>It's your party and you can cry if you want to >Will Gore lose Florida? Who cares. The Democrats are beyond redemption. <http://www.salon.com/politics/feature/2000/11/22/nader/index.html> >By Andrew O'Hehir > >Nov. 22, 2000 | Here's a memo to all the whiny, sore-loser Democrats (or >sore-winner Democrats, as the case may be) who are trying to blame Ralph >Nader and the Green Party for your predicament: Get over it. I and the >2.7 million other Americans who voted for Nader are not your wayward >children who stayed out past curfew. We are, by definition, your >political opponents. We didn't vote for your party because we think it >stinks, and we don't care all that much whether you won or lost. Is that >clear enough? Now can we just pick a president by reading the entrails >of a pregnant chad or something and move on? > >Check your civics textbooks and the Constitution; does it say anywhere >that the two-party system was ordained by the Creator, or that the >Democratic Party has an eternal right to the votes of progressives and >leftists, no matter how mealy-mouthed and corrupt the party gets? It's >undoubtedly true that many Green voters would prefer Al Gore to George >W. Bush, on balance. There's no contradiction involved there; most of >Pat Buchanan's voters (outside Palm Beach County, anyway) would >presumably prefer Bush to Gore. > >But Nader voters -- and Buchanan voters, albeit in smaller numbers -- >made a principled decision. Revolutionary, I know, but stick with me on >this. They decided it was more important to try to build a genuinely >independent political movement than to participate in the profoundly >undemocratic choice between two Ivy League daddy's boys suckled on the >soft-money teat, about whom the public seems equally ambivalent. > >Is building such a movement within the profoundly flawed universe of >American electoral politics even possible? Maybe, maybe not. But for >many people on the left, the Nader campaign felt like the first genuine >injection of positive energy in mainstream politics since Jesse Jackson >in the 1980s. We're sick of sitting up late nights like an abandoned >wife with a candle in the window, pining for a Democratic Party that ran >out on us years ago yet still expects us to show up on Election Day. > >Clearly, liberals and activists who still see hope for the Democrats >will disagree. But the exaggerated anti-Nader venom, such as that found >in an entertaining Salon article by my colleague Charles Taylor, strikes >me as an advanced case of kill-the-messenger syndrome. The Democratic >Party's injuries are self-inflicted; they can't be blamed on a geeky >consumer advocate and his tiny, poorly organized third party. > >First off, let's get rid of one canard. Even if Bush wins, we'll never >know whether Nader "cost" Gore the election; exit polls suggest that >many Nader voters wouldn't have voted at all in a straight Gush-Bore >matchup. (And for whatever it's worth, Bush attracted about twice as >many registered Democrats as Nader did.) But Nader's very presence in >the race, and the enthusiasm his candidacy generated among students, >environmentalists and other progressive activists, indicates that cracks >are showing in the politics of fear that have held the amorphous >Democratic coalition together in recent years. > >Ever since the disastrous defeat of George McGovern by Richard Nixon in >1972, the Democratic Party has had two unwritten rules for dealing with >its own left wing. Rule 1: There is no left. Rule 2: If there is a left, >it must be destroyed or at least silenced. As the party slid toward the >mushy center, essentially morphing into the Republican Party of the >Eisenhower era (while the Republican Party itself was morphing into, I >don't know, the Brown Shirts), it left its >progressive-environmentalist-feminist wing increasingly homeless. Some >people on this wing played along, believing that even the centrist New >Democrats were preferable to >the post-Reagan GOP; others abandoned electoral politics for academics, >community activism or gardening. > >Let's note an important historical contrast here: In 1964, the >Republican Party was transformed by a wave of grass-roots activism, and >nominated a true believer (Barry Goldwater) who galvanized the activist >core but got slaughtered in the general election by a popular incumbent >president. A generation later, these activists conquered not just their >own party but the entire country, sweeping Ronald Reagan to power on an >unprecedented conservative tide. > >The McGovern campaign represented a parallel upsurge of activism within >the Democratic Party, and produced the same short-term result. But union >leaders, big-city mayors, tort lawyers, Southern congressmen and other >entrenched forces essentially united to purge the activists, who >terrified them politically and threatened their power. In the long run, >this created a party without a grass-roots base, whose only electoral >strategy was to study the polls and bend with the wind, to "triangulate" >(in the loathsome phrase of the loathsome Dick Morris) a middle road >between liberals and conservatives. > >Could the McGovern radicals ever have triumphed on a national scale the >way the Goldwater radicals did? I don't know, but that's not the point. >The Republican shift to the right was motivated by the personal >convictions of millions of party activists; the Democratic shift to the >center was motivated not by principle but by Morris-style strategic >thinking. Some people, like President Clinton and Gore, may have >believed wholeheartedly in this new direction. But its only real purpose >was to gain power. From that moment forward the Democratic Party became >a reactionary force whose core values were never certain. In short, it >sold its >soul. > >Of course, the Democrats could afford to do that because they still had >large groups of loyal voters they could take almost entirely for >granted, even if they no longer had any activist base outside a few >Washington think tanks. African-Americans, Latinos, feminists, >environmentalists and the progressive wing of the labor movement had no >place else to go, in terms of electoral politics. Many were >understandably terrified of the newly energized GOP, which seemed to >want to lock women in the kitchen, sell Yellowstone to the highest >bidder and get the poor off welfare and into prison. > >The Republicans, in fact, provided the cudgel the Democratic leadership >used to batter renegade movements like Jackson's Rainbow Coalition -- >which strove to reconnect the party with a multiracial, working-class >base -- back into line. If you think we're bad, went the Democratic >theme song, wait till you see the other guys. It worked, for a while. >During the Clinton years, the party did the minimum necessary to hang on >to poor, dark-skinned and liberal voters, while doing the maximum >possible to pry affluent suburbanites loose from the Republicans. > >But the triangulation strategy can only continue to work if no one >presents a genuine, grass-roots challenge for those abandoned and >dispirited left-leaning voters. Even a marginal (and marginally >successful) effort to do so, like that of Nader and the Greens, must be >savaged and, if possible, discredited. This horror of being attacked at >the Democratic Party's most vulnerable point accounts, I believe, for >the near-hysterical pitch of much of the Nader-bashing, which simply >repeats the same old tune: We may suck but the Republicans suck worse. > >This is what I mean by the politics of fear. Democratic loyalists, from >Congress to the academy to the editorial page of the New York Times, are >trying to terrorize Green voters into repentance with horror stories: We >have delivered the country into the hands of Trent Lott and Tom DeLay; >we're ensuring that right-wing wacko judges get appointed to the Supreme >Court; we're a bunch of effete white intellectuals who won't suffer the >likely consequences of our actions. But the real fear at issue here is >the fear of >the Democratic apparatchiks themselves, at the prospect of their >soulless, sclerotic party being undermined by the forces of genuine >democracy. > >In the interests of civil discourse, I'm going to skip over the ad >hominem, and thoroughly irrelevant, attacks on Nader's personality and >manner that form a distinct subset of Nader-bashing. Suffice it to say >that Nader is an imperfect candidate on many levels, but he's also a man >of real integrity and accomplishment who has worked for the good of >American citizens his entire life and never panders to his audience. >Besides, anyone who voted for Gore, for any reason, has permanently lost >the right to complain about boring, irritating and pedantic politicians. > >In fact, the relentless negativity and fear-mongering of the >Green-baiters only makes it clear that they don't have anything good to >say about their own candidate or their own party. This spectacle of >intelligent and well-meaning people struggling to defend a crippled >institution they don't really like is more than a little sad. Many of >them, I am convinced, realize that the difference between Democratic and >Republican fiscal policy these days, as Michael M. Thomas of the New >York Observer has put it, is mainly the question of which of Alan >Greenspan's butt cheeks to lick first. > >These Democratic loyalists are too smart not to realize that their >candidate this year was a smug oligarch only slightly less noxious than >the one he opposed. (The streets of hell will be closed for a snow day >before either Gore or Bush shuts off the soft-money spigot that has >thoroughly corrupted national politics.) Or that Gore's vaunted >intelligence consists mostly of half-digested fragments cribbed from New >Age management-guru bestsellers. Or that his running mate was an >intolerant, sanctimonious prick who would absolutely, positively be a >Republican if he didn't adhere to a minority religion. > >Now that the Republicans have emulated the Democrats and handed back >their party's reins from the activist fringe to the corporate center, >this year's presidential election will matter slightly less, in the >world-historical scheme of things, than the battle between Coke and >Pepsi. At least people actually like Coke and Pepsi; this has been more >like Dr. Pepper vs. Mr. Pibb. I suppose if I really had to choose >between being ruled by law firms and high-tech zillionaires (the >Democrats) on one hand and oil and pharmaceutical tycoons (the >Republicans) on the other, I'd pick the lawyers. But the Nader campaign, >as modest and provisional as it was in the end, was an attempt to argue >that the choice doesn't have to be that narrow. > >All right, the Democratic hit squads say, that's very high-minded. Then >they start flogging us with DeLay and Lott again. What about the poor >women who'll bleed to death from botched coat-hanger abortions after Roe >vs. Wade is overturned, and inner-city schoolchildren who'll go without >books and lunches when their budget is vouchered out to suburban >religious academies? > >This is, of course, the politics of fear at its highest and most >effective pitch. I don't doubt that the Bush administration (version >2.0) will be capable of doing some real harm, and I can't question the >motives of anyone who felt they had to vote for Gore on that basis. But >if it is Bush who takes office on Jan. 20, he will be one of the most >weakened presidents in American history. He's unlikely to try and enact >the agenda of the radical right, which feels lukewarm about him in any >case. If he does, he's simply gift-wrapping both houses of Congress for >the Democrats in 2002. > >Of course, even a weak president with 51 senators on his side can >install some egregious Neanderthal on the Supreme Court for life. Bush >won't repeat the mistake his father made with closet liberal David >Souter; it's safe to assume any W. appointments will be true-blue >conservatives in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. This >fear of a Bush court was clearly the Democrats' most potent weapon, and >the reason why many potential Nader votes probably went to Gore at the >last minute. Those of us who stuck with Ralph believed, however, that >the best vote for civil rights and civil liberties was a vote for the >long-term rejuvenation of democracy, not another vote for a party that >doesn't stand for anything. > >As for the not-so-subtle charges of elitism and racism against Nader and >the Greens, it strikes me that those who have run out of legitimate >arguments resort in the end to ugly innuendo. It's true that the Green >movement, based in environmentalist and college-activist circles that >tend to be mostly white, has done a piss-poor job of reaching people of >color. Out of both tradition and pragmatism, minority voters, especially >African-Americans, remain as a whole fiercely loyal to the Democrats. >But whether the Green Party succeeds or not, how long will blacks and >other minorities continue to tolerate the party that has eagerly >collaborated >in the war on drugs, the militarization of the inner city, the >tremendous expansion of the prison-industrial complex, the racist >application of the death penalty and the evisceration of the welfare >system? > >The 2000 presidential campaign will end someday, thank God, but the >Nader-bashing is essentially the prelude to the next one, in which the >Democrats will be desperate to fortify their voter base against further >Green erosion. Beneath the Democratic fury at defectors is a clear >subtext: If you're really sorry and come home and stay very quiet, this >will all be forgiven in time. In Taylor's eloquent, enraged article, he >argues that the Democratic Party remains the traditional home for >liberals and progressives in American politics, and we should be >fighting to reform and renew it, rather than abandoning it. > >As Nader said repeatedly during the campaign, it wasn't the Greens who >abandoned the Democrats but the other way around. The Greens face long >and perhaps insuperable odds in trying to build a viable third party. >But it feels good, finally, to have done something out of principle. It >feels good to be free of the party that now seems unreformable and >unrenewable. The party that rolled over for Newt Gingrich on welfare >reform, that set back the cause of national healthcare by decades, that >sold off the national forests in unprecedented quantities for nickels on >the dollar, that waffled fatally on the rights of gays and lesbians, >that >presided over the most unequal economic boom in American history. Maybe >we should be grateful for the presidential sex scandal that stopped the >government dead for two years. > >If anything, Nader voters should take heart from the bashing. It means >that we made enough of a difference that they're scared of us and want >to destroy us. It means we have a chance. It means we've reached the >second, and nearly the third, stage in Gandhi's legendary formula for >revolutionary change: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. >Then they fight you. Then you win."
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