[sixties-l] Fwd: Nader Has Inspired Bitter Debates On The Left

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 12/07/00

  • Next message: Jeffrey Blankfort: "[sixties-l] Re: Sixties-l] Lesson Of Election 2000"

    >Published in the November 13, 2000 issue of In These Times
    >The Great Debate: Nader Has Inspired Bitter Debates On The Left. Isn't It 
    >by John Nichols
    >Leaning across the coach-class aisle of his flight from Washington to
    >Boston, where 12,000 people would rally to protest his exclusion from
    >the first presidential debate, Ralph Nader mused, "If I hadn't run, what
    >would there be for the left to talk about in this election?"
    >One need not wear Green colors to acknowledge that the Green Party
    >nominee for president makes a good point. Love Nader or hate him, support his
    >candidacy as an inspired challenge to politics as usual or oppose it as
    >a vain and dangerous fool's mission, but, please, don't deny the impact
    >of this campaign on progressives. For the first time in more than 50
    >years, the left is fully engaged in an intense, issue-driven, tactically
    >sophisticated dialogue about how to get the most out of the electoral
    >In the thick of the debate, especially when Al Gore backers label
    >Naderites na^ve cogs in a right-wing Republican machine--or when the
    >Naderites counter by decrying their detractors as na^ve cogs in a
    >right-wing Democratic machine--the whole endeavor can seem unsettling.
    >And it is. The dialogue over how to approach this year's presidential
    >election is shaking up the left, rousing it from a long neglected and
    >frequently dysfunctional relationship with electoral politics. Where
    >exactly the Gore-Nader tug-of-war will land the great, ill-defined mass
    >of progressive voters on the American political landscape remains to be
    >seen. But there is good reason to believe, whatever the count on
    >November 7, that the left will end this year in a better place than
    >where it stood prior to the 2000 campaign.
    >There's even the possibility that this discourse will lead American
    >progressives toward an understanding of the prospects for a politically
    >savvy electoral strategy that mirrors the sophisticated approach of
    >European, Indian, Australian, Canadian and Mexican activists. At the
    >very least, Nader has succeeded in forcing progressives to think anew
    >about how and why they will cast their ballots this fall.
    >Without Nader, the 2000 election campaign would have been the most
    >dismal presidential competition for American progressives since Grover
    >Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison faced off in a 1888 campaign so
    >hideously devoid of idealism that it spawned the Populist movement. Yes,
    >in a no-Nader context, the overwhelming majority of progressives would
    >have cast grudging ballots for Gore. But what would there have been to
    >say about those votes except perhaps that, once more, in the contest
    >between voting and not voting, the lessons of fourth-grade civics
    >teachers won out? And, perhaps, that they kept the smirking Texas
    >executioner out of the Oval Office.
    >Now, whether they are planning to vote for Gore or Nader, or whether
    >they are still agonizing over the choice, progressives are talking about
    >this election campaign. Endlessly. Energetically. And fruitfully. The
    >initial success of the Nader candidacy--measured by summer poll results
    >that put the Greens' strength near 10 percent in several key
    >states--made real the question of whether it was nobler to cast a ballot
    >for the best candidate and the better politics that might follow, or to
    >lend a vote to the inferior candidate with the clearest shot at
    >defeating the really dangerous contender. "Never in my life have I had
    >so many discussions with so many people I generally agree with about how
    >to vote in a November election," says Ed Garvey, a labor lawyer who was
    >the 1998 Democratic nominee for governor of Wisconsin. "People really
    >are thinking about where to go this year; they're weighing the choices,
    >asking themselves where to compromise, where to stand firm."
    >Garvey, who like many Democrats is also a longtime Nader admirer, is one
    >of the people doing the agonizing. He appeared at a huge Madison rally
    >organized by the Greens and asked the cheering crowd to imagine what a
    >better nation this would be with Nader as president. After he delivered
    >his impassioned speech, however, Garvey confided that if the contest
    >between Gore and Bush remains close in his crucial swing state, he'll
    >probably cast his ballot for the vice president. "It's hard," Garvey
    >says. "Do you follow your heart or do you do what you think has to be
    >done to prevent right-wingers from taking charge of everything?"
    >Yes, it is hard. The Nader challenge has inspired some of the most bitter
    >internal disputes the left has seen in decades. Old "Nader's raiders"
    >such as former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Connecticut) are campaigning against their
    >mentor. Lifelong Democrats such as former Texas Agriculture Commissioner
    >Jim Hightower have torn up their membership cards and jumped to the
    >Greens. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank and other Democrats have engaged
    >in ugly and unwarranted attempts to portray Nader as insensitive to the
    >concerns of women, gays and lesbians and racial minorities. At the same
    >time, Greens have tossed brickbats at Gore's pragmatic union supporters,
    >dismissing them as Democratic Party stooges who would abandon the
    >Seattle coalition for an empty promise of access to the Oval Office--or
    >perhaps a night in the Lincoln bedroom.
    >So intense has the internal conflict on the left grown that, in Boston
    >on the night of the first presidential debate, Ironworkers gathered
    >outside the hall to cheer Gore clashed with students, there to demand
    >Nader's inclusion. "I don't know if I've ever seen so many people who
    >agree on so many issues so divided over a single election," says Mel
    >King, a former Democratic legislator who ran a "Rainbow Coalition" race
    >for mayor of Boston and now is campaigning for Nader. "People are more
    >worked up about Nader-versus-Gore than anything in years."
    >Terrible, terrible, terrible gripe the cautious minders of an almost
    >always too-cautious left. They worry about "wasted" energy and "wasted"
    >votes. They fret about the damage the dissing discourse will do to a
    >broad constituency that, when it disagrees, in the words of New Party
    >founder Joel Rogers, can mirror the worst excesses of "hungry people
    >fighting over food."
    >But I see nothing terrible in this discourse. On the contrary, I think
    >it's terrific.
    >Nader's challenge has demanded that progressives take electoral politics
    >as seriously as do their comrades in other lands--and, perhaps more
    >importantly, as seriously as do their domestic foes on the corporate and
    >religious right. Finally, progressives are asking the right question:
    >How do I use my vote, my energy, my talent, my influence, my resources
    >to achieve the most left-wing result possible?
    >That the answers will differ is not merely understandable but necessary.
    >To achieve the most left-wing result that is possible in Kansas, for
    >instance, may require progressive populists to cast their ballots in
    >Republican primaries for moderate state school board candidates--if only
    >because they want their children to be taught evolution. To achieve the
    >most left-wing result that is possible in this year's New York Senate
    >race, trade unionists from Buffalo to the Bronx will eschew the
    >Democratic line and cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton on the line
    >of the Working Families Party--theorizing that because New York allows
    >the fusion of votes from different parties, Clinton will read the
    >results and know that she could not have won without the votes of people
    >who object to the Democratic Party's rightward drift. To achieve the
    >most left-wing result that is possible in several Vermont state
    >legislative districts this fall, local activists will cast their ballots 
    >for candidates of the
    >newly chartered Vermont Progressive Party--which should win more seats
    >in a state legislature this year than any left party since the Minnesota
    >Farmer-Labor and Wisconsin Progressive parties folded their third-party
    >efforts in the '40s.
    >And what of the presidential race? Again, the pursuit of that most
    >left-wing result will take voters in myriad directions. In the District
    >of Columbia, where a Democratic victory is only slightly less certain
    >than that of the Assads in Damascus, progressives will cast their
    >ballots for Nader--in hopes that the D.C. Statehood/Green Party alliance
    >will displace the Republicans as Washington's No. 2 party. In Alaska,
    >where Gore is about as competitive as, well, Nader, progressives will
    >take a serious shot at pushing the Greens into second place.
    >In other states, it gets harder. But, for those who would like to see
    >the left become a more serious player in American electoral politics,
    >hard is good. If we recognize that it is unlikely either the Democrats
    >or the Greens are going away after November 7, then the task of
    >determining the issues and the circumstances that might lead a voter to
    >break with the Democrats--or to stick with them--is healthy for
    >progressives who have been on the losing end of a dysfunctional
    >relationship with the Democratic Party pretty much since the day FDR
    >For the first time in decades, the term "tactical voting" is being given
    >its proper place in the language of the American left. Progressive
    >voters are actually checking poll figures, not to figure out which of
    >the evils is ahead, but rather to determine whether they can safely cast
    >a ballot for the good. These are people who would not risk handing the
    >White House to Bush, but who hope to be able to cast a Green vote as a
    >warning to Gore and Democratic Party leaders that there is indeed a
    >constituency that stands to the left of the Democratic Leadership
    >The point at which any particular progressive voter decides to embrace
    >or abandon the lesser evil is not the point. What matters is that the Nader
    >candidacy has opened dialogues--both internal and external--about the
    >wisdom and potential for tactical voting. This, as they say in China and
    >at Billy Bragg concerts, is a great leap forward.
    >If there is a single constant in left electoral work internationally, it
    >is an understanding of the value and the power of tactical voting.
    >Indeed, before the 1997 British election that dispatched the
    >Conservative Party from power after 18 years of Margaret Thatcher and
    >John Major, the watchword of the left was "tactical." The week before
    >the election, Britain's New Statesman magazine published a chart
    >suggesting the best vote that its lefty readers could cast in each of
    >more than 600 local contests for Parliament. The strategy involved
    >backing the strongest contenders against the Conservatives from a list
    >that included candidates of Labor and the smaller Liberal Democrat,
    >Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties. The strategy worked--not only
    >were the Tories defeated, but voters elected the largest Labor and
    >Liberal Democrat blocs since the end of World War II.
    >In more recent European Parliament elections, the tactical approach has
    >expanded to include instructions to vote for Greens and left-wing
    >offshoots of the Labor Party, with considerable success. In the recent
    >London mayoral election, which put Labor renegade Ken Livingstone in the
    >mayor's chair and Greens in a number of key positions, tactical voting
    >was raised to something of an art form by creative new coalitions of
    >traditional Labor voters, Greens and independent leftists.
    >In France, where a two-tier election system makes it possible to cast a
    >first vote based on ideology and a second vote for practicality,
    >leftists for generations have used tactical voting as a tool to pressure
    >the Socialist Party to move left. In the last rounds of presidential and
    >parliamentary elections, for instance, the millions of first-round votes
    >for Green, Communist and Trotskyist candidates--yes, Trotskyists
    >actually do top the million-vote mark in France--clearly signaled to the
    >Socialists that they needed to move left. And they did, implementing a
    >35-hour work week and challenging the cautious "third-way" philosophy
    >advanced by Britain's Tony Blair and Germany's Gerhard Schr^der.
    >Similar stories of strategic alliances, careful plotting and--dare we
    >say it?--success can be found around the world. Such tales are especially
    >common in Scandinavia, where Social Democratic and purer "Third Left"
    >parties compare, contrast, compete and, at times, come together--as in
    >Finland, where the Left Alliance Party, which could reasonably be
    >referred to as "Naderite," recently entered the government as a junior
    >coalition partner.
    >Of course, tactical voting is only one hammer that can be extracted from
    >the toolbox of electoral strategies that could be employed by
    >progressives who are determined to alter the political
    >landscape--internationally and domestically. The variety of approaches
    >is actually rather well illustrated by the tentative, yet clearly
    >hopeful steps taken this year by New York's Working Families Party as it
    >makes real the promise of fusion, Vermont's Progressive Party as it
    >forges a genuine third force, and the Greens, who have chosen not to run
    >candidates against progressive Democrats while at the same time mounting
    >needed races against New Democrats such as California Sen. Dianne
    >Feinstein--who faces a spirited challenge from Global Exchange's Medea 
    >Is it possible that the American left might eventually develop the
    >structures, institutions and--most critically--the instincts required to
    >move in and out of the Democratic Party, to cast tactical votes, build
    >complex alliances and, ultimately, create an alternative politics that
    >is bigger than the Democratic Party, or even the Green Party? Can the
    >rare accomplishment of Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders, who has proved that
    >it is possible to force the Democrats to play nice with an independent
    >socialist, be replicated in states where voters outnumber dairy cows?
    >It is easy to suggest that America's absurd and constricting
    >winner-take-all electoral system renders comparison with other countries
    >useless. It is even easier to claim that the American left lacks the
    >electoral traditions, the organizational strength and the communications
    >infrastructure that has enabled progressive forces in other lands to
    >forge effective electoral strategies. It is easiest of all to question
    >whether there even is a left in America--and to state with puffed-up
    >certainty that, even if such a team can be identified, its players could
    >never be expected to agree long enough to take the field of political
    >battle and make a difference.
    >Dismissing the left's prospects--electoral or otherwise--is a national
    >pastime in this country. But I seem to recall that, exactly a year ago,
    >I heard questions about whether it made any sense to try and pull
    >together demonstrations outside the Seattle sessions of a trade group
    >that even some well-read leftists could not identify. Last fall's
    >anti-WTO protests proved that a diverse coalition of progressives could
    >take a page from their international allies and mount a powerful
    >challenge not only to corporate power, but to the naysayers within the
    >left's own ranks. And the great Nader-Gore debate suggests the
    >possibility that--far from destroying itself--the broad American left
    >may finally be prepared to steal a page from the electoral playbook of
    >its international comrades.
    >Sen. Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota Democrat who backs Gore but eschews
    >criticism of Nader, knows better than perhaps anyone else on the
    >American left the challenge and the potential of a more engaged and
    >tactically savvy left politics. Not long ago, I sat with Wellstone in a
    >room full of progressives who agreed on every issue, but who were almost
    >evenly divided on the Nader-versus-Gore question. The dialogue between
    >Wellstone and his friends was thrilling--filled with the intensity,
    >mutual respect and hope that is so often missing from activist
    >"I really do believe it's important that Gore beat Bush," Wellstone said
    >to me as we were walking out of the room. "But I want to tell you
    >something: It's just as important that we capture the energy of this
    >dialogue that we've got going on the left and turn it into something.
    >November 7 is important because it's Election Day, but November 8 may be
    >even more important for progressives. On November 8, no matter what
    >happens, we've got to take all these questions and arguments, all this
    >energy that's being poured into beating Bush with Gore and into building
    >an alternative with Nader, and turn it into something."
    >Wellstone is right to see reason for hope in the electoral turbulence
    >that has gripped the left this fall. Ralph Nader has stirred the pot. He
    >has forced progressives to begin to come to grips with the question of
    >how they will engage with the electoral process. And, no matter how they
    >answer that question, the nature of their engagement will be more
    >sophisticated, more nuanced and more significant than it has been since
    >the days when no one questioned whether there was a left in America.
    >John Nichols is editorial page editor of the Capital Times in Madison,
    >Wisconsin. A fellow with The Nation Institute, he writes "The Beat"
    >column for The Nation and frequently contributes to The Progressive and
    >In These Times. His new book, written with Robert W. McChesney, is It's
    >the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories).
    >Copyright 2000 In These Times

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : 12/08/00 EST