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Monday, December 15, 2003

Damn Nader.

The Nader 2004 Presidential Exploratory Committee wants to hear from you. Just say no.

Shava Nerad, whose credentials as a left-liberal progressive (and Dean activist) are beyond dispute, lays into Ralph Nader and his political followers. It's a long and rambling post, originally an impassioned e-mail message, but in places it's white-hot. (Key excerpts below.) She's indignant that Greens intentionally manipulated "a profoundly politically naive constituency" — the young people especially who haven't grasped how compromises and coalitions are fundamental to democratic llfe. Instead, they convinced several million people that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats, something George W. Bush has proved marvelously false.

[I]f one percent of the green votes in Florida had gone to Gore, it's just clear that Gore would have won the election. The numbers just don't lie. They did everything they could in Florida to ensure a Bush victory, and barely squeaked by on the basis of 550 votes. Now to give you an idea of how many people that is, that's the average attendance of two Episcopal church services in SW Florida . . .

We wouldn't be in Iraq today, I swear to Goddess, if there were a Democrat in the White House. Maybe not even if Gore had been shot, because Lieberman would have understood the potential mire of reconstruction . . .

I believe that the Greens (and specifically Nader, or his strategists) made it the *heart* of their campaign to drive a wedge between Democrats and independent progressive voters. They made it a perfect accepted truth, common wisdom, and FASHION to believe that there is no difference — zip — between the dems and the republicans . . .

Greens and progressives and various whiny independent liberals don't vote, traditionally. They tend to be more postmodernly cynical about the system. They tend to be younger, hipper, and too cool to play the games the system requires. Or too damned ignorant. And I genuinely believe that those nonvoters were the majority of the green votes in most states.

So these neogreenies look at the funding situation, and they say, "Republicrats!" and they vote with their feet. Or they don't vote. Or they vote for a third party. It never occurs to them to subvert from within — which is what democracies are designed for.

They vilify folks who are trying to turn things around pragmatically, and would have called us collaborators and quislings if they'd studied any political history. But instead folks like me got accused of being "not really left" "posers" "sell-outs" and a number of things I can't recall because I don't like holding on to really distasteful memories . . . They consistently hip-ly and coolly and cynically opined that there's no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats — and that made me the enemy . . .

If forming a new party and just fixing everything overnight were possible, by god we would have done it a long time ago if we could have figured it out . . .

So when they finally decide to participate, they don't stage a popular insurgency and revitalize their local Democrats, because that would sully their values. No. They are too cool. They are too idealistic, and think that if people only had a choice that was radically different, that somehow that would build a third party, magically, from 3% up. Unlike people like me, they will not sell out. They will not compromise. They don't have to make deals with anyone . . .

By stating that:
......(a) Republicrats. No differences.
......(b) We can't win, we can't place, but we can sure enough show.

...the Greens left a lot of progressives with this message: The Democratic Party are a monolithic bunch of neoliberals from root to leaf, and you shouldn't even try to talk to them. However, if we yell loud enough, the world will get better by magic.

The reason the Greens were often not invited to debates was because the established parties saw that they had no stake in the system, and therefore no restraint on their attacks. Face it, if a Republican savages a Democrat too badly, his or her party is going to face just a bit more uphill the next time they need something from the other side of the aisle. The Greens had no stake, and therefore were almost guaranteed to be less civilized, even, than traditional negative campaigning would lead one to expect.

Nader did not disappoint in this aspect. He oversimplified complex issues, and knew he'd never have to worry about implementation of any of his glib proposals. Of course he looked like Alexander with a Damoclean wit coming down on a snarl in DC like a fury. And of course, his solutions seemed so much more acceptable to a naive and unseasoned left.

Amazingly, there's a whole lot more. (Unitarian Universalists might profitably read Nerad's post alongside Rosemary Bray McNatt's UU World essay, "Against Innocence: A Dispatch from the Political Wilderness".)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 15 December 2003 at 5:21 PM

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December 15, 2003 10:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm sympathetic to the argument and am adament against the idea of a Nader run in 2004. So much is at stake in terms of defeating George Bush. I was a Nader voter who got coaxed back by Dean's candidacy though Clark, Gephardt, any of them are like night and day in comparison to this administration.

On the other hand, Green and other third left parties can have a role to play. A good example is San Francisco where the local dems are so entrenched, corrupt, so in the pocket of various business interests that a Green challenge only made sense. This time they got 47% of the vote. Greens in Minneapolis ended up upsetting 2 seats on the city council. So Greens can win.

I think it's a matter of choosing one's battles, knowing what is at stake, seeing if a challenge is viable. Because the thing is, for every democrat one can point to with some justified pride, there is 10 more who are part of the problem.

And if there is not a recognition that there is a problem with the present state of the party (so much of Bush's destructive ideas could never have materialized without democratic help, esp. in the Senate), we're obviously not in a position to fix it.


December 16, 2003 09:42 AM | Permalink for this comment

Yes, in places where the Democrats are absolutely dominant (like San Francisco or Cambridge), the Greens can run viable and important challenges. But the thing is, these are local races where the Republicans can't run a viable challenge. Mrs Philocrites and I happily supported an outstanding Green candidate for the Massachusetts legislature in 2002, who ended up with 37% of the vote. I wrote to Paul Lachelier after the race, and told him he was the first Green I had ever supported — and that I wished other Greens would think as strategically and locally as he had. I will not support a Green for governor, Congress, or the President.

Shava Nerad makes the crucial point that Greens and progressives could make a much bigger impact by volunteering in local Democratic precincts, going to caucuses, and getting out the vote. But this takes a lot more discipline than going to a rally. The right has learned this lesson; it's time for the left to catch on.


December 16, 2003 01:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

I have to admit the rather embarassing truth that I voted for Nader in the 2000 election. (This was in Illinois, so I suppose I shouldn't feel that guilty, but still.) I agree with a lot of what Nerad says.

Honestly, I think the left has a lot of lessons to learn from the right. There needs to be a conscious effort on the part of the Democratic party to move toward a big tent kind of philosophy (and Dean's rhetoric against religion is not going to help enfranchise the Christian left), and those of us who perhaps find ourselves wincing at the Dems now and then need to realize the only way to effect change is going to be by working within the system and being satisfied with incremental progress.

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