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Ralph Nader and the Structure of Progressive Change

[ 431 ] September 21, 2012 |

I’ve mostly sat out the recent rehashing of the Nader Wars here. Like Rob and Scott, I have grown deeply critical of Ralph Nader and his 2000 presidential campaign. But I come from a very different place on this. I was a Nader voter. And not one living in a safe state–I was in New Mexico in 2000. There was a time, relatively early in the evening, when I actually wondered out loud whether I might know enough Nader voters to swing the state to Bush. Like a lot of you, I was deeply disappointed in Bill Clinton and the continued rightward swing of the Democratic Party. I can’t speak for anyone else and I can’t say whether this really mattered for too many people in the end, but the last straw for me was when Gore picked Lieberman as VP. I almost puked when that was announced. And I was done with the Democratic Party.

So I was a Nader voter. I saw him speak that fall, as he increased his campaign presence in states he could plausibly throw to Bush like New Mexico and Florida. It wasn’t totally inspiring to me, largely because there were too many aging Santa Fe hippies at his events who I already knew were too often about slogans and not often enough about doing the work to create long-term change. And I was a bit concerned that Nader himself refused to join the Green Party. If he believed in challenging the two-party structure, where was his own commitment to that change? Was this just about his own beef with the Democrats? Or did he really want to usurp the Democratic Party as the nation’s party of the left?

Soon after Bush’s election, I realized the folly of my own political errors and regretted my Nader vote. In 2004, I wasn’t that thrilled with any of the Democratic primary candidates. I rolled my eyes a bit at the Dean boom, not because I wasn’t against the war but because he was hardly progressive on many issues. Still, I certainly wasn’t voting for Nader again. But my transformation back into the Democratic Party wasn’t just because Bush was so awful. It was because Nader had done absolutely nothing in the previous four years to build upon the 2000 run and create a progressive movement in this country. It was just more of the same in ’04, Nader complaining about the Democrats but offering no real substantive change except for rhetoric. I was more than just disillusioned. I was kind of disgusted. For Ralph, it’s all about Ralph. He is still mad that the Carter Administration froze him out after the ’78 midterms, or at least that’s the lesson I learned from the documentary about him, An Unreasonable Man. And that disgust at the Democrats seems to have taken hold of him, becoming an all-consuming hate.

In that documentary, Eric Alterman calls Nader a Leninist because he believes things have to get worse before they get better. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But it doesn’t really matter to me here. Because my fundamental problem is as much with Nader’s supporters as with the ultimate vanity candidate.

The best way I can explain this is to refer to the literature on the rise of conservatism. A really transformative moment in my political thinking came when reading Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors. In this book about the rise of conservatism in the defense industry suburbs, McGirr shows how conservatives, outraged that the country had moved so far to the left during the New Deal and had not really shifted back right under Eisenhower, started taking over their local political structures. They ran for school board, county commissioner, other local offices. They volunteered at county-level Republican Party HQs. They very quickly controlled the machinery of the Republican Party on the local level. Not too long after that, in 1964, they managed to push Goldwater on the presidential ticket. When he got crushed, the mainstream media crowed that this movement was dead. But the conservatives didn’t care. They kept on organizing. In 1966, their support helped Ronald Reagan become governor of California. And from there, they kept organizing until today, despite being totally crazy on so many issues, they are the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, progressives have responded to the country’s rightward shift by running vanity candidates like Ralph Nader for president every four years. In 2008, progressives changed strategies when Barack Obama seemed to capture their dreams and then were shocked when he turned out to be the centrist he always was. But even in 2008, it was still a simplistic analysis of progressive change offered by his supporters that hadn’t learned much in the previous 8 years.

I oversimplify, sure. But the trajectory of the conservative movement should be teaching us many lessons. Not that we should be crazy extremists. But that party structures are actually not that hard to take over if you really want to do it. Yet progressives seem to almost NEVER talk about localized politics. We complain about education reform but don’t organize to take over school boards. Conservatives outflank us in part because they seem to understand that the presidency is not all-powerful. Perhaps local offices like county clerk and elected judges are as or even more important than the presidency, at least from a long-term perspective. Too many progressives believe in Green Lantern presidencies. Elect Obama in ’08 and he can force through all the changes we want.

No. That’s not how it works.

You turn the Democratic Party into what you want it to be by controlling the mechanisms of everyday party life. By becoming a force that must be reckoned with or at least co-opted. By becoming the Populists in the 1880s and 1890s, eventually forcing the Democratic Party off its Cleveland-era support of plutocracy and helping usher in the Progressive Era. By becoming the abolitionists in the 1850s and 1860s, whose constant moral harping gave them power within the Republican Party far outstripping the small number of fanatical followers of William Lloyd Garrison.

And by becoming conservatives in the 1960s who burrow into the Republican Party structure and transform it from within.

Ralph Nader cared about none of this. He wasn’t committed to a real leftist movement. He wasn’t committed to pushing progressive change from either within or outside the system. He took no leadership positions within progressive movements after 2000 to move the country back to the left except to make another vanity run for president in ’04.

One-off candidates like Nader accomplish almost nothing except to give people an outlet for their anger at a political system they think has betrayed them. These candidacies are performance art done to make a point, in Nader’s case explicitly to throw the election to Bush.

I have no problem at all with a third-party candidacy from the left–if it is a real third party that is serious about making a long-term challenge to the Democratic Party. I would still be philosophically OK with his 2000 run today, even with what we know now, if Nader had cared one iota about doing what it actually took to create a progressive party not controlled by big money interests. Whether that happened inside or outside the Democratic Party, it doesn’t much matter to me. But he didn’t care.

In the end, Ralph Nader became a tool of the capitalists and warmongers rather the force for progressive change he was early in his career. It’s sad for his legacy and for the country. And I wish his supporters would learn the lessons from his candidacy that I learned. To repeat those lessons are:

1. Vanity presidential campaigns are completely worthless without a commitment to building long-term party structures that have the explicit goal of transforming our politics at the local, state, and national level–and probably in that order.

2. Real change comes from below, not above. In other words, real change comes from local organizing and local elections, not running someone for president every four years.

3. Progressives can move the nation to the left. But not by “making a point” in their presidential vote during the general election. They can do it by taking over the local and state party machinery. Or they can do it by committing themselves and their neighbors to a third party (which I don’t think is realistic today but that’s for another post). But voting for a Ralph Nader or whatever prominent savior comes next to shame the mainstream Democratic Party has very little value.

So that’s my critique of Nader and watching the debates around his candidacy unfold for the last 12 years. I see an angry embittered man leading a lot of well-meaning progressives down a road that helped elect George W. Bush and did absolutely nothing to turn the Democratic Party to the left. Did any concrete positive come out of the Nader campaigns? Did it directly lead to any progressive change? Or is the most concrete thing we can tie to it the election of George W. Bush?

Comments (431)

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  1. Bijan Parsia says:

    It was because Nader had done absolutely nothing in the previous four years to build upon the 2000 run and create a progressive movement in this country.

    Exactly. I didn’t end up voting for him (too scared of a Bush victory), but he failed his campaign promises and implications completely.

    • Jameson Quinn says:

      What does it mean to create a progressive movement? It means working from the local level up; being ready to make alliances, but hard to coopt; having a strategic and structural view of power; and using the resources you have wisely.

      I absolutely agree with Erik that the local way is the right way. But that’s legitimately harder for progressives. We don’t have evolution and abortion and school prayer to motivate us at the local level. I’m sorry, you’re not going to focus on your local races, unless there’s some issue that you can legitimately work on from that level. War is a national issue; climate change is a global one (yes, there are things you can do at the local level, but if you look at it strategically you quickly realize that without some form of carbon pricing we’re doomed); and as for civil rights, the point is for them to be universal rights, not something that stops at the city limits. How did the Progressives do it? Well, I’m not an expert and I’d like to hear other answers, but one answer is that they focused on citizen voice in the political process itself. As a voting reform activist, I see Bucklin voting (a very good system which would translate as Majority Judgment today) as one of the key acheivements of the Progressive era — but one that was quickly rolled back and forgotten. I think that systemic reform, especially voting reform, could be a key issue for today’s progressives too. (Because the way to accomplish that reform is from cities and states; almost nothing is needed at a federal level.) But a lot of the time I feel as if I’m shouting in the wilderness on that one.

      Ready to make alliances, but hard to coopt… we don’t do so well on that. And frankly, the Nader battles are part of why. Some people seem to have learned from Nader “always be coopted”, while others “never make alliances”, and that’s a lose-lose battle if I ever saw one. Again, I’d bring voting reform up as a solution. With Approval voting or anything better, we wouldn’t be forever stuck on the Nader either/or dilemma between the lesser evil and the good. And then maybe we could stop that silly battle.

      Strategic and structural view of power? Suprise! Again the answer is voting reform. In a situation where the parties have monopoly power over the voters, but not over the contributors, money will always beat votes. To change that, change the system, and break the monopoly. That should be an issue that committed democrats of all stripes could agree with third-party activists on; but since Nader, the Democrats are too bitter to see that.

      Using the resources you have wisely… I included this to emphasize the structural differences between progressives and tea-partiers. We will never have the kind of money and resources they do. Fox News wasn’t built for cheap. And to be honest, the labor halls don’t match the churches either. So we have to find ways to make our votes, our consumer power, and our intertoobz count. Primaries are part of that, but we have to look beyond that. (And no, I’m not going to try to shoehorn voting reform in on this one.)

      So to summarize: voting reform, voting reform, voting reform, and creativity and solidarity.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        No idea why this is a reply to me.

        But Nader could have done a ton (e.g., work on the midterms, run for senate or house, negotiated a withdraw in 2000, etc.) He did none of that. It’s relevant to evaluating him.

        As for the rest, well, the lib-dems pinned their hopes on voter reform and look how that worked out. At the moment, keeping voter suppression in check is a big enough task.

        • Jameson Quinn says:

          The lib-dems pinned their hopes on voter reform and look how that worked out.

          There were a lot of mistakes there. First off, they pinned their hopes on an extremely problematic form of voting reform. The “alternative vote” (what in the US is called IRV) doesn’t actually solve the spoiler problem if a third party ever grows beyond 25%. In fact, it can even make it worse; as in Burlington 2009 where the Progressive won, it can leave a larger fraction of the electorate unhappy than Plurality does. Add that to its complexity, and to the fact that even for its strongest Lib Dem advocates it was only a stepping stone to PR, and you have a recipe for the disaster they suffered. Approval Voting has none of those problems. (You won’t find a bigger advocate for voting reform than me. I quit my job and am applying to grad school so I can do useful research in this area. I’d be over the moon if I could even get to vote on whether to implement any one of at least 20 improved voting systems I could name — SODA voting, majority judgment, ICT Condorcet, score voting, PAL representation, BTV PR, STV PR, MMPR, etc. etc. — and when it comes to IRV my attitude is decidedly mixed. I’d vote for it, but…)

          At the moment, keeping voter suppression in check is a big enough task.

          That’s hugely important of course, but I think “we have to play defense so let’s forget about offense” is very bad strategy in general.

          • Anonymous says:

            Their big mistake was not making the alternative vote or true PR a condition of joining the government.

            Where I come from, when you sell out, you get something. Usually something of value. Near as I can figure, the Liberal Democrats got a few minor cabinet positions (where they take orders from a man most of their electorate hates) and have to vote for Tory initiatives (that most of their electorate hate.)

            And all that would be forgivable if they’d managed to secure a sensible voting system for the UK. Without that, they didn’t sell out; they surrendered.

            • Jameson Quinn says:

              Their big mistake was not making the alternative vote or true PR a condition of joining the government.

              My point was that the alternative wouldn’t actually have been much value to them, or anyone else, even if they’d won it.

              If they’d gotten approval voting or true PR, then, yes. And approval voting would have been easier to get, even through an initiative: it wouldn’t sound so complex to voters, it would have real advantages to the other parties too in at least some places, and it wouldn’t have seemed to everyone like a half-assed half measure.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                IRV is, on balance, much better the plurality voting. I don’t know how you can say that it’s nothing.

                • Jameson Quinn says:

                  Better, yes. Much better, no. Australia is still a two-party system after decades of IRV. And look how ugly the graphs get:

                  http://zesty.ca/voting/voteline/
                  http://zesty.ca/voting/sim/

                  Also, harder and more insecure to count than basically any other system.

                  The only reason anybody (ie, FairVote) wants IRV is as a stepping stone to STV. Which is a good system, granted, but as the AV experience in Britain shows, that stepping stone stuff is too clever by half. We should go for a good single-winner system that people like, not the one that happens to be closest to our favorite multiwinner system.

                • janinsanfran says:

                  IRV is a gimmick, not a solution. As it functions in local politics, it deludes precisely the same people that the egomaniacs of the Green sort attract — that is, it feeds the illusion that there is some way to take power without actually organizing a majority or at least a significant fraction of the people behind policies that would improve their lives. When people want something different AND have the structures through which to demand their preferences, change happens. Everything else is theater.

                • Jameson Quinn says:

                  IRV is a gimmick, not a solution.

                  I think you’re right: IRV isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. But I suspect it’s for the wrong reasons. You see third party dreamers who think if someone just untied their hands, they’d take over the world. They’re wrong, of course; untie their hands and chances are still 10 to 1 that the major parties would still be drinking their milkshake. But that’s not a reason not to untie their hands; it’s a reason to do so.

                  As voters, we should encourage competition for our affections. Even if you don’t end up leaving your job, getting another offer is always good news. Even if you’re in a happy monogamous relationship, having other people interested in you helps keep the spark.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            There were a lot of mistakes there. First off, they pinned their hopes on an extremely problematic form of voting reform. The “alternative vote” (what in the US is called IRV) doesn’t actually solve the spoiler problem if a third party ever grows beyond 25%.

            You’re spiel sorta proves my point. Lib-dems pursued voting reform doggedly. They compromised to give it a shot. They were totally defeated and fairly compromised even if they one.

            It’s not a panacea. It may not be a reasonable first line effort.

            • Jameson Quinn says:

              But it absolutely should be on the agenda more than it is.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Eh.

                In the US? It just seems like a nonstarter. Getting the filibuster reigned in is really hard. Reforming the allocation of electoral votes is pretty hard. And these are no-brainers to understand for most people compared to getting them to understand the problem with traditional voting.

                I’m a big fan of better voting systems, but it just doesn’t seem like the expected utility is high.

                • Jameson Quinn says:

                  Can you understand how much that attitude drives me crazy? Maybe this whole idea is quixotic, but if it is, it’s partly because of people like you. Even Lawrence Lessig, who named his movement “rootstrikers” after a quote about striking at the root, says “yeah, yeah, nice ideas kid, but we can handle that after we fix campaign finance”.

                  It’s not as if everyone has to make this their primary crusade in order to win it. If people would just treat it as a valid issue, instead of giving it the brush-off like that, we could make progress.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Can you understand how much that attitude drives me crazy?

                  What? The attitude of trying to acertain the actual expected utility of various political moves? Given your rather monomaniacal focus on voting reform, I guess it’s not surprising that an attempt to treat it seriously would be very upsetting for you.

                  Maybe this whole idea is quixotic, but if it is, it’s partly because of people like you.

                  Hahahahah. Yes! If not for me, voting reform would be a live issue in US politics. Indeed, perhaps it would have already been implemented and the paradise of proper electoral outcomes would be at hand!!!

                  C’mon.

                  Even Lawrence Lessig, who named his movement “rootstrikers” after a quote about striking at the root, says “yeah, yeah, nice ideas kid, but we can handle that after we fix campaign finance”.

                  Whatever. Show me a plan where a significant effort at voting reform at any level of US politics is 1) remotely feasible, 2) will have reasonably useful effects, and 3) doesn’t starve or risk starving other efforts and I shall through my mighty support behind it.

                  It’s not as if everyone has to make this their primary crusade in order to win it.

                  I would suggest as well that people who do make it their primary crusade not obsessively insert it into every conversation while wildly overstating the expected utility. A be more discretion would make it, in my opinion, that that those people would not get the brush off.

                  If people would just treat it as a valid issue, instead of giving it the brush-off like that, we could make progress.

                  I fail to see that pointing out the highly unlikely prospects of radical voting reform at most levels of us politics is a brush off. The stuff above about your monomania is a brush off.

                  Senate reform would significantly decrease the unrepresentative nature of US politics, is perhaps possible, and has met with overwhelming opposition even when it was obviously in the immediate, naked self interest of the democrats. That’s very suggestive.

                • Jameson Quinn says:

                  Look, I’m sorry, that came off as way more hostile than I intended, so I deserve the pushback. And you’re absolutely right that the history of filibuster reform efforts shows what a heavy lift this sort of issue can be. As you say, I do have a bit of a monomania on this issue, because frankly it seems that if we can’t change something fundamental about how US politics works, the world is in for some serious hurting. Yes, (continental) Europe mainly has decent voting systems, and it’s
                  obviously no panacea, but it’s perfectly rational to say that this example nevertheless shows that voting reform would be a significant step up from the pathological state of things in the US.

                  So. You clearly aren’t what’s in the way of my dream; in fact, you recognize better than most its value, and probably better than I do its dim short-term prospects. Still, I think that Gramscian “optimism of the will” means understanding that we can’t really predict social outcomes, so it’s worth attempting even that which looks nearly (but not completely) impossible.

                  So you asked for a plan that was remotely feasible, plausibly helpful, and reliably non-harmful. Well, look at Fairvote, the organization which promotes IRV. They’re a credibly-sized organization, they’ve had some real victories at the municipal level, and you’ve probably heard some good things about IRV. And certainly they’re not starving anyone out. Unfortunately, I think they’re encountering more and more friction, because the system they’ve chosen doesn’t actually give the benefits they claim. The fiasco in Burlington 2009 and later repeal is the clearest example. So my plan is: first do behavioral research to make sure we don’t repeat their mistakes, then repeat their successes, but with more viral widgets. Much much easier said than done of course, but not impossible.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Fair enough. Sorry for the massive number of typos in my reply.

                  I’ll definitely check out FairVote.

                  So, I think better voting is required as a simple matter of justice and democratic principles, however, it also doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. So you have to balance substantive and procedural moves

                  I would love for there to be good organizations that systematically and effectively championed expanding the franchise and improving its execution. A huge problem, of course, is that the Republicans are desperately committed to narrowing the franchise (esp. for the democrats) in every way possible. Sadly, better voting schemes might get some traction as the demographic shifts and lunacy driven alienation overwhelm them. But again, they’ll be attracted to pure minority benefiting schemes, not fairness ones.

                  It would be interesting to know how heavily voting reform weighed in the Lib-Dem decision to join the coalition. They certainly seemed to think it was key to their becoming a more powerful force, but, even putting aside losing that fight, joining the coalition seems to have traded long term strength for a short time in partial power.

              • Greg says:

                Why? What good does it do? Whose life does it make better? It seems like the only problem it would address is the low representation of third parties in American politics. But why do third parties need to be represented? It’s not terribly difficult for people who share the views of members of third parties to get elected to office; they just need to do it the way our system is designed for: by running in partisan primaries.

                • Jameson Quinn says:

                  It increases the relative power of the voter, and thus decreases the relative power of money, in politics. This is why similar reforms were an important goal in the progressive era, when there was a recognition that the political system was broken (only then it wasn’t Citizens United, it was the party machines). And it’s why this kind of reform is central. It’s not about electing the occasional third party member. It’s about having two main parties that are actually accountable to the voters. A party that’s insulated from true failure can go as crazy as the Republicans have, and take the Overton window with it. The mere possibility, unlikely though it still would be, of real failure, of the Dems or GOP falling out of two main parties, will make them far responsive and flexible. Even with electoral reform, there is no way that a third party will win the presidency unless at least one of the first two screws up badly; but the ideas third parties bring to the table would definitely be picked up by the majors in order to prevent such screwups.

                  Since you want to talk about primaries, let’s talk about primaries. The same pernicious duopoly dynamics apply in a primary as in a general election. For instance, Obama and Hilary were all that really mattered in that race. Edwards was very quickly caught in a vicious cycle of irrelevance and falling fundraising. Now he may not in retrospect have been the best choice, but if plurality dynamics hadn’t forced him out so soon, he could certainly have helped bring a broader, healthier debate on certain issues.

                  If you don’t like commercial monopolies, why would you like electoral ones? OK, OK, duopoly; but that still means one party has a monopoly on each side of the spectrum. I’ve seen much better and cheaper cell service you get from Claro in Guatemala than Telmex in Mexico, even though they’re the same exact company, and it’s clear to me that this kind of structural incentive can make all the difference.

                  There’s further benefits, too. In a two-way race, everything is zero sum. The Republicans can block an economic recovery and benefit from that; or any candidate can run negative ad so slimy that it affects their own image, and as long as the opponent comes out worse, it’s a win. With voting reform, you break that dynamic; and since negative attacks are obviously the easiest most brainless form of campaigning, breaking that dynamic further reduces the influence of money.

        • JoyfulA says:

          I look at what the Green Party does here, in my open-seat congressional district. It’s running a locally notorious teabagger. This is not pushing the conversation to the left, and this is not the worst I’ve seen from the Greens around here.

        • mike says:

          Actually that’s completely false. Nader worked constantly to promote the Green and Peace and Freedom parties in the intervening years, I know, I followed the man very closely, read his regular weekly updates on his web page and as a Green Party member got a weekly update of the events Nader was hosting and promoting and they were nearly constant. I don’t think you could point to a month in the last decade where Nader wasn’t campaigning for some progressive cause somewhere in the US. You are out and out lying to make such a demonstrably false assertion, as is Mr. Loomis.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Actually that’s completely false.

            I presume this is to me?

            You are out and out lying to make such a demonstrably false assertion, as is Mr. Loomis.

            Actually, I could just be misinformed.

            My point is still that Nader did nothing on the national scale that was remotely effective. Perhaps that’s “not his fault”, but I still think he could have had a reasonable shot at a senate seat. As a senator, he could have done a lot to make progressive causes more visible.

            I note that thus far we have but mere assertion for you. If you would point to some evidence for Nader’s activities on behalf of the Greens I’d be more than happy to take that claim out of my set of beliefs.

            • mike says:

              Your “belief” is based on a presumption based on a lack of knowledge. Do the homework yourself and I’m sure you will be more enlightened and at least have some evident to back up beliefs you assert publicly. The fact is that I called You on Your public assertion that St. Ralph did not “work on the midterms, run for senate or house, negotiated a withdraw in 2000, etc.” The middle point is accurate, the former and the latter are demonstrably false. The burden of proof is on you. If you are not interested in backing up your assertions when you are called on them I would ask that you refrain from making them in the future.

              • mike says:

                “My point is still that Nader did nothing on the national scale that was remotely effective.”

                I forgot to concede this point, you are probably correct here where the 2000 election is concerned, though I have asserted my opinions why this was so in detail elsewhere on this topic.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Your “belief” is based on a presumption based on a lack of knowledge.

                I love your detailed access to my psychological state, plus your presumption of bad faith! Works really well together.

                Before I was lying, but now, I’m…something. Lovely.

                Do the homework yourself and I’m sure you will be more enlightened and at least have some evident to back up beliefs you assert publicly.

                I generally do try to get evidence. Obviously you can’t do it for everything. But you conceded one. Great!

                the former and the latter are demonstrably false.

                So demonstrate it. Seriously. Go ahead.

                Hint, the third is demonstrably true! The third is “negotiated a withdraw in 2000″. He didn’t withdraw in 2000, so, by definition, he didn’t negotiate a withdraw.

                Re: burden of proof, given that you’ve made fairly wild accusations about my veracity and strong claims about the easy of demonstrating, I think the burden of proof is on you.

                (Note, that the best way to have worked the midterms is to have run for senator, at least as a symbolic run.)

      • climate change is a global one (yes, there are things you can do at the local level, but if you look at it strategically you quickly realize that without some form of carbon pricing we’re doomed);

        If you don’t build up from the local level, carbon pricing itself is doomed.

        and as for civil rights, the point is for them to be universal rights, not something that stops at the city limits.

        They don’t stop at national borders, either; does that mean it’s unimportant to work on them at a national level?

        • Jameson Quinn says:

          You have valid points, but I still see this argument as a factor that is more favorable for Goldwater types than for progressives.

          As for civil rights: a lot of progressives live in localities where this issue has been basically won. They understandably have more focus on the national aspects of this issue.

          (And yes, this is another structural advantage for teahadists over progressives: we’re more concentrated on average, so assuming equal numbers there’s fewer localities for us to take over.)

          • Cody says:

            I think the most important thing about working in the local level is electing Progressive political talent.

            It’s like a draft. There aren’t going to be any Obama-level Progressives if there isn’t a big enough talent pool. You first need to get your country filled with Progressive politicians, then one can run for House Rep or something.

            If there isn’t a significant amount of Progressive options, who is going to pay attention to them? What other politicians are going to put their weight behind them?

      • Eli Rabett says:

        Education, water supplies, transit and more. Get off it.

      • Bloke says:

        Jameson
        maybe when your local school teaches creationism, abolishes all sex education, and has mandatory prayer or even worse has become a charter run by a wall street hedge fund then you will be sufficiently motivated to put time into the local school board.

        Ask the people of Texas or Denver what happens when they are not paying attention to the school board.

  2. Ken Houghton says:

    “Well-meaning progressives” of a young age can be forgiven, if they are repentatnt. It’s the idiots who lived through John Anderson in 1980 and made the same mistake again in 2000 who should be shot and sent to the Russian Front without wasting money on the pine box.

    And your point about local control is why I gave up on MoveOn after 91% of its voting members said that organization should p*ss away its limited resources supporting BarryO, instead of the downstream candidates who might be able to make a difference.

    • Jameson Quinn says:

      I’m thread-jumping a bit here, but this comment is as good a hook as any to thank Erik for a Nader-based post that actually gets us talking about the future and not just the past.

      In other words, Harrumph to Ken and Erik.

  3. DrDick says:

    I would agree with this and it pretty well matches my critique of Nader and the Greens. I also voted third party in my youth, notably for Fred Harris, but like you quickly came to realize that the have no chance of winning and have absolutely zero impact on the political discourse (in large part because their vote totals are so low).

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      Let’s separate Nader from the Greens a bit. As Erik notes in this post, Nader never joined the Greens. And in 2004, the Greens refused to renominate Nader, despite his seeking the GP’s nomination…in part because of his clear lack of interest in party building. Indeed, Nader proudly refuses to join any political party (he tells a story of promising his father on his deathbed not to do so).

      I’m both an ex-Nader voter (in ’96 in NJ) and an ex-Green (as a delegate to our 2004 convention, I voted for the eventual nominee, David Cobb, against Nader). There were huge problems with Nader as a candidate (Erik outlines them well above). And there also were (and are) big problems with the viability of the Green Party. But they are not the same problems.

      • scott says:

        I agree with this. I take Erik’s point to be that if you’re serious about moving things to the left, either adopt the conservatives’ party takeover model of “No RINOs” or really commit on an idelogical level to building another party rather than tying yourself to a narcissist uninterested in doing that. And I like both ideas for the same reason, that they just recognize how far right we’ve drifted as a country over 30+ years, that we need to stop the drift instead of accommodating to it, and that Erik urges practical steps to do it. I think the debates that often rage here about who we ought to support once the two parties have coughed up their nominees are tired, stale, embittered, and counter-productive. I would rather spend much more time talking about the kind of ideas Erik has discussed than having one more lame round of “Obama is no better than Romney” or “Nader is responsible for every bad thing that’s happened since 1/20/01.” At least Erik’s route promises something constructive.

      • DrDick says:

        Please note that I listed them separately and Erik distinguishes them as well. My critique of Nader is the same as Erik’s and My critique of the Greens is their failure even try to organize locally at the national level.

  4. Joe says:

    Nader does, especially long term, look like a vanity candidate. I’m fine with third party candidates, but it helps when they are serious about things. Are members of the reality based community.

    When a Liberty or Free Soil candidate noted neither candidate is really better, you know, it had some bite. But, there was a difference between Gore and Bush. And, when the Green Party candidate this year says there is no real difference between Romney/Ryan and Obama, again, give me a f-ing break.

    The failure of Nader to seriously build a movement was as noted a problem. A serious left candidate would have been out there on the barricades pissed off about Florida, about deprivation of voting rights. And, after Bush won, would have continued the effort. For instance, there are plenty of local races where greens, e.g., have a shot at winning. Bu, Nader was about Nader.

    Voting for Nader in 2000 if you weren’t in a swing state was fine. A person obviously had the right to do it anywhere. But, everyone else also has the right to point out what a boob he was. He was and continues to be a subpar face of the opposition.

    • mike says:

      “For instance, there are plenty of local races where greens, e.g., have a shot at winning. Bu, Nader was about Nader.”

      This kind of comment is driving me a little batty. Where the heck were all of you looking in 2000–Nader was EVERYWHERE! Not only that, but everyone the the local democratic party was trying to shut him up, but he was leading large rallies, campaigning with local greens all over the country (he had to come to San Francisco in 2000 to help progressives get elected to the Board of Supervisors–the whole time fighting the myriad of efforts by local democrats to keep him off the ballots. This stupid fiction that people spout about Nader running a vanity campaign, or not getting involved with progressive politics is the product of a manipulative democratic party and a collection of extremely incurious minds. Spend 10 minutes on Google and enlighten yourself!

  5. sherparick says:

    I second the motion. I think I agree with about every word you wrote including the “An”s and “the”s. I will be printing out this blog and bringing it to meetings.

    Another interesting piece of scholarship that I would like to see explore is the incredible lightness of being that came to dominate the Liberal and further left movements in this country from the 1960s. It is the frivolity and condescension that allowed Tom Wolfe paint liberals as elite dillettantes, a Republican trope we live with today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_Chic_%26_Mau-Mauing_the_Flak_Catchers

    Perstein discusses this to a limited extent in “Nixonland” (is own fury at the liberals of that era sometimes seems to match Nixon’s). And of course the first vainity candidate was McCarthy.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I disagree with this. First of all, McCarthy was a primary candidate and it’s a totally different thing. That’s where these candidates should be popping up. That’s one place where left challenges should exist.

      And while one can perhaps critique the left of the late 60s and 70s, I want to point out 2 things. First, those issues were very much spawned of a particular time and set of historical circumstances that aren’t particularly relevant to today. Second, a lot of the response to the left as being elitist or whatnot is that they supported crazy policies like anti-racism, feminism, and gay rights. It’s important to read between the lines of a lot of that criticism of the left that appeared in the 70s to get at what the real agenda of the writers are.

      • snarkout says:

        It’s as though you don’t think Tom Wolfe is a neutral arbiter without reactionary political sympathies of his own!

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Plus, McCarthy wasn’t actually more progressive than Humphrey.

        • Bloix says:

          Humphrey supported the war in 1968. He tried to muddle the issue by talking incessantly of peace, but he never broke with Johnson, which was the cause of tremendous frustration within the Democratic Party and was the reason that McCarthy entered the race.

          McCarthy was a single issue candidate. He ran against the war. He launched his campaign with the words, “the Administration seems to have set no limit to the price it is willing to pay for a military victory.”

          And Humphrey was trying to keep the Democratic coalition together, which meant holding on, not only to both the anti-war students and the hard-hat war supporters, but also to the African-American vote and the southern racists who hated the civil rights bills. So he tacked to the middle on civil rights. (In the end he lost them to Wallace, which threw the election to Nixon.)

          Humphrey faced an impossible problem: how to hold an irrevocably fractured party together for one more election before it split apart forever. Maybe Robert Kennedy could have done it with the help of nostalgia and personal charisma, but Humphrey couldn’t. What he did instead – waffle to the middle on the two most important issues of the day – did nothing for his place in history.

  6. Steve M. says:

    I agree with this, but I think there’s a missing element: the crazy zealots took over the GOP not just because they took over the system at low levels, but also because, simultaneously, the right-wing propaganda machine became incredibly sophisticated and pervasive. Forty years ago it was carefully crafted think-tank-generated op-eds in every newspaper in America; now it’s talk radio and Fox News.

    There are other factors: inflation and humiliation under Carter, Reagan’s mastery of politics after it had become showbiz (which hardly anyone fully grasped in 1980), and, of course, big money. So I don’t think progressives can replicate the right-wing crazies’ success just by becoming precinct captains. But you’re right, it would help a lot.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Fine–why aren’t we building our left-wing propaganda machine?

      • Jameson Quinn says:

        Give me a couple tens of billions and I’ll get right on that.

        • Cody says:

          I think with the advent of the internet, you can do this at a much lower price now.

          Who even watches Cable?

          • mattH says:

            Assuming Nielsen isn’t hiding something here (survey is behind a paywall of course), people still watch 7 times as many hours of TV than they spend online. Internet might very well be good for the future, but it isn’t sufficient now.

            At the same time, this is a long-term goal, not something we expect to happen over night, and I think it’d be a bad idea to leave any possible avenue on the side if we really are thinking long term.

            • mattH says:

              I put that a bit inelegantly. 7 times as many hours of TV are watched in the US than hours spent online.

              • Cody says:

                That surprises me, but then again my generation isn’t exactly the majority.

                I look at all these things as starting from the bottom, and I think the first step is a strong online presence. There are many organizations that are working on that.

                It gives you the opportunity to build on your success, not just try to start PNN (Progress National News!) to combat CNN with huge capital investment out of the blue.

        • Sharon says:

          This.

          The right has an assload of money. The’ve had an assload of cash that they’ve been willing to deploy on all sorts of initiatives.

          The left hasn’t had that kind of scratch.

          And there is an organization supporting liberal/left democrats at the local level. It’s called, DFA. It’s the organization that rose up after Dean dropped out of the 2004 nomination fight.

        • Give me a couple tens of billions and I’ll get right on that.

          In the 50s-80s, cities tried to promote revitalization by imitating suburbs. The built urban highways and tore down neighborhoods to build shopping centers with big parking lots right in the heart of the city. It didn’t work. You can’t out-suburb the suburbs.

          So then they gave up, because it was useless. Oh, wait, no they didn’t. Instead, they (the smart ones, anyway) came up with another plan, which revolved around basing their revitalization efforts on the assets that cities had above and beyond what the suburbs could offer. Character. Walkability. History. A critical mass of people. Cultural diversity. And that worked.

          Same thing here. Nope, the left can never possibly hope to build a money-based media monster that can compete with the Mighty Wurlitzer. So, what else have we got?

          Perhaps it’s worth looking at how the underfunded Obama caught and surpassed Hillary.

          • Jameson Quinn says:

            I was obviously being a bit snarky. You’re right, we have to find our own way. And that starts with understanding the differences. They have more money.

            Also, of course, it’s interesting that you present your arguments there as if they’re new. I think that the DFA person above you had a better answer. Even if everything you say is true, we still have to build the existing structures we have, not reinvent the wheel every 15 minutes.

            • I don’t know, Jameson.

              The effectiveness of OWS at changing the national conversation, after a lifetime of watching protest movements lurch between completely ineffective and actively counterproductive, makes me think that they found something new, to great effect.

              • scott says:

                I agree with this. To me, the lessons of the last 40 years are actually pretty simple. The right has managed to push the window right, but they needed a massive heavy thumb on the scale through unlimited financial resources and institution building in order to put over a message that actually isn’t all that attractive. They played to their strengths, money and distraction. I think that if you can communicate the liberal/progressive message effectively, it works. Obviously you can’t do that without money and organization, but the advantage of a good message over a bad one shouldn’t be understated.

              • DrDick says:

                I would agree that they had a huge impact on shifting the discourse, and are to be applauded for it. I am not sure that they are capable of actually effecting substantial changes, however. While this is somewhat in flux, it would appear at present that they have spent their momentum.

                • JL says:

                  I think this will go in cycles somewhat. A lot of Occupiers were new activists who had unrealistic expectations of how much they were going to accomplish and how quickly. A lot of Occupiers, experienced and newbie activists, devoted an incredible amount of time and energy to things. People burned out really hard. I’m hoping that as everybody takes a break things will rev up again (in some cities they never really stopped). I was at the OWS first anniversary in NYC, and there was a lot of energy there.

                • But the shift in discourse itself is what makes it possible for substantial changes to be effected.

                  A few people in the streets don’t produce substantive change; they can, however, alter the broader political culture so that other people, in positions of influence, will do that.

              • Jameson Quinn says:

                Yes, fine. OWS. But not the “Joe from Lowell Movement”.

                I mean, be creative. But don’t just sit and pontificate about how being creative is great. Connect it to something real.

                I realize, of course, that I’m guilty of this too. So to do pennance: DFA! OWS! LGM! Rah, rah, rah!

          • $$$$ says:

            Perhaps it’s worth looking at how the underfunded Obama caught and surpassed Hillary.

            So the solution is to find a bunch of tech and finance millionaires and hit them up for big money.

        • tt says:

          It’s true that the party of the plutocrats has more money than the party opposing the plutocrats, almost by definition. But the plutocrats as a class aren’t actually very effective in using this money to advance their political interests. Just a few wealthy families (e.g. the Kochs) exert enormous influence because that’s how they choose to spend their money.

          CATO Institute has a budget of $25 million. AEI has a budget of $25 million. Think tanks are cheap. Astroturfing is cheap. The entire climate denialist industry runs on the low millions of dollars, with astronomical political returns. You really only need literally one billionaire friend to start a political movement. Or the equivalent from smaller donors.

          • Jameson Quinn says:

            the party opposing the plutocrats

            Which one was that again?

            It’s not just scoring a cheap point. I know that there are important differences between the party of “most of them are pretty bad and a few are really bad” and the party of “OMG WTF BAD BAD BAD”. But the power of money absolutely does not stop at the door of the Democratic party.

            Oh, and a yearly combined budget of $50 million, when you make nothing productive, takes an endowment of around a billion dollars. I’m not saying that they have that endowment, but their supporters do.

        • Greg says:

          You don’t need tens of billions of dollars to buy clipboards and buttons and go door to door. You just need lots of people who agree with you. If you can’t find them, then maybe the problem is that your ideas suck.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        You mean Air America? I think that we know how that worked out.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          MSNBC has been pretty effective, as has, it their own way, the Netroots. There are different forms of media that serve different functions and people’s proclivities.

          • Left_Wing_Fox says:

            True, but when push comes to shove, MSNBC is still a corporate owned media outlet. There’s enough of an underserved liberal market for them to rebrand as explicitly left-leaning, but MSNBC is far more likely to eject that liberal viewpoint than Fox News is to reject their conservative propaganda.

      • WhatDragon says:

        Haven’t we kind of built one?

        I am not suggestion that the blogosphere is super powerful, but I am old enough to remember when republican talking points went out unchallenged (that’s as recently as the early to mid 90s).

        At this point, liberals respond much faster to knocking down conservative talking points.

        • WhatDragon says:

          Typos abound.

        • Warren Terra says:

          The liberal blogosphere is comforting, and fun, and does indeed do a good job of informing its habitues and arming them for debate.

          But it’s a mistake to compare it with Fox News. The thing about Fox is the way, through the magic of having people talk at you 24 hours a day, often in the background, it can marinate its victims in a twisted worldview. It’s one thing to seek out a blog that explains in tones of high dudgeon just how they other side is a bunch of poopyheads; it’s quite another to spend all day effortlessly being carefully enveloped in a worldview that presumes the other side is a bunch of poopyheads.

      • Stag Party Palin says:

        Why don’t progressives/liberals organize as well as conservatives? I really think it takes a determined, nearly obsessive mindset that is much more common in conservatives. They are more likely to be respectful of those ‘higher up’, less individualistic, more messianic, more willing to suspend disbelief. In my many years of tree hugging I have seen very few of my fellows who have gotten down and dirty in the political arena. It happens, but it’s rare.

        • Jameson Quinn says:

          True. But think: if there was one thing Nader had going for him, it was that kind of energy.

          As long as we don’t fix the voting system, it will continue to transform what energy we do have in that direction into festering wounds, as it did with Nader.

        • actor212 says:

          I’ll tell you why liberals can’t organize as well as conservatives.

          We have jobs. We’re not a bunch of doddering old fogies sitting in our Hoverounds in a home, listening to talk radio and creating a captive audience that creates advertising that creates money for radio and TV networks that creates buzz that creates a sense of plurality when in reality the nation is about evenly divided in terms of social and political outlooks.

          We will be, and sooner than we all admit. Change will come.

          Right now, we have responsibilities.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            Organized labor came out of people who had jobs and they managed to change the system pretty freaking significantly. And the idea that the conservative movement was a bunch of old people without jobs doesn’t stand up to analysis–regardless of what the Tea Partiers might be, when took over the party in the 50s and 60s, these were families directly dependent upon the defense industry, or at least the ones McGirr discusses.

          • Lee says:

            The Right-wing warriors of the Post-WWII era where people with jobs, kids, and a whole host of responsibilities outside politics. This is feeble excuse.

            Cyncism towards and disdain for electoral politics has long plagued the American Left. Similar attitudes existed in the Gilded and Progressive Eras. Even the Socialist Party when it was most succesful in elections longed to be more of revolutionary in nature. Like now, special disdain was reserved for the Democratic Party.

            The American Left was most succesful when it worked through elecotoral politics and the Democratic Party rather than against them.

            • Leeeee says:

              I agree. The Left may not like it, but look at the Tea Party. They managed to shove the Republicans rightward in just a few years by primarying the hell out of them. The Left needs to do the same

        • Steve H says:

          I agree, there is definitely a Zealotry Gap between the right and the left.

          I think part of the reason is that as much as a lot of us dislike the current state of politics, we don’t feel as personally threatened by it as the right-wing nut jobs do. A lot of them firmly believe that liberalism threatens an entire way of life that they hold dear, where God is excluded from public life, and replaced by celebration of homosexuality and other perversions. Where, God forbid, you actually have to press 1 for English.

          • Ron says:

            This, very much. The difference is that, for many of us, we don’t feel our ox being gored. If we are lucky enough to not be in the social safety net, we think it outrageous that some want to cut the painfully small benefits of food stamps and UI, and we’ll talk against it, but we’re not actually the ones who miss meals because of it. (And if we are, we are historically among the least organized, least involved people in the country, in part because surviving while seriously poor is difficult, and doesn’t leave sufficient time for politics.)

            Meanwhile, on many social issues, we’re very quietly winning. Sometimes there are loud battles, on issues like marriage equality and abortion — and I’m not minimizing the importance of either of those — but on the less contentious issues, nobody’s really bothering us much. It no longer acceptable in public schools to tell our gay children that they’re evil and sick, nor our African American children that they have a proper place that is not equal to White kids, nor to tell our young girls that the only acceptable role for them is to be wives and mothers. And no, we don’t really teach creationism much.

            And that change is an “attack” on the religious right. So it’s easy to motivate them on school boards, to ensure that we don’t “normalize the homosexual agenda,” or that we don’t take prayer out of schools, etc.

            On the other hand, in my majority African-American neighborhood, our Advisory Neighborhood Council isn’t concerned about “social issues.” We’re concerned about the work the city is doing to replace the lead water mains, and about the local school, and about crime, and about zoning and rat control. Those aren’t social issues, and they’re not ideological.

            So we all get along. But it doesn’t draw in liberals or conservatives. It just draws in people who care about our neighborhood. And we are not threatened by a different viewpoint on those social issues, at least at the organizational level.

            But that doesn’t mean we can’t organize locally around the issues we do care about, whether it’s a more effective and progressive tax system, expanding access to health care, eliminating food desserts, or helping our public schools. And, as an earlier poster pointed out, DFA, the remnants of the very centrist Dean’s campaign, has been and continues to be an important part of that.

            But it’s a harder lift. Because, in the end, we who live in northeastern cities have it sorta good. And we don’t want to fight a culture war that might disturb that. It’s not that we’re unmotivated. It’s that, on the little things, we won the culture war, and we’re sort of enjoying it.

            • Jameson Quinn says:

              …eliminating food desserts…

              So it was true about the broccoli!

              If I can’t have chocolate mousse, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.

              Oh, you meant deserts? Well… OK, you’re right.

            • Jameson Quinn says:

              Seriously, though, I agree.

              But that leftist complacency could very well change as global warming starts to bite. As I said in another thread above, the core issue of global warming is carbon pricing, and that’s not a local issue. But in order to get carbon pricing, we need a stronger political voice. And that is a local issue. Not just in the day-to-day, putting-in-the-hours sense that you mention. The crazy US system of administering elections locally is perversely an advantage here; it means that organizing around voting reform, which is key to climate change activism among many other things, is precisely local organizing.

              Or at least that’s my dream. I realize that voting reform isn’t today the powerful rallying cry that I think it should be.

            • JL says:

              The idea that social issues are not economic issues (which is not what you said, but it’s implicit in the social issues/economic issues divide) is a weird one. Affordable abortion is an economic issue as well as a social one for anyone who can become pregnant and their family. A lot of queer issues are economic as well as social issues – job and housing discrimination.

              I think your first paragraph is about right. I think it would be useful for more middle-class liberals and leftists to spend serious time working together in activism with poor people, that it would bring these issues home as something other than abstractions. It was sure useful for me.

          • Lee says:

            The right is also very skilled at binding all their divergent interests together. They could combine law and order, defense, homophobia, and anti-tax sentiments together. The Left is much worse at this.

        • Greg says:

          Who says we don’t? We organize fabulously well. That’s the only reason we’re still in the game, frankly.

      • mike says:

        Because we are not okay with lying.

  7. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    I agree substantially with this post.

    I took a similar path to Erik’s (though I’m a good deal older than him), though with some notably differences.

    I left the Democratic Party (in spirit if not yet in registration) when Clinton signed welfare reform, the last of many straws for me. In ’96 I voted for Nader in a safely blue state (tho’ of course we didn’t call ‘em “blue states” back then). In ’98 I became active in the Green Party in Oklahoma, to which I had by then moved. In 2000, I was very involved in the Nader campaign, but we were unable to crack OK’s very restrictive ballot access laws and Nader was kept off the ballot. Although I would have voted for Nader in Oklahoma in 2000, I could not do so.

    My reaction to the aftermath of the Nader campaign was very much Erik’s. Like Erik, I was quite angry about how little Nader seemed to care about building something bigger than himself. With the Green Party, Nader’s refusal to give his donor lists to the party became a major bone of contention for just this reason. I remained active in GP politics over the next several years, growing ever more skeptical of the hardcore Naderites within the GP. I was very supportive of the idea of a “safe states” strategy to avoid spoiling the 2004 election and voted for the candidate associate with that strategy, our eventual nominee David Cobb, as a convention delegate.

    But over the course of the next several years, I became tired of the infighting within the GP which seemed to take up most of our energy. Unlike the Nader campaign, the GP really was (and is) a serious attempt to build a third party from the bottom up. Since the Nader run in 2000, it hasn’t put most of its eggs in the presidential basket. Yet, it’s getting virtually nowhere.

    I agree with Erik that a longrun strategy that builds power from the bottom up is the way for progressives to get somewhere and that the story of conservatism from the late 1950s through the 1980s (and beyond) is a great guide. But, as of yet, it ain’t happening, either within or outside the Democratic Party.

  8. david mizner says:

    I voted for Nader in a safe state, NY, and this year I’ll probably vote for Jill Stein in NY.
    I wouldn’t, though, in a swing state.

    Absent some very unique circumstances, a presidential campaign is not the vehicle to make change. Too many institutional hurdles.

    The leftists who vote third party in hopes of making change are the mirror image of progressives who say things like “President Obama is our best hope for progressive change.”

    At first, the important action must take place outside the realm of presidential politics.

    • Cody says:

      Have you seen the “news” today about Obama’s comment that change has to come from outside the government?

      He’s dead on. Going to be a lot of negative press about that!

      • Vance Maverick says:

        Can’t tell if you’re joking. Perhaps the colorable criticism is that Obama is, or can be interpreted as, saying that he’s impotent. But to the extent that there will be negative “press” about suggesting change must come from outside government, be assured there would be just as much for suggesting change will come from within government. The real target is the notion of progress.

        Thanks to Erik for the excellent post.

        • Cody says:

          Yes, sorry I was being sarcastic! I tried at least, haha.

          I mean I agree with what he’s saying. It relates to our discussion that things must be forced from the ground up. We’re never going to elect someone who will change things by being President, we have to change the face of the electorate (move the Overton Window? idk).

    • actor212 says:

      You want to make a point AND matter? Vote for Obama, but vote on the Working Families line. Make him see that even in true blue states, he’s still going to have to listen to union members and liberals.

    • “President Obama is our best hope for progressive change.”

      President Obama is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for progressive change.

      You can either play defense the ballot box once every four years, and concentrate all of the in-between time on progressive change; or you can try to bring about progressive politics by voting once every four years, and spend all of the in-between time playing defense.

  9. Bruce Vail says:

    As a Nader voter in 2000, this piece seems especially relevant to me. Unlike you, however, I don’t regret voting for Nader. Yes, he is personally a prick and an egomaniac — but the Democratic Party forfeited any claim to my support when it nominated Gore/Leiberman at the top of the ticket.

    At the end of the day, any election is about about a choice among the candidates who are on the ballot in that specific election. If we keep voting for crooks and warmongers, then that is all we are ever going to get.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      But don’t you see–elections themselves are not where change occurs!

      A presidential election is not the place to make those changes you want. Being a useful tool of crooks and warmongers isn’t much better than being one yourself.

      • Bruce Vail says:

        I guess I don’t see — are you suggesting it is pointless to vote in the presidential election?

        Emma Goldman once said something to the effect that “If voting actually made any difference, it would be illegal!”

        • njorl says:

          There is a point to voting in the presidential election. It just has little to do with creating progressive change in electoral politics.

          • Bruce Vail says:

            Your point is well taken, but then why not vote for third party candidates who have positions that you can actually support?

            Some of this argument seems to lead to the conclusion that the Dems/Reps suck and voting third party is pointless. So why vote at all?

            • Erik Loomis says:

              You are missing the point. It’s not that voting isn’t important. It’s that attempts to create change from the top are doomed to fail and that local elections are, in the big scheme of things, arguably more important than presidential elections.

              • mike says:

                That’s a false dichotomy. One can readily do both, and most Greens have been organizing locally for the past 20+ years. Your buyers remorse may be confusing Failed Efforts with Apathy, but it doesn’t mean that everyone from Ralph Nader to Jill Stein haven’t been extremely active in local politics for the last 20 years. I don’t think you could line up enough Democratic presidential candidates to hold a stick to the amount of local organizing for 3rd parties that Ralph Nader has done in the last 50 years–why should he have to forego running for president just because of your ignorance.

            • why not vote for third party candidates who have positions that you can actually support?

              Because the consequence of your doing so is to hand the reins to Bush and Cheney.

              A Presidential election is also a choice of which candidates you want to keep out of power.

            • spencer says:

              why not vote for third party candidates who have positions that you can actually support?

              Because elections are not about your feelings?

            • Greg says:

              Vote or don’t vote. If that’s all you’re doing, it doesn’t matter all that much.

              What makes a difference is boots-on-the-ground activism. Are you talking to be people on the fence and trying to change their mind about your pet issue?

        • L2P says:

          I think I’d put it differently.

          Voting [b]as a protest[/b] is pointless. That accomplishes nothing. Voting for the “pure” candidate because the more progressive crook (although the more progressive crook that might actually win) is still a crook, won’t change anything. In the next election the major parties will [b]still[/n] nominate crooks, because only some sort of crook will ever get to the head of a major party.

          The only way your protest vote can affect anything is to make sure that the [b]less[/b] progressive candidate wins any particular election. That’s it.

          So, as Erik says, the only real way to accomplish change is to work to change the party. Make the party more progressive. Make to the party be YOUR party. Do what the conservatives do. Be the equivalent of the Texas school board (a stupid, pointless job, btw) that is making The. Entire. Country. Think that cavemen lived with dinosaurs.

          And hold your nose and vote for Obama’s endless war in the middle east.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            “Be the equivalent of the Texas school board (a stupid, pointless job, btw) that is making The. Entire. Country. Think that cavemen lived with dinosaurs.”

            This.

          • Karen says:

            The Texas school board is exactly why Loomis idea is so important. I live inTexas. Progressives have ignord us for 20 years, allowing the craziest their very own, very large state. Does anyone think that a similar body in North Dakota would influence national policy? Of course not. By focusing on national policies exclusively, however, progressives have permitted this cancer to grow. These kinds of races aren’t that expensive, but progressives never run for them ,even from safe areas like Austin or the Valley. Why?

        • Barry says:

          “Emma Goldman once said something to the effect that “If voting actually made any difference, it would be illegal!””

          This is about as dumb as ‘don’t vote, it just encourages them’.

      • Murc says:

        But don’t you see–elections themselves are not where change occurs!

        So if Andrew Cuomo is the Democratic nominee in 2016, you’ll vote for him?

        Voting for the lesser evil is sometimes both neccessary and important, but we all reach a point we’re we are willing to lend our imprimatur to someone on their own merits, where we aren’t willing to be associated with their odiousness.

        And reaching that point doesn’t make you ignorant, or a naif.

        • Greg says:

          I’ll do my damnedest to stop him from reaching that point, but once he wins the nomination, then of course I’ll support him.

          Change happens a little at a time over decades, if not centuries. Andrew Cuomo might not improve the status quo, but he’ll be much, much better than say, Scott Walker, and he’ll still push the ball forward.

          Look at it this way: there are 300 million people in this country. If the two major party candidates are 99% the same, it’s still important to choose the better one between them rather than vote for a hopeless third party candidate for the sake of the 3 million people for whom the difference does matter.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Voting for the lesser evil is sometimes both neccessary and important, but we all reach a point we’re we are willing to lend our imprimatur to someone on their own merits, where we aren’t willing to be associated with their odiousness.

          If you think that the benefits of a few hundred thousand people congratulating themselves for being too good for politics outweighs at least four years of president Paul Ryan, then…we’re different people.

          Also, a world in which Andrew Goddamned Cuomo can win the Democratic nomination is not really a world where an Elizabeth Warren can plausibly be president. If progressives don’t even have veto power over the Democratic nominee, you think they can put together a majority coalition in the electoral college? Do you think throwing the election to Paul Ryan makes that more likely?

          • Jesse Levine says:

            If Steny Hoyer is really making nice with Paul Ryan in the halls of Congress, as reported today, and Bob Woodward accurately reported that President Obama told him that in the lame duck he’ll be working to reduce the deficit and “reform entitlements”, the nomination won’t be worth a damn in 2016 because there will be no Democratic base.

          • Murc says:

            If you think that the benefits of a few hundred thousand people congratulating themselves for being too good for politics outweighs at least four years of president Paul Ryan, then…we’re different people.

            I think that if I vote for someone with a full and complete knowledge of what their beliefs and policies are, I bear some responsibility, especially moral responsibility, for the consequences thereof.

  10. david mizner says:

    I think it’s fair to call Nader a vanity candidate who used, rather than tried to build, the Green Party.

    But the argument that Lemieux broke out the other day — that Nader didn’t push any single issue onto the national agenda — is bogus.

    It’s not his fault he didn’t make his agenda items national ones, or Democratic Party ones. On substantive policy, he was right about pretty much everything.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      He was right about a great many things, but he was always at best silent, and at worst bad, on reproductive rights and GLBT issues.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      What issue did Nader push onto the national agenda in a way that led to anything concrete, whether in the crafting of legislation or the influencing of social and political movements? Because I can’t think of one.

      • Cody says:

        Indirectly, he got how the funding of huge international wars based on flimsy evidence was a bad idea?

        • Halloween Jack says:

          He was hardly a voice in the wilderness on that one.

          • rea says:

            And of course, he heightened the contradictions to the point that we found ourselves funding huge international wars based on flimsy evidence, in a way that would have seemed inconceivable in 2000.

            • Cody says:

              This.

              Is the viewpoint I was making fun of here. In the theory that Bush wouldn’t have been elected if Nader didn’t run (Please don’t start a thread talking about this!), Nader is the reason the talking point of not getting into huge unfunded wars is in the national spotlight…

              • rea says:

                I’d rather not have the talking point of “not getting into huge unfunded wars” in the national spotlight, if the reason it’s not in the national spotlight is that we have not gotten into any huge unfunded wars lately

              • Prodigal says:

                It;s not just a theory: Bush wouldn’t have been elected if Nader didn’t run. It would have taken a total of 538 votes to give Gore more votes than Bush in Florida, which is 0.55% (or just over half of one percent) of the 97,488 Nader votes in that state.

                Since the polls showed that if Nader hadn’t been on the Florida ballot 38% of his voters would have wound up voting for Gore and 25% of them would have wound up voting for Bush, so the total number of votes each candidate would have received (based on the official count):

                Gore: 2,949,298 (Winner by 12,136 votes)
                Bush: 2,937,162

      • david mizner says:

        I’m saying it’s not his fault that he was unable to make his agenda items national ones.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          He’s not blameless, is he?

          While I wasn’t too happy with some of the reactions & spiels by anti-Nader left/liberal muckity mucks during the election (even though they were right), afaik, Nader never tried to cut a deal, or woo in any realistic way, the Democrats. (They didn’t do much to woo Nader and the Greens either, but that doesn’t absolve Ralph, does it?)

          And his post election crappiness is all him, right? Again, he could have run for Senate in a friendly place and then put things on the national agenda directly.

          • Barry says:

            “While I wasn’t too happy with some of the reactions & spiels by anti-Nader left/liberal muckity mucks during the election (even though they were right), afaik, Nader never tried to cut a deal, or woo in any realistic way, the Democrats. (They didn’t do much to woo Nader and the Greens either, but that doesn’t absolve Ralph, does it?)”

            It was repeatedly pointed out that Nader said that he intended to throw the election, and campaigned accordingly.

            People (starting with Molly Ivins) asked him to campaign in strong Red/Blue states, and said that they’d support him, so that he could qualify for federal funds without throwing the election. He refused.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Sigh.

              It was repeatedly pointed out that Nader said that he intended to throw the election,

              Not quite, and he said a lot of other things.

              and campaigned accordingly.

              The evidence is against that. At least, his campaign trail was not effective toward that end.

              Cf Burden.

              There was a campagin staff and party involved as well, eh?

              People (starting with Molly Ivins) asked him to campaign in strong Red/Blue states, and said that they’d support him, so that he could qualify for federal funds without throwing the election. He refused.

              Burden’s paper shows that his campaign stops were much more consistent with a maximizing the vote total strategy than a spoiler strategy.

              Doesn’t make him not a spoiler, not culpable, etc. But let’s stick with the best available evidence.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I’m saying it’s not his fault that he was unable to make his agenda items national ones.

          So third-party campaigns are inherently useless even when they’re not (like Nader 2000) actively counterproductive? So what are we arguing about?

        • Warren Terra says:

          For a year after the 2000 debacle (probably nine months; after 9/11 few stories unconnected to it were getting coverage), Nader could get national news coverage (at the very least, NPR and the like) seemingly whenever he wanted, and occasionally did so.

          The problem is, he basically had nothing to say except about how great he was, and of course to insist that the two parties were Tweedledum and Tweedledee. He didn’t try to use his heightened profile either to build any institutions or to promote any particular policy ideas.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Right. It’s not like he was focused on one or two issues he tried to inject into the public discourse. His primary platform was how awesome Ralph Nader was.

        • Greg says:

          He ran futile presidential campaigns for 16 years instead of actually doing anything to advance those agenda items. That’s his fault.

      • mike says:

        Your questions presumes Nader had something akin to a national platform to bring issues forward, like Republicans blaming Obama for failing to bring a jobs bill forward. Nader’s campaign was not actually covered by any network, he was kept out of the debates, discussions of his campaign focused on the Spoiler Affect, etc. Criticizing Nader for failing to influence policy is more of a compliment to the Democratic Party efforts to sideline him and an endorsement of the Major media focus of the horse race aspect of major political races.

        In answer to your question, many, many of the organizing planks Occupy Wall Street protestors voted on, and much of the language around the idea of a 99% come directly from the campaign literature of the Green Party around 2000 and 2004. Many slogans developed to campaign against Bush-or-Gore are common parlance among progressives and within the major protest movements of the past 2 years. I hesitate to credit Nader himself with those ideas, but he has been a carrier of progressive ideas for the last 5 decades–you’d have to be remarkably uncharitable to credit the man with his influence of the social and political movements of the 21st century.

    • On substantive policy, he was right about pretty much everything.

      Even if we assume for the sake of argument that this is true, this doesn’t actually contradict my point. He didn’t have any effect on national political discourse, and he didn’t run a campaign focused on innovative issues. He ran a campaign about how much Al Gore sucked and about how much more noble Saint Ralph was.

      • Warren Terra says:

        This. To talk about Nader’s brilliant insights on substantive policy is to delude yourself or others with the notion that he had any that mattered in the course of the campaign. People may have been brought to Nader’s candidacy by their dissatisfaction with substantial policy issues, but the Nader campaign wasn’t really pushing any; it was running entirely as a protest campaign against the two-party “Republicrat” duopoly, not to promote any specific and high-profile policy agenda.

        • mike says:

          I’m sorry, you are making stuff up. Look up Nader’s 2000 campaign platform. Check out a copy of “Crashing the Party” from the library. Nader had a platform, Peter Camejo had an extensive record of successful local organizing that he wanted to expand to a national level… I mean, what you are doing is repeating a lie–a lie that was created to force Nader’s very real political power into irrelevance.

          • Nobody pays attention to a party’s platform. Nader didn’t inject any issues into the political discourse because his messaging consisted of “Ralph Nader is awesome,” “Al Gore sucks,” and that’s pretty much it.

            • mike says:

              Aside from the fact that you’re ignoring 2 evidetiary examples of what Nader was campaigning for to make one weak argument about party platforms, Nader didn’t “inject any issues” because he was shut out of the national debate. Nader wasn’t even allowed to attend the presidential debates as a guest when he had a valid ticket, much less explain his stands on the issues in a public venue where TV cameras were present. He held thousands of rallies in 2000 to packed houses. It’s your own fault you didn’t bother to attend any.

              • SFAW says:

                Thousands of rallies? Why not go full-boat and make it “millions.”

                Be that as it may, St. Ralph’s near-entire raison d’etre for being a candidate in 2000 was his puling that the Repubs and Dems are exactly the same.

                Post-election, he rationalized his throwing the election to Bush by claiming that Bush would make things so bad, the resultant backlash would usher in a liberal Renaissance that would last a generation. As the wags say – How’d that work out for you, Ralph?

                Not allowed to explain his views when TV cameras were present? Yeah, sure, keep telling yourself that. Or maybe it suited his “they’re-being-mean-to-me” complex to play it that way.

                As better writers than I have said – Ralph is all about Ralph.

  11. Chester Allman says:

    Just chiming in to say that I think you are 1000% percent correct in everything you say here. Too often we forget that American political parties are just vehicles – they’ll go wherever the driver takes them. If we want the Dems to go our way, we need to get in the driver’s seat. And as you point out, the conservative movement has shown that there’s no great secret to doing that. It constantly baffles me how little interest so many of progressives seem to have in actually doing the work to take control of the bus – all too often preferring to just complain that they don’t like where the bus is going.

    • rea says:

      It constantly baffles me how little interest so many of progressives seem to have in actually doing the work to take control of the bus – all too often preferring to just complain that they don’t like where the bus is going.

      Well, it’s not only a hell of a lot easier, but actually dirtying your hands with politics might mean (shudder) compromise to make things a bit better, or settling for the time being for results that are less than perfectly optimal.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        To be fair, I think the psychological issues are, at least in some cases, rather less facile.

        I found Clinton a bewildering candidate in his first run. I was, of course, eager to end the Reagan-Bush era, but he was a wild ride, at turns very liberal and then wack job. His presidency was similar. And if you are in the grip of the “Reagan went on TV and beat back congrees” schtick, the failure that led to DADT looks worse than it was. We react to these things. I was pretty repeled by the Iraqi sanctions which seemed to be just awful (though better than the Bush war). Welfare reform, etc., struck at key things I cared about.

        If you take enough hits, esp. if you care a lot, most people will react strongly. At some point, swallowing Yet Another Compromise or Yet Another Capitulation or Yet Another Betrayal can cause a break.

        Obviously, the right thing to do is to aim for the best you can get. But if that falls very short, it can be very challenging to keep that up for people of various psychologies.

        This doesn’t excuse their being wrong. And some of them are just tools. But it’s worth noting that the phenomenon can be a bit more complex.

        • Lee says:

          The rightits felt this way from around the 1932 Presidential election to Reagan’s election. Their despair actually increased after Eisenhower won in 1952 because it was clear that Eisenhower was not going to roll back the New Deal. They didn’t roll up in despair, they just kept going at it and it.

          Why do liberals and leftists fall into despair much easier than conservatives?

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Do they? I’ve no idea. It’s not evident to me that this is true. My impression is that, for a given level of engagement, reactions are largely symmetrical. The right is perhaps more purity minded per se.

          • Jameson Quinn says:

            Because they have wingnut welfare to fall back on? Honest question; I don’t know if this is it, but it is a possible theory. Don’t know about the history; obviously wingnut welfare in its modern form didn’t exist in the Eisenhower era, but conservatives were still richer, and there is Ayn Rand herself as perhaps the first wingnut welfare recipient…

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            Why do liberals and leftists fall into despair much easier than conservatives?

            I have noticed this for a long time, and I have felt myself having that reaction for a long time, and I can’t quite explain it, either.

            My best guess is that the anti-authoritarian streak most liberals and lefties have also kicks in as a kind of auto-immune response. Like so: when things go badly for your candidate, you beat yourself up for being so stupid as to have fallen in line behind an authority figure who just proved himself (or herself) unworthy all over again. You believe in being skeptical about power, then you become meta-skeptical about falling for the romance of power, which proves that your original skepticism was right all along.

    • Lee says:

      This baffles me to. It took decades but Rights were able to gain control of the GOP and their methods of doing so aren’t really hard to find out. Erik outlined them above.

      Many Progressives never demonstrated much appetite for this type of politics after the 1960s or even earlier. Many of us seem to want faster change.

    • Charrua says:

      I think that a huge part of the story is missing in the post. The Civil Rights legislation, the Southern Strategy, etc. are nowhere to be found.
      Until 1965, the results of the strategy of movement conservatives had been awful; they had managed to put their candidate on the ballot only to see him crushed. That’s not usually a good starting point, you know?. But a funny thing happens in 1964, and all of a sudden, conservative Southern votes start to migrate to the GOP. And only THEN the movement conservatives started to see real gains, since these new Republican voters were a) more conservative than the GOP median vote in 1964 and b) there was a lot of them.
      We’ll never know, but my guess is that the conservative movement would have failed if it hadn’t been for that massive change in voting patterns.
      Simply replacing the party’s leaders isn’t enough to change it completely; you need to win elections and for that you need votes, ideologically sympathetic votes that probably weren’t there before.

  12. njorl says:

    I largely agree, but I wonder if we can solve our problems the same way the conservatives did.

    We can’t get people out to vote in midterm congressional elections. The elections of 2008 and 2010 had almost no voters changing party preferences. The huge turnaround was based on who decided to stay home. The changes you’re recommending will require people to vote in odd numbered years in some states and localities. Progressives simply don’t do that.

    While I agree that there has to be a local emphasis if we want the party to be more responsive to progressive voters, I think we will need national leaders and organizations to inspire people to become voters. Poor people in poor areas won’t have the money to organize. It is a difficult problem to solve. We will need national leadership for progressive causes from someone or something which is not a president.

    • Cody says:

      All the poor people who are in the Tea Party managed to get out and vote! But I guess crazy fear of minorities will really put the desire into some people.

      • L2P says:

        Most of the poor people in the Tea Party are old, retired people who aren’t poor in the same way laid-off two-child parents working two jobs at Walmart and McDonalds are poor.

        • Lee says:

          This is basically correct. A lot of people who would vote for more liberal candidates are also strongly disinclined to vote for a host of reasons of various reasons of legitimacy.

    • mattH says:

      Part of the idea of local politics is that you become engaged with your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Yes, you become “that” person, the one who wants to talk about the mayor, the planning commission, and the school board, as well as last night’s ball game, school recital or the concert, but you get engaged with other people and maybe change their minds. But changing minds is important, unless you plan on out-breeding (or killing) your competition.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      We can’t get people out to vote in midterm elections because we haven’t built the local structure that makes that happen.

    • tt says:

      Blacks make less money than whites but have basically the same turnout. Hispanics have half that turnout. All we need to do to win is get Hispanics to vote at the same rate as blacks. It’s not just an income thing.

  13. Scott de B. says:

    I would have thought that taking Lieberman out of the Senate and putting him in the most powerless political office in America would be a move progressives could get behind.

    • rea says:

      Apparently Erik saw through Lieberman back in 2000. At the time, I’d hardly heard of him. 12 years later, it’s a lot easier to see that he was always an ass, but at the time, he looked rather like a generic center/left Democrat.

      • david mizner says:

        Holy Joe? The man who took to the Senate floor to chastise Clinton and talk about the pain of having to talk to his daughter about sex? Well, no one could predict that he would become a neocon champion of the Iraq War, but his awfulness was pretty clear.

        • rea says:

          I’ve got to confess, back in the 90′s I went far out of my way to avoid hearing members of the senate talk about sex, so I was not very focused on that aspect of him.

          • david mizner says:

            Ha. He even makes an appearance in the tour-de-force opening of the Human Stain.

            Ninety-eight in New England was a summer of exquisite warmth and sunshine, in baseball a summer of mythical battle between a home-run god who was white and a home-run god who was brown, and in America the summer of an enormous piety binge, a purity binge, when terrorism—which had replaced communism as the prevailing threat to the country’s security—was succeeded by cocksucking, and a virile, youthful middle-aged president and a brash, smitten twenty-one-year-old employee carrying on in the Oval Office like two teenage kids in a parking lot revived America’s oldest communal passion, historically perhaps its most treacherous and subversive pleasure: the ecstasy of sanctimony. In the Congress, in the press, and on the networks, the righteous grandstanding creeps, crazy to blame, deplore, and punish, were everywhere out moralizing to beat the band: all of them in a calculated frenzy with what Hawthorne (who, in the 1860s, lived not many miles from my door) identified in the incipient country of long ago as “the persecuting spirit”; all of them eager to enact the astringent rituals of purification that would excise the erection from the executive branch, thereby making things cozy and safe enough for Senator Lieberman’s ten-year-old daughter to watch TV with her embarrassed daddy again.

            http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2001/jan/04/philiproth

        • You mean the criticism of Clinton that Saint Russ Feingold said “reflected his thoughts?” Lieberman was of course an irritating moralistic blowhard, but 1)in 2000, there was no reason to believe he would be as odious as he became, and 2)since as a VP he wouldn’t have had any power anyway the fact that he joined many Democratic senators in making dumb anti-Clinton speeches is a remarkably foolish reason to vote to put George W. Bush in the White House.

          • david mizner says:

            Are you kidding me? That moralism was on top of a clear record of corporate-sponsored centrism. The guy, for fuck’s sake, was chair of the DLC through Clinton’s entire second term!

            Fine if you want to say this was no reason not to vote for Gore, but it was a clear signal to labor liberals and progressives in the party and a confirmation of Gore’s embrace of Clintonism, his nice rhetorical at the convention notwithstanding.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Well, yes — on domestic policy he was a pretty conventional moderate Democrat like Clinton and Gore. If you think that’s a good reason to throw an election to George W. Bush, I don’t know what to tell you.

              • david mizner says:

                I didn’t say it was; that’s not what we’re talking about, and you know it.

                By the way, Joe’s criticism of Clinton was one of the reasons Gore picked him.

                The poll also shows that Lieberman wins big points for his early criticism of Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair. When told Lieberman was one of the first Democratic lawmakers to criticize Clinton publicly, 72 percent thought more favorably of him.

                Gore’s attempt to distance himself from Clinton was just one of the mistakes he made. But I know, I know: IT’S ALL NADER”S FAULT.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Go ahead and keep arguing this point, knowing that a Nader vote was completely worthless on the grounds I laid out in my post.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  How was it a mistake? The Clinton scandal was, in fact, an anchor on Gore campaign. Which is why so many Senate Democrats (including more liberal figures than Lieberman) were very critical of Clinton. And Clinton was, to put it mildly, not irrelevant to the fact that Gore was (with the assistance of Nader) being portrayed by the media as the World’s Biggest Liar. The idea that Gore embracing Clinton was an obvious winner is wishful thinking.

                  But, in fairness, the fact that Gore lost some states that Obama lost by 15 points shows that he ran the worst campaign in history.

                • Gore’s attempt to distance himself from Clinton was just one of the mistakes he made.

                  Gore made some mistakes, while he went about giving he absolute all to try to keep George W. Bush from becoming President.

                  That’s all I can ask of anyone, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable demand.

                • Jameson Quinn says:

                  while he went about giving he absolute all to try to keep George W. Bush from becoming President.

                  Well, until the end there. After he won the election, he could have fought harder.

                • I don’t think he could have fought harder, James. I thin he put 100% into trying to get those electoral votes.

                  Perhaps – though I’m doubtful – there was a more-effective manner of “fighting” that he could have adopted, but I don’t think the problem (if there was one) with his handling of the recount fight was a lack of trying.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Yeah, unless Gore had a strategy for placing Democrats in the Florida executive branch and the Supreme Court, it’s not clear to me what strategy could have led to victory after Bush won the initial vote count.

                • Murc says:

                  Gore fought pretty hard.

                  The people surrounding him, not so much.

                  James Carville actually tipped off his wife that Gore was going to go to the mat (after it looked initially that he might not) for the express purpose of getting her to tip off the Republicans. That was only one of many betrayals by democratic operatives during the 2000 elections.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  I doubt it mattered, but Lieberman and Warren Christopher were particularly awful.

            • mattH says:

              Don’t forget his moralizing on “obscene” rap lyrics which ties him in with Tipper Gore, further implying Al was likely just as much a reactionary and had hid it, and Lieberman’s video game violence stance. These anti-liberal positions made Gore look more centrist.

              Having said that, no one can say that we are better off with Nader in the race or with Bush being elected. Voting for Nader isn’t just bad, it’s almost complicit with voting for Bush.

              • Anna in PDX says:

                Yes, I wish this group of Dems had not been so moralistic about rap music and stuff. It was one of the things that made them look very right-wing to very young me. I was not so young in 2000 (32) but I was still quite the purist. Also I lived overseas and saw only a limited amount of what was going on in the states.

          • dilan esper says:

            Scott, I knew Lieberman was odious when he first ran against Weicker.

        • Vance Maverick says:

          no one could predict that he would become a neocon champion of the Iraq War

          I could. In his race against Lowell Weicker in ’88, he was plainly a warmonger. I tell this story often, because it’s the only time I’ve ever voted Republican.

          • mattH says:

            The thing that always amazes me about that election, not that I knew at the time, was that it was a combination of conservatives unhappy with a moderate Lowell and Democrats who elected Lieberman. How he appealed to them should matter a lot in how anyone looked at him later.

            • dilan esper says:

              Which shows you why party line isn’t the only thing that matters in voting. Imagine the favor Connecticut voters would have done to the country by keeping that butthead out of the Senate

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Yes, if an era when there are actual liberal Republicans and loose party discipline in the Senate ever comes back, then we can consider voting Republican again. Keep waiting!

                • Vance Maverick says:

                  Yup. I moved a year later to the part of the country where we choose between Starhawk and Medea Benjamin, and the Republicans are good for boilerplate campaign statements in the voter pamphlet at best, but I look back with, if not nostalgia, then wonder, at the era of the liberal Republican. From time to time I take my kid to play at the George Christopher Playground up on Diamond Heights (with its tall period-authentic litigation-bait play structures), and dream of the possibility of a sane opposition.

                • dilan esper says:

                  You missed the point. The long term matters more than the next election.

                • You missed the point. The long term matters more than the next election.

                  You miss the point. Electing Republicans so Democrats you don’t like lose doesn’t advance any progressive interest short, medium, or long term.

              • Leeeee says:

                We tried, just 18 years too late

          • david mizner says:

            I defer, then.

        • Ed says:

          Putting Holy Joe on the ticket was for some he last straw. Aside from the pleasantries Mizner mentions, throughout his career the man had never met a military intervention he didn’t like. Not what the ticket needed.

          It’s just not that simple a business to predict how candidates will behave once they get into office.The choice in 2000 was just not that inspiring and Nader’s not to blame for that. After the election is another story.

          Thanks to Loomis for the ritual confession of previous political sins and your story to the path of enlightenment. Sounds most familiar.

          I will mention the only nice things I can recall about the Lieberman selection. It was good to see a Jewish guy up there and particularly inspiring to see Democratic convention delegates of many hues and backgrounds waving “Hadassah!” signs. That was fun.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            It’s just not that simple a business to predict how candidates will behave once they get into office

            The idea that there was no way to predict that a guy who governed to the right of the Texas legislature as head of the post-Gingrich GOP would be much worse that Al Gore is just pathetic revisionism. If you bought the Joe Klein interpretation of the election that says something about your gullibility, not about the evidence.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        FWIW, I reacted to the Lieberman selection as an example of the rightward triangulation of Gore/slap in the liberal wing’s face.

        • I took it — correctly — as “Al Gore is getting savaged by the media so he picked one of the few Democrats the media loves.” And, indeed, picking Liberman got him pretty much the only positive press he got during the entire campaign.

          • Sherm says:

            Agreed, with the proviso that the selection also offered him the opportunity to show his moral superiority over Clinton.

            • Ed says:

              I’d call it a combination of all three. I suppose it’s that Gore didn’t really intend to kick dirt in the face of the party’s liberal wing and he simply took it for granted.Didn’t work out well for him in any case.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Er…how is that different than “triangulation”?

            I’m not saying, now, that it wasn’t the right choice (though, IIRC, he didn’t seem to do much, but then, that’s to be expected). I’m just saying that, then, Lieberman was far enough to the right that picking him wasn’t reasonably seen as an attempt to woo the left, indeed, the contrary.

            Now, clearly I was wrong to care about VP picks and clearly Joe went extra special nutso over time. I also be willing to bet that the positive press wasn’t as important as avoiding the negative press that a more progressive choice would have gotten, but who knows.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Of course it wasn’t an attempt to “woo the left.” That doesn’t mean that it was “triangulation” either. Despite what people try to say in retrospect Lieberman 2000 was if anything more conventionally liberal than Gore on domestic issues. He wasn’t Lloyd Bentsen.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Fair enough. Lieberman’s domestic positions weren’t too salient to me at the time.

              • david mizner says:

                Wrong. As chair of the DLC, he was the face of the party’s corporate wing. You can look it up.

              • Anna in PDX says:

                So Scott, my partner argues that the Nader voters were wrong not just because of Florida but because they distracted the Dems and made them “woo the left” when they should have been attracting swing voters. Is there any actual evidence of this? Because it is an argument that makes us safe state voters more culpable than the other one.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  I don’t know if Gore could have won by running to the right or not; I don’t think there’s enough evidence to say that. But I will say that 1)Nader can clearly be blamed for forcing Gore to waste resources in what would otherwise have been safe states, and 2)the idea that Gore could have won by running further to the left makes absolutely no sense given what the swing states were.

              • dilan esper says:

                Well, if he wasn’t interested in wooing the left, he paid for it.

                You want to win elections? Woo the left.

        • Steve H says:

          Plus, let’s not forget that Clinton did act shamefully in the whole Lewinsky thing. Adultery in the oval office itself (or thereabouts), bald-faced lying to the American public.

          To me, those don’t exactly reflect liberal values.

          Not impeachable offenses by any means, but I don’t fault anyone who stood up and said that Clinton’s actions were inappropriate.

          I voted for Nader in 2000 – but in Utah, where it really wasn’t going to matter.

          • rea says:

            Well, yeah–the idiot risked his presidency, and everything he had accoplished, for a cheap sexual thrill. I was pissed at the time, and I’m still pissed.

          • Sherm says:

            But the people who stood up to condemn Clinton all ignored that Clinton never should have been asked about Lewinsky in the first place and never should have been put in the position to have to lie to the public.

            • rea says:

              Well, that’s true. I don’t believe in prosecutors running perjury traps, and running one on the president of the United States over sex, is miles beyond simply inappropriate. But, the country would have been better off if he’d seen his way to keeping his pants on. I think Nader bears responsiblity for the Iraq war, but Clinton’s libido also bears a share of responsibility

              • Mike S. says:

                shorter rea:
                Nader is a Bush admin neocon. lol

                Sorry, but the buck stops with Bush administration, and with every Senator who voted in acquiescence, for war-making in Iraq.

                • Without Nader, there is no Bush administration, and there is no Iraq vote.

                • Ed says:

                  Presidents tend to get the wars they want, one way or another, cf. the Libyan Adventure.

                  You seem to be assuming that there can’t be any costs associated with wooing the leftward 5-10% of the American political spectrum.

                  Not at all.In my experience the left will often make do with a few rhetorical bones, much less a Vice Presidential candidate. They are relatively few but they do mean something to the Democratic Party. At least Joementum made mincement out of Cheney in that VP debate.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  At least Joementum made mincement out of Cheney in that VP debate.

                  Yes, that was a crucial turning point. As soon as Quayle got destroyed by Lloyd Bentsen, I knew Dukakis had it in the bag.

                • Without Nader, there is no Bush administration, and there is no Iraq vote.

                  Ed says:
                  September 22, 2012 at 1:41 am
                  Presidents tend to get the wars they want, one way or another,

                  Without Nader, we have a President who doesn’t want an Iraq War.

                  cf. the Libyan Adventure.

                  That’s just silly. The idea that Obama had a pre-existing desire to go to war in Libya, as opposed to muddling through an unforeseen situation and being dragged along by Britain and France, is utterly without evidence.

                  To establish Bush’s desire for an Iraq War, we have copious documentation from before 9/11, as well as Rumsfeld’s famous “look at not just OBL by SH” memo. When it comes to Obama and Libya, we’ve got a whole lot of people scrambling around trying to figure out what to do.

                  And I thought Cheney won his debates hands down. He sounded calm, reasonable, and confident, while Lierberman seemed like he was sucking up to Cheney.

          • Murc says:

            Adultery is nobodies goddamn business but the people involved, period.

            I was outraged that he was taking advantage of an employee and engaged in unethical behaviour in the workplace, compounded by the fact that unlike the rest of us, he can actually go UPSTAIRS from his workplace and be in his home if he wanted a nooner.

            That said, if the worst thing a President does in office is lie about sex, they’re probably a cut above most of’em.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

        Nonsense.

        Way back in 1988, when he first got elected to the Senate, bankrolled by Bill Buckley and running to Republican Senator Lowell Weicker’s right, people paying attention knew about Holy Joe.

        I was at the Dukakis election watch party in Boston in 1988, and when they announced Lieberman’s election, as many in the crowd booed as cheered.

        The revisionist view that nobody ever thought of Joe Lieberman as anything but a center-left Democrat until Iraq or, only slightly less absurdly, until the Lewinsky scandal is simply false.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          For a Democrat from New England, Lieberman indeed wasn’t very progressive. For a national Democrat, I don’t see how, in 2000, he was more conservative than Clinton or Gore.

          • david mizner says:

            I’m not sure he was — that’s a recommendation? not being more liberal than the man who brought us NAFTA and the deregulation of Wall Street?

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Look at the 2000 electoral map. Then tell me how a candidate significantly more liberal than Gore assembles a winning coalition.

              • david mizner says:

                I’m one of those kooky left-liberals who believes that embracing overwhelmingly popular (left-liberal) positions can be popular. Positions like fair trade, regulation of Wall Street, and progressive taxation. Sure, to win some states, you’ve got get all Jesusy, and, let’s face it, you might have talk about killing some brown people, but economic populism plays everywhere.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Well, I have to concede that it’s hard to imagine a campaign that exceeded expectations more than Mondale in ’84.

                • You’re goddam right.

                • david mizner says:

                  I continue be somewhat gobsmacked at the number of liberals who think liberalism is losing strategy. The self-loathing is not small problem.

                  Anyway, I’m glad Corey Robin exits, because as is often the case, he prebuts your nonsense.

                  Starting with Walter Mondale’s famous pledge in 1984 to raise taxes in order to bring down the deficit—one of Barlett’s footnotes reveals this delicious and disturbing anecdote: just after announcing his tax pledge at the DNC convention to wild applause, Mondale turned to Dan Rostenkowski and said, “Look at ‘em. We’re going to tax their ass off.”—Democrats have become the party of austerity. (Doug Henwood, Josh Freeman, and David Harvey have shown that that process actually began in 1975, during the New York City Fiscal Crisis, when Wall Street Democrats successfully pushed for drastic cuts in government spending. But it was the Mondale campaign that crystallized the shift at the national level.)

                  http://coreyrobin.com/2012/08/30/were-going-to-tax-their-ass-off/

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  This is a non-sequitur. Yes, Mondale wanted to reduce Reagan’s massive deficits — which he saw as a threat to the welfare state — and wanted to do so thorough large tax increases so a robust welfare state could be preserved and expanded. How is that not relatively liberal for a presidential candidate?

              • dilan esper says:

                Well Gore failed to do it because he refused to offer the Nader voters anything.

                So that’s on Gore. You can’t tell voters you don’t give a crap about their concerns and them blame them for your loss.

            • I’m not sure he was — that’s a recommendation?

              I’m not sure it’s a recommendation, but it’s a pretty good rebuttal to those who claim that they would have voted for Gore until he chose Lieberman.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                I don’t think so. For example, I was sort of hoping that Gore would give a nod to the left to consolidate his support. His picking Lieberman pissed me off.

                This maybe wasn’t the most rational reaction, but it was a real reaction.

                Gore was the anti-Nader after the election. That’s what made me especially chagrined. Nader failed to do anything at all. Gore, after a year, was amazing.

              • Ed says:

                The idea that Obama had a pre-existing desire to go to war in Libya,

                My point was that once Obama made up his mind about Libya, and I agree he was leading from behind on that one (not that I regard that as a negative, his reluctance did him credit)he got what he wanted, which presidents usually do once they’ve set themselves on a particular parth of military action.

          • Ed says:

            At least Joementum made mincement out of Cheney in that VP debate.

            Yes, that was a crucial turning point. As soon as Quayle got destroyed by Lloyd Bentsen, I knew Dukakis had it in the bag.

            Merely a passing reference to Lieberman’s fighting spirit, always an asset in a VP. No question that Gore lost, or rather “lost” the election.

        • JL says:

          Some of us were in preschool in 1988. I’m reasonably up on political history that predates my political memory (and also I wasn’t old enough to vote in 2000 anyway), but I certainly didn’t know that Lieberman was anything but a center-left Dem. And I suspect that all the people, say, 2-10 years older than me (i.e. ages 5-12 in 1988), who could vote in 2000 and were a nontrivial chunk of people, were not aware of Lieberman’s ridiculousness either.

      • njorl says:

        Lieberman wasn’t always an ass. He’s a shill for his state’s biggest industry, he’s overly sympathetic to Israel, he engaged in political opportunism during Clinton’s sex scandal, and he’s a self-important, vindictive prig.

        He also engaged in more grass-roots progressive activism than I ever did. He went down south to register blacks to vote in the 1960s. Yes, he milks it for all it’s worth now, but he did it.

        • Murc says:

          The Scoop Jackson phenomena.

          There are (or were; a lot of them are very creaky and retired/not relevant any more) a fair number of liberals whose political formative years took place at a time when they could simultaneously think “no, you know what, the treatment of minority Americans is shameful, and I will risk actual harm to correct this stain on my countries honor” and “war is awesome and the culture is going to hell in a handbasket.”

          Scoop Jackson dem

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I think that’s a little generous. He was always an ass, it’s just that before 2000 he was an ass who was a fairly reliable moderate Democratic vote, and an ass who because he was such an ass was a rare Democrat that the media loved.

    • Warren Terra says:

      I would have thought that taking Lieberman out of the Senate and putting him in the most powerless political office in America would be a move progressives could get behind.

      A couple points:
      1) Lieberman is an insufferable blowhard, and even in 2000 was unaccountably a Blue Dog in a seat easily winnable by a genuine liberal. But his spite-filled move to the Right (more accurately, to opposing the Left) was far in the future in 2000, a consequence of events. For all the rhetorical support he gave to Republican talking points and for all his manifold personal failings, in 2000 Lieberman was a reliable vote for the Democratic agenda in the Senate – though not a reliable vote to block the Republican agenda.
      (2) It’s worth remembering that had Lieberman become Vice President his successor would have been appointed by the Republican governor of Connecticut. So it’s not like elevating Lieberman seemed likely to improve the use that Senate seat got.

  14. Mark J. says:

    Nader doesn’t drive yet wrote a book about automobile safety. And yet, people took him and some still take him seriously.

  15. david mizner says:

    I like this discussion because it’s a critique of Nader w/o turning him into the world’s greatest monster. Whether you direct more anger at the Nader or at the corporate Democrats is revealing.

    Beyond that, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the leftists who break through and develop a national or international platform — Nader, Michael Moore, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald (yeah, you heard me), or even Occupy Wall Street — are routinely and viciously attacked by progressives.

    This, from a piece on Zizek caught my attention:

    To find left-wing thinkers and movements simultaneously laughable and dangerous, disorganized and totalitarian, overly idealistic and driven by a lust for power is to suggest: there is no alternative. Rather than simply knocking around a poor, misunderstood academic in the public square, it is an attempt to shut down debate on the basic structure of our society. The rolling disaster of contemporary capitalism — war, crisis, hyper-exploitation of workers, looming environmental catastrophe — demands that we think boldly and creatively to develop some kind of livable alternative. Žižek can help.

    http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?type=&id=897&fulltext=1&media=

    • Everyone who breaks though is routinely and viciously attacked by progressives.

      Have you ever read your own comments? I’m sure you mean to accuse people of not caring about dead Muslim babies because they’re brown in the kindest, most respectful sense.

      • djangermous says:

        I’m sure you mean to accuse people of not caring about dead Muslim babies because they’re brown in the kindest, most respectful sense.

        Right, it’s that you just happen not to care about the dead muslim babies, and they just happen to be brown.

        Just a big zany white-person coinkydink.

        • david mizner says:

          Right, I’m not sure why many progressives don’t care about dead Muslim babies. Maybe it’s because it’s they’re brown (or were before they were incinerated by hellfire missiles.) Maybe it’s because their (non)existence makes President Obama look bad, I’m not sure. Reminds of this gem of a piece from Charles Davis.

          During my time in Waziristan, I found the people of Pakistan understood this better than most self-styled progressives. For instance, I met a a young couple whose 9-year-old daughter, their pride and joy, had her life cut short because she made the mistake of hanging around men between the ages of 10 and 85. But her father — let’s call him Mohammad II — recounted to me that the real tragedy of his daughter’s death would be if it undermined President Obama’s political capital, and with it his ability to expand Americans’ access to quality, affordable health care.

          “My daughter was a precocious child,” he explained to me. Insisting I refer to her as “Lilly Ledbetter,” her father recounted how she cried as much the day Obama was inaugurated as the day he had her killed. At the tender age of 7, she even had a blistering letter to the editor concerning the solvency of the Social Security trust fund published in The Washington Post, leading to a regular guest-blogging gig for Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum. Far from bitter, he said she would have accepted her own death as the unfortunate result of GOP intransigence, knowing the man who brought mandated health insurance to the masses had no choice but to dramatically escalate the drone war in her country lest Republicans argue he had not dramatically escalated the drone war in her country.This piece appears in TNI Vol. 6 “Game of Drones,” subscribe here for $2 and get the full issue

          Lilly’s father then told a story that has stuck with me ever since. As she lay dying in a pool of her own blood and vomit, the overpoweringly putrid scent of death wafting in the air as her father cupped the intestines spilling out her mangled abdomen, the littlest Ledbetter faintly breathed her final words. And like columnist Ezra Klein, she was laudably on message.

          “It’s so cruel,” she said, whimpering as tears fell from her bloodshot eyes to her blood-smeared cheek, “what Mitt Romney did to that dog.”

          http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/drone-court-advantage/

          • Thank you both for proving my point.

            “Boo hoo hoo,” whimpers mizner, “Poor progressives are always being so put upon, uniquely singled out for attack by people who supposed to have their backs.”

            Thanks for the own-goal, fellas. Whine a little more about hippie punching.

          • I like the way you had your version of the aborted-fetus pictures all ready to go the next time a liberal disagreed with you…at the same time you were writing a comment about how terrible it is that the bad people dare to criticize others.

            Hypocrite.

        • it’s that you just happen not to care about the dead muslim babies, and they just happen to be brown.

          Your right-wing twin tells me I don’t care about the people killed in the World Trade Center.

          I can’t tell the two of you apart.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      On the proposition that once someone declares themselves on the left that they should therefore be exempt from criticism, I’m going to vote “no.” Not that I would want to defend post-1976 Ralph Nader on the merits either, so I can’t blame you.

      • david mizner says:

        Exempt from criticism? I’ve criticized all of the above, and will continue to do.

        But I also recognize them as important voices and authentic members of the left — unlike, say, President Obama.

    • Whether you direct more anger at the Nader or at the corporate Democrats is revealing.

      Whether you direct more anger at the Republicans or the Democrats is also revealing.

      • Jameson Quinn says:

        Whether you look for a system where you wouldn’t have to be constantly and mutually angry with people who should be your allies, is also revealing.

        • No, it isn’t really.

          Alternative voting methods might or might not be on anyone’s mind. It’s a fringe issue that very few people actually care about. If someone isn’t active on that issue, it almost always just tells us that it’s not on their radar.

          As opposed to the conflict between the parties, which is at the core of American politics, and is front-and-center in just about everyone’s mind.

  16. Halloween Jack says:

    “For Ralph, it’s all about Ralph” is pretty much the alpha and the omega of it. Like IB above, I too voted for Nader as a protest vote in ’96 in a safe state, and occasionally have a pang of regret for whatever infinitesimal degree that my vote may have inflated Ralphie Boy’s egotism and encouraged him to run in 2K. By that time, I was perfectly willing to hold my nose and vote for a ticket with Lieberman on it (arguably, he was much less noxious prior to Iraq, anyway) due not only to disgust at the clown-car impeachment farce, and horror at the idea that these people might end up in charge (a horror more than justified by subsequent events) but also awareness of the growing power of the right-wing noise machine.

  17. rea says:

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the leftists who break through and develop a national or international platform — Nader, Michael Moore, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald (yeah, you heard me), or even Occupy Wall Street

    OWS is a good thing, except for the handful of participants who want to blow up bridges. Michael Moore is a skilled propagandist who is sometimes careless with the facts. Nader is an egotist, and not really leftist on a whole bunch of important issues, including, crucially, the desirabliity of electing rightwingnuts. Assange is a rapist, and wrong about the need for confidentiality in government at times. Greenwald is wrong about so many things, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    The last thing the left needs is a cult of personality.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Indeed, and all 4 of the people listed above absolutely engage in cults of personality.

      • david mizner says:

        Well, I also could have said Noam Chomsky, who’s faced a lot of attacks from progressives.

        I suppose it could be that all these people really are monsters and megalomaniacs. Or maybe something else is going on.

        • mattH says:

          How about give and take? They give what they want, we take what we want, and they don’t demonize everyone else if they don’t take it all? Explain why we should maybe take more, but don’t attack others for not doing exactly how they want it done?

          Put another way, it helps if you treat other people as adults, not children or peons.

        • rea says:

          Chomsky is wrong about a lot of things, too (Pol Pot, for example).

          We need to be progressives, not Chomskyists or Naderites.

          • david mizner says:

            Thanks for making my point for me. Easier that way.

            • rea says:

              So, what, you think he was right about Pol Pot, and everything else?

              • DocAmazing says:

                Please tell us what Chomsky said about Pol Pot.

                This should be amusing.

                • rea says:

                  See, for example, here.

                  Hope you are amused.

                • david mizner says:

                  You needn’t delve into the particular issue to know that in his half century career of writing about politics, he has something been wrong — as opposed to whom? He’s been right about important things thousands of times. Still, many people ostensibly on the left attack him, often dishonestly, just as they savage other leftists who break through. Cornel West, I’ve noticed, has also suffered this fate. Clearly, something is going on in addition to the political and personal shortcomings of these figures.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  You should read what you link to.

                  Chomsky’s geat sin with respect to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge was that he advocated skepticism about atrocity stories given the fog of war and the amount of propaganda ginned up about Communists in Southeast Asia. Turns out the atrocity stories were all true, as Chomsky himself admitted. Advocacy of the Khmer Rouge was left to Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher.

                  Nothing wrong with skepticism, especially in a situation where you’re not going to do anything useful anyway.

                • When it comes to climate change, all we do is express skepticism.

                  …Yeah, well, so we were wrong. What do you have against skepticism?

                • rea says:

                  Read it again. He kept downplaying it, and continues to do so to this day.

                • Anonymous says:

                  And this is support for Pol Pot how exactly?

                  This is actually a significant point, and addresees the circular firing squad of the Left. You see, “Chomsky supported Pol Pot!” is obvious bullshit after even a cursory reading, but it keeps coming back as a falsus in unus-falsus in omnibus mwa-ha-ha from the wingnuts. Chomsky isn’t howling “mea culpa” loud enough to suit you? Pity. Please don’t use that to feed wingnut talking points.

      • Lee says:

        Greenwald and Assange shouldn’t even be considered a leftist or liberal of any sort. They only really care about civil liberties, which while important aren’t the end all of leftism. Economic leftism is also important. I have not seen any evidence that Assange and Greenwald pay more than lip service to economic leftism.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        My understanding was that a Cult of Personality was when an authoritarian political leader used his control of the state to impose official reverence. Thus at the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU N. Khrushchev denounced Stalin for among other things establishing a cult of personality. Other examples would include Mao, Kim Il Sung, and Ceaucescu. None of the people listed above control any states. They are not even officials in any existing governments. They may have some fanatic followers, but so do a lot musical groups.

      • Moore is the best at it, because his shlubby public persona makes it appear that he is doing exactly the opposite.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      If a cult of personality won elections and enabled better government, I’m game. I don’t even have to be the personality!

    • DocAmazing says:

      Assange is a rapist

      Boy, there’s nothing quite like the presumption of innocence, right?

      • Warren Terra says:

        Assange has admitted the actions, and denied they’re rape. This makes it a lot easier to call him a rapist.

        • Jameson Quinn says:

          I don’t know the details. But it matters a lot if she was asleep or just sleepy. And from what I’ve heard (which could be wrong) the public stories on that point differ, and more importantly, don’t come directly from her.

          Yes, he’s a giant asshole either way. No excuses for that. But I don’t think most people with an opinion on whether he’s a rapist (in either direction) have really looked into it enough to justify that opinion.

      • rea says:

        The presumption of innocence applies in Court. it does not revent us from forming our opinions based ont eh evidence. And, as WT notes, he hasn’t denied the facts–he just thinks he’s entitled to have sex without condoms even though his partners only consented on the condition that he waer a condom. An the whole thing about resisting extradition and hiding in the embassy of Ecuador is preposterous and of itself strong evidence of guilt.

      • Greg says:

        I think no one should be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, and a presumption of innocence is a crucial element of due process.

        Unfortunately, Julian Assange has no right to be free from criticism from random people on the internet. So presumption of innocence has fuck all to do with this conversation.

      • Dick Cheney says:

        Boy, there’s nothing quite like the presumption of innocence, right?

        You’re goddam right!

    • JL says:

      OWS is a good thing, except for the handful of participants who want to blow up bridges.

      Oh, you mean the ones that Occupy Cleveland repeatedly told to fuck off and go away because they were encouraging violence, and who eventually stopped hanging around because they weren’t finding a receptive audience at Occupy?

    • Anonymous says:

      When did Greenwald and Assange become leftists? They’re single-issue extremists, not progressive politics. Assange supports radical freedom of information, which has NOTHING to do with progressivism.

      Greenwald is a radical left-libertarian. Greenwald is just a wee bit more on the progressive team than Orin Kerr. Sometimes we’re going to agree on issues, but progressives are going to have major disagreements with him.

  18. Great post! Progressives must take over at the local level. I live in a small blue city next to San Diego (La Mesa) that is run by Republicans at every level. I am making my second run at City Council. It is hard to have a job and kids and run a campaign. Anyone out there want to pitch in? Money, phone calls, website advice and door knocking would all be helpful. This is an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Gee, I live in a city where progressives are prominent at all levels (San Francisco) and the Feds can’t undermine our policies fast enough.

      Organizing is vital, but remember to watch your back. The national Dems are friends of wealth, in much the same way the Republicans are, and you will need to fight with them frequently.

      • njorl says:

        The Republicans are millionaires who ravenously grasp for any short term benefit to their class regardless of long term consequences. Democrats are millionaires who recognize that the welfare of their class is dependent on the long term welfare of the nation.

  19. Perhaps local offices like county clerk and elected judges are as or even more important than the presidency, at least from a long-term perspective.

    The most powerful piece on the chess board is the 8-pawn picket.

  20. actor212 says:

    Erik,

    You know who’s best poised to do what you suggest?

    Barack Obama.

    When I listen to him speak, about the only time I think he’s authentic is when he talks about change coming TO Washington, not FROM it.

    It makes me wonder if he’s centrist because he looks at the landscape around him, realizes that progressives just aren’t going to rise to his defense in sufficient number or voice to overpower the opposition he genuinely will face and so throws in the towel and tries to administer from the center, where at least he can count on Clinton’s DLC people to support him.

    It’s possible, he’s young enough, that he could start working within the party to give liberals a more urgent voice in things, to start working from the ground up.

  21. SN says:

    Only Lacan can explain the LGM Nader fixation.

    The name of the Father is Ralph.

    Maybe, just maybe, the internal psychology of single individuals is not the primary motive force of history. Maybe, the logic and trajectory of economic, political and cultural institutions play a more important role.

    Nevermind. Back to narcissistic navel gazing and moral preening.

  22. Auguste says:

    Eric Alterman calls Nader a Leninist because he believes things have to get worse before they get better.

    Interesting to read this today, after I found a great article which indicates that even Lenin would disagree with Nader.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      One interesting thing about these threads is that a number of people have openly conceded that Nader was, in fact, running a heighten-the-contradictions campaign. The more common move would be to deny it.

      • Auguste says:

        Of course he was. In one of my early shots at blogging (2004, lost to history unless you know where to look already) I was half-obsessed with the Dean supporters who were talking about jumping ship to Nader and who were explicitly stating that they wanted America to fail in order to build a better country out of the wreckage. I don’t put 2000 Nader voters or the 2000 Nader campaign on the same level, quite, because we didn’t know how bad it would get; but to pretend that “let them suffer so they know it needs to get better” wasn’t a part of the calculation is to revise history.

        • spencer says:

          who were explicitly stating that they wanted America to fail in order to build a better country out of the wreckage.

          I wonder how many of them actually sat down and thought about a) how much work that would actually take, and b) just how shitty life would be in the meantime until it all got done.

          My guess is that the answer is not very far from “zero.”

          • Lee says:

            I also wonder how many of them think that their ideological opponents would completely disappear in such a scenario. Its like the faction that wants a new constitutional convention in order to turn the United States into a parliamentary republic but doesn’t think that people with different opiniosn would show up at the convention.

            • Jameson Quinn says:

              Not fair.

              I mean, perfectly fair about Naderites. But not fair about the movement for a constitutional convention. A convention would only propose separate, well-defined amendments, which would then have to be ratified by 3/4 of states. It’s not certain that anything good could get through all those filters, but it’s pretty certain that the bad things you’re probably thinking (such as “Repeal or gut the Nth amendment!”) couldn’t.

              In other words, a faith in democracy is not the same as a belief that it will give you everything you want.

              And that goes double if the convention were made of randomly-selected citizens instead of politicians, which is … well, I won’t pretend it’s likely, but it’s not an essentially crazier dream than having a convention in the first place.

              • rea says:

                A convention would only propose separate, well-defined amendments, which would then have to be ratified by 3/4 of states

                That’s what the people who called the last convention thought.

                • UserGoogol says:

                  Scrapping the constitution and starting from scratch is a fairly radical act. The Founding Fathers were able to get away with it because the federal government under the Articles of Confederation was too powerless to resist such radicalism and they ended up getting unanimous support from the states anyway. But if a Constitutional Convention today tried to pull that kind of shit, we’d have a civil war on our hands.

                  And if you have a large enough group of people willing to tear up the constitution and start from scratch, you don’t need to hold a formal convention for them to be able to wreak their havok.

                • Jameson Quinn says:

                  UserGoogol++

              • LeeEsq says:

                Nah, totally fair. I’m just referring to the fantasy that some progressives have of turning the United States into a parliamentary republic. The only way to do this is by Constitutional amendment or convention. They never seem to think that the opposition might be involved in the process somehow.

  23. Jeffrey Beaumont says:

    Oh my God, all this righteous Obama hate is hysterical… Lesser of two evils people. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. We’d all like a great leftist politician with some hope of winning, but for now just hold your nose and embrace the ACA.

    Erik is also totally right about the ground-up thing. The move to the left must start on a local level, and it isnt going to happen with the Greens or a third party. The money structures are what they are, so what must happen is a move to push the Democrats left, as the conservatives pushed the GOP right.

    Also, I must quibble with one of Erik’s last points, that he would support for Nader again, even “knowing what we know” if he cared more for party-building… there are a lot of dead people who might deserve consideration in that equation. Elections have consequences, and I think that there is not a single person here, comfortably registering their unhappiness on the internet, who is a real radical committed to pushing the whole system over to make it better. No one wants to end their days in the hills being chased by dogs and helicopters.

    • Jameson Quinn says:

      Fix the system, people. The lesser-evil-or-not fight is a distraction.

    • Charrua says:

      “as the conservatives pushed the GOP right”

      You mean all those conservative Southern votes that migrated to the GOP after 1964, right?

      Again, you need voters to push a political party in a certain direction, not simply better organization, financing, new leadership or whatever. In a sense, parties follow their voters just as much as voters follow their parties.
      One can see Goldwater’s campaign as a successful “heighten the contradictions” example, by the way. By running an extremist candidate, the GOP managed to lose by such a margin that it enabled liberals to enact their favorite but controversial legislation (civil rights) and to eventually fracture their party.

  24. joel hanes says:

    I wonder if former Nader voters ever bothered to envision what would happen if he actually won?

    The man could not successfully organize a church picnic. He alienates allies, disdains coalitions, fractures organizations. People who are passionate about his ideas cannot stand to work with him personally.

    This is not a description of any kind of successful President. A hostile Congress would eat him for breakfast and never notice.

    • joel hanes says:

      Not to mention that anyone who runs for President of the United States as their first-ever elected position is ipso facto delusional, and should be ignored.

      “Yes, I’d like to get into banking; I’d like to start as Chairman of Goldman Sachs”

      • Warren Terra says:

        I don’t actually disagree with you, but I can think of several US Presidents with no prior elective office, not all of them total failures, most recently Eisenhower.

        • spencer says:

          Ah, but at least he had a party to work with once he won.

        • joel hanes says:

          Eisenhower was responsible for logistics for a continental invasion, and had commanded hundreds of thousands of men in combat. Perhaps that’s enough to qualify him as a special case.

          I was mostly sneering at Jesse Jackson.

        • rea says:

          Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft were the only non-generals elected president who had not previously held elective office.

          • Warren Terra says:

            Technically I believe John Quincy Adams had never won an election before becoming President: he held a number of appointed jobs and was selected by the state legislature to serve in the Senate, but had never convinced the voters to give him a job.

            But in any case: I said in my earlier comment that I didn’t significantly disagree, but that there were counter-examples. And a couple of those counter-examples (Washington, Eisenhower, arguably Taft) weren’t that bad.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Technically I believe John Quincy Adams had never won an election before becoming President

              And it’s not like Adams (or Hoover) disproves the general theory.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Do you seriously think that anyone who voted for Nader expected him to win?

      • Cody says:

        I think the point is you’re being a real ass voting for someone to not elect them.

        Thus, we’ll work on the good faith assumption you voted with the hope he would get elected. Obviously this isn’t true. But you shouldn’t wish for things you don’t want…

        • DocAmazing says:

          “Protest vote”. That’s the concept here.

          Those of us in California are quite well aware that our votes aren’t going to elect anyone, thanks to the Electoral College–they just, at best, help to cancel out the votes of people in Wyoming.

  25. lawguy says:

    I’d suggest that it is very important to run for local offices and there are often very important issues at that level. In my county the county commissioners got rid of the county home and spread those people out amoung the for profit nursing/assisted living places. The country home, incidently was really nice.

    School boards are just as important in terms of what is taught and the books that are bought.

  26. djangermous says:

    “But the trajectory of the conservative movement should be teaching us many lessons.”

    Yeah, that it’s easy to build a “movement” based on the paranoid resentments of the socially privileged and financially secure.

  27. Leon says:

    Nader didn’t give the election to Bush in 2000, Florida republicans and the right-skewing SCOTUS did. I totally agree that expanding local footholds make perfect sense for long term, systemic change. But POTUS is the most important position in the world in the short term. Playing politics with your votes by holding your nose and pulling the lever when another available candidate shares a closer ideological and policy perspective as you is EXACTLY what stops maintains the status quo.

    Feel free to criticize Nader’s political strategies (or lack thereof), but voting for 3rd party candidate, while they may lose, builds the momentum for their platforms to be adapted into at least one the major parties. From the Whigs, Bull Moose, Progressive and even Socialist Parties, there is empirical evidence that this is the case. This is what happens when citizens start adapting the bottom line agenda of political parties (to win elections) rather than their own (to create and defend a functioning and adaptive government).

    • rea says:

      Another “effects can have only one proximate cause” guy.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Arguments that if Nader wasn’t to sufficient for Bush winning he therefore wasn’t necessary haven’t become any less transparently wrong. The Florida Republicans couldn’t have stolen the election without Nader.

      but voting for 3rd party candidate, while they may lose, builds the momentum for their platforms to be adapted into at least one the major parties.

      Actually, not. What parts of Nader’s platform were adapted by the Democrats? (Your examples are also mostly silly. The Whigs were replaced by other party over a cross-cutting issue that would lead to a Civil War in less than a decade. Yeah, that’s a viable strategy for progressive change!)

      • Anonymous says:

        You know what’s crazy about this argument?

        It never even worked FOR THE REPUBLICANS. The radical Republicans went out and voted for luke-warm Republicans like boring old Gerald Ford year after year. But they worked their tails off to change the dynamics of the party and the debates.

        Why do all these die-hard Nader voters think that stuff that even the Republicans never got to work is going to work for them? Why do they think that they, without any money, with no crazy, racist, god-fearing shock troops, and an obvious lack of billionaires, can do something the Republicans couldn’t do?

  28. curiouscliche says:

    I apologize for being so late to this comment thread. Anyway, I’m too young to have voted for Nader. But as someone who can observe that election with some distance, I think it’s worth noting that Nader absolutely failed to mobilize non-voters. Even if you look at just youth turnout, Nader pretty much failed to convince one young non-voter to participate in that election. http://www.civicyouth.org/images/2008_turnout.jpg There’s a genuine progressive coalition to be made in this country, but it will never happen until progressives can mobilize the half of America that doesn’t vote. Basically, voter ID laws and other racist impediments have to be priority targets, as well as a time machine to stop Dems from de-funding Acorn.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      This is an important point. One excuse for Nader is that he allegedly mobilized a huge numbers of voters, who were then convinced by his relentless attacks on Al Gore to vote for Al Gore. There is approximately no evidence of this happening in significant numbers; rather, turnout suggests that he got a very small subset of already politically aware people to switch their votes.

      • mike says:

        The same data suggests that he pulled equally from both major political parties of those who may have switched their votes. The bulk of his votes came from people who would not have voted Democratic had Nader not been running. Pat Buchannon had as much of an effect pulling votes from Bush. More Democrats voted for Bush than voted for Nader by a factor of 6! The vote switching argument requires that you pay all your attention to one data point and ignore many, many others. It’s also a lie.

        The real “excuse” for Nader is that he DID’NT cost Gore the election! Gore won Florida, he won the popular vote, he won the presidency. It was stolen from him by political party manipulation. Try blaming the Democrats that voted for Bush. Try blaming the millions that voted for Bush. If 100,000 of them had stayed home Bush may not have been able to steal the election. That argument is just as valid as blaming St. Ralph on the fact that a Republican started two wars in the middle east instead of a Democrat.

        • The real “excuse” for Nader is that he DID’NT cost Gore the election! Gore won Florida, he won the popular vote, he won the presidency. It was stolen from him by political party manipulation.

          Again, re-asserting that events can only have one cause doesn’t make it any less wrong. Again, without Nader the GOP can’t steal the election.

          Try blaming the Democrats that voted for Bush

          Once again, this is incredibly stupid. “Gore should have run to the left, and he should have done more to appeal to conservative Democrats who inevitably would have defected to Bush anyway.” It’s idiotic on its face and self-refuting!

          • mike says:

            “Again, re-asserting that events can only have one cause”

            I’m not re-asserting anything, I’m contradicting your premise that Nader cost Gore the election because Gore WON the majority of votes in Florida. Politicking cost Gore a true count of those votes.

            “Once again, this is incredibly stupid. “Gore should have run to the left,”

            This is a strong man, I didn’t say that, I suggested that Democrats had a bigger problem with registered democrats voting for Bush than with all the votes for Nader combined. You are just making up straw men because it’s easier to blame Nader for the ass of a candidate the Democrats nominated in 2000 for the pile of poo that was 2000-1012.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          The bulk of his votes came from people who would not have voted Democratic had Nader not been running.

          Pointer to an analysis? Everything I’ve seen shows that Nader pulled asymmetrically from would-have-otherwise-voted-for-Gore sufficiently that he spoiled Florida.

          More Democrats voted for Bush than voted for Nader by a factor of 6!

          That doesn’t directly tell us anything about the likely behavior of Nader voters.

          The Nader 2000 campaign was unusual in that it did seem to draw from the Democrats asymmetrically and the election was close enough that it had an effect. This is not typical for US third party campagins. (Buchanan as well seemed to spoil some races for Bush, but obviously, not the whole bag.)

          • mike says:

            “Fourteen percent of “pure” political independents — those who do not identify with or “lean” to either of the two major parties — gave their support to Nader in 2000, compared with 6% among Democrats and Democratic leaners and just 2% of Republicans and Republican leaners.” – Gallup

            “In Florida, CNN’s exit polling showed Nader taking the same amount of votes from both Republicans and Democrats: 1 percent. Nader also took 4 percent of the independent vote. At the same time, 13 percent of registered Democrats voted for Bush! Again, Gore couldn’t hold his own base and because of this, he lost. The Democrats don’t say one word about the fact that 13 percent of their own party members voted for Bush.” -Tony Schinella @ FDL

            (I presume you know how to use Google to verify quotes) The asymmetric analysis you have seen probably did not cite exit polls particularly polls that showed that a Naderless election would have given Bush the state by a greater margin.

            “That doesn’t directly tell us anything about the likely behavior of Nader voters.”

            It’s permissible to make 2 points in one post, which is the phenomenon you are experiencing. The point is that if you are really sore about liberals costing you the election of Gore/Facist in 2000 you may want to look at the large numbers of Democrats who votes for the Republican rather than the sliver of those who voted for a 3rd party candidate who lost.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Here’s an example of the literature on this:

              Was, in fact, Nader a spoiler in 2000? And, similarly, did Pat Buchanan siphon a significant number of votes away from George W. Bush, thus converting a solid Bush victory in Florida and other states into a tight Bush versus Gore contest at the Electoral College level?

              We show that the answer to both of these two questions is no in a general sense, although the answer to the former is affirmative in light of Florida’s striking closeness. While Nader voters in 2000 were on average left of center in a partisan sense and Buchanan voters correspondingly right of center, most Nader and Buchanan supporters were surprisingly close to being nonpartisan, meaning that they were neither heavily pro-Democratic nor heavily pro-Republican. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, at least in light of the aforementioned quotations from Democratic Party officials, many Nader voters had Republican leanings and Buchanan voters, Democratic leaning —and this is not due solely to Palm Beach County’s infamous butterfly ballot which led approximately 2,000 Gore voters to cast accidental votes for Buchanan (Wand, Shotts, Sekhon, Mebane, Jr., Herron & Brady 2001).

              With respect to Nader in particular, we estimate that approximately 61% of Nader voters would have supported Gore had they turned out and voted for one of the two major presidential candidates in 2000 (the comparable figure for Buchanan supporters and Bushvotes is 58%). Of course, given the tightness of the 2000 presidential election in Florida, it follows from the former percentage that Nader’s candidacy was indeed pivotal to Gore’s loss in the state. This is somewhat of a trivial statement, though, as practically any voting phenomenon that is not literally exactly neutral in terms of its effects on major party candidates will be pivotal in a state with a tiny vote margin.

              So, this paper is interesting because they claim that, per usual, Nader drew fairly evenly from people who would have voted from Gore or Bush, but that nevertheless, Nader spoiled FL.

              And there’s my man Burden:

              Gore probably would have won without Nader in the picture, and Bush could have won more easily had Buchanan not been around.

              The former paper uses ballot images. The latter includes exit poll analysis:

              Nearly 30% of Nader voters and more than 40% of Buchanan voters would have abstained without their candidates’ in the race. About half of Nader’s votes would have gone to Gore, the perceived next-best candidate. [Thus, Nader's voters asymmetrically supported Gore.] Surprisingly, Buchanan’s brigade would have switched to Gore as least as much as it lined up behind Bush. /blockquote>

              Burden also tries to estimate indirect turnout effects.

              Plus, afaict, the Gallup exit poll numbers add up to spoiling as well, doesn’t it? Or is at least consistent with it.

              It’s permissible to make 2 points in one post, which is the phenomenon you are experiencing.

              Indeed. I’m also experiencing poor writing! Exciting times.

              Frankly, given the tactics manifest in your other comments, I think you are trying to obscure the issue, but ok. Whatever.

              The point is that if you are really sore about liberals costing you the election of Gore/Facist in 2000 you may want to look at the large numbers of Democrats who votes for the Republican rather than the sliver of those who voted for a 3rd party candidate who lost.

              This is orthogonal. Being a spoiler is compatible with other problems as well. Nader being a spoiler given the election as it was is merely that had he withdrew would Gore have won. That seems true.

              The moral weighting of responsibility is a different issue.

  29. [...] a must-read post by Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money called “Ralph Nader and the Structure of Progressive Change.” It’s not actually about Ralph Nader, but rather, Ralph Nader here is emblematic of [...]

  30. [...] from Erik Loomis on the structure of political change: The best way I can explain this is to refer to the literature [...]

  31. Cara says:

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  32. [...] to voting for a whacko like Gary Johnson. That doesn’t solve any problems and it goes back to the worthlessness of politics to make a point I talked about last [...]

  33. [...] particularly cringeworthy when applied to an issue like, say, excessive state violence in Pakistan. Erik’s recent post got me thinking about my own vote for Nader in 2000 (which, like Erik, I soon regretted). I had [...]

  34. PrairieLogic says:

    Yes… one thousand fucking times over:

    Or is the most concrete thing we can tie to it the election of George W. Bush?

    And it led to unnecessary tax cuts laying the foundation for todays debt…inept fumbling leading up to 911… a war of choice… $ trillions squandered…. hundreds of thousands killed… torture… the list goes on and on and on.

  35. [...] I see as progressives’ lack of understanding around how to organize for the change they want. See here, but to reiterate, too many progressives see voting for “the one leader who will save [...]

  36. LanceThruster says:

    Thank you for writing this. Very well stated,

  37. [...] completely ballistic about all the bad things in the world. As I’ve been saying a lot lately, we need a smarter left that understands the mechanics of the American political system if we want to create long-term meaningful change at the government level. Like myself, Solnit sees [...]

  38. [...] concern trolling/call it what you need to, call it what you like. In an earlier post, Loomis explained that he “realized the folly of my own political errors and regretted my Nader vote” in [...]

  39. [...] Ralph Nader and the Structure of Progressive Change: Progressives seem to almost NEVER talk about localized politics. We complain about education reform but don’t organize to take over school boards. Conservatives outflank us in part because they seem to understand that the presidency is not all-powerful. Perhaps local offices like county clerk and elected judges are as or even more important than the presidency, at least from a long-term perspective. Too many progressives believe in Green Lantern presidencies. Elect Obama in ’08 and he can force through all the changes we want. [...]

  40. [...] voters are not presented with a real alternative. But the solution, I think, gets at the problem Erik recently identified: One way to solve this problem would be to allow credible third-party candidates into the [...]

  41. [...] transformation in public opinion on LBGT rights is also an excellent example of the fact that social change generally doesn’t come from the top-down, so it’s not clear how much this matters. But it’s interesting that Obama’s [...]

  42. [...] Clinton can be forgiven for signing DOMA, I think Somerby is mostly right. This is something Erik and I have been through many times, but the idea that progressive change comes from benevolent [...]

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