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Sam Smith: The Democrats - Open Up Or Shut Up

The Democrats: Open Up Or Shut Up

By Editor Sam Smith
February 25, 2004

For the past four years, the only thing the Democrats and their media enablers have had to say about Ralph Nader is that he was to blame for their troubles. It was an utter lie that ignored, among other things, the lack of correlation between Nader and Gore in the polls leading to the election. For example between August and September 2000 Gore's average poll results rose 7.5 points but Nader's went down only 1 point. Between September and October, Gore's average went down 5.7 points and Nader's went up .8 points. At least 85% of Gore's changes were due to something other than Nader.

The Democrat's libel is further revealed in exit polling which showed that:

34% of union members voted for Bush but only 3% for Nader 13% of self-described liberals voted for Bush but only 6% for Nader 25% of gays voted for Bush but only 4% for Nader 15% of people who voted for Clinton in 1996 voted for Bush in 2000 but only 2% for Nader. 26% of those who voted for a Democratic candidate for governor split their ticket to vote for Bush but only 2% for Nader. More significantly, and totally unmentioned by either Democrats or the media, was the role that Clinton's corruption played in the electron. Sixty percent of votes had an unfavorable opinion of Clinton and 68% said he would go down in history books for his scandals rather than his achievements.

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Further the party remains in deep denial about what had happened to it during the Clinton years. It went into the 2000 race having lost under Clinton nearly 50 seats in the House, 8 seats in the Senate, 11 governorships, over 1200 state legislative seats, 9 state legislatures, and over 400 Democratic officeholders who had become Republicans.

It also ran as a presidential candidate a loyal member of the Clinton political machine which had chalked up criminal convictions for drug trafficking, racketeering, extortion, bribery, tax evasion, kickbacks, embezzlement, fraud, conspiracy, fraudulent loans, illegal gifts, illegal campaign contributions, money laundering, perjury, and obstruction of justice yet still insisted that its only problem was about sex.

None of this mattered, however. It was, we were constantly reminded, solely Ralph Nader's fault.

And so we come to the 2004 race and guess what? Ralph Nader is pissed off and ready to try again.

For four years, while insisting that Nader and the Greens had cost it the election, the Democrats did not do one thing to insure that what they claimed was true didn't happen again. In fact, they went out of their way to insure that American progressives would feel as unwelcome in 2004 as they did in 2000.

They made no common cause with Greens on any issue.

They appointed no Greens to positions in federal, state or local government.

They took not one step to institute instant runoff voting which would have eliminated the problem they complained about.

They refused to recognize that the policy differences between conventional Democrats and Greens was greater than between such Democrats and Republicans and failed to respond to that reality.

They made it clear that any Green-Democratic unity was a one way street by sending in Clinton and Gore to help defeat a Green candidate for mayor of San Francisco and moving immediately to redistrict the first state legislative seat won by a Green.

This has not prevented a hideous whining and gratuitous nastiness upon Nader's announcement that he intends to run again. For example, Tim Russert told Nader on Meet the Press, "I've got thousands of e-mails from people over the last several weeks talking about you and your potential candidacy and many of them come down to three letters, E-G-O, ego, this is all about Ralph. He's going to be a spoiler because of his ego. How do you respond?"

A proper response might have been, "Gee, Tim, it sounds like I must be watching your show too much" for in fact there is not a scintilla of evidence that Nader's ego, robust as it may be, is any more hypertrophied than that of the major party candidates or of the host of Meet the Press.

It quickly, however, became clear that Russert's question was not accidental. It was soon echoed by others in a way that signals 'talking points' - those widely circulated, contrived clichés that pass for debate and discourse. Thus we found Bill Richardson speaking of Nader's run as "an act of total vanity and ego satisfaction," and the chair of the Florida Democratic party speaking of Nader's 'enormous ego.' In Salon, Todd Gitlin wrote, "What Nader's decision amounts to is not logic but an exercise in monomania." Robert Scheer in Alternet called Nader's run 'an act of pure egotism.'

Even the leftwing Counterpunch ran an article by Bruce Johnson who suggested, "If he were driven more by principle than ego, perhaps he'd end all this posing and weaseling and (emulating Buddhist monks in Saigon and a Quaker on the Pentagon porch during the Vietnam war) he'd go sit on the capitol steps, douse himself with gasoline and exit this world of imperfect humanity in a blaze of protesting glory."

Having followed Washington egos for a good deal longer than most of those analyzing Nader's, I would rate him a middlin' monomaniac easily outpaced today by Bush, Kerry, and 72% of the White House press corps.

Nader is not the first to undergo such an assault this season. The same technique was used effectively against Dean who, despite being clearly one of the most accomplished, decent, and best qualified candidates, was turned into a caricature of inadequacy by the Democratic machine and its servile supporters in the media. In the process, his supporters were told they weren't wanted either and the party lost its one chance at meaningful reform.

And when Dean was finally quashed, what did the victors do? Here's how Frederick Foer described it in the New Republic:

"Officially, the Kerry campaign pledges to bring the party together and move past [the] gloating. But some establishment Democrats both inside and outside the Kerry campaign still intend to punish the Dean heretics. And, while well-known politicians, such as [Al] Gore, Harkin, and Moseley-Braun, may endure the most public abuse, the people who may ultimately suffer explicit retribution for their Dean-boosting are cogs in the Democratic machine . . . As one former high-ranking Clinton administration official put it, 'Will they work again in this town again? I hope not.'"

Thus, not only are Greens and Naderites persona non gratis among those in control of the Democratic Party but also Howard Dean, Tom Harkin, Al Gore, Carol Mosely Braun and any cog who didn't pick the right candidate. Is this politics or just another version of "Survivor?" Perhaps the losers should immolate themselves as well.

With such attitudes, the Democrats don't need Nader to do them in. They're doing a fine job all by themselves, and giving plenty of voters reason to stay home on election day.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote one of Nader's top aides suggesting that Ralph not run. I had just finished an article for the Green Horizon Quarterly in which I reviewed the history of third parties in the U.S. It seemed clear that the parties with the greatest influence had achieved it far more through grass roots organizing than through presidential races.

For example the most influential forces on left of center 20th century thinking were the Populists, Progressives and Socialists. Only occasionally did their presidential candidates do well: once each for Theodore Roosevelt, LaFollete and Debs. Yet despite this weakness the parties profoundly affected how American thought about politics right up to the Reagan counter-revolution..

The Populists only got 8% when they ran for president but they gave us numerous reforms including the progressive income tax. Eugene Debs got only 11% in his best run but by World War I the Socialists 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. As late as 1992, Karen Kubby, Socialist councilwoman, won her re-election with the highest vote total in Iowa City history. Other examples were state parties such as Farmer Labor and New York's Liberals which exercised considerable power without ever running their own candidate for president.

In my letter I argued, "My own feeling is that while I share Ralph's annoyance at the arrogant twerps at the Nation magazine [who had pompously urged Nader not to try again], presidential runs are the icing on the third party cake [and] before you can have an even partly successful run you need far more beneath the icing than we have at present.

"I would only even think about another run for Ralph if I felt that he had attracted a much larger constituency than he had in 2000.

"While I understand Ralph's moral position and think he has a perfect right to run, I come out of the Quaker tradition where virtue tends to be blended with pragmatism. Besides, once you decide to enter politics you are selecting a pragmatic tool for virtue so it is a bit hard to say that you want to be political but reject the pragmatic.

"By running for president, Ralph is using the most undemocratic, perverted tool of the establishment to make his point. He is, in a sense, playing right into the hands of the establishment. I think the trick is to use your own tools, in the manner of a guerilla, rather than to play the most rigged game in town."

My letter had no impact at all, but it was written not to declare the one true route to virtue but to argue a pragmatic tactic. I'm sorry my advice wasn't taken but Nader's choice neither shocks nor angers me. I am far more disturbed by the disgusting reaction by some towards it, and to an arrogance that assumes that despite the collapse of the American republic and despite the bipartisan destruction of the Constitution, no one is meant to stand up on the table and shout, "Enough!"

It doesn't really matter because movements don't take orders - especially from those with no vested interest in their success. The Democrats will have to live with the vituperative behavior they have displayed towards those they more wisely would have been sought to attract. If some Dean voters stay home, if others join the Nader cause, and if Nader does better than expected, the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. They then really will have only one choice: either to open up or to shut up - either to welcome those they now excoriate and exclude or have the decency to accept the consequences of their own greed and stupidity without whining and blaming someone else.


FEB 25, 2004
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