The real danger to the left is that Nader will succeed

Succeed in drawing the Democratic Party to the left, that is. Certainly a McGovern or Mondale-style candidate could draw back some Nader voters - and go down to a McGovern/Mondale-style defeat. It makes plenty of sense to the left to want to pull the Democrats in that direction, but only because they either (a) don’t remember 1972 and 1984 or (b) don’t really want to win elections, preferring to be a philosophical minority too far from power to ever be blamed for anything.

The threat of a Bush minority Presidency goes way beyond the next four years. It could leave Democratic strategists between a rock and hard place for a really long time. What would your strategy for a progressive candidate be in 2004? Alienate the center or the left? Try not to alienate both, and alienate everybody by looking wishy-washy? I wouldn’t want the decision on my shoulders, I can tell you that.

If you were to combine someone with Gore’s experience and financial resources with Nader’s policies, and eliminate any fracture on the left, that someone would lose. McGovern lost all on his own (and I don’t have any problems with McGovern, myself); he had no (a) total lack of experience, (b) lack of major party backing, © folk hero third candidate to his left, or (d) association with a mud-splattered President to help him. Furthermore, he was running against (a) Richard Nixon and (b) the Vietnam War. Why did he lose? Because he was perceived as too liberal. And sure, 1972 isn’t 2000, but I’m not going to be easily convinced that the country was in a more “right-wing mood” then than it is now.

This is true however it is not a danger to the left it is a danger to the Democratic party. The danger to the left is that if Nader does very poorly the Dems will say that the left can succesfully be ignored. If Gore wins you will have had three elections in a row where the Dem candidate won by moving to the center and the left was ignored. The best case scenario for the left is a narrow Bush win and a strong Nader showing, this will push the Dems left for 2004 and will make the left something the Dems will have to pay attention to.

If people on the left saw the Democrats as their only real hope for change, then yes, I’d agree with you.

OTOH, I know plenty of people that were so disappointed with Clinton after voting for him in '92 or '96 that they’ve looked for other alternatives, like the Green Party or various Socialist organizations.

So let the Democrats pull to the left if they think it will help. The only thing they’ll do if they fake left and go right again is piss off more of their constituency, who have a strong chance of moving leftwards after this kind of stunt.

In a country where less than half of all registered voters turned out to vote last presidential election, Boris, I don’t think you can be that definitive about the negative effects of a liberal major party candidate–especially given that the disproportionate plurality of American nonvoters are low-income or minority.

I think I disagree, Gad. An unabashedly liberal candidate would be faced with the task of overcoming the apathy of the traditional nonvoters, and would be practically guaranteed a conservative backlash against him. We know that low voter turnout, in general, works out better for Republicans (I don’t have a cite, but I can probably find one if pressed on this) (and if I can’t, I’ll concede the point). I think it’s a valid induction that if a more liberal Democratic candidate is unable to galvanize that low-income and minority base, the election probably goes to a centrist or right-leaning Republican.

I agree with the substance of your post, xeno. It’s the assumption embedded in the first clause of the above sentence that I’m questioning–I think that the right liberal Democratic candidate easily could galvanize the low-income and minority base. There are a hell of a lot of voters out there who’ve dropped out of the political process, easily enough to turn an election if their interests were sufficiently (and vocally) represented.

Hmmm. “The right liberal Democratic candidate.” Maybe in '04…


Not unless Paul Wellstone’s back gets a hell of a lot better and he stages a Jeb Bartlet. Until then, both parties are gonna be content with squabbling over the suburban middle and exercising benign neglect over the millions of disaffected citizens out there. Another argument for electoral reform, I feel, but that’s just me.

Interesting comment on Nader’s “real” goals from Slate.

By “the left” I didn’t mean a group of people so much as the goals of progressives writ large. So yes, I do see a distinction between the left and the Democratic Party, but I also see that in order to get something done you need to get elected.

lemartel wrote,

Well, the point I was trying to make was that if the Dems are pushed left they will just lose again. It might make the left more recognized by the Democratic Party but it will make the goals of both less likely to be achieved.

Gadarene wrote,

Hear here! Majoritarian rules with instant run-offs for executive positions, proportional representation for legislative positions!

My question for the left is: do you think it is a coincidence that Clinton and Carter are both conservative, as Democrats go, and they’re the only Democrats to win the Presidency since 1964?

I think the left is galvanized not by Clinton’s bad record in the White House, but by the fact that his record, relatively good* though it may be, is imperfect, and since it’s been carried out by a Democrat, progressives feel guilty about its imperfection. The idea is, get really far away from power so you’re not responsible for anything. No, not all progressives feel this way, and not everyone who feels this way is progressive, but a lot of people do. People who feel that a losing Mondale is better than a winning Gore … I just can’t relate to it.

  • Yes, that’s a whole family of threads on its own, but if you think Clinton’s record is really bad, what did you think of Clarence Thomas, the Contra scandals, James Watt, the Federal clinic gag rule, and the like?

This is a bit off-topic, but I’m curious. If you don’t mind me asking, Boris, do you self-identify as progressive?

Boris said,
By “the left” I didn’t mean a group of people so much as the goals of progressives writ large. So yes, I do see a distinction between the left and the Democratic Party, but I also see that in order to get something done you need to get elected.

Thanks for clearing that up. Anyone who thinks the Democratic party is a safe haven for liberals obviously couldn’t tell Jesse Helms from Jesse Jackson. There is no legitimate left in the United States, and I can’t think of any time when there ever was one. The closest we’ve ever had to a liberal president was Franklin Roosevelt, and he hardly counts. The fact that Ralph Nader is discredited as a “radical” in the States strikes me as downright surreal.

Nader could be doing good work, but he’s wasting his potential. Reform never comes from the top down, but from the bottom up. What I mean is, if we’re ever going to have a viable third (or fourth, or fifth…) party in the United States, those parties will need a base of support. I think a local base would make the most sense. Nader should run for governor or the Senate or at least the House as a Green, and rally his party to back other Green candidates. Initially they’d only succeed on the west coast and in the northeast, but representation in Congress is a much more effective way to get your issues heard than a presidential election that even the nominee acknowledges he’s going to lose. Nader has enough charisma and organization to get some Greens into local office, state office, and possibly into Congress. He could help to extend the Greens beyond their marginal base and build a solid foundation for a third party in the United States that would pass laws according to the Greens’ designs. Why squander your power, Ralph Nader?!?

Gadarene asked,

Yes I do, but not often. :slight_smile:
I’d call myself a progressive, a liberal, an environmentalist, and a feminist. And probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten. Politically, I sit right between Gore and Nader. I’ve been slightly to the left of Clinton the whole time, but the whole time I’ve also realized that the difference between me and the President is that he could get elected and I couldn’t. I honestly think that if I were as charming as Clinton or Reagan, and if I had the reputation for honesty of John McCain or Colin Powell, and the personal fortune of George W. Bush, and I would get annihilated in a Presidential election.

I’d support legalization and taxation of street drugs, which would get me labelled soft on crime.
I’d support electoral reform, which would bore the daylights out of most people.
I’d support single-payer health care, which would get me labelled a socialist.
I wouldn’t cut income taxes, which would get me labelled a tax-and-spend liberal.
I would support taxes designed to reduce pollution and protect the environment, which would get me labelled a corporate whore by the environmentalists, and a tree-hugging psychotic by the pro-business types.

(Which is probably a longer answer than you bargained for.)

I totally agree with Chance the Gardener’s ideas about how to start a new party. I’ve felt that way for a while, but third parties always seem to concentrate on the Presidency. I guess the lure of matching funds is that strong.

Thanks for the cogent reply. I agree with you on all those issues. I happen to believe that there’s a strong need for a progressive presidential candidate in this country, but that Nader’s just about one of the worst men for the job–more so now that he’s veering dangerously into overblown alarmist rhetoric. At the same time, however, he raises issues of poverty, health care, affordable housing, fair trade, and corporate influence on politics that absolutely need to be addressed. I find it profoundly disturbing that neither major party is willing to do so.

Also telling, I think, is the viciousness with which the press has attacked Nader–the establishment surely circles its wagons when an iconoclast comes near, no matter how truthful the message. There are too many shared assumptions out there that could stand examination–the war on drugs is a great example. Anyway, I also agree with Chance about the need for bottom-up party building, but given the stringency of ballot access laws, it ain’t gonna happen any time soon (preference voting! proportional representation! please!). I’d much rather see a progressive movement make its way through the Democratic party, and take the base back from the centrist DNC. I’d like some ideological balance with my politics, please. :slight_smile:

Probably a longer response than you bargained for, but it looks like we’re on the same page.

Ralph Nader is not trying to prove anything to the Democrats. He is running as the pesidential candidate for the Green Party. The Green Party is an entity unto itself (not a splinter group or a faction of Democrats). The Green Party has one interest…getting Greens elected into office. Not preventing Bush from winning…not pulling the Democrats to the left for a happy reunion…not even to merely protest the way things are.

Political stragety is disillusioning. Idealism, while impracticle, doesn’t kill the soul.

That said, I think Ralph is doing a great job building the party. The Green Party is now a household name. Awareness of the party is higher than ever, which is crucial for meeting ballot requirements. As more Greens get on the ballot and they gain more voter and media attention, the Green party will become a viable force in local elections. If it wern’t for Nader the party would still be shelved as a back room fringe party not worth thinking about.