Sunday, March 11, 2007

Nader Haters, Continued

Mick LaSalle has responded in his blog, Maximum Strength Mick, to my post from the other day regarding Ralph Nader's supposed role in where the nation stands at this moment.

One of the points made is that, contrary to what I indicated yesterday, it was unreasonable for anyone to expect Bush to be as awful as he turned out to be. If so, then I guess I must be the smartest guy going, because I saw this guy coming from miles off and was always amazed by environmentalists like David Brower who were perfectly willing to let Bush get elected, as though that would somehow energize the Green party or the environmental cause. Far from it.

This needs to be unpacked a bit. LaSalle is correct that some environmental groups associating themselves with Nader's candidacy -- and indeed, Nader himself -- had adopted something of a Savonarola-type stance. They were more than willing to be immolated in their purity, even if it meant that things would get worse. They felt that things would have to get worse to rouse any meaningful action out of people.

Of course they were completely wrong; there is nothing terrible enough to initiate meaningful action, clearly. At the very least, the people performing such acts also happen to own enough media entities with which they can cater to the intellectual boobism and reflexive paranoia that characterize "serious" politics in this country. You will always hear much more about "intelligent design" or Anna Nicole Smith (which are roughly on the same intellectual level) than you ever will about why you can't afford health care, or that the leader of your country thinks that prayer is the most important factor in determining foreign policy and war strategy.

Anyway, it was a committed (if wrongheaded) stance on the part of people like Brower and Nader, to essentially root for things to get worse so that people would have to reform those things. And again, it didn't work. But that's a different matter than being able to suss an empty frat-boy suit in 2000, which in turn is different from being able to intuitively know that not only would the empty frat-boy suit never be a good preznit, but that he'd function as if his mission were to lawn-dart the entire country and enflame the rest of the world.

But even if LaSalle's prognosticating skills are more finely honed than mine, it's only by a matter of degree, and it still fails to address all the "swing voters" that were "supposed" to vote for Gore, but allowed themselves to be poached by the empty frat-boy suit. What of them? Is their role not at least as serious and instrumental as that of Big Bad Ralph?

The above writer also whips out the tired notion that Gore should have won his own state. Sure he should have. And he should have been able to campaign in his own state, instead of having to run to Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in the closing days of the campaign in order to counteract that Nader surge.

Gore had been representing his state at the national level since 1976. He shouldn't have had to convince anyone of anything. Bush beat him by 4% in TN, so what LaSalle is essentially saying is that, had Gore not been distracted by Nader's rabble-rousing, he could have executed a 4-point swing in the final days of a long campaign. Because apparently he was going to unleash some sort of magic that had evaded him over the previous 24 years, and give Tennesseeans something new to chew on. I suppose anything is possible, but that really is a pretty speculative claim.

But Democracy is about being smart. The religious right, whatever else you want to say about them, they're very smart. They infiltrated the Republican party, to the extent that ostensibly sane men like Giuliani and McCain have to bend over backwards for them. If the Nader people understood American history and understood the fate of third-party movements, they would have just tried to infiltrate the Democrats. Nader should have run in the primary. He might have been Secretary of the Interior in a Gore administration and advanced his causes from inside the government, rather than as some discredited, despised outsider.

This is actually a fair statement, but let's cut to the chase. Nader is and always has been a professional gadfly. A Nader vote was a protest vote, pure and simple. My understanding was that some of his people had tried to work within the Democratic Party, but between the Naderites' dogmatism and the Democrats' complete lack of backbone in dealing with Republicans, it was not a happy relationship. There was simply no role for the Greens within the party, aside from useless tokenism. And really, even the "smart" moves LaSalle describes, such as the ascendance of the religious right as a political force, rely on massive swaths of people being dumb, and essentially voting against their own rational self-interests.

I agree that Nader has become a counterproductive political force. But it is also counterproductive to keep using him as a convenient scapegoat for Everything Gone Wrong. There were a lot of factors in play in that election; Nader was but one of them. If people had paid enough attention to not "accidentally" vote for fucking Pat Buchanan, we also wouldn't be in this fix. Maybe it's Palm Beach's fault.

No, the worst thing about this blame game is that it actively avoids the major causes for how we got here. It lets Gore off the hook for running an inept campaign in 2000. It lets the talk-show Heathers off the hook for their smarmy, insubstantial coverage of Gore's wardrobe over real issues.

And it lets the Democratic Party off the hook for rolling over for the Cheney gang until post-Katrina polls started making it safe for them to do something besides take shit from these people. Not that it's been a momentous improvement anyway. I'm sure if Bush tells them to go fuck themselves just one more time, why, they might just filibuster, and get a resolution passed! And this time, it'll be binding! I'm sure Fredo's soiling his shitkickers just thinking about the consequences.

Most importantly, this cheap scapegoating lets all those swing voters off the hook. They also should have known better, but no one gives them any grief. They are accountable in this as well, and in much greater numbers. But the Serious Parties, instead of trying to give non-voters a reason to vote, are too busy trying to poach one-point slivers of soccer moms and jai alai dads or whatever, with gutless half-measures of incrementalism, while the smart set on the teevee shows have deep discussions about Hillary's pantsuits. The two nominees from the Serious Parties next year are going to spend an estimated $500 million each. Why do you think that is?

Nader was a symptom of a hopelessly debauched system, nothing more, nothing less. It was a blip of misplaced idealism that will fortunately never trouble our political system again. Orange Revolutions are for Ukrainians; here, not so much.

P.S. -- Check out LaSalle's online serialized novel, The Event. It's pretty good.


john lenin said...

Twinfan writes that we don't know what would have happened had Nader not run. Not true. We know EXACTLY what would have happened. Gore would have won the election. First off, he would have gotten the 500 or so of Nader's 90,000 votes needed to put him over in Florida.

Didn't Gore win in Florida as it was? Wasn't there a little something about Republican dirty tricks and Gore taking the high road unnecessarily that might have factored in there as well? I just can't recall.

And as you've pointed out (and good work in his comments), there's a lot of people who could stand some harsh words regarding their failure of citizenship. Why, in the last presidential election, I believe it was about fifty percent of the electorate, a stunning improvement over the sixty percent of them that stayed home in 2000. I mean, sure a politician who isn't looking to immediately retire probably shouldn't point out the unpleasant truth that an enormous amount of Americans are stupid, lazy fucks, but nonetheless, there it is. (Actually, now that I think of it, what difference would it make if out hypothetical politician did point that out? It's not like they're going to show up and punish him at the polls.)

I wish that Tom Tomorrow cartoon from late 2000/early 2001 was online, where a character tries to reason with a Nader-hating mad professor, who unleashes his robotic army of Annoying Liberal Pundits and their "I HOPE YOU ARE HAPPY NOW. I HOPE YOU ARE HAPPY NOW." droning on him.

Heywood J. said...

Right. Even if I were to acknowledge that perhaps our little tilt at the Nader windmill ultimately helped nothing and no one, at least it was an informed tilt taken in the spirit of idealism.

When we address the much larger syndrome of people literally going to the ballot box merely to amplify their hang-ups and spite and ignorance, maybe we start getting somewhere.

And yeah, Gore did win Florida. He just didn't want it quite as badly as the Bush-Baker junta, enabled magnificently by Sandra Day O'Connor.

Heywood J. said...

I mean, sure a politician who isn't looking to immediately retire probably shouldn't point out the unpleasant truth that an enormous amount of Americans are stupid, lazy fucks, but nonetheless, there it is. (Actually, now that I think of it, what difference would it make if out hypothetical politician did point that out? It's not like they're going to show up and punish him at the polls.)

I agree. I think a Bulworth scenario would give this country exactly what it needs -- a rhetorical enema.

Anonymous said...

I found the Tom Tomorrow cartoon here: