Saturday, January 31, 2004

Let Ralph decide

How quickly we forget or revise our history for the sake of convenience and political expedience.
The latest revision of history is about the 2000 election and whether or not Consumer Advocate Ralph Nader cost Vice President Al Gore the presidency. For the last three years, the press and Democratic political figures have been attacking Nader, the Green Party, and millions of voters for the election of President George W. Bush. On talk shows, in columns, in newspaper editorials, and letters to the editor, the mantra has been the same - Nader cost Gore the election.
Sure, some smart Democrats admit that their candidate had major flaws: Gore huffing and puffing through the first debate and blowing his lead, that his running mate was too conservative and alienated young voters, that maybe they should have requested recounting the entire state of Florida instead of a few select counties, that maybe they shouldn’t have approved the "butterfly ballot" system which confused so many of the elderly voters, that maybe they should have made better petitions before the Supreme Court who later stopped the counts and awarded the state to Bush, etc. Whole books have been written on the subject, barely touching on Nader’s role in the race. Instead, many of these books have touched upon the Republicans and what they did and how the Democrats failed to counter effectively. However, the truth of the matter is quickly forgotten and the mantra remains.
Well, Nader is hinting at another run and people are freaking out again. Take The Nation magazine.
The weekly of the upper-crusted progressive elite wrote an editorial letter to Ralph Nader begging him not to run ["An Open Letter to Ralph Nader"]. Here is an important quote from the request:
"But when devotion to principle collides with electoral politics, hard truths must be faced. Ralph, this is the wrong year for you to run: 2004 is not 2000. George W. Bush has led us into an illegal pre-emptive war, and his defeat is critical. Moreover, the odds of this becoming a race between Bush and Bush Lite are almost nil. For a variety of reasons--opposition to the war, Bush's assault on the Constitution, his crony capitalism, frustration with the overcautious and indentured approach of inside-the-Beltway Democrats--there is a level of passionate volunteerism at the grassroots of the Democratic Party not seen since 1968."
What are they on, drugs?
As I write this, Mass. Sen. John Kerry is the Democratic frontrunner for the 2004 nomination. Kerry has co-opted some of his opponent’s rhetoric and pushed himself forward as a champion of working folks and a fighter against the special interests. But nothing could be further from the truth (Check out my quick overview of Kerry's career in this column: ["The Kerry choke?"] ).
The similarities between Bush and Kerry are actually downright scary.
Kerry voted for the "illegal pre-emptive war" The Nation and many others are so upset about. He fell for what looks like a lie that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the definite falsehood that Saddam Hussein - contained between the 33rd and 36th parallel - was an imminent threat to the United States. Kerry assisted in President Bush's - and President Bill Clinton's - "assault on the Constitution" by voting for the PATRIOT Act and voting for the anti-terrorism bill in 1996. Kerry also voted for Bush's unfunded federal education mandate "No Child Left Behind." "Crony capitalism"? You mean like NAFTA, GATT/WTO, PMFN for China, hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare every year, IMF/World Bank’s enslavement of the Third World, all supported by Kerry?
I wonder if The Nation is talking about beating Bush or questioning Kerry’s impending nomination. The Democrats are on the verge of nominating a flip-flopping hypocrite. With Democrats like this, who needs Republicans? At least with Nader - and other independent candidates - voters have the choice.
On Friday, Jan. 30, the day after The Nation posted its letter, Arnie Arnesen, a Concord, NH-based talk show host, interviewed Katrina Van den Heuvel, an editor at The Nation, where she repeated her mantra that 2004 is not a year to be concentrating on progressive movements or reform, but instead to beat Bush. To some extent, she is right. We all know how bad Bush has been for the nation, for the workers, and for the world. But then what? Do we return to the Clinton years - a fake economic boom based on dot-cons and Wall Street swindles and millions of decent wage, low skill jobs lost to cheap labor overseas? I think not. While we can't afford four more years of Bush's "friendly fascism," we can't afford four more years of Clinton's America either.
And where is this "level of passionate volunteerism at the grassroots of the Democratic Party"? This is a huge stretch. Yes, there was a lot of passion and excitement in Howard Dean’s campaign at the beginning. There was enthusiasm about the Internet fund-raising, the holistic environment of the campaign organization, and the dynamic message of the candidate. But in the late stages, his campaign was endorsed by the insiders, became mired in negativity, and his super-organization collapsed from the weight of its own cluelessness at how to run a winning campaign. Thousands of young Deaniacs may eventually be brought into the party fold at the end of the nominating process. But this remains to be seen. Two defeats, $40 million dollars, and the "air of inevitability" of Dean's nomination and the chance of having a vibrant Democratic nominee, are all but gone. Many Deaniacs are furious at how the Democratic Party establishment hijacked their movement. Do you really think they will support the nominee or stay home? That's a crapshoot.
Technically, the collapse of the Dean campaign isn't all his or the inexperienced campaign's fault.
The voters of Iowa and New Hampshire were manipulated by the national press corps and the corporate media into abandoning the candidate closest to their views for the candidate the insiders think can win. Frankly, it is amazing how often we see this happen in politics. It seems like every time the Democrats get close to nominating a candidate who doesn't just talk about reform, but threatens action, the insiders swoop down and crush the movement with a big smile on their faces.
The high turnout in both Iowa and New Hampshire - where tens of thousands of unexpected voters flooded to the polls - shows a fear of the future that we have not seen since 1992. In that election cycle, Clinton was elected with a mandate. The people were motivated by hope [who later turned out to be the Dope from Hope] and then saw their interests sold down the river as Clinton saddled himself onto the laps of the Republicans. We all know what happened next - a midterm congressional sweep by Republicans in 1994, no health care plan, hapless Democrats who refused to fight or squealed about useless issues, and so on.
Whether The Nation realizes this or not, the candidate who inspired the "passionate volunteerism" they so commend, has been replaced in the primaries by the "inside-the-Beltway" Democrat. As noted above, Kerry is very similar to Bush. Eight years of similarities between Clinton and the Republicans is what gave us the Nader effort in the first place in 2000 and then, at least in false theory, Bush. Do we really want to go through this again?
However, would a 2004 race by Nader be a repeat of the 2000 race? Before assessing the 2004 race, an accurate look at the 2000 campaign is needed.
Many people - from Ronnie Dugger in The Nation on Nov. 14, 2002 ["Ralph, don't run"] to Paul Begala on CNN's "Crossfire" on Jan. 5, 2004 [Transcript] - have blamed Nader's strong showing in New Hampshire for Gore's loss. If Gore had won the state's four Electoral College votes, he would have won the presidency, with or without Florida. But if you knew what happened here in New Hampshire, you would understand that Gore was never going to win New Hampshire and the data reflects this fact.
Nader garnered more than 22,000 votes in New Hampshire but a lot of these votes came from registered Republicans. Exit polls on Election Day showed that Nader took more votes from Republicans than Democrats in New Hampshire, by a two-to-one margin. CNN's polling data showed that if both Nader and Pat Buchanan had not run, the results in NH would have been Bush 48 percent, Gore 47 percent, with 4 percent not voting. A post election analysis by UNH Survey Research Center showed Nader's support was evenly split down the middle between Bush and Gore. Nader also received the support of seven municipal officials, all Republicans, including the mayor of Rochester. The campaign also had a lot of conservative supporters, including the Claremont coordinator for Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes. For every crunchy granola-type lefty that might have gone for Gore, there were just as many guys with gun racks in their pickup trucks and Nader signs on their roofs. Even more people would have stayed home. Those votes were never going to go to Gore.
The major attraction to Nader in the state was similar to the attraction voters had to Sen. John McCain in the Republican primaries, something that has been completely ignored by people who have no idea about what went on in New Hampshire in the field. Voter after voter after voter said they were furious with the similarities between Bush and Gore and the special interests that controlled both major political parties. Nader was running on a reform agenda and has a history of getting support from Republicans in the past, including over 3,200 write-in votes on the Republican ballot - more than he received on the Democratic ballot - in 1992. In fact, in 2000, Nader proved that he can take away votes from the Republican nominee, assumed to be Bush. With Bush spending out-of-control, deficits rising, body bags coming home from Iraq, Republicans, who would never vote for a Democrat, might again return to a Nader vote as an act of protest.
None of this analysis takes into account the vicious and negative campaign waged by local and national Democrats which backfired on them in a huge way. Since New Hampshire was a state in play, the Democratic National Committee bombarded us with negativity - color brochures suggesting that Bush and local Republicans would force women into back alley abortions, etc., something that three years later has never happened. There was another very powerful mailer showing the locked fence at a closed factory, warning voters that they didn't want to go back to the bad old days when factories were being closed. Well guess what? Most of the factories are already closed and the voters of New Hampshire knew that the Democrats had as much of a role in the loss of factory jobs as Republicans. As well, the Republican campaign waged on the ground accentuated the positive - similar to what Clinton did in 1992 - and they were able to win the state for Bush and hold its two congressional seats.
Dugger and Begala can presume all they want about the results in New Hampshire but I can tell you from being here that Nader didn't cost Gore the state. Gore was never going to win New Hampshire, Nader or no Nader. So please, stop using it as an example.
Now let’s move to Florida, where Nader received over 97,000 votes. Yes, I will admit that maybe Nader not being on the ballot would have helped Gore win. Unlike New Hampshire, the Florida results were much closer.
However, CNN's exit poll showed that if Bush and Gore had been the only candidates, Bush would have taken 49 percent, Gore 47 percent, with 2 percent not voting. The data also showed that Nader took just as many votes from Democrats as he did from Republicans: 1 percent. While there is a good chance that votes for Nader could have gone for Gore, there is no guarantee. And the statistical data that is available proves otherwise.
And what about the other political parties and candidates who were on the ballot in Florida? Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin received 2,281 votes. Worker's World Party candidate Monica Moorehead received 1,804 votes. Socialist David McReynolds received 622 votes - enough votes to guarantee a Gore victory had these people voted for Gore or not been on the ballot. However, no one ever blames them for Gore's loss. Where is the outcry by The Nation and others that the workers, the meditators, and the socialists shouldn't run campaigns themselves? The silence is deafening.
Lastly, if liberal Democrats want someone else to blame for Bush winning, they can look no further than their own party. Again, CNN's exit polling showed that registered Democrats in both New Hampshire (6 percent) and Florida (13 percent) abandoned their own candidate and cast votes for Bush. So again, Democrats conveniently blame Nader for Gore's loss without looking at the role their own party played in the defeat.
Additionally, what have the Democrats done to discourage Nader from running? Yelling and begging at him isn't going to work. In fact, this type of behavior only encourages people.
Since the 2000 election, Nader has met with Democrats about the future. Rep. Dick Gephardt, who was one of the only Democrats to meet with Nader after the 2000 election, called Nader’s run "a terrific campaign," noting the success of Nader's super-rallies.
"Nobody is paying to hear (mainstream Democrats) talk about policy," Gephardt is reported to have told Nader. Part of the appeal, Nader told Gephardt, was that "the Greens actually have a more legitimate platform for the old Democratic Party than the Democratic Party does." ["Savvy Democrats are talking to Nader," April 17, 2001, Capital Times of Madison]. Gephardt, to his credit, seemed to get it.
Recently, Nader reportedly met with DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe in an effort to invigorate the Democrats with a reform agenda and find some common ground. McAuliffe supposedly scoffed at Nader's platform ideas. You can almost hear him in your head: 'No, we can’t do that, we'll lose our big corporate money … but Ralph - gasp - don't cost us the election just because we don't stand for anything.'
However, what did McAuliffe do as a counter-proposal? Did he offer Nader anything for keeping him out of the race? How about the Attorney General's position, for example, where Nader could go after the corrupt and show that a Democratic administration will actually fight for people? How about promoting Instant Runoff Voting [IRV], which would allow the Democrats to receive the number 2s and 3s of Greens and other progressive independents - not be denouncing them - but by working together to solidify and share power. McAuliffe could have said, 'Ralph, if you don't run, I will bust my ass to get IRV implemented in Democratically-controlled state legislatures across the nation and we will move political reform forward, I promise.' Not only would this have guaranteed Greens, progressive independents, and yeah, Democrats, some clout in future elections, it would have been a crowning achievement to Nader's already substantial list of four decades of accomplishment and made McAuliffe look like political reform visionary and hero of the people.
Now granted, there is a limit to what McAuliffe could offer. But did he even try? It doesn't sound like it because Nader is eyeing another run. This is the type of thinking that should have been going on during the last three years at the DNC, The Nation, universities, etc., in an effort to actually improve the life of the body politic in a positive way. Instead, they denigrate and beg and perpetuate the myth that Nader cost the Democrats the presidency in 2000.
In Bedford on Jan. 11 at the "Choosing an Independent President" conference, hundreds of people gave Nader two standing ovations and cheered him constantly during his speech. Nader was coy about a potential run. But after asking, "How do you spoil a system that is spoiled to the core in the first place?" he chastised those who would lecture him about his civil and political rights.
… Civil libertarians on the liberal side, the same kind of civil libertarians that subscribe to The Nation magazine and The Progressive magazine, and who are very proud that they will go to the mat to allow Jesse Helms to run for election and to allow Rush Limbaugh to speak freely, even though they bitterly disagree with them, blithely turn around and say to any independent or third party candidates that they think might takes some votes from them, 'Do not run.' Now its one thing for them to say, 'If you run, I will oppose you, I will argue against you, I will challenge you, I will render a critical judgment' - that's all a robust political exchange. But to keep saying and using those words, 'Do not run,' they are saying to those candidates, 'Do not speak, remain silent, do not use your First Amendment freedom, to enter the electoral arena.' You can say it outside the electoral arena - but not inside the electoral arena. But I don’t see a stop sign for the First Amendment on the boundary between the electoral arena and the civic arena. They should be ashamed of themselves for the way they are behaving, in a censorious manner to try and stifle the very speech that are free to challenge if they had the decency to stop being so censorious. And we ought to make that point again and again. They are using their First Amendment to try to stifle our First Amendment. Because, campaigning for political office is about as fundamental an exercise of free speech that you can imagine. Anyone uses the word 'spoiler,' anyone who uses the words 'do not run,' teach them Civil Liberties 101. Give ‘em a lesson. The last thing we need in this country are tens of thousands of active civil libertarians and progressive people having a double-standard in the way they speak to a Jesse Helms, in contrast to the way they speak to an independent candidate whose views are much more aligned with them otherwise.
Many of Nader's supporters may vote for the Democratic candidate in 2004. The Nation's analysis that Nader's votes could possibly drop from 2.8 million to under 1 million is a safe one. A losing Nader 2004 presidential run - with a Democratic one that also loses - could be a devastating end to his legacy.
While there may be no groundswell of support from the liberal elites or those who opine in the media, there is support at the grassroots, as was seen and heard at the Bedford speech. Admittedly, there isn't as much support as there was in 2000. Nader already knows this. He knows that there is a lot of criticism from the left who are scorning all over the Web, setting up cheesy "RalphDontRun" sites and other nonsense. And without the assistance of numerous Green organizations, it will be much harder for him to gain ballot access for his independent campaign. And that will be the key: If there isn't support to do the hard work, Nader won't get anywhere and the campaign will be over before it starts.
But I would never in a million years tell Ralph he shouldn’t run. It is his decision. However, if he decides to run for president again, Nader will have to make the case to the public that he deserves our votes. If the Democrats or the Republicans want our votes, they will have to earn them too. There should be no assumptions.
In the end, the ball is in the Democrats' court. If they refuse to nominate candidates who offer a real difference to the voters, their chances for victory will be slim - with or without Nader.