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Undernews: Nader - Now The Slander Begins Again

Nader: Now The Slander Begins Again


Undernews Extract from Prorev.com Editor Sam Smith

NADER: NOW THE SLANDER BEGINS AGAIN

SAM SMITH - AP started it in their lead story on Ralph Nader's announcement that he is running for president: "He is still loathed by many Democrats who call him a spoiler and claim his candidacy in 2000 cost the party the election by siphoning votes away from Al Gore in a razor-thin contest in Florida."

More on that below, but even if what the Democrats said were true, the behavior of the party in the years that followed 2000 did absolutely nothing to correct the situation. For example:

- The Democrats could have supported and worked for instant runoff voting which dramatically changes the effect of third parties on elections and politics.

- They could have avoided gratuitously angering Green voters through such cheap tricks as redistricting Maine's one Green state legislator.

- They could have adopted some Green policies, much as European major parties do when pressed by from the left or right.

- They could have stopped being so consistently indistinguishable from the Republicans.

- Obama could have said he would add one or more Greens to his cabinet just as promised he might with one or more right wingers.

None of this happened.

I supported Nader's run in 2000 but, for pragmatic reasons, suggested he not run in 2004. In my memo on the topic, I argued that just because you had something righteous to say didn't mean that standing in the middle of an interstate at rush hour was the best place to argue it. The drop in returns for Nader and the Green candidate, David Cobb, supported my thesis.

At the same time, I believe that anyone who feels there is something wrong with their neighborhood, city, state or country not only has the right to run for public office but honors that office by doing so. To criticize someone for exercising this right is repulsively anti-democratic and, when the target is Nader or the Greens, reflects the political trust fund baby mentality of the Democratic Party, living off the hard efforts of its past and doing little or nothing for the present and future.

The party of denial needs to look at its own defects and not seek salvation in blaming others for exercising their constitutional rights. Deceive yourself once or twice and you can chalk it up to political error. Deceive yourself thrice and you really need therapy.

WHY NADER DID NOT LOSE THE 2000 ELECTION FOR THE DEMOCRATS

SAM SMITH, 2001 - A study by the Progressive Review of national and Florida polls during the 2000 election indicates that Ralph Nader's influence on the final results was minimal to non-existent.

The Review tested the widely held Democratic assumption that Nader caused Gore's loss by checking changes in poll results. Presumably, if Nader was actually responsible for Gore's troubles, his tallies would change inversely to those of Gore: if Gore did better, Nader would do worse and vice versa.

In fact, the only time any correlation could be found was when the changes were so small - 1 or 2 percentage points - that they were statistically insignificant. When, for example, in September of 2000, Gore's average poll result went up 7.5 points over August, Nader's only declined by 1 point. Similarly, in November, Gore's average poll tally declined 5.7 points but Nader's only went up 0.8 points.

In the close Florida race, there were similar results: statistically insignificant correlation when the Gore tally changed by only one or two points, but dramatic non-correlation when the change was bigger. For example, in nine successive surveys in which Nader pulled only 2 or 3 points, Gore's total varied by 7 points. As late as two weeks before the election, Gore was ahead by as much as 7-10 points.

Nationally, the Review's moving average showed Gore steadily hacking away at Bush's 15 point lead until he was ahead by as much six points in September. But this lead rapidly disappeared until Bush was back in a narrow lead by early October. While Gore eventually won the popular vote, the election was so close that most polls projections were still within the standard margin of error.

During almost all of 2000, Bush led Gore with the major exception of a month-long period following the Democratic convention. During this high point for Gore, Nader was pulling a running average of 2-4% in the polls. While it is true that during October, Nader began pulling a running average of 6% at a time when Gore was fading, Gore continued to lose ground even as Nader's support dropped to its final 3%. In other words, despite the help of defectors from Nader, Gore did worse.

Further, as Michael Eisencher reported in Z Magazine, 20% of all Democratic voters, 12% of all self- identified liberal voters, 39% of all women voters, 44% of all seniors, one-third of all voters earning under $20,000 per year and 42% of those earning $20-30,000 annually, and 31% of all voting union members cast their ballots for Bush.

(Interestingly, the same critics who blame Nader for Gore's loss fail to give him credit for narrow Democratic victories in the Senate, such as the one in Washington state, where the Green vote theoretically helped the Democrat)

Since the mythology of the 2000 election shows no signs of fading, a few other points are worth noting:

- According to exit polling, those who voted for Nader were disproportionately under 30, independent, first time voters, formerly Perot voters, and of no organized religion. In other words, many of his voters did not naturally belong to the Democratic party. In fact, half as many Republicans as Democrats voted for Nader. Six percent of independents and 7% of Perot voters supported Nader while only 2% of Democrats did.

- The public had a cynical view of both major candidates with 41% believing that both would say anything to win votes. Barely half considered either major candidate honest and trustworthy. And an astounding 51% had reservations about their own vote.

- Gore even lost his home state of Tennessee. This is like flunking a political breathalyzer test.

- Perhaps the most important, but seldom mentioned, factor in the outcome was the impact of the Clinton scandals. 68% of voters thought Clinton would go down in history more for his scandals than for his leadership. 44% said that the scandals were somewhat to very important and 57% thought the country to be on the wrong moral track.

- In short, the individual who did the most harm to Gore (aside from himself) was Bill Clinton. If Gore had distanced himself from the Clinton moral miasma he would probably be president today.

- Clinton hurt in other ways, most notably in the damage his administration did to other Democratic officeholders, again something Democrats don't want to face. During the Clinton administration, Democrats lost over 1,200 state legislative seats. Further, the Democrats lost control of 9 legislatures and for the first time since 1954 the GOP controlled more state legislatures than the Democrats. In addition, the GOP won almost more than 40 seats in the House, 8 in the Senate, 11 governorships and 439 Democratic officeholders switched to the Democratic Party. Only three Republicans went the other way. In short, the Clinton administration was a disaster for the Democrats.

But even if Nader only took one percentage point away from Gore - the most that can possibly be claimed - some will say that the Greens should have known better than to take that risk. In a way, it comes down to a debate between Democratic situationists - I am what the polls tell me I ought to be - and Green existentialists - I am what I am regardless of the polls. The danger with the Green existentialist approach is that you may end up with a Bush (or a Clinton, for that matter) in the White House. The danger with the Democratic situationist approach is that you definitely will. In one case, you give up on democracy in favor of a 800-pound-gorillacracy; in the other case you still retain some hope that things can get better.

Ironically, if Nader had done much better - say 10 or 15 points - we would all be in better shape since politics tends to follow third party uprisings when they are powerful enough. In the most recent case, for example, both the GOP and Democratic parties still remain in the shadow of the Perot paradigm. But because Nader didn't do all that well, the Democrats can muddle along pretending that it wasn't their fault after all but some guy they wouldn't even let into the debate.

Democrats tend to think of Greens as wayward members of their party, which is why they try to browbeat them rather than convincing them. In fact, the Greens have less and less in common with the Democratic Party - especially since the latter refuses to stand up against the Bush war, greedy globalization, and the disintegration of constitutional government. . .

Too many Democrats presume they can either ignore the Greens or hector them back into their pointless, spiritless, and morally dead confines. It won't work for the simple reason that, unlike the Democratic Party, Greens actually believe in something. And when you believe in something, you are willing to take a few risks along the way.

KEVIN ZEESE points out that had Nader not run, Bush would have won by more in Florida. CNN's exit poll showed Bush at 49 percent and Gore at 47 percent, with 2 percent not voting in a hypothetical Naderless Florida race. Further:

- Gore lost his home state of Tennessee, Bill Clinton's Arkansas and traditionally Democratic West Virginia; with any one of these, Gore would have won.

- Nine million Democrats voted for Bush, and less than half of the 3 million Nader voters were Democrats.

- Zeese also notes, "The Democrats lost the 2002 congressional elections, the California and New York governorships, and many state legislatures throughout the country. Surely Nader is not to blame for those defeats."

HISTORY'S HINTS FOR THIRD PARTIES

SAM SMITH, GREEN HORIZON QUARTERLY - Added to all the other obstacles faced by third party activists is a paucity of analytical and historical guidebooks for their struggles. The media tends to be dismissive of third parties and lacking in understanding of their contributions to American politics. While some academics have done fine studies of individual movements and parties, scholars aren't particularly interested in the aggregated effect of third parties. Further, as with journalists, one finds on campus a deep and uncritical reverence for a 'two party system' that has, in fact, formed America's largest conspiracy for the restraint of trade - the trade in political ideas. Finally, activists themselves are usually so involved in what should be that they can forget to look closely at what is and how it works for and against their efforts.

This windshield appraisal of America's third party movements is not for the purpose of proving a thesis, arguing a point or suggesting reforms, but rather to help activists gain a better sense of the political environment in which they have to work. And to help them recognize both the potential and the limits that present themselves.

First, the good news: America's third parties have been immensely important to the country as catalysts of political and social progress. Their efforts lent weight to the anti-slavery movement, to the institution of an income tax, and to women's rights. While most of the power in 20th century politics was held by centrist or conservative white Protestants and Irish Catholics, the major reforms of that period stemmed from three third party movements: the Populists, the Progressives and the Socialists.

One reason journalists and historians tend to discount the impact of third parties is because of their obsession with apexes of power and those who inhabit them. In reality, however, change often comes not from the top or the center but from the edges. Ecologists and biologists appreciate the importance of edges as sources of life and change, whether they be the boundary of a forest, the shore of a bay or the earth's patina so essential to our being that we call the atmosphere. The political edge, at least metaphorically, has many of the same critical attributes.

Third parties have come in all sorts of shapes and colors. Some have aimed at a single issue such as slavery or drinking. Some have been driven by the popularity of an individual such as Teddy Roosevelt or Ross Perot. The ones with the deepest effect on the country's history have tended to be both parties and movements spreading like a virus throughout American culture, such as the Populists, Progressives and Socialists. To be any of these represented a commitment far beyond today's membership in one of the major parties. Finally, there have been statewide parties such as the Farmer Labor Party, New York's Liberal and Conservatives, and the DC Statehood Party that were far more successful within their constituency than many national third parties.

By far the most successful third party in history was the Republican Party which four years after its first run for the White House elected a president, Abraham Lincoln. But this is only part of the story, because two third parties helped lay the groundwork beginning 20 years earlier with the presidential campaigns of the anti-slavery Liberty Party and Free Soilers.

Two other 19th third parties served either as precursors of something bigger, with the Greenbacks, with its emphasis on monetary policy, a warm-up band for the Populists and the Prohibition Party, which got only 2% in its best presidential bid, but won a whole constitutional amendment 50 years after its founding.

In the 20th century, if you wanted to make a big splash in national third party politics, the best way to do it was with a major icon such as Roosevelt, Wallace or Perot. Here are the best numbers for various third party candidates:

Theodore Roosevelt 28%
Perot (1992): 19%
LaFolette: 17%
George Wallace: 14%
Debs (1912): 11%
Perot (1996): 9%
Anderson: 7%

All other 20th century third party candidates got 3% or less, including Debs in three additional runs and Thurmond and Henry Wallace in the hot 1948 race. It is useful to note that all the leading third party candidates - with the exception of George Wallace and Debs - drew heavily from mainstream constituencies rather than running as radical reformers.

Obviously the numbers don't tell the whole story. For example, the New Deal drew from Populist, Progressive and Socialist ideas despite low turnouts for their candidates. The Populists, despite topping out a 9% in a presidential race, influenced the politics of two Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin.

Still, if you want to affect national politics with a national third party presidential run, history suggests that getting over 5% - preferably closer to 10% - is a good way to start. Otherwise, you can probably expect a less direct impact for your efforts, perhaps decades in the future. And, in any case, you can expect your swing at presidential politics to be fairly short-lived.

That does not mean, however, that these parties - like certain insects - were merely born, had sex, and then died. In fact, some of the third parties had long, healthy lives, in large part because they were as concerned with local as with national results. The Socialist Party is the most dramatic recent example, with a history dating back over 100 years. The party's own history suggest that eclecticism didn't hurt:

"From the beginning the Socialist Party was the ecumenical organization for American radicals. Its membership included Marxists of various kinds, Christian socialists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish socialists, foreign-language speaking sections, single-taxers and virtually every variety of American radical. On the divisive issue of "reform vs. revolution," the Socialist Party from the beginning adopted a compromise formula, producing platforms calling for revolutionary change but also making "immediate demands" of a reformist nature. A perennially unresolved issue was whether revolutionary change could come about without violence; there were always pacifists and evolutionists in the Party as well as those opposed to both those views. The Socialist Party historically stressed cooperatives as much as labor unions, and included the concepts of revolution by education and of 'building the new society within the shell of the old."

By World War I it had elected 70 mayors, two members of Congress, and numerous state and local officials. Milwaukee alone had three Socialist mayors in the last century, including Frank Zeidler who held office for 12 years ending in 1960. And the party reports that Karen Kubby, Socialist councilwoman, won her re-election bid in 1992 with the highest vote total in Iowa City history.

Some highly successful third parties never ran anyone for president (except in fusion with one of the major parties). Albeit in a confused and weakened status at the moment, the Liberal Party of New York remains the longest lived third party next the to the Socialists. Founded in 1944 - in a break with the more radical American Labor Party - the Liberals benefited immensely from New York's fusion-friendly election laws, which allowed it to support Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and to claim credit for giving Kennedy enough votes for his presidential victory. Other nominees of the party have included Averill Harriman, Mario Cuomo, Jacob Javits, Robert Kennedy, Fiorello LaGuardia and John Lindsey. Swinging the gate of New York politics made it exceptionally important.

The Farmer Labor Party in Minnesota lasted 26 years before merging with the Democrats. During that time it elected a senator and a governor. And in DC, the Statehood Party held an elected position for 25 years and some years later merged with the DC Green Party.

As for the Greens, the recent near victory of Matt Gonzalez for San Francisco mayor is the latest sign of success in viral politics of a party that had already elected a score of mayors elsewhere. While SF mayoralty may not seem as important as a Green presidential run, I was shakened from that assumption a few days after election when it suddenly dawned that Gonzalez' race was not just local; for me it meant that there somewhere in America there was a city roughly the size of my own in which 47% of the voters agreed with me. It was a remarkably cheering revelation.

There is, it appears, no one right way to run a third party in the U.S. It always has to be a form of guerilla politics because the rules are so thoroughly stacked against those not Democrats or Republicans. Thus the judging the right tactics at the right time, as opposed to planning moves strictly on the basis of their presumed virtue, would seem to be the wisest course. To slow down traffic I might be morally justified in stepping into the Interstate, spreading my arms, and shouting, "stop," but it is probably not the most useful thing I could do for the cause. Besides, like some third party presidential candidates, I might not have another opportunity. My initial virtue might turn out to have been terminal.

For example, the question of fusion arises periodically. History clearly shows that there is no clear answer as to whether fusion is useful or not as a general principle because sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. The Liberal Party of New York used it magnificently (thanks in part to the laws of that state) while many feel fusion helped bring down the Populist Party. Beginning in the late 19th century state legislatures began taking action against fusion because, presumably, they thought it was working. And it can be argued that the moves against fusion were part of a broader counter-revolution that included the end of Reconstruction and giving corporations rights of the individual. In any case, today forty states and DC ban fusion.

One may oppose fusion on principal - for it certainly degrades the message of one's party - but how is it that unprincipled opponents of reform also see it as such a danger? These are the sort of questions that Greens need to answer pragmatically without tying themselves into all sorts of moral and ideological knots. The impact could be profound. For example, the ban on fusion is the only thing preventing a third party from running its own candidate for vice president along with, say, the Democratic candidate for president. If Nader had run for vice president in 2000, his vote total would have been much higher and might have revealed far more sympathy for Green politics than is apparent today. Instead of being blamed for 2000, the Greens might have been actively courted for 2004.

Similarly, the question of whether or how to run a presidential candidate needs to be subjected to the lens of history. Again, the lessons are multiple and far from clear. To me, they suggest that a good third party presidential run should be reserved for when the stars are aligned - a major party weak, an unusually popular voice for your own, and a social revolt in the making.

There is one other factor that is truly new in America: the destruction of constitutional government in the wake of September 11. Besides all its other horrors, the developments make it even more difficult for a third party national campaign. But the war or terror is in many ways a war to protect a tiny percentage of the American elite and their capitals of politics and business - much as only ten percent of those in Orwell's 1984 were actually members of the party; the rest lived in a countryside living relatively normal lives.

Oddly, however, this presents an opportunity for the Greens. As I wrote recently:

"At present the Green Party seems exceedingly concerned with whom it will run for president, if anyone. This is a time-consuming, agenda-skewing, image-monopolizing business. . . But what if the Green Party declared itself the party of the countryside, of free America, and set its sights on organizing not just the survival, resistance, and rebellion of the unoccupied homeland, but its revival, its discovery of self-reliance, and its energetic practice of democracy and decency? There is a wealth of electoral opportunity. For example, in 15 states more than half the state legislative seats are presently won without a contest.

"There is a logic to the Greens becoming the party of free America. After all Greens are the party most in the American tradition of decentralization, democracy, and cooperative communities. And they have ample precedent in the grassroots Populist Party which took on robber barons of startling similarity to those now served by the Bush regime."

A CONFEDERACY OF DOERS

SAM SMITH - I had never been invited to dinner by Ralph Nader before, so I figured I'd better check it out.

The hall where the drinks were being served could have been at any one of the scores of events Washington was throwing that night, but the difference soon became apparent. The difference was in the cause and the crowd. It was a confederacy of doers gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of one of the most important books of our moment in history: Unsafe at Any Speed.

It had to be a large room because Nader, after all, was the guy who introduced cloning to contemporary progress. The business of leadership, he says, is creating more leaders, not more followers and the fruits of his labor were there: people like Lowell Dodge, Joan Claybrook, Sid Wolfe, John Richard, Teresa D'Amato, Russell Mokhiber, and Carl Nash. And reporters who shared or spread Nader's sense that the truth - whether in a Vietnam village or in a automobile factory - even if it doesn't set you free, may at least keep you alive. Reporters like Jim Ridgeway, Bill Greider and Sy Hersh. And people who had taken the Nader idea and applied it to other things, like Linda Schade of True Vote, currently leading the fight to make elections in Maryland safe at any speed of vote count.

Auto safety seems so reasonable today, but when Nader proposed Unsafe At Any Speed to a big publisher, he replied that "Alas, I fear it would only be of interest to insurance agents."

The auto manufacturers, however, quickly saw the importance. Jim Ridgeway - whose coverage of Nader drew the attention of Unsafe's eventual publisher, Richard Grossman - described in a 1966 article the industry's reaction to the "lanky Washington attorney of 32 who recently has been getting publicity because he went after the automobile makers." His landlady got a call to find out whether he paid his rent on time. His stockbroker was called by an investigator who claimed to be representing someone who wanted to hire Nader. The editor of a law journal for which Ralph had written was approached the same way and asked about Nader's drinking habits. An attractive brunette approached him and said that a group of her friends were interested in foreign affairs and they wanted to get all viewpoints. Would he join them? He claimed to be from out of town. Oh that's all right, the woman said. The meeting's tonight. The next day, the man to whom Nader had dedicated his book got a call from an investigator wanting to know about the activist's sex life and left wing leanings. And later that afternoon, Nader discovered two men following him as he flew back from Philadelphia from an appearance on the Mike Douglas Show. . .

If that all seems out of another time, consider this: from the moment Nader testified to the Ribicoff committee on Capitol Hill to the time that America had new federal car safety legislation that is still saving lives took all of about six months. Try to get anything done in Washington today in six months.

But that was a time of Phil Hart and Gaylord Nelson, not Tom DeLay and Duke Cunningham. And a time of Jim Ridgeway and Sy Hersh and not of TV toy journalists who look as though their last beat had been covering themselves at a beauty parlor.

Of course, the stories are still there. Dr. Sid Wolfe is doing much the same thing with medicine that his friend once did with the auto industry. Medicine - that's medicine, not disease - is one of our major causes of death through such things as adverse drug reactions and hospital infections.

Yet if you read the morning paper, you will get little idea of the problem other than as incidents without context, as if each bad drug was an exception to the general rule of benign health care. Perhaps even the user's fault.

Just like, forty years go, they said about auto crashes. Until Ralph Nader came along.

*************

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