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July 27, 2006

Nader Was Right

Scott Lemieux takes up the Nader wars, arguing that Ralph was really Bush's best friend:

Actually, I am taking him at his word: "If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win." "Which, Nader confided to Outside in June, wouldn’t be so bad. When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: “Bush.""

Oddly enough, his word was correct, then, wasn't it? The Democratic Party really has diverged from the Republican Party. Its progressive and liberal strains have amassed vast amounts of influence and organizing capabilities. The most ostentatiously, unnecessarily conservative of its members are being seriously primary'd, an effort that, whether or not it succeeds, will worry all incumbents who would break faith with the left. The party is vibrating with new health care bills, national security strategies, economic philosophies, and progressive worldviews -- most all of which explicitly or implicitly reject the rightward drift of the 90's. And Gore, the man Nader helped beat, may well be the phenomenon's most compelling example: Where in 2000 he ran a mealy-mouthed, uninspiring campaign with few big ideas and even fewer moments of real liberalism, he's become an electric voice for progressivism and conscience, emerging a hero to lefties everywhere.

This, of course, is not to exonerate Nader. The damage Bush has caused is incalculable, the death toll staggering. But insofar as Nader believed his victory would reawaken the left's progressivism, he appears to have been dead on.

July 27, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

It didn't take a genius to have that kind of foresight, Ezra. The questions are: 1) Was it worth it? and 2) Was there anothe way.

The correct answers: 1) No. 2) Yes.

Posted by: spike | Jul 27, 2006 11:11:27 AM

I agree with Spike's questions, although my answers are 1) we won't know until 2009 at least, and 2) maybe, but given the opposition we're still facing within our own party, I wouldn't bet much on it. It may turn out that the best Dems could ever really expect is a sort of mealy-mouthed inertia, barely holding off the GOP hordes, in which case a different outcome in 2000 would have been better in every way. And the outcome of the intraparty battles isn't certain yet, although I do think that in time the DLC types will be outflanked, & simply outlived, by more stouthearted types.

Posted by: latts | Jul 27, 2006 11:18:04 AM

Tell you what, if Edwards gets the nomination and chooses Lieberman as a running mate, he won't get my vote. Same with Russ. In fact, if Nader ran again and chose Joementum, he wouldn't get my vote either. I guess that's just my litmus test.

Posted by: keatssycamore | Jul 27, 2006 11:50:27 AM

It's "correct" only if:

1) you accept the premise that a Bush victory was the only way to achieve a revitalized Progressive Left

2) you think that the concerns a revitalized Progressive Left has today would not be different under other circumstances (hint: anti-war activism galvanized a lot of the Left's energy)

3) you think the Left truly had amassed "vast amounts of influence and organizing capabilities"

I reject #1 and #2, and think #3 remains to be seen.

Posted by: fiat lux | Jul 27, 2006 11:56:24 AM

Not to be picky, but it wasn't the victory of Bush, but the implementation of his policies that have awakened people.

I'm not a big fan of the "sabotage the system so the masses must face the reality of oppression" political strategy, but it was the only thing I saw Nader up to - he clearly does not want to be an elected political leader.

The problem with that strategy is that you are sacrificing the weakest in society - there have to be casualties for this strategy to work - so ethically it is a little suspect. However, Nader did also sacrifice his legacy and the political viability of the Green Party, so perhaps his approach wasn't without some benefit.

Posted by: pebird | Jul 27, 2006 12:01:38 PM

spike's questions:

a) Was it worth it?

Yes, because this is a debate that was inevitable. In fact, it was the central thesis of our times since the advent of the Reagan revolution: whether modern conservatism was right? Whether, if they no longer had Dems as an excuse, could they govern under this principles. The resounding answer is no. There was no other way for the American people, who aren't fond of history, to understand why conservatism (from Reaganomics to Neocon thought) is flawed. I don't know if liberalism (at least in its orthodox form) was any better, but to move on to the next revolution- we had to settle the questions raised by Republican revolution much like Soviets had prove to world the central flaws of communism.

b) No, there was no other way. Most Americans, including myself, flirted with the ideas without ever really being forced to realize their flaws. We would have continued to do so and 10 to 20 years from now we would still be in the place we are in now. Now, we had all the hurting, so there is no where to go but up (hopefully). I suppose this question however depends on what type of personality you have. I prefer to get the bad bits out of the way fast rather than slow. I also suppose it depends on whether you think of triangulation as a flawed strategy. I do, because I watched as what were moderate views that I held become under triangulation- 'far left.' If we think of the rhectorical trap that is triangulation we understand why in real world terms it was necessary. Do I like the pain? No- do I think there was any way to avoid it- no.

Posted by: akaison | Jul 27, 2006 12:05:10 PM

PS

this is not my thesis, but I agree with it: there can not be a vital center when one has only a vital right or a vital left, there can only be a vital center when one has both a vital right and a vital center. For the last 13 years we have had a vital right and a weak left. In that since Nader was right to kick peo in the ass to get up and start thinking and acting differently. Without 2000 many of us would still be too comfortable to change.

Posted by: akaison | Jul 27, 2006 12:09:40 PM

The thing that gets me about Nader is that he did irreparable damage to the very idea he was (purportedly) trying to promote: the viability of a third party. The Greens may, at some point, be a viable political party, but his shoot-the-moon stab at the presidency did them no favors. And by extension, it showed that the best thing a third party can accomplish is handing it's worst enemies a victory.

Also, it implies that Nader accepts 2,500 dead American troops and 200,000 dead Afghans and Iraqis as an acceptable cost of "energizing the left." Which has so far been much flash and little substance - for all the bloggers and anti-war supporters and progressives have gotten together and talked about changing things, Bush has started two wars that show no sign of stopping and the GOP's hold on congress has only tightened since 2000. Meanwhile, the most prominent Dems in the Senate rally around Bush's favorite donkey, and the only consistent opponent of the president's policies (Feingold) is seen as dangerously far out. This despite the president's 36% approval rating, and the increasing unpopularity of the wars.

All of this could change in 2006, but at this point it's still potential. Currently, if Nader's goal was to effect progressive change in America, he's failed miserably.

Posted by: Kylroy | Jul 27, 2006 12:35:25 PM

akaison:

we had to settle the questions raised by Republican revolution much like Soviets had prove to world the central flaws of communism.

What the Soviets practiced was not in fact Communism, it was socialist-flavored totalitarianism. Read some Marx.

Now, we had all the hurting, so there is no where to go but up (hopefully).

The hurting is by no means over, and for some 2500+ US soldiers and god knows how many civilians, the cost has gone far beyond mere hurt. You're being very callous about the price in human lives that has been paid.

Posted by: fiat lux | Jul 27, 2006 12:49:40 PM

I'm not sure we're moving away from 90's centrism. I think the prototypical 90's centrist group, the DLC, moved to the right in 00's. We're moving away from the DLC, but it's not clear to me that anyone thinks that, in sum, the 90's were anything but a massive success. If you could run a candidate that could guarantee a repeat of the 90's results, he'd win in a landslide.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 27, 2006 1:00:20 PM

Jesus fucking Christ. Of course it wasn't worth it. The Democratic Party hasn't slid to the left on its own; it's done so - to the incredibly minute degree that it has - in reaction to a Republican Party that lurched wildly to the right and pulled half the country along with it. They're claiming the right to legally torture people and place the president above the law; we're getting more assertive about health care. This is not parity, people.

Posted by: Christmas | Jul 27, 2006 1:00:48 PM

SCMT has it right, too. The Dems are still essentially a centrist party, and have let anything that even faintly smells of liberalism be defined as "the far left" (see the tendency to brand strident opposition to the Iraq War as "leftist"). Who among the Democratic core is willing to go much farther left than Bill Clinton? Is there a viable Democratic presidential candidate who'd repudiate welfare reform? A leftward shift, my ass.

Posted by: Christmas | Jul 27, 2006 1:05:01 PM

There is also 9/11 to take into account. Without it, Bush probably would have been a pathetic lame duck his entire first term instead of a "War President" and 2004 could have been alot different.

Posted by: Adrock | Jul 27, 2006 1:13:18 PM

The left might be more active, but the Democrats don't appear to have drifted leftward.

Posted by: DDude | Jul 27, 2006 3:28:28 PM

Second that, or third, or fifth maybe: no need to argue about causality or anything else, since this thesis is massively contradicted by the facts. If you think what's going on behind the (D) names lately is leftward drift, I would like seeds from whatever you are smoking.

On the tangential never-really-tried-Communism plaint that I could have sworn went out of style with the original SDS: the reason Bakunin split the first International was Marx's authoritarian tendencies. Their later expression through Trotsky's Red Army, Lenin's War Communism and their apotheosis under Stalin and Mao were a natural progression. Most of what Marx wrote and everything he actually did flows naturally into totalism.

Get a grip on reality, the both of you.

Posted by: wcw | Jul 27, 2006 4:49:49 PM

Maybe I'm just seeing things but it does seem to me that the Democratic party is currently calling for: energy independence - which I think is unarguably to the left of any energy policy since the Carter years; significant expansion of health care (Medicare for All is indicative, but there are obviously a lot of other proposals); card-check neutrality for union organizing (every Senate Democrat except Ben Nelson has endorsed it); ... That sounds to me quite a bit to the left of the Democrats circa 1996. And on top of all that, the party is once again organizing at the grass roots level, which it had not done in a long, long time.

Again, this may be wrong, but I think the party has in some key respects moved to the left. That doesn't make the Bush presidency a worthwile experiece, let alone justify some of Nader's stupider moves in 2000, but I don't see how you can deny that its happened.

Posted by: Rich C | Jul 27, 2006 5:04:05 PM

Since Nader ran and Bush came into office, the Democratic Party has gone from a semi-governing party with a heavy moderate influence, to a powerless debating society in which liberals have a stronger voice. I guess you could look at this and say, "Mission Accomplished," depending on what your priorities are.

The thing that bugs me about the logic of voting Nader to create a big mess and force the Democrats to the left is that real people get hurt by this. I was still in college in 2000, and it really grated on me, seeing these white kids from upper-middle class families, who hadn't had to deal with day-to-day life yet, or pay bills, or find a job, or had much life experience outside their privileged existance, saying, "Well, sure, some people may suffer in the short run, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for The Movement."

Posted by: Chris | Jul 27, 2006 5:29:04 PM

One more thing. The issues progressives will have to deal with, assuming they come into power over '06-'08, will deal overwhelmingly with figuring out, not how to enact bold changes starting in a vacuum, but with how to clean up the messes that Bush has made. God knows how long it'll take just to get us back to the economic and diplomatic situation we had in 2000, if that in itself isn't a pipe dream at this point.

Posted by: Chris | Jul 27, 2006 5:34:21 PM

Echoing Chris: anytime you say the end justifies the means, you're playing a dangerous game. Because in the end, all you can get are more means.

Posted by: Kylroy | Jul 27, 2006 6:00:12 PM

a) We went from a moderate leaning majority to a minority not because of nader but because of our own stagnancy and Gore was boring. Blaming others for what ails us may make you feel better, but it ain't reality. I believe some of you are about as in touch with reality as the DLC is. I say this as a guy who is mostly moderate (ie, believed in the Powell Doctrine in foreign policy, supported some form (although not the form it took) of welfare reform, believe in smart and fair trade and tax policy, believed in a state based healthcare system rather than federal or soley private, etc). Triangulation which is a centrist strategy rather than an idealogically moderate bent had and has nothing to do with that.

What does? As oft has been stated, I believe you know this, it's the stagnant view that the other side will simply allow you to triangulate off of them without regard to realizing that you are doing it. I swear some of you think the Republicans are strategically stupid. They aren't. And, no matter how smart you think you are- we aren't geniuses either. Rather than trying to be the smartest guy in the room why dont you realize that the American public is onto the game. You got two good presidential races out of it. That's it. If you make a move that is predictable and stagnant like triangulation, if you keep returning to the same well so that your oponent not only can create strategies to create their own version of mental ju jitsu then you are going to lose. That's true in the private sector, and not suprisingly that's true in the public sector too.

I am a nobody politically and not your opponent, and I can think of ways around the strategy- so why be surprised that Republicans can too?

And, let's deal with some more reality shall we- I mean 1994 did happen right? Was nader at fault for that too? Oh I know it was gays in the military or some other single issue that you think did us in. Maybe, just maybe it's not one thing, but more or less about how approach all of these issues? Maybe just maybe this introspecition, this debate society, as one person calls it is necessary to hash out the fault lines that have been ignored since the Dems came into power ??

b) I get tired of people saying that communism, real communism wasn't tried. Look, it doesn't matter if communism wasn't tried according to what Marx said (and yes I read marx, and quite a few other political theorists). The point is that it didn't work. Trying to rehash old theories is a waste of time unless you see the world as the neocon does- a place where you test your theories without regard to reality.

c) Some silliness over debating society- well what do y ou expect when you avoid having central principles that holds people together? Blame nader as much as you want,b ut I personally blame the party leaders for not thinking through what they were doing, for being reactive rather than proactive, for being careerists rather than centrally focused on party building (trust me, I volunteered this 2004 election cycle and there was no excuse- none, for what I saw of the party aparatus in a supposedly blue area. I imagine if you listened rather than just making conjecture you would hear a lot of people making that same complaint.), for being a fraid of risk to the point that even when a strategy is failing they continue to use it, etc.

d) Chris is right. A large part of 2006 through 8 should the Dems come into power will be clean up messes. More than this, I believe that we probably wont have a governing majority even if we achieve a majority. So- look for more debates, look for more power grabs as people jock for position. Look for blame the liberals arguments from 'centrists'

Posted by: akaison | Jul 27, 2006 6:01:27 PM

Or, "Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over"

Point by point to spell things out for Rich: a real move to the left would mean things like nationalizing energy provision rather than uttering platitudes, national health care rather than seeking somewhat fewer uninsured, a labor party rather than nattering about check cards, and a vital nationwide party movement rather than a few web sites with baseball-bat graphics. You're letting the GOP's move into Genghis-Khan territory get you to confuse sober, well-meaning Eisenhower Republicans for left-of-center politics.

I think Eisenhower was probably the second-best of modern US presidents, but moving towards his politics is hardly a move left.

Posted by: wcw | Jul 27, 2006 6:05:01 PM

I recommend we finish the job by electing Republicans for the next 20 years. Then we'll really have them!

Posted by: calling all toasters. | Jul 27, 2006 6:47:55 PM

well, what's worse, having to spend the 26 years fighting the republicans and continuing to lose bit by bit whole sections of the country (which we were doing), or having spent the last 6 letting them screw things up proving once and for all why they are bankrupt in ideas and execution, and now, being on the verge of a Democratic resurgence in places like MT, NE, KS etc? 26 more years hearing how Vietnam wouold have gone better if we had stuck it out? 26 more years about how its the democrats fault without any counter balancing narrative? As I said before, it really comes down to how you view this situation- do you view our prior continued appeasement of the theory of Republican leadership a sucess or do you think taking a risk of showing actual failed Republican leadership a sucess? Now 65 percent of the country thinks the Republicans are bankrupted for ideas and execution. They are looking to the Democrats for the first time in a different way. The pain was going to h appen anyway is my point, and it was really only a matter of whehter it would last 26 years or 6.

Posted by: akaison | Jul 27, 2006 7:00:52 PM

I think Eisenhower was probably the second-best of modern US presidents, but moving towards his politics is hardly a move left.

I like him, too, but Jeebus. For what value of modern?

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 27, 2006 8:32:30 PM

FDR is the first modern US president, IMO, but I'll back Ike as #2 even if you go back to Wilson.

If you claim Lincoln is the first modern president, you have some 'splainin to do, but then Ike slips some.

Who beats him, besides FD-on-a-stretcher-R?

Posted by: wcw | Jul 27, 2006 8:39:58 PM

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