Progressives “owe” megalomaniacs nothing

by Jay Stevens

Before I jump into the subject, here’s the disclaimer: I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000.

As is his bent, the Notorious Mark T recently defended Mr. Nader from a spurious blogo-attack on the man’s motives, in which Nader was called “a deluded Leninist megalomaniac who preferred to lead the country closer to disaster in the hopes that this would somehow make things better in the end.”

This is a true statement. (Well, maybe not the Leninist crack.)

Certainly Mark T is right on when characterizing the 2000 Presidential elections:

One, Gore cost Gore the presidency by running a centrist to right-leaning campaign and failing to ignite the liberals and progressives who could have swept him into the presidency – one that was his for the taking. He screwed up, DLC style. (Does anyone remember his VP choice? Conservative Joe Lieberman from not-so-important Connecticut. What was he thinking?)

The reason I cast my vote for Nader – besides living at the time in a state that went safely for Gore – was that the 2000 version of Gore was a preppie moralist with a cranky conservative running mate trying to out-pray GW Bush into the White House. And he was trying to win by separating himself from the recently impeached Clinton. It was a backpedaling, sycophantic performance at a time when a strong response to the right’s Quixotic and mean-spirited putsch attempt was needed.

Besides playing the squeaky-clean Robin sidekick to Clinton’s conflicted Batman, the most lasting impression of Gore was his wife Tipper’s attempt to censor the music industry, which drew a famous response from underground hero, Frank Zappa.

At that time it truly seemed as if there were no difference between Democrats and Republicans.

Of course now we know better.

The irony here is that Nader, believing there was no difference between Gore and Bush, brushed off any dire warnings about his candidacy’s effect on the election in a 2000 interview with the New York Times:

And [Nader] called the possibility that a court packed with Republican appointees could overturn Roe v. Wade a “scare tactic.” On Sunday, Mr. Nader said in a television interview that even if Roe v. Wade was overturned, the issue “would just revert to the states.” Just?

“Here’s what happened on that,” he said wearily. “The scare tactic is that would end choice in America, and I just said that’s not true, but I should have been astute enough not to mention that.”

He said he did not in any case believe for a moment that Mr. Bush would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. “The first back alley death, and the Republican Party is in deep trouble and they know it,” he said. He described the party’s opposition to abortion as just for show, “just for Pat Robertson.”

Thanks to the South Dakota legislature, we now know what would happen if SCOTUS handed abortion to the states: draconian and intrusive legislation going far beyond Nader’s wildest dreams. (Never mind how much his candidacy might lend itself to the “first back alley death.”)

While some cling to the fantasy that history would have unfolded in the same manner if Gore were at the nation’s helm, it’s pretty clear that things would be quite different. For one FEMA was a good organization under the Clinton administration and would have likely remained so under Gore.

I think the New Yorker’s David Remnick sums it up nicely:

But can anyone seriously doubt that a Gore Administration would have meant, well, an alternate universe, in which, say, American troops were sent on a necessary mission in Afghanistan but not on a mistaken and misbegotten one in Iraq; the fate of the earth, not the fate of oil-company executives, was the priority of the Environmental Protection Agency; civil liberties and diplomacy were subjects of attention rather than of derision; torture found no place or rationale?

But these facts didn’t distract Nader who again ran in 2004, well after the effects of a radical conservative on the nation’s security, economic health, and sense of national unity were readily apparent. If there was ever a time to endorse a “centrist” Democrat, it was in 2004, when “Republican lite” should have been welcomed – warmly – by any reasonable person. Mediocrity would have been a step up – a large and meaningful step up. By 2004 it was obvious that a seriously incompetent and radical administration could have lasting, serious, and real consequences for all…

(It’s fitting, then, that Nader’s 2004 candidacy has destroyed any credibility he had. It was a stark admission of his own megalomania. His opinions and candidacy were more important than the fate of the nation and world. What he should have done is rallied the base around Democratic candidates. Instead he ran with a Green party sidekick – the same Green party that was used at least once by conservatives to siphon votes from a Democratic race in a tight contest.)

What was – is — needed, of course, was a populist wave, reinvigorated by the administration and GOP excesses during their single-party rule, to sweep up strong progressive Democratic candidates and propel them into office, which is what happened in 2006. But that network was only beginning in 2004.

But some still cling to a 1999 worldview.

Mark T:

But here’s the point that needs to be made again and again: We are stuck with a two-party system. It’s not a good system. Since both parties are financed by essentially the same corporate money, they tend to represent the same colors, differing only in shades. The role of third parties is to blackmail the major parties into acceptance of populist policies. They only way they can do this is to threaten to deprive major party candidates of votes.

[snip]

Democrats demand two things of progressives: Their votes, and their silence. Alterman seems to think we owe centrist and right wing Democrats our vote. But we have every right to withhold our support, to threaten them with election defeat unless they listen to us.

Let’s get real, people. It’s a two-party system. That’s the way it will remain as long as we have winner-take-all elections in this country. The way to effect change is to get involved in the process early and often. Open your wallet; pound the pavement. Find people you believe in and stick with them. It worked in 2006. It very well might work in 2008.

And you’ll find you’ll actually make a difference. That’s real progressive politics.


  1. I just don’t get this progressive strategy of not asking or expecting anything in return for their votes. It’s woosey.

  2. I don’t know — I’ve got to side with Mark on all of this. As far as I’m concerned he’s speaking the unsweetened unadulterated truth…

  3. Steve Wells

    The problem is our two party system only allows for people to be red, blue, or invisable.

    It’s anti-democratic

    It’s resulted in the largest voting block being non-voters, or invisable and it leaves independents who do vote without any kind of party structual capabilities.

    It also means that any third party attempts are relegated to the role of spoiler.

    This suits the 2 major parties just fine, although they tend to whine long and hard when a third party fuctions in the only space allowed, ie as a spoiler.

    There are a number of good ideas to remedy the situation without going to a multi-party system.
    Instant run off and fusion are a couple of the better ideas.

    But with such great incentive for the 2 major parties to cling to the status quo, they will not do a thing to push for greater democracy along these lines. In that respect, the two major parties are identical.

  4. Steve Wells is correct in that we need comprehensive election reform to open up a system a bit. Too many Americans feel disenfranchised by the two-party system because they have monopolized the political process and produce bad to mediocre results.

    I am in the process of building an interactive webpage regarding the many types of election method reform. Check it out if you are interested.

    Andrew, DC (formerly Philipsburg, Montana)

  5. ANd I must add, though I brought up Nader, that he is not the issue – it is the ability of progressives to influence policy. What I see is what I said – we are to do two things – vote, and be quiet.

  6. Yosemite1967

    The original system designed by the founding fathers did not involve parties at all. Sure, people were free to form parties, but no party got any special privilege by the government over any other party, and the government definitely had nothing to do with the primaries.

    The Democrat and Republican parties have had control of the government for so long that they’ve intentionally changed the system to make it near impossible for other competition to enter the game, much like judges who were former lawyers have made it near impossible for non-lawyers to become judges.

    The answer is to return it to the way it was, with the system treating all parties, and even individuals without parties, 100% equally with all others.

  7. ANd I must add, though I brought up Nader, that he is not the issue – it is the ability of progressives to influence policy. What I see is what I said – we are to do two things – vote, and be quiet.

    That was hardly the case with Tester. That’s my point. Jon was outspent and outled in the polls by every opponent he faced, but by embracing a populist progressive message dealing with bread-and-butter issues (health care, alternative energy, etc) and riding a wave of energetic support, he won a Senate seat in a state that was supposed to be hostile to Democrats, let alone progressive Democrats.

    The more people participate, the more we’ll own the party, and the less likely folks will go corporate on us. It’ll be our party. You may not get everything you want, but you never will, even in a perfect system.

    You’ve got to work for what you want. Voting isn’t enough.

  8. And in 2000, Gore put up such a wall that working outside the system made sense. Gore said my way, period.

    In 2004 I still felt that Nader was completely sensible in trying to wrest an issue or two from Kerry – it made no sense to throw in with him while getting Nothing in return, but that was the wisdom of the day. Kerry pulled a Gore – ignored his progressive base, took an easy victory and turned it into apparent electoral defeat.

    I’ll not soon forget war opponents supporting a man who promised to make the war bigger, and Nader being derided as a fool.

    Can’t help it. Still admire him.




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