Nader and the Dems

by Harry on February 24, 2004

I drafted the following post yesterday, when it had a more anti-Nader feel to it. But two people subsequently approached me about my thoughts about Nader, and told me they supported him standing, giving pretty good reasons, so I have modified my thoughts in the light of that (an indication, perhaps, of how fluid my views are right now). However, one of them said she would have to be a closet Nader supporter, because she didn’t want to deal with the unreasoned anger she felt that open support would make her vulnerable to in her workplace, which, I think, supports my main point.

UPDATE interesting stuff here from unrepentant 2000 Nader supporters Chun the Unavoidable and Russell Arben Fox. See also Chuck at the Chutry Experiment. And a fun rant from Timothy Burke

I supported Nader in 2000, and still have no qualms about having done so. It’s easy now to forget how things looked in the months prior to the 2000 election. Bush looked none too good, but nor did Gore. A recession was clearly about to happen, and, barring some unforeseeable catastrophe, the incoming President would lose congress for his party in 2002, and then lose the Presidency in 2004. Gore’s program was not that different from Bush’s, and it was a good bet that the winning President would not get to replace an outgoing Supreme of contrary political leanings in his first and only term.

And, on the other side of the coin, there was a real prize in the 2000 Nader campaign – Federal funding for Green candidates if he won a sufficient percentage of the vote. Now, I’m less then wholly enthusiastic about the Greens, but if they had federal funding it would transform them, as most of the non-Democratic Party left would have flooded in, and so would, at local and regional levels, some of the Dem left. Some people even thought that Nader’s run would leave a stronger organizational base behind even if he failed to reach the threshold. I was sceptical of that, but it was not an absurd view.

I have never found the ‘vote for someone you believe in’ principle compelling—we should allocate our vote in such a way that maximizes the expected probability of it contributing to a good all things considered outcome. This sometimes means holding your nose and voting for a Democrat. It may sometimes mean voting for a Republican. But in this race I thought, and still think, that there was a very good case to be made that voting for Nader was the best thing to do.

Of course, it didn’t work out. As I say, I was willing to countenance a Bush victory, and was right to do so. But in the end Nader was not to blame for the Democratic Party defeat. The Democratic Party was. It deliberately selected a candidate whom outsiders could see was very weak; and that despite the fact that they had a potentially strong candidate on offer (Bradley) and despite the fact that the Republicans had not yet selected a weak candidate, and had an incredibly strong candidate available. When Bradley conceded defeat McCain was still very much in the running – is there anyone out there who really thinks McCain wouldn’t have wiped the floor with Gore, Nader or no Nader?

The predicted defeat of the incumbent party in the midterms did not, of course, transpire. Why? September 11th and, again, the Democrats. They were in complete disarray after Sept 11th, and were completely unable to develop a coherent strategy. It has taken the Iraq debacle to prompt them into anything seeming like coherence, and although I’d still be surprised by a Bush defeat (not least because the Dems are, again, demonstrating less than stellar candidate choice), Iraq has given them the only opening they might have. But I don’t think 2000 Naderites should feel responsible for not predicting September 11th or the Dems’ reaction to it. I feel unrepentant, and I’m bemused by the mea culpa website.

But I find it hard to support Nader this time round. I’m sure he’ll focus on enriching the debate, rather than chasing votes. He says, with some reason, that he expects to draw more votes from Bush than from the Democrat nominee. Its certainly true that he can openly throw mud at Bush that the Democratic candidate won’t dare to throw, unless he finds that it sticks. So he can be a kind of stalking horse, and its entirely possible that the final Democratic candidate will be grateful for that. I have to admit, too, that I would probably vote for him, but that’s easy for me to say because I don’t have a vote and anyway I live in a State that even Gore managed to win last time despite Nader getting 4% of the vote. And I think it’s good not to give the Dems a free ride. Every time they say ‘no-one could be worse than X (where X is the Republican candidate)’ and it is rarely true

But, as someone who is not a Democrat, and thinks that building a third party to the left of the Democrats is, in the long term, essential to the development of a real social democratic voice in the US, I fear that a Nader run, even if it helps the Democrats, will set back the third party cause. Already senior Democrats are heaping vituperation on him. Even in 2000 I heard a lot of that from the Democrat rank and file, lots of whom seemed to hate him more than Bush, and in 2004 it is going to be much, much worse. The isolation of what John calls the Jacobin from the Democratic Party left (what there is of it) is a major barrier to the development of a serious social democratic alternative, whether one with its own party, or one without a party. Nader’s run this time will worsen that isolation, and will do so without the prospect of a resource-laden prize to compensate. As far as I can see Nader has no realistic machine building goal here, and the main consequence will be a decline in civility on the left. Worse, most progressives who support building a third party alternative will be in the invidious situation of supporting and working for a Democratic nominee despite Nader’s run—most of his 2000 supporters will abandon him, and this will move them psychologically closer to the Dems and distance them form other third party efforts.

Now Nader will only be indirectly to blame for all this, because it will be the predictable backlash against him and his run, rather than his run itself, that will have the undesirable effect. And I’m not sure his supporters will be to blame at all – he’s running, he’s saying lots of things that are right, and will have two opponents who are basically wrong, and no individual’s decision to support Nader is going to significantly worsen the backlash.

I wish Nader had decided not to run. Given that he is running, I am not calling for people not to support him, just saying why it would be better if he hadn’t run. But, if anyone is paying attention, the thing for leftists on both sides of the Nader/Dem divide to do is to minimize the damage it does to mutual relations.

{ 54 comments }

1

Bill Sebring 02.24.04 at 3:09 pm

Not to pile on, but Bradley, “a potentially strong candidate on offer”? As unsatisfactory a nominee as Gore was, Bradley would have been worse.

2

Chana M 02.24.04 at 3:20 pm

Trying to create a viable third party will inevitably fail (or fail to produce the desired results) in this country because of our winner-take-all election process. If we had proportional representation, things would be different; but we do not. The major parties play the same role that coalitions play in countries with proportional rep.

Perhaps this is a bad thing, but it is a reality we have to deal with. If progressives want to have any voice at all in government, they should be working from within the Democratic party. This may offend left purists, but those sorts of people are not really prepared to wield power in the real world anyway.

3

Ophelia Benson 02.24.04 at 3:22 pm

The vituperation – just so. I have fond memories of the vituperation that got heaped on me in 2000. I always wonder…well, a lot of things about this. Such as why one didn’t see the same kind of reaction from Republicans to Perot. And why pundits always talk with approbation about ‘multi-party democracy’ when they’re saying what places like Iraq and Ivory Coast ought to be doing – but scream like banshees at the idea of multi-party anything here. You’d think there was a law mandating two parties and no more.

4

Ophelia Benson 02.24.04 at 3:26 pm

See? Perfect example. Classic. Very illocutionary, in fact. ‘Purists’. ‘Offend’. ‘Reality’ that we have to ‘deal with’. Well – tell that to Lincoln, that’s all I can say.

Purists. How I hate that kind of thing. It’s not about ‘purity’ – it’s about little things like not for instance accepting large bribes from corporations and then doing their bidding. If refusing to be corrupt amounts to some kind of silly ‘purity’ – then we’re a pathetic country, that’s all.

5

Carol 02.24.04 at 3:30 pm

I have long argued that our political process is outdated – and I still think that. But this is not the year and the time for making that correction. However, assuming the Democratic victory, this is an objective for the future. Our two-party system is failing and I think it is clear that we have come a long way from the democratic principles that were to be the underpinnings of this country. We have grown in ways that weren’t anticipated (that is the nature of growth) and it is extremely important that this be addressed. Instead of a democracy “of the people, by the people, for the people” we have a grab for power which of its nature alienates “the people” and concentrates on buddy systems, “special interests,” and cronyism. If we believe in a democracy, we the people need to take it back. I am passionate about political reform and the current administration makes it more than abundantly clear that it is essential to the future of our country. But it can wait till after the election. Our politicians need to give up the greed and fear, and return to the lofty principles that the founding fathers expressed. This is idealistic, I know, human nature being what it is, but we will lose the special quality of being an American that we have taken for granted all our lives if we don’t act quickly. Even then, this will be a very difficult process. Change always is – and we need radical change to counter the corruption that likens us to other despotic regimes and autonomous dictators. I fear for our nation!

6

Andrew Case 02.24.04 at 3:32 pm

The problem with trying to build a major third party is that it’s just not workable in the current electoral system. Winner take all means you have to build a big coalition in order to have any power at all, and there simply aren’t enough USAmericans willing to go along with a party as nutty as the Greens. Thank God.

Under proportional representation (which would be a good thing for the House of Representatives) we could have multiple parties, but that would require a constitutional amendment which has essentially zero chance of passing. Proportional represenatation would mean a smattering of Greens forced to form coalitions in order to get anything passed. That would allow their good ideas a chance to be implemented while providing a check on the stupid ones.

7

limberwulf 02.24.04 at 3:40 pm

Im with you on the third party thing. I would love to see a third party emerge, particularly since I see little difference between the dems and the reps these days. I differ in the fact that I would like to see the third party be more libertarian and economically conservative than the republican party, but Im definately all about the third party thing. Your logical process on how to build one and the traps that are easy to fall into seems quite sound.

8

pjs 02.24.04 at 3:43 pm

I honestly don’t see how this rationale for supporting Nader in 2000 makes sense.

First, as chana m notes, it’s hard to see what good a viable leftist (or rightist) third party can do in a winner take all system like the U.S.’s. I *guess* it could bring new voters into the system and then prompt the democratic party to move left in pursuit of them. But most of the Green Party (or, for that matter, Howard Dean) crowing about creating new voters is wildly overstated. The action is prettu much always going to be in the middle.

Second, it is precisely because unpredictable things like September 11 can happen that risking a Bush presidency made no strategic sense.

Third, the “don’t blame Nader that Gore lost an election that was his to win” line strikes me as an irresponsible dodge. Sure, Gore was a poor candidate, and seemed to be operating from a position of strength (peace and prosperity, etc.). But the fact of the matter is that this country is in the midst of the culture war, one that had been recently exacerbated by Clinton and impeachment, a silly as that episode was. (Even more maddening, the culture war *isn’t* over things public policy issues like abortion and homosexuality, so much as it is over cultural signifiers like NASCAR and churchgoing.) No matter how bad the republican candidate is, any democratic candidate is almost certain to lose the South and agriculture Midwest. That means that every election is going to be closer than it should be, and also puts democratic candidates at a distinct advantage because blue states are less adamant in their cultural preferences.

I know that it is bad form to blame Naderites. But, really, you should have known better.

9

Chana M 02.24.04 at 3:51 pm

“You’d think there was a law mandating two parties and no more.”

Effectively, there is. Winner-take-all elections reward broad-based, quasi-coalition parties and penalize parties that emphasize ideological consistency (“purity,” if you will) at the expense of broad electoral appeal.

Short of adopting proportional representation, stronger left alternative parties will weaken the liberal-left cause. (Stronger right-wing alternative parties would weaken the right-wing cause as well, which is why I hope that Roy Moore runs for president this year.)

I would prefer to have proportional representation, but it is simply not an option for the 2004 election. Given the choice that ACTUALLY EXISTS, I refuse to vote in a way that will make it more likely that Bush will be in office for four more years, or of pretending that my good intentions trump the real-world results of my actions.

10

Rich Puchalsky 02.24.04 at 4:08 pm

Really, don’t the Democrats get to remember what happened last time “no enemies to the left” was widely believed?

If Nader wants to move the Democratic party to the left, he is perfectly capable of running in the Democratic primary. If he wants to create another major party to the left of the Democratic Party, I see no reason why Democrats shouldn’t oppose it just as much as they oppose any other competing party.

But, of course, this latest run is not in the service of any party, so Nader isn’t really even doing that.

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Chana M 02.24.04 at 4:12 pm

That should be “or to pretend.”

Incidentally: “Well – tell that to Lincoln, that’s all I can say.” A nice example of an argument that establishes the opposite of what was intended (very perlocutionary, in fact). The Republican party arose in large part because the Whig party had collapsed. If the Democrats have a similar collapse in the next few years, then the coast will be clear for a progressive “third” party — and not otherwise.

Also, in the 1860 election, Lincoln benefited greatly from the division of his opponents into several different factions, each with their own popular presidential candidate. Does this suggest anything?

12

Ophelia Benson 02.24.04 at 4:16 pm

Shouting won’t help. Especially since this is not the first time any of us have heard the shouts.

And yet again – it’s not a matter of ‘good intentions’ versus the ‘real world results’ any more than it is a matter of purity or being offended. Rhetoric won’t help any more than shouting will. Believe it or not, it is real world results I’m thinking about too. Just because I draw different conclusions from yours does not mean I’m not thinking about them.

I think, for instance, the corruption of the Democratic party has very real world results indeed. I also think that the pressure that comes from the Greens could possibly push the Democrats to be better. I don’t know that it will, but it could. I submit that the anti-Green view doesn’t know with certainty what the real world results of following their advice would be, either. It’s possible that Clinton would have been a better president if there had been more (read: any) pressure on him from the left. To repeal Taft-Hartley, to name just one item.

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Ophelia Benson 02.24.04 at 4:18 pm

Well, arguably the Democratic party has collapsed. The huge rate of non-voting could be a hint.

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Ophelia Benson 02.24.04 at 4:23 pm

Mind you. I’m not planning to vote for Nader this time. But I do just hate the attempts at strong-arming. The shouting, the accusations, the shock-horror, the yells of ‘How can you?!’ before hand and ‘Thanks for electing Bush!’ afterward. We do understand about winner-take-all (we’ve all heard it, on a rough count, some 6 billion times, after all), but we still are allowed to vote for the candidate we want to vote for. I detest the attempts at coercion.

15

Russell Arben Fox 02.24.04 at 4:32 pm

I sympathize with your reluctance Harry, and also your unrepentant feelings. Timothy Burke’s mighty sigh about the unsalvageable nature of Nader-voters yesterday prompted me to think again about my Nader votes (in 1996 and 2000). I put down my thoughts here: http://philosophenweg.blogspot.com/2004_02_01_philosophenweg_archive.html#107757866273564627

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Chana M 02.24.04 at 4:34 pm

It’s news to me that posting comments at a blog could be construed as coercion.

And pressure from the left is a capital idea, provided it has a chance of being effective. In my considered opinion, pressure from within the party is much, much more likely to be effective than forming a leftist party to fragment the progressive electorate. The right wing didn’t get where they are (i.e. in control of the country) by dividing themselves; they decided to take over one of the existing major parties, and did so.

17

Matthew 02.24.04 at 4:42 pm

Wasn’t the problem that Nader refused to transfer his votes to Gore by endorsing him (at the last minute)?
Of course, in the winner-takes-all system, a 3rd party candidate cannot get elected… but he can be a power broker, and push the Democrats to the left on some issues. But Nader refused to do this, and I think that’s why people are mad at him.

18

Steve Carr 02.24.04 at 4:45 pm

I agree with Chana: Where’s the coercion? Supporting Nader in 2000 was disastrous for left politics and disastrous for America. If you voted for Nader four years ago, you’re responsible for Bush being president. Given that, I think shouting is the least that responsible Dems should do.

As for Perot, the reason there wasn’t a huge backlash from Republicans is because pretty much every study of his constituency found he was taking votes from both sides in roughly equal proportions. Perot also was vastly more popular than Nader has ever been — even after his bizarre mid-campaign meltdown.

As for Harry’s argument about what Nader’s run in 2000 might have meant, this is the telling line: “most of the non-Democratic Party left would have flooded in.” Yes, we would have seen that deluge of, what, the 5 or 10 percent of American voters whose politics are to the left of the Democrats? That was really worth getting George W. elected.

19

harry 02.24.04 at 4:51 pm

Of course, its a matter of judgment, and I understand that Democrats can be very pissed off about this, but I must, like Ophelia, take issue with the tone of some of this. I’m not a Democrat. The Democrats have to compete for my support, as do the Republicans, etc. They chose not to in 2000, or in 1996, and they are choosing not to now. That’s fine — but then to blame me for them losing is a bit rich. Anyway, I take it as further evidence of my fracture thesis.

The prospects for a 3rd party are, of course, not promising. But federal funding would have made a real difference to the effectiveness of the Greens in places like New Mexico and California where they are capable in my view of making breakthroughs in the right circumstances. No-one sensible thinks this can be done by winning a 3rd party presidential race. The issue is whether such a race can contribute to lower level success. In 2000 it might have. Not in 1996 (when Nader ran very unenthusiastically) and not in 2004.

BTW, the winner-take-all system is *not* the main barrier to building a 3rd party. Britain has a vibrant 3rd party and 4th 5th and 6th parties, all with representation, despite having winner-take-all. It has much more to do with ballot-access laws (incredibly restrictive in many states) and district size — huge districts make it hard to develop the local base needed for a realistic third party run. And, of course, if a left third party really got moving the Dems would have to compete with it (as Ophelia says), but this would be a good thing.

Finally, I think the Dems shouldn’t discount the real possibility that Nader will help them. It all depends on whether he can find vulnerabilities in Bush that Kerry is to risk -averse to look for. In fact, my guess is that’s Kerry’s only chance, because I am deeply pessimistic about his prospects as things stand.

20

Ophelia Benson 02.24.04 at 5:00 pm

Ha! That’s hilarious!

“I agree with Chana: Where’s the coercion? Supporting Nader in 2000 was disastrous for left politics and disastrous for America. If you voted for Nader four years ago, you’re responsible for Bush being president. Given that, I think shouting is the least that responsible Dems should do.”

Uh – that’s where!

21

harry 02.24.04 at 5:03 pm

bq. Second, it is precisely because unpredictable things like September 11 can happen that risking a Bush presidency made no strategic sense.

Easy to say this after the fact. I don’t remember anyone using this argument in 2000. I admit I’d have discounted it if they had done, but, really, I didn’t encounter anyone with that sort of foresight.

Take that out of the equation and I stand by my basic judgment.

bq. Yes, we would have seen that deluge of, what, the 5 or 10 percent of American voters whose politics are to the left of the Democrats? That was really worth getting George W. elected.

Of course not. But getting Dem control of congress in 2002 and a highly likely Dem victory in 2004? Maybe? Even given 9/11 I think the Dems could have taken the House if they weren’t such a shower. Naderites didn’t make them that.

I should say, too, that I think Gore would have been as bad a President as he was a candidate, so I just don’t buy the ‘Bush is so much worse than Gore would have been’ line.

22

Ophelia Benson 02.24.04 at 5:04 pm

Chana, no, it’s not the posting itself that’s coercive, it’s the tone. The capital letters (that’s shouting on the Net, after all), the talk of purity and good intentions versus reality and the real world. There is reasonable disagreement, and then there is the other thing. I’m talking about the other thing. I heard a hell of a lot of it in 2000 and it sounds exactly the same now. As Steve Carr so aptly demonstrated.

23

zaoem 02.24.04 at 5:21 pm

“Gore’s program was not that different from Bush’s”

I always thought that people who made this claim were simply not paying attention so I am very disappointed to read it here. The massive tax cuts, elimination of EPA programs and support for social conservative causes were not at all surprises.

24

Steve Carr 02.24.04 at 5:43 pm

Ophelia, I’m fascinated by this definition of coercion. So when you say you’re “horrified” by the fact that Americans are religious, and say that religious people are “especially disqualified” from talking about morality, that’s reasonable disagreement, but when I suggest that those who voted for Nader instead of Gore helped elect George Bush (which they did) that is coercive? I’d be grateful if someone could parse that distinction out for me. And where are the capital letters you’re talking about? There are none in this thread.

As for the fact that the criticisms sound the same as they did in 2000, well, wouldn’t it be a little surprising if they sounded different, given how badly the Naderite strategy turned out?

Harry, I find it very hard to believe that Al Gore on his worst day would have been anywhere near as bad a president as George Bush. On tax policy alone, the damage that Bush has wreaked — damage that was utterly predictable because he did exactly what he said he was going to do — has been immense and long-lasting. We’re going to spend the next decade trying to get back to where we were in 2000.

25

alkali 02.24.04 at 5:45 pm

Harry writes:

The Democrats have to compete for my support, as do the Republicans, etc. They chose not to in 2000, or in 1996, and they are choosing not to now. That’s fine — but then to blame me for them losing is a bit rich.

Hey, pal, look around you. The Democrats are your neighbors, as are the Republicans. Don’t you dare lecture me on what I am obligated to do for you and then criticize me because you don’t like my tone.

26

harry 02.24.04 at 5:59 pm

bq. The Democrats are your neighbors, as are the Republicans. Don’t you dare lecture me on what I am obligated to do for you and then criticize me because you don’t like my tone

sorry — I don’t understand your point. I didn’t say the Dems were obliged to compete for my support. Just saying that when they choose not to they shouldn’t blame me (or the 2% that voted for Nader) for their loss.

Of course, the vast majority of Dem politicians have no interest in trying to foster a social democratic approach to politics in the US, and probably lots of Dem activists and voters don’t either. I don’t expect anything civil from them toward the 2000 Naderites. The tone issue is about what people interested in developing a long term social democratic project would use toward each other. I predicted that Nader’s decision to run would unleash the same tone I heard in 2000, which is why, given there is no purported benefit for that project of him running, I regret he’s done it. I’m sure there were ‘purist’ Nader voters who used the same tone in return. None that I knew did so. My post declared regret at Nader’s decision to run, and I think all the 2000 Naderites on here have said they won’t vote for Nader this time (I would, but I can’t, and I only would if I was confident the Dem/Rep race in my state would not be close). So, I’d have hoped for a more comradely tone. That’s all.

27

Keith M Ellis 02.24.04 at 6:06 pm

…so I just don’t buy the ‘Bush is so much worse than Gore would have been’ line.“—Harry

and

Gore’s program was not that different from Bush’s“—Harry

I always thought that people who made this claim were simply not paying attention so I am very disappointed to read it here.“—zaoem

Me, too.

This has been a radical presidency, and history will view it as such. It’s incredible to me that there’s anyone on the left that hasn’t clued in to this yet.

In terms of policy, this administration is much, much worse than either Nixon’s or Reagan’s. Foreign policy, national security, fiscal policy, social policy, judicial appointments, civil liberties…in each area this administration has been at best, incompetent, and, at worst, disastrous or malevolent.

And I think that Nader and his followers quite rightly should answer to their portion of the responsibility for this. There’s nothing quite so infuriating as a well-meaning fool who gives aid to one’s enemies and then says, “Don’t blame me!”

28

DJW 02.24.04 at 6:06 pm

The press corps waged an all out war on Gore in 2000, slandering him in the strangest and most bizarre ways. Check out Somerby’s archives if you have any doubts about this. In light of this, his 500,000 vote victory is really not that unimpressive. Everyone’s said he’s a terrible presidential candidate as if it goes without saying. I’m sorry, but could someone actually make this case? How, precisely, is Gore significantly worse than the species of moderate Southern Democrats? I know about some of the strategic errors of his campaign, that’s not what I’m asking about. I’d like to know what was much worse about him as a potential president. This case is oft assumed and rarely, perhaps never, articulated.

Any time an election is really close, there are numerous factors one can identify that would have shift the balance. Several strategic errors the Democrats made fall into this category, as does Nader’s run. To say that the former are responsible in a way that the latter isn’t just doesn’t make any sense. Given the closeness, they’re both responsible–as is the Supreme court, crappily designed ballots, the failure to promise some choice pork to New Hampshirians, etc.

Another point about 2000–if you really thought that Bush was not that different than Gore because he was running as a moderate, you were being willfully naive, or you don’t understand American politics. Sorry if that sounds preachy, but you’re smart people–a quick look at his record and the people he surrounds himself with should have made it pretty clear that he’s a different species than his Dad.

I voted for Nader, for irrational, emotional reasons. Later that night, I felt like a schmuck for being part of one of the greatest strategic blunders in the recent history of US politics. I hate admitting that the same people who gave the sanctimonious lectures on the nature of the two party system were correct, it hurts my pride too. But they were.

29

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.24.04 at 6:29 pm

Now I haven’t thought this through deeply, but it seems to me that small third and fourth parties typically have to form coalitions to get anything done. Doesn’t the US system have a close analog to that in the kind of horse-trading/pandering that goes on in both parties in the primaries? It isn’t like we avoid electing wing-nuts to Congress. There are a couple of far-left Democrats who might be in a third party under another system and a few far-right Republicans who might be in a fourth party under another system.

Just as in a system with more parties, you have to pay attention to the wing-nuts when you have a tight balance of power, and you can tell them to screw themselves when you have a broader majority.

Is the difference really so enormous?

30

chuck 02.24.04 at 6:32 pm

I have no idea why my entry trackbacked to your blog four times. Sorry.

31

harry 02.24.04 at 6:42 pm

bq. Any time an election is really close, there are numerous factors one can identify that would have shift the balance. Several strategic errors the Democrats made fall into this category, as does Nader’s run. To say that the former are responsible in a way that the latter isn’t just doesn’t make any sense. Given the closeness, they’re both responsible—as is the Supreme court, crappily designed ballots, the failure to promise some choice pork to New Hampshirians, etc.

I have to be real quick bu t wanted to acknowledge that, yes, this is absolutely right, and I completely overstated in the post. Lots of causal factors, including, of course, all the people who voted for BUSH!
So when people blame Nader voters they should hold back a bit, and assign the blame among the many factors, many of which Dem leaders and strategists were responsible for.

bq. if you really thought that Bush was not that different than Gore because he was running as a moderate, you were being willfully naive, or you don’t understand American politics.

Again, maybe a slight overstatement. I thought (as did many people, including many Democrats) that Bush would be kept ona tighter leash than he was. And, I still think that post-2002 he would have been had the Dems won both houses as they would have done absent 9/11.

Predicting 9/11 aside, no-one has given me a reason to believe that I was being unreasonable in 2000 to think that the expected all-things-considered effects of a Nader vote were positive. AS I say, it didn’t turn out like that. Also, I completely understood and respected the fact that others on the left made different judgments and voted for Gore. I argued with those of them who were willing to engage, but without fervour or vituperation because it seemed to me a matter on which reasonable leftists could disagree (like the Afghan war and even the Iraq war, in fact). So, what I’m saying is that it was a matter of judgement.

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Nasi Lemak 02.24.04 at 6:44 pm

Just to pick on one tiny little piece of depressing unthought in the post that hasn’t been picked up yet:

“it was a good bet that the winning President would not get to replace an outgoing Supreme of contrary political leanings in his first and only term”

ferchrissakes. This involves believing that a remarkable record extended during this Presidency (the longest period of unchanged court membership since the early 19th Century) was quite predictable and regular.

To be briefly a little more ghoulish than is entirely comfortable:

John Paul Stevens is nearly 84 years old. He lives in Florida and is supposed to be too unwell to travel much. He could easily have popped his clogs at any point over the past three years, or the next year, and though appointed by Gerald Ford he is pretty much the most liberal member of the current Court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor are both cancer survivors whose retirement through ill-health has been imminently predicted many times – one possible change for each side there.

Rehnquist is nearly 80, has been ill, has been on the Court for thirty-two years (nearly as long as anyone in history) and seems tired of the whole business.

The others, with the exception of Thomas, are in their 60s and 70s.

There was just nothing in the state of the Court in 2000 to suggest that we wouldn’t have seen the typical pattern of retirements (i.e. averaging two a term), and it is a freaking miracle that they are all still there.

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Jeff Darcy 02.24.04 at 6:48 pm

Actually it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment to implement proportional representation *for presidential electors*. How electors are apportioned is left to the states, and two – Nebraska and Maine – already do it proportionally. It would, however, require an amendment to use PR for the legislature.

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Chana M 02.24.04 at 6:55 pm

“There is reasonable disagreement, and then there is the other thing. I’m talking about the other thing.”

My intent is to express myself reasonably and persuasively. Feel free to disregard capital letters.

In any case, I fervently want progressives to adopt effective means. I do not believe that encouraging progressive third-party presidential candidates is one of them, for the reasons I have already stated. It seems the least effective means to the desired end.

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limberwulf 02.24.04 at 6:58 pm

I dont understand the attitude of voting against someone instead of for someone. That sort of thinking tends to land you out of the frying pan and into the fire. If you beleived Nater would have been a better president than Gore or Bush, then be proud you voted for him. I am probably not going to vote for Bush, but I am certainly not going to vote Dem just to “vote against Bush”. Of course, Im not even remotely left wing, so Im a little out of place in this argument, but I think the whole idea of voting against someone is part of what got us where we are. We are willing to vote for a bad leader as long as he is not as bad as the one we jsut had. Its sort of like thinking the devil you dont know is better than the devil you do, and thats a bit against the conventional wisdom.

The Nader voters didnt put Bush in office, they voted for something they believe in. I have a lot more respect for that than in political strategy. The ends do not jsutify the means. Putting a lousy person in place so that you cna later build on that jsut doesnt make sense to me.

I will refrain from commenting on whether Bush or Gore would have been better, or the same, or whatever, that discussion should go on a different thread.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.24.04 at 6:58 pm

ophelia benson: “it’s not the posting itself that’s coercive, it’s the tone. The capital letters (that’s shouting on the Net, after all), the talk of purity and good intentions versus reality and the real world. There is reasonable disagreement, and then there is the other thing. I’m talking about the other thing.”

Ophelia Benson should hear how most Democratic activists address Republicans, or how Republicans address Democrats. Is the objection to the tone, or to the tone used against Greens / Nader supporters specifically? If the latter, then once again I think this is a manifestation of the belief “no enemies to the left” — which had a really bad run last time around. Why else should Greens be exempt? If a complaint against the general tone, I don’t want to hear it, because the Republicans have adopted it, and Democrats are not going to unilaterally disarm by failing to respond in kind.

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DJW 02.24.04 at 7:29 pm

So when people blame Nader voters they should hold back a bit, and assign the blame among the many factors, many of which Dem leaders and strategists were responsible for.
Agreed. I especially think the strategic Democratic people should be ashamed of themselves for letting right-wing propaganda get to them about Clinton–leading to the less than useless Leiberman choice and the bizarre absence of our generations greatest campaigner (and popular two term president) from the campaign trail late in the game. However, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to forget that Nader’s candidacy (not his individual voters, or course) was entirely sufficient to create a Bush II presidency where there wouldn’t have otherwise been one.

As to the predictability of Bush II’s radicalism, you’re correct that I shouldn’t overemphasize this, as I have been constantly amazed by just how bad this administration is on so many fronts. But much of it was knowable in advance (and 9/11 made it worse, of course). The choice of Cheney should have been a pretty clear warning sign–a complete dismissal of any need to appeal to moderates with anything more substantive than rhetoric, another indication that the extractive energy industries are likely to have a free reign of policy, etc.

As to the Dems taking back the house and senate in 02 w/o 9/11, I’m inclined to agree that such an outcome would be likely, but it can hardly be assumed. There is a tendency for people who know a little about politics and elections to talk with a great deal more certainty about future outcomes on these fronts, a habit which is not supported, I think, by the evidence available–too much generalizing from small sample sizes, etc. Outcomes like this simply can’t be taken for granted–there are too many contingencies, many much less in scale than 9/11, that can change the balance, espcially given the small number of actaully contested seats in any given year. On Sept. 10th, I think I would have placed the odds of retaking congress above 50%, but certainly not above 70%.

And if any of the above commentors has any particular reasons for viewing Gore as singularly bad compared to the universe of Moderate southern Democrats (like, say, John Edwards), I’d still like to hear them. I heard it from Ceci Connolly, Margaret Carlson, and Chris Matthews, but let’s just say their claims don’t really hold up to scrutiny.

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tew 02.24.04 at 7:46 pm

I’m interested in hearing how a viable third party to the left of the Democrats will cause the Democrats to move leftward rather than rightward. Seems to me that if the Greens take the left 5%, the Democrats will just have to move that much further rightward to stay competitive, the net result being a more conservative party/candidate gets elected.

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WillieStyle 02.24.04 at 7:53 pm

I have always found the moaning and gnashing of teeth amongst Democrats when Greenies are mentioned quite annoying. It stems from the idea that the vote of anyone to the left of John McCain is the guaranteed birth right of the Democratic party. It isn’t.

Democrats have to face simple reality. Green partisans aren’t wayward Dems who don’t know any better. They are political rivals. In 2000, they chose to vote for someone else in what was predicted (rightly) to be the closest election in history. And they did this why? To “transform [The Green Party], as most of the non-Democratic Party left would have flooded in, and so would, at local and regional levels, some of the Dem left.”

Even in 2004, Greens who vote Democratic are only doing so for narrow tactical reasons. It would be the height of stupidity to think that all is forgiven and we are one big happy family. Even if we win this year, Greens would be back in 2004 running a candidate against John Edwards.

So what to do? Treat them like what they are: the only party in America that can defeat the Democrats while winning less than 5% of the vote; in short, our most dangerous enemy. Sure, smile and spew kind words about “solidarity” for now. But at the same time, sure up a large enough part of the centre and work to undermine the Greens any way you can. “Caucusing” with a group that will threaten to elect a Republican every time it doesn’t get its way is not a sane path to power. So keep Greens close ’till the day you no longer need them. Work feverently to make that day come. And when it does, destroy them. It’s the only way.

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Jon 02.24.04 at 9:26 pm

The stakes in 2004 are simply too great for Nader’s act of unbelievable self-absorption. There are times in history when the left-of-center and more-left-of-center must ally in order to stop imminent danger from the right. This is one of those times.

In essence, a vote for Nader is a vote for the Bush platform. For more, see “Unsafe at Any Speed: The 2004 Nader Platform”

http://www.perrspectives.com/articles/art_nader01.htm

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Tom 02.24.04 at 9:47 pm

“But, as someone who is not a Democrat, and thinks that building a third party to the left of the Democrats is, in the long term, essential to the development of a real social democratic voice in the US, I fear that a Nader run, even if it helps the Democrats, will set back the third party cause. “

Another point of view would be that the history of the Socialist Party USA shows that an independent social-democratic party in the US is not viable.

Further, looking at the history of the UK Labour Party and comparing it to that of the Scandanavian Labour/Social Democrats, you could argue that dominance of social democratic ideas is best served where the split between social democrats and liberals was avoided or came later in history. (Universal sufferage came late to Scandanavia, so there was a longer alliance between social democrats and liberals.) Based on this, one would suggest that social democrats would be best strengthening their organization within the coalition that is the Democratic Party, rather than dicking around with third-party fantasies.

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W. Kiernan 02.24.04 at 10:37 pm

Russell Arben Fox sez: …If I’d voted the way I had and had lived in Florida at the time, would I now be wishing that I hadn’t voted the way that I did? Absolutely.

1.) I live in Florida, 2.) I voted for Nader in 1996, 3.) I voted for Gore in 2000, and 4.) I’m voting Democratic (obviously – I don’t hate America) in 2004. Yet for these past three years, in hindsight, I’ve almost wished I’d voted for Nader instead. Why? Do I admire G. W. Bush? Step aside, I’m going to spit. No, just to have casted a visible protest vote.

The thing is that the 2000 election in Florida was a foregone conclusion. You see, our Governor, Exclamation Point Boy, is an outright crook. Just look at the sleazy-ass con men he’s surrounded himself with, throughout his entire career. Indeed, Jeb! strikes me as even worse – slicker, cleverer, eviler – than that half-witted brother of his. Then we have our illustrious Congresswoman Katherine Harris, axing all those tens of thousands of blacks off the voters’s rolls. I’ll bet even now ol’ Strom gazes up from Hell at her with a father’s pride. Then ultimately we have the hit men of the Scalia/Rehnquist axis on the Supreme Court.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m morally certain that the fix was in: even if every last Nader voter in Florida had bit the bullet and pulled for Al Gore in 2000, Duh-Byuh would still have won by his 500 votes.

And despite the ceaseless midnight train of body bags from Iraq, the collapsed job market, the exploding Federal deficit, the stupid lies and the transparent lies and the contemptuous lies, despite all that, no matter how large the majority Kerry or whoever gets in terms of actual votes cast, I guarantee you Duh-Byuh will carry Florida again in 2004.

And in related news, I hear Fidel Castro is projected to win over ninety-eight percent of the vote in the next Cuban election. Must be the tropical weather.

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Hugh 02.24.04 at 10:42 pm

Wow. Still obsessed about Nader. It looks as though the Democrats are going to blow it again.

The 2000 election ought to have been a cake-walk for Gore. How much of the vote did Nader get? Two percent? How much will he get in 2004? One percent? How many registered Democrats stayed home or voted for Bush? Probably a lot more than that.

Instead of obsessing over the tiny little band of Nader voters, why don’t the Democrats focus on why they did so poorly in 2000 and why they will probably lose in 2004? That would be a much more effective use of their time and energy.

Successful people, after a setback, will sit down and honestly assess how they blew it and how they can keep from making the same mistake again. Temper tantrums and scapegoating are counterproductive.

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miss representation 02.24.04 at 10:50 pm

I voted for Nader in ’00. I don’t consider myself a Green. Nor do I agree with the formulation that the ‘Greenies are the enemy.’ Unless of course, you are willing to posit that the DLC is the enemy as well. Enemy of the traditions of the New Deal, Civil Rights, ERA and the Great Society. It’s hard to find that in the thicket of corporatist lap-dogism as espoused by McAffulie & Co. (who brought us, if I recall correctly, Welfare ‘Reform’ and support of the Defense of Marriage Act, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell).

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WillieStye 02.24.04 at 10:54 pm

Nor do I agree with the formulation that the ‘Greenies are the enemy.’ Unless of course, you are willing to posit that the DLC is the enemy as well. Enemy of the traditions of the New Deal, Civil Rights, ERA and the Great Society.

The instant the DLC recruits Joe Lieberman to run against John Kerry, I will brand them ‘the enemy’ as well.

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miss representation 02.24.04 at 11:12 pm

I’m confused. Are you talking about the Senator from CT that was the VP candidate in 2000, and one of the earliest declared Dem candidates for 2004? I don’t remember McAffulie saying that was bad for America. Or is there another Joe Lieberman that I’m not aware of?

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WillieStyle 02.24.04 at 11:18 pm

I’m confused. Are you talking about the Senator from CT that was the VP candidate in 2000, and one of the earliest declared Dem candidates for 2004? I don’t remember McAffulie saying that was bad for America. Or is there another Joe Lieberman that I’m not aware of?

You’re kidding right?
Lieberman ran as a Democrat. When he bowed out of the race for the nomination, he stayed a Democrat. He isn’t about to go off and run as a third party candidate simply because he didn’t get his way. Why? Because he’s a Democrat. Part of being a member of a political party is accepting compromise when the majority doesn’t agree with you. Part of being an enemy of a political party is scheming to defeat it when it’s majority doesn’t agree with you.

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Steve Carr 02.24.04 at 11:25 pm

I’m sorry — being in favor of welfare reform and against gay marriage makes you an enemy of the New Deal? And what does corporatism have to do with whether or not gays are allowed in the military?

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john c. halasz 02.25.04 at 1:46 am

Towards the end of his life, Foucault made some choice comments about the spirit of party politics and the party-line, and he wasn’t just talking about commies. He was talking about the way its spirit of disciplined conformity inhibits independent critical thinking through self-censorship and thus precludes any possibility of such independent critical thinking from having any sort of direct political effect. One can see that sort of thing clearly manifested in “left” Democrats’ denunciation of Nader and the Greens, just as one can see it in the quandary of the U.K. Labor Party, saddled with the now preposterous Toney Blare.

I voted for Nader- (though he’s not necessarily my favorite- I might have preferred the likes of Barry Commoner)- and did so precisely in the hopes of securing the establishment of the Green Party with 5% of the vote. Of course, I live in Vermont, so there were no direct risks, and I wanted to cast a vote for Anthony Pollina, who is a very good egg, over Howard Dean. But I placed my bet, took my chances and lost. I can live with that, since I have no other choice. But a vote for Nader was a vote against the corporate-dominated power structure, butressed by the corporate-dominated media, with which the Clintonoid Democrats were thoroughly and often shamelessly in collusion. And it was a vote for the establishment of some other framework and forum to articulate and disseminate in the public realm critically different positions and views on crucial issues, that are more or less systematically blocked out by the established power-structure and its M.O. Politics is not just about plebescitary elections. It is also about maintaining critical discourses and organized pressure on an ongoing basis with respect to policy actions and outcomes that crucially effect distributions of power, wealth and opportunity and the composition of social and environmental well-being. I don’t know that the Green Party is necessarily the best suited to establish such a left alternative perspective- they are too white and too collegiate to answer to some of my concerns. But that such an alternative is a task that desperately needs doing, even amidst and inspite of the currently dire situation, is something I do not doubt. (And I think a point that the original post was trying to make).

Right now I would count myself among Billmon’s imaginary popular front. But those who are solely concerned with electoral calculus should perhaps reflect that half the electorate does not vote and the voting percentages correlate highly with income distribution and ask themselves why this is so and how long is it sustainable. Clearly, in addition to endowing themselves with think tank networks to provide their media with instant “expertise”, the right-wing corporate hegemony crucially relies on suppressing the turnout of voters and dividing it up with its carefully contrived “wedge” issues. I don’t doubt that Gore would have been less evil than Bush, especially after 9/11. (Though there’s no denying Gore ran a terrible campaign- remember those sighs during the televised debate? Unbelievable!- and that Bush ran a bit under the radar- “a uniter, not a divider” and “humble foreign policy”- and that his capacity for outright lying and opportunism exceeded one’s normally low expectations for politicians, though, I think, if it hadn’t been for 9/11, he would have tanked much sooner than now.) But the current dire situation is no reason or excuse to narrow the full spectrum of political discourse and debate for reasons of expediency. To the contrary, in the light of the gathering difficulties we will face and their hard options, such a broad spectrum of debate and criticism is exactly what is needed to counter “full spectrum dominance”.

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miss representation 02.25.04 at 3:27 am

williestyle: I thought the DLC already nominated Leiberman once. Granted, I might be overstating their influence, but they are doing a far sight better than us Naderistas. Oh, and I was being sarcastic. If the DLC ‘nominates’ Lieberman, I assume it means they will get him on the ticket. As a Dem. Like before.

Steve: you’re simply parsing the wrong elements (maybe I structured them wrong). Not supporting gay marriage can be seen as a repudiation of Civil Rights. Welfare Reform could be seen as a repudiation of both the New Deal and Great Society programs. So, yes, support of the ‘reform’ as introduced in 1996, I would argue, is in direct contradiction of those ideals of those programs (I live in an urban area, where the pernicious affects of ‘welfare to work’ have been well documented). Let us belabor the connecting the dots some more.

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Matt Austern 02.25.04 at 6:38 am

One thing Nader’s run will not do: contribute to building a third party to the left of the Democratic Party. This shouldn’t be controversial. It’s not opinion, it’s fact. Nader is not running as the candidate of the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, or any other left party. He’s running as the candidate of Nader.

There may be reasons to support Nader, but you shouldn’t support him on the assumption that you’ll be helping to build some left party or another.

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Steve Carr 02.25.04 at 7:28 am

Not to belabor the obvious, but isn’t it a little strange to claim that welfare-for-work programs repudiate the New Deal, which created the first widespread workfare programs in the form of the WPA and the CCC?

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harry 02.25.04 at 4:33 pm

bq. This involves believing that a remarkable record extended during this Presidency (the longest period of unchanged court membership since the early 19th Century) was quite predictable and regular.

Nope. I just said it was a good bet. It was, as it turns out (unlike the other bets).

bq. There is a tendency for people who know a little about politics and elections to talk with a great deal more certainty about future outcomes on these fronts, a habit which is not supported, I think, by the evidence available—too much generalizing from small sample sizes, etc

Best thing anyone has said in this thread (no offence to others) — and absolutely right. It makes many matters that people seem to be very confident about matters of political judgment, and in general provides a reason for people who agree on matters of political principle to try and be a bit more reasonable with each other about their disagreements, esp. in private, than they tend to be.

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djw 02.25.04 at 7:43 pm

Thanks Harry!

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