acknowledged experts from across the country to assist [me],” Cobb explained. “What I’m talking about are people who have long histories of working within various sectors in this country and who understand the struggles that real working people have.”
For now, however, he’s more focused on accomplishing his campaign goals. These include registering more people into the Green Party, helping more Greens get elected to office, advancing a progressive agenda for the country and getting George W. Bush out of the White House.
In addition to these goals, Cobb has also taken a strong stand on several major issues in this election. For example, he believes that our current education system is “fundamentally flawed.”
“The most important things that a child learns how to do is how to walk and how to talk,” Cobb explained. “In our current educational system, the first thing they’re taught is ‘sit down and shut up.'”
Cobb believes that our current education policy is not creating “active participants in a vibrant democracy,” but rather “good consumers and workers” who exhibit “obedience, acquiescence, and acceptance.” His campaign has called for an end to high-stakes testing, and increased funding for educational programs, including higher salaries for teachers.
Cobb also advocated making college free for everyone, saying that current college expenses are an unfair burden on students. When asked about Kerry’s proposed plan in which students can agree to provide public service for two years in exchange for the price of college, Cobb agreed that it was “a good transition step,” but said that he didn’t think it went far enough. “We’ve got a system now where people are having to basically go into some sort of indentured servitude simply to get a university degree,” Cobb explained, “and that’s unacceptable to me.”
Cobb believes that the expense of offering free college educations could be covered by pulling the military out of many of the foreign countries that we currently occupy and therefore reducing overall military spending.
“The amount of money that it takes to keep the U.S. military spread out all around the world is obscene,” Cobb said. “The reality is that U.S. military force has not been used defensively for the last 40 years. Instead, U.S. military presence has been used to advance the interests of the transnational corporations to create a corporate empire.”
Cobb and the Green Party are also trying to promote switching to an instant run-off voting (IRV) system, in which voters can rank order their top choices for office. This is an important issue for them because many people are hesitant to vote for Green Party candidates because they think they’re “wasting their vote.” This was a prominent part of the controversy in the 2000 elections because many people felt that Bush would not have won if Nader hadn’t “stolen” votes that would otherwise have gone to Al Gore. The solution, Cobb says, is not to discourage third parties from running, but rather to “change the voting system so that voters don’t feel that they most vote against what they hate instead of for what they want.”
Other issues which Cobb feels strongly about include securing the right of same-sex couples to marry — he calls Bush’s plan to create a constitutional amendment to block same-sex marriages an attempt to “use hate as a political organizing tool” — and continuing a policy of affirmative action in college admissions.
“There’s a long and shameful history of racism and institutional racism in the use of government policies and it’s got to be addressed,” he said. However, he also believes that affirmative action should be extended to include socioeconomic considerations. As he put it, “poor people have been oppressed as well and we need to create genuine opportunities for poor folks of all races.”
Along with promoting his stance on the issues, Cobb also used his campaign trip through New York as a drive to secure the right to be listed on the ballot come November. Unlike candidates from the two major political parties, Green Party candidates are not automatically granted a place on the ballot in every state. Instead, they have guaranteed ballot lines in only 23 states, and must petition to be included on the others. In order for his petition in New York to be successful, Cobb had to collect at least 15,000 valid signatures from state residents before the petitioning deadline in August. At the conference, he asked the crowd to support him by signing his petition or by volunteering to take petitions door-to-door. Later, in his interview with the Daily Sun, Cobb expressed his displeasure with the lack of guaranteed ballot lines, calling it “an insult to democracy.”
“Why in the world do we need to go through the process of gathering signatures, especially such a high number of signatures, just to participate in our own election?”, Cobb asked. “It’s really an indication of how the Democrats and the Republicans have basically conspired to prevent alternative voices from being heard.”
And that, it seems, is what Cobb and the Green Party really want — to be heard. After all, in the FAQ section of his campaign website, Cobb admits that the Green Party does not have “enough people, money, or media access to take the White House.” However, he told the Sun that he still expects to win in this election.
“The Green Party i
s getting larger, stronger, and better organized everywhere and that is especially true here in Ithaca,” Cobb said. To support this claim, he pointed out that in 1996 only 10 states had organized Green Parties, and only 40 Green Party members held elected offices. Today, 44 states have organized a Green Party, and there are 205 “green” elected officials. Referring back to his campaign goals of registering more people into the Green Party and helping more Greens get elected to office, Cobb said, “I expect to win because I expect to achieve my goals.”
Cobb will be returning to Ithaca on October 6 to participate in a political debate sponsored by the Mock Election Steering Committee. The debate is part of a larger program called Mock Election 2004 designed to promote voter awareness. For more information about Cobb’s campaign or the Green Party, visit www.votecobb.org or www.gp.org.
Archived article by Courtney Potts
Sun Staff Writer