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Did the Left Get More Out of Nixon Than Obama? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 127 ] March 11, 2014 |

There are a depressing number of howlers in Thomas Frank’s interview with Adolph Reed.  Much of the content repeats arguments made in his earlier pieces, so I won’t add to what to what I’ve already written.  But Reed’s defense of Nader does not get off to a good start:

My response to them was, the vitriol was a signal that they were looking for a scapegoat because their flawed candidate couldn’t even carry his home state. I mean, if he could have carried his home state he would have won the presidency.

I’m amazed that people keep repeating such abject nonsense with a straight face. I’ll take it seriously as soon as someone can point to anyone making that argument urging the Republicans in 2012 to throw tons of money into Massachusetts and Michigan. But I suppose it makes this inevitable:

That any public figure, especially a politician or a figure in a movement, is going to be like a hologram that’s created by the array of forces that he or she feels the need to respond to. That’s how it was that we got more out of Richard Nixon from the left than we’ve gotten from either Clinton or Obama.

The first sentence is actually pretty much right. But the second, as Erik noted recently, is wrong even on its own terms. Reed’s version is better because at least he doesn’t suggest that Nixon was a liberal. But the argument that he was forced to be a liberal is still wrong. The Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act passed not merely with veto-proof majorities but with unanimity or near-unanimity in each house of Congress. They weren’t laws that the environmental movement “got out of Nixon”; he didn’t get push them through a closely divided Congress or something. He wasn’t particularly relevant to their passage and couldn’t have stopped them if he wanted to.

But even if we assume that this liberal legislation that passed while Nixon is in office represents more for the left than the ACA, ARRA, the repeal of DADT, etc. — which I think is absurd, and in none of these pieces does Reed bother to try to defend his assertion that no law signed by Obama represents an accomplishment the left can like — one also has to consider what the right got out of Nixon. Where’s the Rehnquist or Burger or Powell Obama appointed to the Supreme Court? What important liberal bill did Obama veto? Taking an appropriately broad view, the idea that the left got more out of Nixon is indefensible, and seems to rely on the tautological argument that if Barack Obama supports it can’t be “left” (and the fact that this doesn’t apply to Republican presidents is instructive indeed.)

And as a coda, my jaw duly dropped at this question from Frank:

The two-party system is so frustrating for someone like me. I often wonder why the Republicans don’t ever make a play for disaffected Democrats. They certainly could have in 2012 and they had almost no interest in that.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you see the two parties, in a time in which there’s an unusually large gap between them (and not just because the Republicans inexorably march to the right), as largely indistinguishable branches of “neoliberalism.” You speculate about why a party that is far, far to the right of even mainstream Democrats on most important issues (economic as well as cultural) has no interest in making a play for the small minority of Democrats who see Obama as the soulmate of Reagan and Thatcher. Personally, I’m inclined to think the question answers itself…

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  1. joe from Lowell says:

    the vitriol was a signal that they were looking for a scapegoat…

    Whenever I see a variation of the “I guess I hit a nerve” answer – your hostility only proves that I’m right and you know it – I ask the person if he only ever disputes arguments and ideas that he knows are right, or if it’s only other people who do that.

    Seriously, “You can tell that everyone knows it’s right because people argue against it?” What the hell kind of an argument is that supposed to be?

    • Manny Kant says:

      Sounds like someone hit a nerve.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        And the scales fall from eyes.

        Aha! No I totally understand that Reed is correct!

        Thank your for making it all so clear, Manny.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Indeed, when you’re doing the “I hit a nerve” routine, it’s pretty much an implicit admission that you’re arguing in bad faith, which the “Gore was incompetent for not carrying a state Barack Obama lost by 15 points in his 2008 landslide” bullshit confirms.

        • Aimai says:

          But people are talking! At least we’re having a conversation about it. That’s my other most hated line.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Oh, yeah. You see both of those all the time on women’s sites.

            Look, I’m just asking questions. I guess I struck a nerve. Ask yourself what you’re really getting upset about.

            • Jordan says:

              Yeah, same thing for the “I’m just pursuing the truth” more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger line you get from every asshole ever about why women (or blacks, or hispanics, or …) are genetically inferior to straight white men.

              Why aren’t *you* pursuing the obvious truth?

          • Pseudonym says:

            I don’t understand why you’re getting all hysterical, Aimai. I’m just asking questions.

    • sharculese says:

      I was going to post the same thing. Any sane person who is ever tempted to use this terrible non-argument: remember that J. Jonah Loadberg made it the centerpiece of his response to the critical drubbing Liberal Fascism took, and then feel deep and abiding shame.

    • Bruce Baugh says:

      It’s one of the classic self-refuting arguments. On its terms, the vitriol that Reed and others on the left display toward Obama is proof that Obama is correct and they know it. Since I am not filled with vitriol and am therefore correct, I’ll be waiting for his contrite retraction ASAP.

    • R. Porrofatto says:

      Yes, simply provoking a reaction supposedly proves the validity of the attack, and then the reaction becomes the issue:
      – Japan bombs Pearl Harbor
      – America declares war
      – Japan: “Ooh, looks like we struck a nerve! Don’t be so sensitive*!”

      *politically correct, uncivil, partisan, etc. It all works.

      • KmCO says:

        That’s pretty much the American right’s and its enablers (I’m looking at you, Damon Linker) MO: right-wingers do something or try to pass legislation that severely impacts a disadvantaged group, members of the disadvantaged group complain, right-wingers and their enablers then cry, “Your intolerance or our intolerance is unacceptable! And proves that we’re right!”

    • njorl says:

      I think that argument is accurate is in sports ejections. When an ump or ref blows a call, and they know they blew it, and the player knows that the ump knows they blew it, but the player insists on yelling at him anyway, they get ejected. “I know I fucked up, but I can’t change it and you’re still yelling in my face … 3 … 2 … 1 You’re gone!”

      When they have the call right, they know the guy yelling at them is just making an ass of himself in front of thousands of people and on videotape. As long as they don’t go nuts, you can let them embarrass themselves to their hearts content.

    • michael says:

      I’m not sure “argument” and “vitriol” are the same thing.

      Valid arguments about history and politics (which Scott et al have advanced) are weakened by ad hominem attacks and borderline strawman misinterpretations of one’s opponent, which Scott et al seem unable to avoid when it comes to this subject.

      Witness the recent posts and comments which seem to add up to “Ralph Nader is a bit of an embittered diva in his old age, ergo nothing he accomplished in his career is valid, and anyone who worked for the Greens in any state in 2000 is a deluded moron and solely responsible for Gore’s defeat and the death of millions.”

      • Jordan says:

        nothing [Nader] accomplished in his career is valid, and anyone who worked for the Greens in any state in 2000 is a deluded moron and solely responsible for Gore’s defeat and the death of millions.

        Said by no one ever.

      • Chris J says:

        “Witness the recent posts and comments which seem to add up to “Ralph Nader is a bit of an embittered diva in his old age, ergo nothing he accomplished in his career is valid, and anyone who worked for the Greens in any state in 2000 is a deluded moron and solely responsible for Gore’s defeat and the death of millions.”

        Speaking of strawmen . . .

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        orderline strawman misinterpretations

        Ralph Nader is a bit of an embittered diva in his old age, ergo nothing he accomplished in his career is valid, and anyone who worked for the Greens in any state in 2000 is a deluded moron and solely responsible for Gore’s defeat and the death of millions

        At least they weren’t in the same paragraph! (And, in fairness, there’s nothing “borderline” about that second strawman.)

  2. jim, some guy in iowa says:

    okay, I give. how did Thomas Frank become someone to whom we should pay attention? I mean, that bit about disaffected democrats being susceptible to the blandishments of Mitt Romney (only He Didn’t Even Try!) is just downright *stupid*

  3. EliHawk says:

    Seems like it’s right up the alley with Kevin “I think Democrats haven’t done for the working/middle class in thirty years because reasons.” Drum: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/03/if-democrats-want-appeal-working-class-they-really-need-some-policies-benefit-wor

    The fact that he lists all these programs they’ve actually supported, then dismisses them because they only benefit what he calls the working or middle classes “on the margins” is the height of “But both sides are bad!” pundit silliness.

    • howard says:

      i had another comment to post which i’ll get to in a moment, but no, that is not what drum said.

      what drum said is that the primary achievments of the dems have been to aid the poor and near-poor, not specifically to aid the middle class.

      which is true.

      • EliHawk says:

        He’s so confused about what his definitions are anyway. What defines the “poor” vs. the “middle class” vs. the “working class?” So he handwaves things like the EITC,Medicaid expansion, Obamacare, CHIP, etc. because it’s marginal, but his issues like complaining about being “soft on protecting Social Security” aren’t. And saying an administration that fought hard to get the CFPB up and running has done “next to nothing to improve consumer protection in visible ways” is being myopic to the extreme. Just because Drum can’t be bothered to know about thing doesn’t mean that they don’t happen, or don’t matter.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          “soft on protecting Social Security”

          He sounds like the right-wings hawks criticizing Obama over his handling of the Ukraine situation. They can’t actually cite any policy changes they want to see, they just don’t want him to seem so mom-pantsy.

          • howard says:

            look, you aren’t actually claiming, joe from lowell, that there aren’t dems who aren’t happy to join in on various kinds of social security cuts?

            • joe from Lowell says:

              One or two.

              There were one or two Republicans who voted against the Iraq War resolution, too. Shall we start using them as our standard for analyzing the party as a whole?

      • Greg says:

        And that Dems have been complicit in things that have made the middle class worse off, like the bankruptcy bill and free trade.

        • Craigo says:

          Regarding the bankruptcy bill – there was a Republican president and more than enough Republican votes to pass the bill even if every Dem had stood against it. Those voted yea should be ashamed, yes – but their votes were essentially irrelevant to the predetermined outcome.

          But on trade matters they have swung too hard towards the neoliberal position, and only recently begun moving back.

        • Pat says:

          I think this meme is all about using the name Barack Obama and the name Richard Nixon in the same sentence.

  4. Hogan says:

    Yeah, [Obama]’s like a blank slate.

    Right. Which in a less charitable moment you might say is like a sociopath.

    Come on now!

    I’m not saying that. But I’m just saying. I’m not saying he’s a sociopath but…

    . . . the guy’s a total sociopath. Not that I’m saying that.

    Eat a shit sandwich, Adolph Reed.

  5. Bijan Parsia says:

    Which would I prefer: 1) Obama with the congresses he’s had or anyone else with strongly veto proof majorities with the median being to the left of Jill Stien and a narrow spread?

    Actually, even in that fantasy match up it’s not like there’s no downside to 2. I presume the magic leftist congress could mitigate the damage a president can accomplish, even in foreign policy, but it wouldn’t be trivial I imagine. Biut I’ll take 2, thanks.

    2 with Obama is probably better than (or at least as good as) 2 with any othe pres or candidate in the last 30 years.

  6. ethan gach says:

    Would be curious to see you respond to Drum regarding Reed’s (hyperbolic)suggestion that the differences between both parties is no where near sufficient on the central issue of equality/income distribution/etc.

    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/03/if-democrats-want-appeal-working-class-they-really-need-some-policies-benefit-wor

    • Malaclypse says:

      The obvious response is “nowhere near enough for what?” Are they different enough to genuinely address the concentration of wealth? No. Are they different enough that the Democrats are consistently better? Yes.

      • Brien Jackson says:

        Well, it’s also worth saying that “adressing inequality” itself isn’t much of a short-term agenda for the left in the current economy.

      • ethan gach says:

        “Are they different enough to genuinely address the concentration of wealth? No. Are they different enough that the Democrats are consistently better? Yes.”

        If they can’t “address” the issue, but are still “better,” what’s the cash value of that?

        • Malaclypse says:

          Why don’t you ask someone who got extended unemployment benefits? Or SNAP? Or LIHEAP? Or expanded Medicaid? Because they probably know the cash value really fucking well.

          Or you can preen about there being no difference, because you care more about your beautiful theory than people who actually see improvement, albeit marginal, in their lives.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Even if we only look at things which benefit the middle class, it seems that unemployment extension and at least the keep your hold on your insurance until age 26 provision of the ACA benefit a lot of middle class families solidly.

            And to pretend that the creators of and systematic defenders of social security are soft on it when you have a whole party bent on its destruction and punditocracy that lends aid and support to that party, well, let us say that your analytical edge needs honing.

            • Aimai says:

              The public school system, until it is destroyed by charters, definitely has benefitted the middle class more than anyone else. Well funded public universities benefitted the middle class more than the rich and more than the poor. Lots of shit the government does benefits the middle class more than other classes.

          • Pat says:

            Getting health insurance when you didn’t previously have it is NOT marginal.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Even if all the Democrats did was fail to contribute to the damage the Republicans do – even if they only stood pat – the cash value of the difference would be enormous.

          But that isn’t all they do. The Democrats do not actively work to repeal the middle class and turn our economy into a high-tech Honduras. They work to prevent the Republicans’ efforts, and even, once in a while, contribute something that actually alleviates the problem to certain degree.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        I think there’s a legitimate point that the Democrats are still operating in a 1970s worldview, in which the problem is a poor underclass that isn’t included in a mainstream economy/society which works just fine for the people in it, including the middle class. The problem of many people within the mainstream economy getting screwed is something the party as a whole is just waking up to.

        With the Republicans actively working to screw the middle class, though, the differences between the two parties in terms of the middle class’s interests are still rather dramatic and obvious.

        • panda says:

          I think this is why Elizabeth Warren is so important. She is about the one Democratic politician who gets that crucial point on issues other than healthcare. Also of notice: she is a Democratic Senator, not a Green candidate for presidency.

        • Pat says:

          I disagree, Joe, because I don’t think Democrats are the ones stuck 40+ years in the past.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            I think a lot of them are.

            I think there are many Democrats who still feel like they have to base their foreign policy statements on demonstrating that they’re not soft on communism.

            I think a lot of them are still worried about being called soft on crime.

            I think a lot of Democrats still think that the horror stories from the 1970s about union members who sleep for half their shifts in the factory because they can never be fired are somehow relevant to labor issues today.

            I think that there are many senior Democrats who will never, ever get over the 1980 elections.

    • panda says:

      I am not Scott, but here is what I would answer.

      1. I think he hand waives some pretty important stuff. For example, the ACA is really not a marginal phenomenon. Beyond its expansion of Medicaid and the subsidies of lower-middle class families, it absolutely remakes the relationship between health, income, employment and the federal government. I believe that the social implications of this transformation will be much larger than we imagine right now.
      2. That being said, the core issue that underlies growing inequality: capital mobility, is not an issue that’s easy to resolve within the framework of the American legal and economical system (see the discussion in the other thread about manufacturing.
      3. Ostensibly, 2) is an argument for a really radical change of the American system. However, that kind of change would require the creation in the United States of a legal-political regime well to the left of, say, Sweden, and that will not happen. The way forward is then to try and think about ways in which the relationship between the government and the people can be transformed within the framework of the real existing American political system. That, historically, required intellectual work, movement building, and an alliance with one of the major parties. This is how the previous Gilded Age was broken, after all.

      • howard says:

        drum was discussing a multi-decade period: yes, the aca does indeed have some very middle-class friendly provisions, but even so, its primary purpose was getting the uninsured covered.

        what would a middle-class friendly set of programs have looked like over the past 30 years? it would have included a full-throated defense of progressivity in taxes, both federal and local, a considerable increase to the standard deduction, greater federal aid directly to state universities and community colleges to subsidize tuition, active support for unions rather than strategic distancing, and similar matters.

        this is not an “they’re all the same” argument, but really, the democratic party focus has not been on helping middle-class households. the very best thing that has happened for middle-class households in the last 30 years was the ’90s job boom, not new democratic policies.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          drum was discussing a multi-decade period

          Then his point is fine as far as it goes, but fails to account for a rather significant, but recent, shift.

        • howard says:

          oh for goodness sake: middle class households are those in the (you pick) 35-40th percentile of households by income to the 75-80th percentile.

          to claim the eitc and chip were not primarily aimed at those households; the affordable care act came at the end of the 30 -year period in question and the medicaid expansion does not affect that group at all.

          obviously stuff that helps people in households 0-35% on the income ladder helps, at the margin, those above, but that doesn’t mean that the dems have made some significant efforts on behalf of middle class households over the last 30 years.

          • Pat says:

            Bill Clinton vastly expanded both NIH research and subsidized a lot of business R&D. The latter led directly to the tech boom.

            I believe that Bush’s restructuring of the tax code was one of the worst things that could have happened to the middle class in the last 40 years. You have to weigh any supposed lack by Democrats against:

            1. restructuring bankrupcy laws, particularly on student, home, and medical loans

            2. shipping jobs overseas

            3. reducing taxes on the one percent, particularly carried interest

            4. financial deregulation

            all of which are the brain children of the conservative movement.

        • panda says:

          Those are all reasonable points, but I would argue that even if all your reforms were implemented tomorrow, or 15 years ago, they would only be only marginal improvements on the status quo, in the sense that Drum is describing. The real issue is the profound transformation in the way the economy operates in the last 40 years, which is really comparable with what happened in the late 19th century. I think the political system is only now starting to recognize the problem, and intellectuals, even radical ones, are not really anywhere in terms of dreaming up solutions (see Joe’s comment above). In that sense, Drum is correct, but I just don’t think that is what he is thinking about.

          • howard says:

            well, we’re really talking about two different things here.

            one issue is broader and more structural: now that the right-wing has succeeded in re-creating oligopoly as the economic norm, what is to be done?

            the other is more the stuff of everyday politics: if you’re trying to make the case to the median household that the dems have had their economic interests at heart, what actually do you point to?

            now, i do agree that the aca – which raised taxes on the high income to improve life for low and medium-income people – is an actual progressive piece of legislation with middle-class benefits. but what else do we point to?

            • mpowell says:

              I don’t know if oligopoly is the right description. I’m not sure the market is any more oligopolistic than it was 40 years ago. I assume you are referring to employers ability to squeeze employees. But there are plenty of wage earners (not owners) in the top 1% and the top 10% has retained earnings proportional to GDP growth, so they are doing just fine. The situation is more complicated than that. Capital mobility is most likely a big part of the explanation, but it doesn’t undermine all the salaried workers in the economy. Just the majority of them.

        • Josh G. says:

          what would a middle-class friendly set of programs have looked like over the past 30 years? it would have included a full-throated defense of progressivity in taxes, both federal and local, a considerable increase to the standard deduction, greater federal aid directly to state universities and community colleges to subsidize tuition, active support for unions rather than strategic distancing, and similar matters.

          It would also have included strong protectionism and restrictions on immigration, especially low-skill and mid-skill immigration. But this is anathema to many liberal activists, for a combination of ideological and ethnic reasons.

          • Erik Loomis says:

            I totally disagree. Anti-immigration policies are a dead-end.

            • Aimai says:

              Ending H1B visas, or severely curtailing them, would be a definite boost to the middle class, actually.

              • Josh G. says:

                H-1B is especially pernicious because it isn’t an immigration visa at all, but a guest-worker visa. Permanent residency takes a long time to achieve and requires the cooperation of the employer; if the worker gets fired, they’re sent back home. Whatever your position on immigration in general, this is indefensible, and it can do nothing but reduce wages and degrade working conditions across the board for workers in the affected industries.

            • Josh G. says:

              The U.S. clamped down on mass immigration in 1924, until Ted Kennedy re-opened the floodgates in 1965. Add a 20-year time lag for the effects of the policies to be felt, and the resulting period of limited immigration (1944-1985) virtually coincides with the era of broadly-shared middle-class prosperity in America.

              European social democracies which continue to have broad-based prosperity are far more ethnically homogenous than the U.S., and usually have very low rates of immigration. The same is true of Japan.

              Historically, the U.S. labor movement has opposed immigration because it is manifestly not in the interests of workers for employers to bring in overseas scabs. Samuel Gompers and Cesar Chavez were both opposed to illegal immigration.

              I just don’t see any objective facts backing up the view that flooding the labor supply will somehow work out well for average U.S. workers.

              • Pseudonym says:

                European social democracies which continue to have broad-based prosperity are far more ethnically homogenous than the U.S., and usually have very low rates of immigration. The same is true of Japan.

                The cat’s already out of the barn door on that one, and was probably never in the barn to begin with.

                Historically, the U.S. labor movement has opposed immigration because it is manifestly not in the interests of workers for employers to bring in overseas scabs. Samuel Gompers and Cesar Chavez were both opposed to illegal immigration.

                I see what you did there.

            • sparks says:

              So if an H-1B worker gets a job that I had excellent qualifications for (at a major chip manufacturer) because he’d work cheaper and be beholden to the company that hired him, I get to eat shit and take a job elsewhere that I’m way overqualified for comparatively loose change.

              Yeahright, it ain’t worth fighting that, it’s a real dead end. You’ll notice I never say the folks in timber country you stump for deserved what happened to them or they’re not worth helping.

              • Warren Terra says:

                Hiring an H1B worker because they’re cheaper is supposed to be illegal, isn’t it? I thought they were supposed to fill jobs that couldn’t otherwise be filled, at the prevailing wage.

                • Aimai says:

                  Supposed to be brought in to fill jobs that they couldn’t find a US citizen to fill? Yes, but that is more honored in the breach than the observance. Why would this be a surprise? Didn’t it just come out that all the big tech companies were cartelling the shit out of their employees and artificially lowering rates of pay by refusing to compete with each other to hire people? Notoriously the H1B is abused–from the point of view of the worker, who can’t quit and move jobs if they discover they are underpaid or abused without losing their visa–and from the point of view of the existing local work force which is being scabbed.

                  I’m not opposed to immigration at all but these temporary visas are as bad for the middle class (immigrant) and the middle class in the US as the bracero program.

                • Pseudonym says:

                  There are few jobs that can’t be filled by someone in this country—at some level of compensation. For very talented foreigners, H1B visas are also a lousy way to get to work in the U.S., as they’re held hostage to one company, but in the absence of some work visa program the U.S. economy would lose out on their talents completely.

                  Regarding the tech company employment-cartel issue, I think the agreement was not to recruit actively current employees of other companies (as opposed to competing for new hires). At least that was the understanding when I was there.

  7. howard says:

    the number one political issue on the left during the nixon years was vietnam (closely allied with a strong expectation that an end to the war in vietnam would free up a peace dividend that could be spent on social programs and enhancing the welfare state).

    what nixon gave the left was undercutting the 1968 negotiations, illegally expanding the war into cambodia, and vitriolic and sadistic bombing of north vietnam.

    sounds like a win to me….

    • ethan gach says:

      American militarism is pretty bipartisan.

    • stickler says:

      What Nixon promised the country was an end to the war. As somebody somewhere once said, the explicitly antiwar candidate won in 1968.

      Sure, he promised “peace with honor,” and had a “secret plan to end the war,” and he was lying about most of this, but still, what people thought they were getting by voting for Tricky Dick in ’68 was, among other things, an end to the war.

      • howard says:

        look, it’s absolutely true that we had two candidates running for an end of the war and one for bombing them back to the stone age, and end the war got 87% and bombing them back to the stone age got 13%.

        so it was clear what the public wanted.

        but scott’s post is about what did the left get out of nixon? the left wanted an immediate end to the war and a peace dividend to be used at home.

        it got an expansion of the war and no peace dividend at all.

        big win!

      • Manny Kant says:

        I don’t think there’s any respect in which Nixon was more anti-war than Humphrey. Certainly LBJ didn’t think so – he thought Humphrey was a squish and secretly preferred that Nixon won because he thought he’d be less likely to surrender in Vietnam.

      • Warren Terra says:

        I think it’s dangerous to put “secret plan to end the war” in quotes like that – my recollection of what I’ve read is that Nixon claimed no such plan, that it was a disparaging spin on his claims that he knew how to get peace, and possibly a retrospective one.

        • Anonymous says:

          My basic understanding is that Nixon didn’t promise to end the war so much as he promised to end the war *by winning it*. And of course he actually treasonably sabotaged actual existing peace negotiations during the campaign.

  8. Dilan Esper says:

    The “Gore didn’t win his home state” argument is stupid.

    And actually, on occasion, parties do make plays for disaffected members of the other party. Remember how some mainstream Republicans joined Rand Paul’s drone filibuster?

  9. JMP says:

    I really don’t how, after eight years of Bush, people can still support voting for Ralph Nader in 2000 today. Look, I was young and stupid in 2000, and actually did vote for Nader. At least it was in Illinois, but it was still incredibly stupid and wrong. After how that wound up, that is the single act I am most shameful for that I committed in my entire life. It is the worst thing I have ever done. And that is the appropriate response to having voted for Nader – shame.

    After it caused the Iraq war, fucking torture, allowing an American city to drown, and every other horrible act by Bush, any decent person who voted for Nader back in 2000 should feel guilty and ashamed for having done so; I know I do. For someone, after all that, to still say that they feel justified in having voted for Nader, they have to be one of the world’s most narcissistic, self-centered assholes, incapable of ever admitting they were wrong.

    • Just Dropping By says:

      If it’s any consolation, New Orleans almost certainly still would have “drowned” under the Gore administration — the infrastructure problems that led to the flooding had their roots far before G.W. Bush and the likelihood that they would have been remedied between 2001 and 2005 was slim to none. The relief and recovery effort, however, probably would have been handled better.

    • michael says:

      Can you please explain how your reduction of Gore’s margin of victory in Illinois (which he won by more than five times Nader’s total) “caused” the Iraq War, etc?

      The word “narcissism” does seem appropriate.

      I’m not sure why this discussion is even taking place in 2014, but it would be nice to have it on some kind of rational basis.

      And if that honestly is the worst thing you’ve ever done, I congratulate you.

      • JMP says:

        Because voting for Nader gave us President George Bush, which gave us the invasion of Iraq. And I, not being a narcissist, won’t say it was somehow OK because it was in a non-competitive state. Every one of us who voted for Nader in 2000 is in part at fault for Bush’s Presidency, and any one who did so and still thinks they were justified is an idiot.

        And yes, it is the worst thing I’ve ever done; I am, however, somewhat of a goody two shoes.

        • michael says:

          Your vote had no effect at all. One aspect of narcissism is to attribute to ourselves exaggerated power/agency.

          I voted and did some work for Nader in Maryland in 2000, in hope of garnering the necessary 5% to raise the Green Party to “official” status in that (also noncompetitive) state. We failed. I have no illusions that I affected the course of history. I think Nader’s own effect has been overstated but that’s debatable (I think Katherine Harris had as much to do with it). Part of the point of the whole “vote trading” scheme (impractical as it probably was) was to at least marginally increase the value of both votes.

          Part of Nader’s appeal was to the alienation caused by the fact that only a very small portion of the population “mattered” in any real sense to the Repubs & Dems in that election. Demographics have increased that number since, but not enough. As I recall Nader was the only candidate to campaign anywhere near me, as was only rational.

          Shame or justification have little to do with it. Neither you nor I had any effect.

          • michael says:

            Oh, and again, congrats!

          • Pseudonym says:

            By that argument, no vote had any effect at all in any U.S. presidential election ever.

          • parsimon says:

            Michael gets it exactly right here — and I did the same thing, in Maryland, in order to raise the Green Party to 5%, in a state that was in no way going to lose to the Republican due to my vote. I am so tired of being blamed for the outcome of Bush v. Gore.

            • JMP says:

              Gee, it must suck to be blamed for the outcome of the 2000 election just because you did everything in your power to make sure George W. Bush got elected. Truly I feel sorry for you.

              • parsimon says:

                Oh for god’s sake. When you can explain to me how my voting for Nader in 2000, in Maryland, did anything whatsoever to get Bush elected, I’ll listen. I didn’t take a single electoral vote away from Gore. I remain disgusted by the sort of ill-informed scapegoating that supposes that any vote for Nader, anywhere, was effectively a vote for Bush. Do you not understand the electoral college or what?

                I did not do everything in my power to make sure that George W. Bush got elected. Idiot.

          • JMP says:

            Well obviously you have no sense of shame. Some people just are unwilling to ever admit they were wrong. At least all I did was just in voting – I didn’t actually campaign for George W. Bush like you did.

        • somethingblue says:

          Kazuo Ishiguro has written several novels about you: the guy who wants so desperately to be important, and is eventually forced to the devastating realization that he is of no importance at all—that he was just a bit player who sold Evil a paint-brush this one time and delivered Genocide’s brother-in-law’s mail.

          But hey, if you want to tell yourself that you’re personally responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, sounding depths of iniquity unplumbed by George Bush and Dick Cheney and Richard Gephardt and John “Trumped Up Pretext” Kerry, have at it. I’m sure Scott and Joe from Lowell will be glad to back you up.

  10. Scott S. says:

    I often wonder why the Republicans don’t ever make a play for disaffected Democrats. They certainly could have in 2012 and they had almost no interest in that.

    People who make arguments like that… are Republicans. So all I really know about Adolph Reed is that he’s a Republican.

    • Aimai says:

      I agree–who were the “dissaffected democrats” after 2012? Were they people who woke up and discovered they’d guilt elected a black guy to office? That’s the Republican line on who they were. The real ones were more to the left than the President and so far to the left of any potential actual real world Republican that if this were flatland they would be right off the page.

      • burritoboy says:

        And those folks live in districts where Republican + “disaffected Democrats” voters would still be massively outvoted by loyal Dems. Republicans aren’t going to be winning Berkeley or Cambridge anytime soon, and they quite rightly devote no effort to doing so.

      • Pseudonym says:

        Firebaggers? Also, DRONES.

  11. Erik says:

    Jesus. You are doubling down on Loomis’ absurd argument that Noam Chomsky is so dumb he thinks that Nixon is a liberal? Reed’s argument about Nixon is exactly the same one Chomsky is making. It’s also the same one that Loomis made, thinking that it was an argument against Chomsky. And it’s the same one you are making.

    YES, Nixon was “liberal” because of mass, popular movements that meant either a) he could not actually prevent legislation, etc. that he disagreed with and b) he gave pragmatic support to legislation he did not agree with because he thought this was necessary in order to prevent things he disagreed with more. If you want to distinguish between a) and b), go ahead, but it’s a distinction without a difference.

    • Craigo says:

      a) he could not actually prevent legislation, etc. that he disagreed with and b) he gave pragmatic support to legislation he did not agree with because he thought this was necessary in order to prevent things he disagreed with more. If you want to distinguish between a) and b), go ahead, but it’s a distinction without a difference.

      …no one is arguing that, except you, apparently. The point is that neither one of these makes Nixon a “liberal president” in any “respect,” as Chomsky foolishly claimed, or that the “left got anything out of him,” as is Reed’s contention.

      Being present on the scene does not mean that he had any effect on the outcome – and whenever he did, it was to use his regulatory authority to make conservative changes to liberal legislation passed with veto-proof majorities by a liberal Congress.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        The point is that neither one of these makes Nixon a “liberal president” in any “respect,” as Chomsky foolishly claimed, or that the “left got anything out of him,” as is Reed’s contention.

        This, plus in addition the suggestion is that the Nixon administration produced more liberal results than the Obama administration, which is absurd.

      • Erik says:

        Scott is making that argument. “He wasn’t particularly relevant to their passage and couldn’t have stopped them if he wanted to.

        Go read Chomsky’s work. Don’t read Erik Loomis’ deceptive gloss. Get the context of Chomsky’s beliefs; they are completely opposed to the picture Loomis wants to paint. For instance: “Nixon was basically the last liberal president, and those liberal measures were in substantial part the result of popular activism, from CIO organizing in the 1930s up to the activism in the ’60s and on to their impact in the early ’70s. They had an impact on legislation and on public officials. So it’s not one or the other; you can do both and recognize what the interaction is like.” [http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20110729.htm]

        • Erik says:

          On second thought, I do have a dog in the fight. I agree with you, and with Chomsky!, that the larger point is, who cares if Nixon was really a liberal or not? That is the point of what Chomsky and Reed are getting at. Why spend you time trying to get inside Nixon’s head and determine if he really is or isn’t a liberal? The only outcome of such an exercise would to learn something about what you mean by liberal, and whether or not we can achieve salvation by faith alone, or by our works.

    • TT says:

      There’s a whole class in the Nixon Revisionism School dedicated to the idea that Nixon gave liberals everything they wanted and more (EPA, Clean Air Act, affirmative action, affordable housing, withdrawal from Vietnam Nam above all), and all he got in return for his selflessness was Watergate, liberal denunciation for bombing Cambodia, and the subsequent articles of impeachment.

      The argument in a nutshell is that liberals hated Nixon so much that they refused to take yes for an answer especially when he was on their side, and because he was their social and cultural inferior they attacked him relentlessly in the press and the broader culture for 25+ years. But his (completely defensible) actions before and during (the horribly overblown by the liberal media) Watergate that have them the opening they needed, so they drove him from officonion order to get on with cutting and running in Viet Nam and letting the Khmer Rouge overrun Cambodia. It’s history as culture war politics in it’s purest form. See Barone, Michael, et al.

    • Pseudonym says:

      The argument contra Reed/Chomsky is not a matter of distinguishing between (a) and (b) but of rejecting both premises. Not only was Nixon’s marginal effect not liberal—replace him with Obama in the same circumstances and policy outcomes would be uniformly to the left—but the overall impact of the entire government in which Nixon played a part was less liberal than the impact of the government during Obama’s time in office.

      • Erik says:

        Maybe. I’m sure that Chomsky and Reed would agree with you, and me, that all other things held equal, Obama as president leads to better outcomes from a left point of view. This is why they both think you should vote for Obama. What is the argument?

  12. politicalfootball says:

    My response to them was, the vitriol was a signal that they were looking for a scapegoat because their flawed candidate couldn’t even carry his home state.

    In fact, this flawed candidate carried the entire country.

    But this really pulls the mask off of the nature of Reed’s project. He absolutely doesn’t care about whether Gore was too conservative – in fact, here, he explicitly mocks Gore for being too liberal. Tennessee’s favorite son would have certainly won his state were he not seen – correctly! – as someone too far left for Tennessee.

    I’ve never seen a conservative mock Romney for losing Massachusetts because, unlike some alleged leftists, conservatives won’t ridicule a politician for agreeing with them too much.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Yes, one amazing thing about Nader apologists is that they’re willing to argue both than Gore should have run much further to the left and that he should have focused more on winning Tennessee, sometimes in the same paragraph.

    • Pseudonym says:

      Conservatives do argue that Romney would have won had he stayed true to conservative principles, though. Arguably that’s the mirror of what Reed is arguing here regarding Gore.

  13. I’d also point out that Nixon’s veto of universal childcare in 1970 was pretty damn consequential.

  14. Rarely Posts says:

    I agree with you that Nixon wasn’t a liberal President (he did, after all, veto the Clean Water Act). However, if we were going to credit him with the environmental statutes passed during his Administration (which we shouldn’t), they probably do outweigh Obama’s accomplishments. We’d be in much, much worse shape today if not for the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. There are a huge number of direct public health benefits, as well as environmental benefits. And then there are a huge number of indirect benefits. As just one example, the decrease in lead exposure has likely resulted in a significant drop in crime rates.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      “However, if we were going to credit him with the environmental statutes passed during his Administration (which we shouldn’t), they probably do outweigh Obama’s accomplishments.”

      This is the problem–why do we judge these things according to presidents? Why ascribe to one person all the things that happen during a 4 or 8 year span when it is far more complicated? This is a terrible way to judge the efficacy of a president and the reasons why legislation passes or doesn’t pass.

      • Rarely Posts says:

        Honestly, I think it’s a consequence of our limited, human intelligence and interest in political matters, combined with limited time and energy. As I understand it, the political science research strongly suggests that voters hold the President accountable for current conditions, even if the President’s agenda has been significantly limited by Congress. It takes an extremely recalcitrant Congress for people to be able to distinguish the President’s actions from those Congress undertook, much less parse the various consequences of their various actions.

        When discussing the past, these effects are probably magnified. I’m (relatively) a political junky, and I know that Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid bare a lot of the responsibility for what happened (or didn’t happen) between 2008 and 2010. But, I wasn’t even born during the Nixon Administration, and the main political thing I know about that period is that Nixon was President. I didn’t even know that he had signed the Clean Air Act but vetoed the Clean Water Act until I looked them up just now – I just knew they passed at that time.

        Basically, when people complain that Nixon was a more liberal President, they’re saying something false. However, what they’re really saying is that liberalism was a much more dominant, powerful political force among elected officials at that time. That statement is much closer to true. At least, that’s my theory on what they really mean.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Although one crucial mitigating factor is that if something like the Clean Air Act hadn’t passed under Nixon, it would have passed in the first year of Carter’s term. But if the ACA didn’t pass before the 2010 midterms, nothing like it was passing for a long time.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        I do suspect the fight to pass a meaningful CAA in 1977 would have been harder and the final bill probably would have less stringent. But by 77, the business lobby was a lot more organized than it was in 1970.

  15. parsimon says:

    I often wonder why the Republicans don’t ever make a play for disaffected Democrats. They certainly could have in 2012 and they had almost no interest in that.

    Eh? Jaw-dropping here as well: what does this even mean?

    First of all, they did make a play for disaffected Democrats, if by those are meant those lukewarm ones who’ve been watching Fox News, who want their taxes lowered, who are buying the notion that government regulation is killing jobs, and so on.

    All I can imagine, then, is that it’s a gesture toward libertarian sentiments within the Dem leaning populace.

  16. [...] the law. Prosecutors denounce him as biased. •A good discussion of cultural appropriation. •LGM argues that no, Nixon did not give the left more than Obama has. •A Tweeter asks women to recount what [...]

  17. […] a good Watergate primer.   Jeff Shesol didn’t get the memo explaining that Nixon was the most progressive major political official between FDR and Rand […]

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