Home / General / The Erroneous Premises of Third Party Curiosity

The Erroneous Premises of Third Party Curiosity

Comments
/
/
/
121 Views

byrd_courtThose Were the Days!

Tomasky has a good Nation piece laying out the straightforward point that in the current partisan context the electoral choice for virtually any segment of the left is straightforward — pull the Democratic lever.  This is boring, but this doesn’t make it less true.  As always, Tomasky is especially good on of elites advocating heighten-the-contradictions strategies that are notably unpopular with the people upon whom the contradictions will be most heightened.

Max Sawicky has a response that, as always with Max, is worth reading.  But, as always with attempts to argue that third party politics have the potential to solve problems, his response is also highly unpersuasive.  The fatal false premise comes early:

 We can stipulate from the outset that these days, most any Democrat for president will be less evil than most any Republican…It follows that whatever legion of minions the Democrat would bring with her into the executive branch will be comparatively superior as well. This is not really controversial, nor is it really on point.A different issue is the political dynamic of the right-drifting center. As the center drifts right, so do the Democrats.

This was also the core argument of Adolph Reed’s recent Harper’s piece. And the main problem remains that it is transparently wrong. The idea that the Democratic Party of O’Neill/Byrd/Carter is more progressive than Democratic Party of Pelosi/Reid/Obama…I have absolutely no idea how this premise could be defended.

Sawicky continues:

They may be less evil, but they are more evil than in previous periods. Mondale and Dukakis took up bankrupt deficit reduction mania. Bill Clinton destroyed Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Both Clinton and Obama came close to cutting Social Security. With sanctions, Clinton greased the skids for a second war with Iraq.

As it happens, this was the other most crucial failing of Reed’s version of the argument: most of the evidence cited to buttress the claim that the Democratic Party has shifted inexorably to the right comes from stuff Democrats did 20 or 30 years ago (and most of that from periods in which the Republican Party controlled Congress.) There’s also the problem that the many flaws of Democrats from preceding periods are airbrushed out of the story. To the parade of Democrats who endorsed “bankrupt deficit reduction mania” we should probably add…Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who actually implemented austerity policies with disastrous consequences. (When reflecting on this Golden Age of the Democratic Party, we should perhaps also recall such matters as the white supremacy that tainted even the achievements of the New Deal, the segregationists nominated to the Supreme Court, the people sent to concentration camps on the basis of their race, inter alia.)

On the other hand, the tendentious case against Obama consists solely of the fact that he “came close to cutting Social Security.” This is not in fact true — there was never any chance that Republicans would accept Chained CPI in exchange for what Obama was demanding in return — but the Chained CPI deal was still a bad deal and the criticism of Obama for offering it (at least before his re-election, when he apparently thought it might fly) is merited. But if arguing that the Democratic Party is always shifting to the right, you can’t just look at things that didn’t happen; you have to look at things that did happen, and once you consider the most important expansion of the progressive state since the Johnson administration along with ARRA, Dodd-Frank, the Obama administration’s use of regulations to combat climate change and the repeal of DADT, the claim that the Democratic Party is to the right of where it was 40 years ago has no content at all.

Change in the American political system doesn’t come from third parties; it comes from social movements and primaries. The shift of the Democratic Party since the 90s is an illustration of this, not a counter-example.

On final point, on Max’s response to Tomasky’s point about how most Naderites were exempt from the dismal consequences of Naderist theories of electoral politics:

Tomasky suggests that protest votes are easy for bourgeois elitists who will not suffer from the machinations of retrograde Republican governance. This is a little rich. Of course, votes for the Democrats are not costly for elites either. It’s good to be the king, as long as your feet stay dry.

Well, yes, elites will do fine either way; some Nader supporters have lower tax bills thanks to Nader’s vanity campaign, but I don’t think that motivated anybody. But that’s not the issue. The question is what effect vote-splitting has on the most vulnerable people in society, and the answer is that throwing elections to Republicans has very bad effects on them in the current partisan context. If this is what we’re risking, there had better be some important benefit being gained in return. At this point, the fact third-party politics at the federal level has no actual upside becomes highly relevant.

…Max responds, you should read.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Brett

    That’s what I keep trying to tell people – if you want to push the Democrats in a more progressive direction (and they’re already more progressive than they were 15 years ago, as you mentioned), you do it in the primaries.

    Hell, the Republicans basically showed us how that’s done. Aggressive primary voting and lobbying, use of checklists on policy, lots of “model bills” that you can give to legislators and tell them it’s required that they vote for them to get their rating, and so forth. Granted, it’s always going to be easier on stuff that’s popular than stuff that’s not, but it largely works.

  • Bob

    I agree with virtually all you argue here with one minor caveat: the never-ending Nader-voter bashing. Look, I voted for Nader – expressly because it didn’t matter who I voted for. I live in Maryland, which was going to go for Gore regardless, thus freeing me to cast a protest vote. The electors from Maryland were Gore’s regardless of my vote – so I took advantage of the opportunity to register my concerns with the Democratic Party.
    Did it work? Did it accomplish anything? Probably not. But so what? One more Gore vote in Maryland would have accomplished exactly the same thing – nothing.
    Had I lived in a contested state I would never have done that, but I don’t live in a contested state so I was free to do with my vote as I chose. I am quite certain a LOT of Nader voters were doing the exact same thing.

    • Russell Arben Fox

      Bob is completely right, which is why I take issue–predictably!–with the conclusion here: “At this point, the fact third-party politics at the federal level has no actual upside becomes highly relevant.” I would insist that actually it is the complete opposite, unless you happen to live in of the six or so states whose votes in current electoral college calculus actually matter. The federal level is the perfect place to register one’s most expressive and ideological concerns at the ballot box; it is, rather, in local races where making compromises to move the most plausible carrier of egalitarian ideas forward matters most.

      • Scott P.

        The view that a vote ‘doesn’t count’ unless it is the deciding vote in an election is seriously flawed, even pernicious, despite the fact that it appears to be widely held.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          You shoot a single bullet into the air, it’s very likely that it falls without hurting anyone or anything.

          Until the day that you wake up and Dubya is preznit and everything goes to hel.

      • There’s some evidence that Oregon Nader voters drew Gore campaign efforts which might have helped elsewhere. So, we have to be somewhat careful about this claim.

        Similarly, percentage of national vote share does provide some (minor) legitimation. At this stage, weakening that doesn’t seem to be good.

        To the degree that it weakens ticket voting and thus hurts downstream candidates is also bad. We need to hold out at every level, not just the presidential.

        The message “Vote for whom you like only if it 100% doesn’t matter” is an *odd* message for people concerned about the expressive aspects of their votes. I think it’s hard to discipline people to that and I think it doesn’t work well with GOTV for Dems.

        So what’s the point of supporting this? I agree that it’s allowed, in some sense. Voting Republican is “allowed”. But what is the (progressive leftist) *point*? How does such action advance our political and policy goals?

      • Scott Lemieux

        I would insist that actually it is the complete opposite, unless you happen to live in of the six or so states whose votes in current electoral college calculus actually matter.

        1)Again, most arguments about third party voting aren’t arguments about how any individual votes; to the extent that it’s worth discussing at all, the implicit augment is about how groups of like-minded individuals should vote.

        2)I suppose the “vote for third parties, but only if there’s absolutely no chance this would affect the outcome of an election” version is more attractive in the sense of reducing the downside risk. But, on the other hand, it also renders the vote an act without any possible purpose other than self-congratulation. (Does anyone want to argue that the behavior of Democratic public officials will be affected by whether the Green Party gets .4% or .7% of the vote in any particular blue state?) I’m particularly surprised that you see value in political behavior that is not merely ineffectual by definition but also atomized and consumerist.

        • Bob

          Do you want to argue that the behavior of Democratic public officials will be affected by whether Al Gore received 56.6% or 56.8% of the vote in Maryland in 2000?

          • Scott Lemieux

            In the unlikely event that anyone ever argues that, they would indeed be wrong.

            • Obviously, the particular formulation is silly.

              However, vote margins both at the state level and national do have some effects. Planning national campaigns, for example. The fact that Gore won the national vote and congressional dems won the national vote while losing the house at least informs some strategizing.

              It’s not major but of the possible minor effects of a vote in a blue state. This is more likely than a useful effect of a third party vote.

              • Pat

                I think the major effect is the non-productive carping and howling about how awful the Democratic candidates are, by their own supporters. This results in bad press coverage and voter depression.

                Trying to be constructive on the conversation by suggesting legislation is way more beneficial than tearing our own side down.

                • benjoya

                  what about the effect of third parties remaining on the ballot/getting matching funds in subsequent elections?

                • Scott Lemieux

                  what about the effect of third parties remaining on the ballot/getting matching funds in subsequent elections?

                  These effects are overwhelmingly negative.

                • benjoya

                  it also renders the vote an act without any possible purpose other than self-congratulation.

                  except to possibly keep said party on the ballot/get some fed $$

                • Malaclypse

                  except to possibly keep said party on the ballot/get some fed $$

                  That’s why I voted Green in MA in 2000. Not only did it not get 5%, but in hindsight, getting 5% would only weaken the Democrats. It wouldn’t hurt Republicans at all. I was wrong then, and this argument is wrong now.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  except to possibly keep said party on the ballot/get some fed $$

                  Except that a third party that can get 5% of the national vote clearly has the ability to throw an election to Republicans; you can’t just stipulate that it won’t.

                • Except that a third party that can get 5% of the national vote clearly has the ability to throw an election to Republicans; you can’t just stipulate that it won’t.

                  This!

                  Also, ok, say you get 5%. Then what?

                  In the UK, if your is concentrated and you mostly win otherwise Tory seats, you *might* do some good. If you take some Labour seats, you might be able to influence a govt (but you might fuck things up, too!).

                  In the US, the path to useful influence via non-spoiling or spoiler threatening means seems less clear to me.

                  Getting a senator or two seems like it could be useful. Maybe. But if you can elect a progressive party candidate, why not elect a progressive democrat?

                • joe from Lowell

                  except to possibly keep said party on the ballot/get some fed $$

                  I have a question about this: federal money for what?

                  Just for another presidential run? Or money that could be spent on down-ballot races?

        • Russell Arben Fox

          Scott,

          I’m particularly surprised that you see value in political behavior that is not merely ineffectual by definition but also atomized and consumerist.

          The consumerist accusation I reject; I can’t even see how that makes sense, unless you’re imagining some kind of reputational “market” among liberals and leftists, such that sniffing “I’m too pure for Gore!” would have somehow bought you some cred. (In my experience, it didn’t.) As for the “atomization” accusation, I can see that applying…but as always, one’s collective reference point matters. It may well be that one person’s atomization (“You’re only doing this to satisfy yourself”) is another person’s “standing in solidarity with a small, marginal group.” Obviously, I prefer to think of my two Nader votes (1996 and 2000, both times in Virginia) as partaking of the latter. Us actual card-carrying members of the Democratic Socialists of America have to stick together and let each other know we’re here, after all.

          • Joseph Slater

            Did DSA endorse Nader in 1996 or 2000? If so, shame on them.

            • Hogan

              Nationally? No, they didn’t.

              • joe from Lowell

                Then voting Nader seems a really terrible way of expressing solidarity with them.

                • Hogan

                  Individual members were all over the place in 2000; there was no consensus on whether to endorse at all, let alone whether to endorse Gore or Nader. But I can believe that members in Russell’s area were largely Nader supporters

              • Joseph Slater

                Thanks for the answer. I stick by my opinion.

          • Scott Lemieux

            The consumerist accusation I reject; I can’t even see how that makes sense, unless you’re imagining some kind of reputational “market” among liberals and leftists, such that sniffing “I’m too pure for Gore!” would have somehow bought you some cred.

            What I mean is that the “only vote Green if it won’t matter” formulation has its only possible end as personal satisfaction. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that defenses of third party voting sometimes explicitly use a “take your business elsewhere” metaphor.)

      • djw

        I continue to be struck by the surprisingly individualistic way you tend to approach the topic. THe same logic applies to all 50 states; in what will almost certainly be the closest presidential election of our lifetimes, one less Nader vote in Florida wouldn’t have changed the outcome either.

        Obviously, it makes more sense to think about this as a communitarian (ha!) conversation–how should we, the community of people who are frustrated by the too-far-right position of left edge of plausible two party politics, react to that frustration, given that the size of our community is too small to win anything alone but not so small that it’s implausible we can make a difference in close races? As a factual matter, it’s trivially true that we can all go off and vote our personal conscience or feelings without any real risk of impacting the outcome, but that was never in doubt anyway.

        • Russell Arben Fox

          David, see my response to Scott above.

      • Barry_D

        “I would insist that actually it is the complete opposite, unless you happen to live in of the six or so states whose votes in current electoral college calculus actually matter. The federal level is the perfect place to register one’s most expressive and ideological concerns at the ballot box;…”

        Please note that the Nader campaign did not do that. They campaigned in Florida, despite many liberals begging them not to. During this time, Nader proclaimed that he wanted to cause the Democratic Party to lose the presidency.

        Sounds rather conclusive to me.

        • drkrick

          Like Southern secessionists, it’s most respectable to assume that Nader’s intentions were the opposite of what he publicly proclaimed them to be.

        • Ok, time for my one note!

          Burden assembles pretty strong evidence that the Nader campaign followed an “Indifferent to spoiling, but not pursuing spoiling, try to get 5%: strategy.

          Nader said a lot of things including that he didn’t want to spoil. He’s just unreliable here. You can’t cherry pick his statements. (Maybe he was just stirring shit with some, maybe with all!) You also can’t merge the campaign and Nader.

          What they did was bad and irresponsible enough as it is. No need to exaggerate it.

          • benjoya

            i think by campaigning in purple, rather than red or blue, states, nader was looking to spoil. he did the greens no favors, costing them ballot access/matching funds.

            • Hogan

              Did the Greens have a candidate who was going to do better than Nader?

              • Malaclypse

                Jello Biafra did run against Nader in the primaries that year.

              • benjoya

                i’m not criticizing the greens for their choice of candidate, just saying that nader could have helped the party by campaigning in states where he could have gotten 5%. he didn’t; that was disappointing, to put it mildly.

                • Again, Burden’s paper shows that, by and large, the campaign was trying to maximize it’s vote total (i.e., get to 5%). So you shouldn’t be disappointed by *that*. You should be disappointed that they pursed that in spite of the knowable and realized risk of spoiling the election.

                • The paper really is interesting:

                  The results strongly suggest that Nader’s travel decisions were not a product of competitiveness but were highly sensitive to the size of the voting population. Thus, the spoiler hypothesis is suspect (p =.146), whereas the 5% hypothesis is strongly supported (p < .001). This basic finding—supporting Hypothesis 1 but not supporting Hypothesis 2, Hypothesis 3, or Hypothesis 4—holds up even when other factors are controlled.

                  The control variables yield interesting findings of their own. Nader was more likely to visit more areas with higher levels of education (perhaps college towns such as Madison, Wisconsin, where his rallies were especially successful). The fact that population density is a significant predictor in its own right further suggests that both candidates were pursuing vote maximization. For a given area, reaching more people is better than reaching fewer, thus making density a reasonable dimension to target.

                  These findings contrast rather neatly with Nader’s closest major party opponent, Al Gore. Most important, Gore, unlike Nader, is highly sensitive to the closeness of the race (p < .001). Not only does this result help demonstrate the validity of the closeness measure, but it provides some evidence that Gore was allocating his appearances in an instrumental fashion. Although Nader made many appearances in lopsided states such as California (nine appearances to Gore’s two), Gore focused more directly on battleground states such as Missouri (seven appearances to Nader’s one). Gore was also more likely to visit states with fewer college graduates and where the Clinton-Gore ticket polled well in 1996.

                  Near significance is perhaps a hole, but it’s still pretty clear that the Nader campaign wasn’t battleground focused.

                  (I like this paper! It’s cool.)

                • benjoya

                  by and large, the campaign was trying to maximize it’s vote total (i.e., get to 5%).

                  but wouldn’t the number of people who might have voted for nader been greater in states where leftish dems didn’t have to worry about giving the state to an R?

                • but wouldn’t the number of people who might have voted for nader been greater in states where leftish dems didn’t have to worry about giving the state to an R?

                  I don’t understand the question.

                  The key predictor for Nader was number of voters, then (IIRC) education levels. They were aiming for votes.

                  The key predictors for Gore was number of votes plus battlegroundness. He was aiming to win.

                  A spoil averting strategy would have targeted number of votes + safety.

                • joe from Lowell

                  The control variables yield interesting findings of their own. Nader was more likely to visit more areas with higher levels of education (perhaps college towns such as Madison, Wisconsin, where his rallies were especially successful). The fact that population density is a significant predictor in its own right further suggests that both candidates were pursuing vote maximization. For a given area, reaching more people is better than reaching fewer, thus making density a reasonable dimension to target.

                  Hold on a second there. We don’t assign electoral votes by municipality, but by state. Visiting Madison means trying to win the most votes in a swing state.

                  If the paper treats a visit to Amherst, MA (or Athens, GA) the same as one to Madison, WI, it’s missing something.

                • Hold on a second there. We don’t assign electoral votes by municipality, but by state. Visiting Madison means trying to win the most votes in a swing state.

                  If the paper treats a visit to Amherst, MA (or Athens, GA) the same as one to Madison, WI, it’s missing something.

                  Thanks for responding to the content.

                  I think the paper is public access on the link I gave above and regive here.

                  To answer your question, I don’t think he’s making the error you suggest. He’s very sophisticated:

                  I began by mapping each candidate appearance to the county in which it occurred.9 Counties are an attractive unit of analysis because they can be aggregated almost perfectly to either the state or media market level. County boundaries never cross state boundaries and almost never cross the boundaries of Nielsen’s designated market areas (DMAs).10 Though earlier work focused solely on states as the unit of analysis because of their autonomy in the Electoral College, recent work acknowledges the strategic importance of media markets in presidential campaigns (Althaus et al., 2002; Goldstein & Freedman, 2002; Hagen et al., 2002).

                  A campaign appearance in Manhattan would be coded as a stop in New York by a state analysis, though the candidate would expect the event to be covered in the northern New Jersey and western Connecticut media as well. To allow for state-based and market-based strategies, I estimate models at both levels of analysis. This is important because Hypothesis 1 suggests that Nader would focus more on media markets, but Hypothesis 2 might imply more attention to states. For the state analysis, the sample contains 51 cases (50 states plus Washington, D.C.). For the market analysis, the sample is made of the 210 DMAs nationwide.11 In the state data, county appearances were simply aggregated within state borders. In the media market data, appearances were aggregated within DMA boundaries

                  On neither analysis did the spoiler hypothesis reach the 95% confidence level (though it *was* close). On both, the 5% hypothesis did reach the 95% confidence level. So the results are robust both if you consider state boundaries and possible indirect affect on battleground states and across media buys and campaign appearances.

                  So, the pretty clear conclusion is that they were aiming for 5% but (disgustingly) indifferent to spoiling. I think that’s consistent with a belief that they *couldn’t* spoil, which is obviously wrong.

                • benjoya

                  A spoil averting strategy would have targeted number of votes + safety.

                  yes, that was part of my point. also, wouldn’t it be easier to convince otherwise (D) voters to vote third-party if they didn’t think they might help give their states electors to the R?

                • yes, that was part of my point. also, wouldn’t it be easier to convince otherwise (D) voters to vote third-party if they didn’t think they might help give their states electors to the R?

                  Well, maybe?

                  You go where the votes are. I’m not sure any actual behavior by the Nader campagin (other than withdrawing from the ballot in battleground states) would have convince the Democrats that they weren’t gunning for a spoil (or, rationally, risking a spoil). So I don’t know if that would have changed their numbers. They might have hurt their numbers with strongly disaffected people esp. inside their base (speaking as someone who drunk some of the koolaid early on only to end up not voting Nader in a safe state because Bush Be Awful Enough To Scare Me). It’s not clear to me that a actively non-spoiling 5% strategy would have been a maximalist 5% strategy.

                  On the flip side, a strategic withdrawal might have preserved the party a lot better. It’s hard to say.

            • Look, the paper is pretty conclusive. It’s based on elaborate empirical data.

              If you don’t engage with the actual details, well, that doesn’t seem very good to me. Similarly, if you take only some of Nader’s claim as dispositive while not explaining the contrary ones, you aren’t mobilizing evidence, you’re cherry picking.

              The campaign denies that spoiling was their goal and the pattern of appearances and as buys does not support a spoiling strategy.

              • djw

                Whether he pointed and aimed the gun at the victim before pulling the trigger or simply fired in the direction of the victim, indifferent to the possibility of inflicting a mortal wound, doesn’t seem like a terribly important question to me.

                • Is there any reason not to get it right?

                  I’m not saying it’s the most important point in the world and every time we have this conversation I point out that the non spoiling intent isn’t exculpatory at all. But, I don’t know why I should be indifferent to the evidence.

                • Hogan

                  I don’t think it’s possible at this point to “get it right,” if by that you mean arrive at the really real truth about Nader’s intentions. djw wasn’t questioning your facts; he was drawing an ethical conclusion from them.

                • I don’t think it’s possible at this point to “get it right,” if by that you mean arrive at the really real truth about Nader’s intentions.

                  Why not?

                  Or rather, given that people are willing to make claims (the campaign tried to spoil!) that seem pretty provably wrong (cf Burden) in order to “prove” intent, why shouldn’t we get those claims right? Esp. if they and what they are mobilized to prove are necessary to make our desired moral judgement?

                  I mean, is this the one area where we don’t care about political science? What about the analyses that show that Perot didn’t spoil the election for Bush in favor of Clinton?

                  I’m really puzzled here. There’s no need to revise one’s moral feelings toward Nader and the Greens: They were, at best, recklessly indifferent to the downside of their actions and that downside came to fruit. That they spoiled the election is a clear established fact (by multiple lines of evidence). Thus far we agree.

                  People want to go farther and say that they intended to spoil the election. This is denied by the campaign manager (and variously by Nader, but he’s unreliable) and there is a pattern of appearance and ad buy argument that their strategy wasn’t consistent with a (competent) spoiling strategy and *was* consistent with a get 5% of the vote strategy.

                  That’s it. That doesn’t change the fact that they spoiled the election nor does it change they fact that they didn’t *try* to avoid spoiling the election. And the latter had ghastly consequences and, really, should be an argument against even *well intentioned* third party efforts. If you throw the government to the Republicans it’s superbad.

                  Now, maybe Burden is wrong. Maybe a secret cache of papers will out that shows that they planned to spoil but did it in a seemingly incompetent way to throw everyone off the scent. I doubt it, but it’s possible. It’s also silly to believe, afaict, given the evidence. Why doesn’t that matter?

                  I’m truly perplexed by this.

                • Aimai

                  Nader is not and never has been a real progressive with real progressive goals–ask anyone who worked with him. So I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on how he was running his campaign or why or what the implications were. In addition “spoiling” isn’t something he has to have intended to have, in fact, run a spoiler campaign. Which he did. Just because some of his more vocal supporters thought that they could vote for him and not do any harm to the party closest to their goals (The Democrats) didn’t mean that this was true. And it wasn’t.

                  Also: the party that he ran for basically died on the vine after he ran so he can’t even offer the excuse of party building to ameliorate the spoiling effect. A serious political thinker–not Nader, in other words–would have worked hard to build the party from the grassroots up rather than running every four years and grandstanding about trying to raise consciousness at the federal level without a proper base of support in the states. The entire thing was disgusting, and remains disgusting.

                • Nader is not and never has been a real progressive with real progressive goals–ask anyone who worked with him.

                  We agree.

                  So I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on how he was running his campaign or why or what the implications were.

                  I don’t think Burden’s empirical work is a mere benefit of the doubt. I don’t know tha the or the Green’s “benefit” from this line.

                  In addition “spoiling” isn’t something he has to have intended to have, in fact, run a spoiler campaign.

                  We agree! As I said in that comment! He spoiled the election. What he did not do, afaict, is run a campaign strategy that is consistent with the intent to spoil the election (e.g., appear more in battleground states) as opposed to a getting 5%.

                  Which he did.

                  Yes, we agree. He spoiled the campaign. This is awful of him.

                  Just because some of his more vocal supporters thought that they could vote for him and not do any harm to the party closest to their goals (The Democrats) didn’t mean that this was true. And it wasn’t.

                  I’m sorry, but you don’t have to make that argument to me or to Burden. I wrote:

                  That they spoiled the election is a clear established fact (by multiple lines of evidence).

                  Burden also argues this. Where we differ is whether the campaign was run on maximal-intent-to-spoil principles. Which would imply campaigning heavily in states he could tip to Bush. Which the campaign appearance data does not support.

                  Also: the party that he ran for basically died on the vine after he ran so he can’t even offer the excuse of party building to ameliorate the spoiling effect.

                  Yep. It was a disaster. And his behavior post election was a major contributor, IMHO.

                  A serious political thinker–not Nader, in other words–would have worked hard to build the party from the grassroots up rather than running every four years and grandstanding about trying to raise consciousness at the federal level without a proper base of support in the states. The entire thing was disgusting, and remains disgusting.

                  We agree.

                  I don’t know whether we disagree about the pattern of campaign appearances or not, but that’s what I’m arguing about. Nader doesn’t have to be every kind of monster (e.g., deliberately and effectively trying to spoil) to be a sufficiently awful monster (reckless, ego driven, etc.).

                • Hogan

                  Intentions are not necessarily stable or coherent over time, and that’s especially true in political campaigns with no chance of winning. The Bayesian analysis could go in different directions, but they all end up where djw said, and unless we’re deciding what crime to charge Nader with it doesn’t strike me as an interesting question.

                • Intentions are not necessarily stable or coherent over time,

                  Sure! Then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to talk about how Nader and the campaign worked hard to spoil the campaign.

                  and that’s especially true in political campaigns with no chance of winning.

                  Sure! Except Burden analyses from Sept 1st to election day, whcih is when campaigns are in full swing and most consequential:

                  I analyze candidate appearance strategies between September 1 and election day. This time period follows earlier work (Althaus et al., 2002), particularly the conventional wisdom that the presidential campaign begins in earnest following Labor Day (Herr, 2002).

                  I don’t see that we can’t analyze these things.

                  The Bayesian analysis could go in different directions, but they all end up where djw said,

                  I really don’t understand this. I agree that morally speaking actually spoiling is the most important thing. Even if they *actively tried not to spoil* short of ending the campaign or campaigning pro-Gore in swing states, then they are pretty strongly morally culpable.

                  But people seem to want to make lots of claims about the campagin’s behaviior that, afaict, isn’t true. Which I, pretty consistent on wanting us to make true claims, go on about :)

                  and unless we’re deciding what crime to charge Nader with it doesn’t strike me as an interesting question.

                  Is it, at this point, an interesting question whether the ACA and the Heritage plan are the same or different? I mean, it’s well settled? Or whether Nader spoiled the election? Not really. But yet we correct those. I correct this.

                  I think it was an intersting political science question, and, afaict, Burden did a good job of answering it.

                • BTW, I would love if you, or djw, could explain to me why it’s important to label this question uninteresting or unanswerable. It seems as interesting as any election analysis and as equally answerable. And answered! I feel like I’m missing something. Is it a concern that I’m sneaking in some pro-Nader stuff? But I hope it’s clear that that’s not the case! I argue elsewhere in this thread against pro-safe-staters.

                  I suspect djw is thinking that as he mistook Murc’s pro-third party point for one of mine…

    • TribalistMeathead

      I’ve no doubt that every single Nader voter in Florida also thought that they were free to cast a protest vote.

      • Gregor Sansa

        This is silly. The idea that some people might use an excuse when its premises are transparently wrong has no bearing on whether the excuse is valid when they are obviously right.

        • L2P

          I think the problem is that no voter can be absolutely convinced their vote won’t matter. If nothing else, it is vastly undemocratic to assume your vote won’t matter.

    • Joe_JP

      There are other options than “Nader” as a protest vote here and I don’t think Scott is talking about votes in states where it didn’t matter. “Naderist theories” isn’t about that. I don’t take him as saying that in a safe election it is moronic to have some small portion protest vote. But, even as an act of protest, his “vanity campaign” got to be a pretty piss poor means. Nader was no Zephhr Teachout on that front, to take a NY example.

      • Bob

        I’m not just referring to this post. Scott has mentioned Nader voters a time or two in the past. And by “a time or two” I mean a LOT.

        • Joe_JP

          I think the basic point I made applies to “Nader voters” posts as a whole. Might be wrong, but the fact every single possible Democratic vote in safe states not voting for Gore in ’00 isn’t really his concern. And, “Nader” specifically has problems imho even as a protest vote. He himself promoted an idea, an idea not promoted by many third party candidates, that it didn’t matter who won in 2000, not a dime worth of difference etc.

          • Weed Atman

            Remember that stupid Rage Against the Machine video for Testify? The idiot Bush = Gore visuals? Good grief.

            And all the Gush and Bore bullshit. I want to find all the people who peddled and believed that bullshit, and fucking tattoo MORON on their foreheads. They’re like people who helped us get into the Iraq War-they should be branded and ruthlessly mocked for the rest of their lives as punishment, and as a warning to others.

        • Hogan

          He generally does it when someone like Reed or Sawicky pops up to make the case that voting for Nader was and remains a perfectly respectable thing to do. If you’re not out there making that argument, you’re not who Scott is talking about.

      • TribalistMeathead

        But that’s the problem – there’s no such thing as a state where it doesn’t matter if enough people decide that they can afford to cast a protest vote.

        • Joe_JP

          Scott: “question is what effect vote-splitting has on the most vulnerable people in society” — in the case of Nader, where that vote splitting turned the election, it had a negative result. So, see no “problem” as such.

    • Gwen

      I did the same. I was in Texas. It was my first election (newly-minted 18 year old).

      I’m totally going to bash people for voting for Nader. I refer to it as one of my youthful indiscretions.

    • Aimai

      But if you voted for Nader in the General Election, rather than voting for the most leftwing candidate in the Democratic Primary, you were sending the wrong message to the Democrats–its not that they weren’t listening. Its that you were choosing the wrong message, and the wrong time for the message. This isn’t the fault of the Democrats or some kind of deep insight into politics on your part. Its just really lousy thinking on your part. One protest vote is literally meaningless–and its anti-democratic (small d) because it presumes that all those other voters who are nearly on your side but voting for the major party candidate are wrong and need to be taught a lesson.

      In reality no ones vote matters that much–its only when you are aligning yourself with other voters that your vote can work. So rather than proudly casting a single vote for Nader in the general election you should have been out working to gather lots of other voters around the most leftward candidate in the Democratic primary and then, when they decided to go ahead and support the Democratic nominee, done the same. Its the only way your vote rises to the level of a meaningful act. So what I’m saying is that not only does timing and setting of your vote matter but aligning yourself with other people slightly to one side of you, or to the other, is more important than choosing to singlemindedly support a non viable candidate.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        first paragraph, last sentence: best part of a very good comment

        “we hang together or we hang separately”

      • Linnaeus

        I agree that the primary level is the best place to deal with moving the party’s candidates in one direction or another, but the same dynamics at work in general election often get moved down to the primary, e.g., “vote for Candidate X in the primary because she/he is electable and Candidate Y is too liberal.”

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          the primary is *where* that should play out, seems to me. the general is where i suck it up and vote for the person closest to my views who has the best chance of winning. admittedly i tend to think of voting as less of a right and more of an obligation, though, if that makes sense said out loud

          • Linnaeus

            the general is where i suck it up and vote for the person closest to my views who has the best chance of winning.

            As do I. It’s just that if you’re accused of wanting ponies in the general, that doesn’t change at the primary level.

            • Aimai

              I’m not accusing anyone of wanting ponies. But I also don’t think you argument that one “has the same problem in the primaries” is correct. Primaries are quite different from the general election competition between two parties.

              1) Primaries are closer to the ground so you and your vote have more influence.
              2) Primaries happen between factions of a party each appealing to factions of voters.
              3) Primaries, like the general election, occur within a two (or more) party context so each voter is not only deciding which candidate most reflects their position but which candidate is most likely to be electable by other non party members, or not rejected by other (same) party members.
              4) But if you belong to the majority party in your region you can pretty much fight out intraparty debates safely without throwing the seat to the other party.
              While at the national level you have to make a different calculation (at the moment) because we are still in danger of electing a right wing lunatic.

              And this is exactly the strategy the tea party has taken, to some good effect. !) they fight out their battles at the primary, forcing out RINOs and nominating their own crazy diamonds. Two: sometimes they lose the very election they are aiming at controlling but they instill fear and dread in the remaining Republicans. The Tea Party and its voters sometimes threaten to go third party (vote the Constitutional Party, or Christian Identity, or Ron Paul, or Lizard People) but on the whole they never do. Why? Because they’d rather have half a loaf (control of the nominating process in the Republican party, control of some districts) than the whole loaf.

              I would abso-fucking-lutely salute any serious leftist voter who fought hard in the primary but didn’t throw the general election to the republican party. And I think if we had a left wing version of the tea party we’d be a fuckoad better off. But you can see for yourself that Naderism or third party voting at the Presidential level is completely useless. And arguing that it is merely as useless as third party or solipsistic voting in primaries is absurd. They are utterly different things.

              • Pat

                Thanks, Aimai. We need more constructive reasoning like this.

              • Linnaeus

                And arguing that it is merely as useless as third party or solipsistic voting in primaries is absurd.

                Right, but that’s not what I’m arguing, if that wasn’t clear. In fact, your point #3:

                3) Primaries, like the general election, occur within a two (or more) party context so each voter is not only deciding which candidate most reflects their position but which candidate is most likely to be electable by other non party members, or not rejected by other (same) party members.

                …alludes to what I’m talking about, which is that many of the same folks who say “well, the primary is where you need to choose the more progressive candidate” will be the same folks (not you) who then say in the primary “well, we really shouldn’t choose/should not have chosen the progressive candidate because she/he won’t win.” And if the progressive candidate does indeed lose, that will be the postmortem.

                • Aimai

                  I’m not sure why you are putting so much weight on “some people say.” They have an absolute right to say that but so what? You say “no, now is a good time for me to vote my conscience and here’s why you should too.” In a state or local election in which your exact opposite party (lets call them the Teapublicans or something) has a good chance of pulling some people from your party to theirs you should listen to people saying “we need someone electable” and in a state/locality where this isn’t true you should ignore those people.

                  Even in MA, though, we have the problem that yes we should choose electable candidates if weare going to run them for certain offices. For example ordinarily whoever wins the democratic primary for state office or federal office gets in. The only exception is the governorship and yet we have run a crappy candidate for governor several times, causing some liberals to “vote for their preferred candidate” because: purity and all republicans to vote a straight ticket and get their asshole in. This gave us Mitt Romney and Charlie Baker and all the other forgetabble assholes in between.

      • politicalfootball

        Aimai gets it all correct. The thing about the third-partyists is that to them, building a political coalition is a notional thing, not a real thing. If only Americans could get behind a good progressive, the third-partyist says, then we wouldn’t need the Democratic Party.

        Problem is, if Americans could get behind a good progressive, there wouldn’t be a problem with the Democratic Party. If we’re going to start wishing for ponies here, why not just wish that a better Democratic Party materialize out of nowhere?

        • Bob

          I’m 56 years old, have voted since I was 18 and have voted 100% Democratic at the federal and state level with the one exception mentioned above.
          Not sure what is so notional about that.

          • politicalfootball

            I’m not getting your point. When you’re not being a third partyist, you’re not being a third partyist. It’s tautology. Are you saying that voting for Democrats is the same as voting for third party folks, or what?

            There’s a basic logic deficiency in your comments. You claim that your vote made no difference in Maryland. But if that’s so, why vote at all?

            And how is your Maryland vote any different from someone’s Florida vote? No individual vote changed the election in Florida, either.

            If you consider your vote to be meaningless unless it decides the election, you need to get a seat on the Supreme Court. Otherwise, why concern yourself with this conversation at all?

      • djw

        Exactly right. If Green Party/Nader voters became a sufficiently large and consistent block to warrant a significant strategic revision on the part of Democratic politicians (the “legitimation” Bijan implies might be a positive outcome above), there’s a very good chance looking for move votes in the center rather than trying to win them back would be the most rational response. (And a good chance they’d do it anyway, even if it wasn’t.)

      • Brien Jackson

        ” One protest vote is literally meaningless–and its anti-democratic (small d) because it presumes that all those other voters who are nearly on your side but voting for the major party candidate are wrong and need to be taught a lesson.”

        This. So much this. And it’s a pretty pronounced issue with the (mostly) white internet crowd who fancies themselves The Base of the Democratic Party.

    • Weed Atman

      the never-ending Nader-voter bashing.

      You’re not being precise enough. The bashing of Nader-voters in safe states is unfair. But Nader had no business being on the ballot in swing states. It was unnecessary and reckless. And if you voted for Nader in Florida, you were/are part of the problem and I don’t give a shit about your hurt feelings.

      Also, it’s not just about winning, it’s about margins. Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes. Can you imagine if just half of all Nader voters went for Gore in 2000? Winning the popular vote by 1.5 million and losing the election. Maybe I’m too optimistic about the cloud of illegitimacy that would hang over Bush if he were president but lost the popular vote by over a million votes, but it sure sounds nice to me…

      • The bashing of Nader-voters in safe states is unfair.

        I used to think this, but there’s evidence that Oregon Nader votes drew campaign efforts from Gore that coulda been used in places like Florida.

        In a close election, everything tends to matter (or at least could matter). If the Republicans weren’t so increasingly destructive, this would be much less of a problem.

    • Jeremy

      I think the Nader-bashing is wrong and stupid myself (Gore lost because of Elian Gonzalez), but I still question whether or not third party candidates would really change anything themselves if any of them managed to get elected on a national level. Greeks put SYRIZA in power and they’re now capitulating to the IMF and the EU even more than PASOK and New Democracy ever did.
      Plus, Nader himself is just another shady politician, and a hypocrite who has practiced union busting against his own employees.

      It should also be noted that the Republican Party was once a third party that started out with very noble intentions.

      • Hogan

        When the Republican Party was founded in 1854, there was no second party to speak of.

    • cpinva

      “I am quite certain a LOT of Nader voters were doing the exact same thing.”

      then you, and they, are very, very stupid people, who probably shouldn’t be allowed out without a keeper, and certainly not allowed anywhere near a ballot box. by voting for Nader, even in a state where it didn’t matter, you provided support for another Nader (or someone even worse) run, in 2016.

      you want to express your displeasure with the candidates who actually have a legitimate shot at winning? go write a big, fat letter to the editor of the WP, telling everyone who’ll waste 30 seconds looking at it just how non-progressive the actual democratic candidate actually is. then get your ass to the ballot box, and vote for the democrat who will, by definition, be exponentially superior to anything the GOP has to offer.

  • TribalistMeathead

    “Obama came close to cutting Social Security”

    Which is why I should’ve voted for a third-party candidate, thereby risking a McCain or Romney presidency, whose least evil act would’ve been to cut Social Security.

    Wait, what?

    • Davis X. Machina

      Send a message!

  • Murc

    the claim that the Democratic Party is to the right of where it was 40 years ago has no content at all.

    You may want to use twenty years, Scott. Forty years back takes us into the mid-seventies. The Democratic Party is indisputably to the left of where it was on social issues at that time, but there are colorable cases to be it is further to the right than it was on economic ones.

    This is opposed to twenty years back, which puts us right smack in the middle of Clinton punching poor people in the face, deregulatin’, and signing hate laws. There’s no real argument that we haven’t recovered from that low point.

    • Scott P.

      Poor people do not look back on the Clinton years and shudder at the memory.

      • Murc

        Really? I would think that people who had their benefits slashed out from under them would have plenty to shudder about.

        It is true that the Clinton years were an economic boom time. That has nothing whatsoever to do with his policies towards the poor. It did mean that it was easier to stop being poor and harder to become poor, but if you actually were poor the policies of the Clinton administration, aided and abetted by Democrats in Congress, were designed to make life harder and more punishing for you.

        • Linnaeus

          A case in point from the inimitable Charles Pierce.

        • Bruce B.

          Very few people I know who were in need of permanent or really long-term support have fond memories of the Clinton years, yeah.

        • Scott P.

          What I’m saying is that Clinton left office with a lot of support, he still has a lot of support, and that support increases the farther down the economic scale you go.

          • Pat

            Well, yeah, look at the alternatives!

    • Scott Lemieux

      You may want to use twenty years, Scott.

      I mean what I said. The Democratic Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for four years during the late 70s. Can you point me to the progressive accomplishments that came out of this that don’t involve craft beer again? That Democratic leadership was both significantly more conservative and could screw up a ham and cheese sandwich.

      • Murc

        I’m not sure what “actually accomplishes something” has to with the relative positions of political coalitions on the ideological spectrum.

        If something had enough political support to, say, get in the 1976 Democratic Presidential Platform and garner, hmm, 40 votes in the Senate, and is something that would get you laughed out the door in 2012 if you proposed it as a platform plank and would never even make it out of committee in the Senate… in neither situation has something gotten done, but it would imply that the Democratic Party moved strongly away from it as a matter of policy over those forty years, yes?

        • djw

          I’m not sure what “actually accomplishes something” has to with the relative positions of political coalitions on the ideological spectrum.

          “What they say they support” is one way to measure someone’s real priorities; “what they do when they have the power to do it” is a much better one.

          • Murc

            That’s entirely true, yes, but a political party can be more or less conservative (or more or less liberal) without ever jumping over the “this thing actually gets done” bar.

            • Pat

              If they fail to jump over the “this thing actually gets done” bar, then it makes no difference that they were more or less liberal.

              Getting things done is how the government changes people’s lives. The rest just makes you feel good.

        • Scott Lemieux

          I’m not sure what “actually accomplishes something” has to with the relative positions of political coalitions on the ideological spectrum.

          Talk is cheap. You look at what political parties accomplish when they’re in office.

          BTW, what are the issues on which O’Neill, Byrd and Carter are to the left of Pelosi, Reid and Obama specifically?

          • Murc

            You’ve… compared two right-leaning members of Congress and a conservative Democratic President to two liberal members of Congress and a liberal Democratic President. I would be hard-pressed to find specific issues in which the former are further to the left than the latter. I mean, hell, you yourself agree with the contention that Carter was to the right of his caucus, a rarity in Democratic Presidents.

            But the party as a whole… if I recall correctly, Carter’s Congress assembled vote totals for a number of liberal priorities that, while they did not pass, are almost certainly much higher than equivalent legislation would garner today. There was a run to repeal part of Taft-Hartley that, while it failed, almost certainly got more support than a similar effort today would.

            • Scott Lemieux

              You’ve… compared two right-leaning members of Congress

              The speaker of the House and Senate majority leader are not just generic “members of Congress.” Their views strike me as quite important when determining the ideological positioning of the party.

              a conservative Democratic President…and a liberal Democratic President.

              Yes, I believe this is consistent with my position and inconsistent with your position.

              There was a run to repeal part of Taft-Hartley that, while it failed, almost certainly got more support than a similar effort today would.

              Based on what?

              • Murc

                The speaker of the House and Senate majority leader are not just generic “members of Congress.” Their views strike me as quite important when determining the ideological positioning of the party.

                Really? In my view, Majority Leaders and Speakers of the House often arrive at their positions by being excellent at playing backroom power politics rather than by being ideologically representative of the majority of their caucus.

                Based on what?

                The fact that such attempts have been considered laughable pipe dreams for the past three decades, but at one point were considered viable enough to generate an actual legislative push?

                • Scott Lemieux

                  In my view, Majority Leaders and Speakers of the House often arrive at their positions by being excellent at playing backroom power politics rather than by being ideologically representative of the majority of their caucus.

                  1)the two are related, and 2)what’s your evidence that Byrd and O’Neill weren’t representative?

                  The fact that such attempts have been considered laughable pipe dreams for the past three decades, but at one point were considered viable enough to generate an actual legislative push?

                  This is highly misleading — the current practice of Congress is for the leadership to not bother with votes that will lose. Any comparison of failed legislation is going to be biased to the past because of the change in practices. And independent measures of ideology indicate that the Democratic caucus has moved to the left since 1975.

                  In addition, there was a push for critical prounion legislation under Obama that got at least as much support as the push under Carter did. So your one specific example is not evidence.

            • rea

              Carter’s Congress assembled vote totals for a number of liberal priorities that, while they did not pass, are almost certainly much higher than equivalent legislation would garner today.

              Not to get all Yoda-like with you, but do or do not–there is no try.

              Everybody knew those liberal priorities were not going to pass–voting for them was meaningless, like a House member voting 50 times to repeal Obamacare. The real test would be how those people voted on liberal priorities that actually might pass.

              • Brien Jackson

                Right. By Murc’s measure, we can’t very well say if Blanche Lincoln is pro-union or not because of her support for EFCA during the Bush administration.

  • rea

    Obama . . . “came close to cutting Social Security

    Not only is this wrongheaded because it didn’t happen, and was never going to happen, but note the enormous difference between a concession over how benefits are to be increased in the future, and a plan like Bush’s, or like the present Republican candidates’, who want to privatize (e. g. end) the whole thing.

    • Gwen

      Right.

      The chained CPI proposal would have had a modest impact on benefits several decades in the future. There would have been plenty of time for the government to undo this time-bomb; there also would have been plenty of time for younger workers (such as myself) to plan accordingly.

      The Bush proposal would have created a very large hole in Social Security’s finances out-of-the-box. Although officially benefits cuts were not expected… realistically, they would have happened, and quick.

      A cut is a cut is a cut… but the cruelest cuts are the ones that people do not have time to plan for. That is why I am not too upset at Obama, for proposing the chained CPI cut.

      • Aimai

        I don’t fault Obama at all for the Chained CPI thing and I do fault the hysterics and the anger voters for failing to support what was an obvious political gambit to gain some concessions from the other side. However the recent horror show over the cutting of food support for kids in schoosl because Michelle Obama and the Obama admin traded away a future cut for current spending is illustrative. These kinds of brinksmanship and bargaining may be undertaken with good faith (and I believe they were) and they can work out long term–but they can also blow up in the negotiators faces if other things don’t work out such as the composition of the senate and house after a bad election cycle. But to believe that the Republicans weren’t going to get in and slash the hell out of everything no matter what the previous agreement with the Obamas was is an illusion. Bad shit happens to food security under Republicans regardless of what was negotiated with Democrats.

        • Pat

          Democrats are not to blame if they fail to prevent cruel and moronic policies the entire Republican caucus is clamoring for. Republicans are to blame for the cruel and moronic policies they savagely promote as “public good.”

    • Phil Perspective
      • rea

        I’m no expert on the military pension system, and my one contact with Tricare led me to conclude that it is highly dysfunctional. The pension changes are being billed as maybe worse for people who serve 20 years or more, but better for people who serve shorter amounts of time. The linked article does not do much in the way of analysis.

        • postmodulator

          A 401(k) is pretty much unambiguously going to be worse than a defined-benefit pension all else being equal. However, since so many military members don’t top out their twenty, all else isn’t equal.

  • witlesschum

    The Democratic Party is enormously to the right on labor issues and education of where it was pretty much whenever. Couldn’t get 60 votes for Card Check and there’s no discussion of more radical changes, even on the level of something like the ACA for labor. And charter school and testing bandits have too much influence at the Department of Education, which is to say any.

    That’s not to say that Tomasky is wrong and Sawicky is right, but it’s a huge area where the party could do good while doing well and hasn’t, presumably because lefty activist types aren’t doing enough to push back against the party elites on this.

    Might be a good place to focus, say, all the energy that goes into third party talk.

    • matt w

      The Democratic Party is enormously to the right on labor issues and education of where it was pretty much whenever. Couldn’t get 60 votes for Card Check

      So when was it that the entire Southern Democratic caucus was going to vote for Card Check?

      Now I agree that the party should be doing better on this, but I don’t think calling back to an Arcadian past is going to help.

      • Jonas

        Hey, Byrd could have done some backroom bargaining with Stennis and Eastland and voila! Card Check!

    • rea

      Couldn’t get 60 votes for Card Check

      There was a period of about 3 weeks in which there were 60 Democratic votes in the Senate. And of course, card check was not adopted 30 or 40 years ago, either.

      • TribalistMeathead

        And all 60 of those Senators didn’t need to worry about how support for card check would affect their chances at reelection.

        • Aimai

          Yeah, I get that people like Witless Chum are dissapointed but its not that the Democratic party has “moved right” its that the Republican party has moved so far right that even to speak to them civilly is practically an act of betrayal of the sane people in the country, let alone the leftists. The network of decisions and compromises that have to be undertaken to get anything done has been permanently damaged. Ther’s no point blaming the Democrats for this–though I think it assuages some deep seated need that people have to feel slightly more in control of things. Like blaming your driver for conditions on a road that has been destroyed by an earthquake makes you feel better than acknowledging that you are fucked because the road is gone. Or people who get angry at the waiter because the restaurant can’t magically make more tables appear when the previous diners don’t vacate–but then get mad when the waiter chivvies them along to turn the table in another restaurant.

          In other words: I am permanently disapointed and heartsick that we can’t have nice things but blaming the democrats for not being able to spin gold out of straw is an emotional response to a crappy, institutional, situation.

          • witlesschum

            Just to be clear, I’m not disappointed or mad at the Democrats. That’s not a relevant concept to politics as I see it. Political parties can’t be trusted to do the right thing or even the politically-smart thing, they’ve got to be forced into it, and I’m part of the failure to do so.

    • Hogan

      Repeal of Taft-Hartley was one of the few Great Society proposals that Congress refused to pass. A 1978 labor law reform bill got filibustered out. When exactly was this golden age?

      • Manny Kant

        Approximately from 1935 to 1938.

        • Davis X. Machina

          There were six, eight weeks in 1965, too.

      • Linnaeus

        Who’s arguing for a golden age?

        • Hogan

          The Democratic Party is enormously to the right on labor issues and education of where it was pretty much whenever. Couldn’t get 60 votes for Card Check and there’s no discussion of more radical changes, even on the level of something like the ACA for labor.

          I’m trying to pin down that “whenever” to an actual “when.”

          • Linnaeus

            You and I might be defining golden age-ism differently then. It’s one thing to argue that the relationship between the Democratic Party and the labor movement was always a harmonious one (it wasn’t) or that labor always achieved its legislative goals under Democratic rule (it didn’t). But I do think that when one looks at the big picture, there’s a perceptible shift beginning in the 1970s or so in which the Democratic does move away from labor and moves closer to business and financial interests (not that the Democrats were never influenced by business interests), embracing “welfare reform” and banking degregulation, etc. Now, these issues aren’t always tied to labor directly, but there is a ripple effect.

            Perhaps this shift is overstated – I’m not sure it is, but I’d be willing to be convinced otherwise. It’s possible I’m confusing cause and effect, i.e., the Democratic response to labor is a function of labor’s weakening position generally, independent of what Democratic officeholders do. Or maybe not.

            • Hogan

              Golden-ageism is pitching it a bit strong, yes.

              I think part of the argument is whether (as Max Sawicky and Adolph Reed claim) there has been a steady rightward drift in the Democratic party over the last 40-50 years. Arguably there was such a thing in the ’80s and ’90s as the party tried to figure out how to cope with the Reagan phenomenon, but the effort to extend that trendline right up to now tends to involve a whole lot of cherrypicking both past and present. The line between the classes has always run through, not around, the Democratic party, and the balance of forces between the classes has a lot to do with the balance of forces in the party.

            • rea

              a perceptible shift beginning in the 1970s or so in which the Democratic does move away from labor and moves closer to business and financial interests

              A big part of that was labor moving away from the Democrats over social issues, environmentalism, and Vietnam

              • Hogan

                Not a big part, and it’s overgeneralizing to say that “labor” did that. Some elements of labor did that.

      • witlesschum

        Huh, I guess I just had the general impression that the Dems were much more friendly with organized labor in the past, but those are some examples of when it wasn’t.

        We’re good on education, though, right?

        • Hogan

          Kind of a big question. I assume you mean K-12? There wasn’t much of a federal presence there before NCLB, just some supplemental programs like Title I and school lunches, which Democrats consistently supported (and still do). Decisions about curriculum and evaluation were entirely state/local, and state and local Democrats vary much more widely than national Democrats (and even more so before the 1964-94 realignment).

      • Scott Lemieux

        Repeal of Taft-Hartley was one of the few Great Society proposals that Congress refused to pass

        Not only that, even the Great Society Congress never even gave serious consideration to repealing or modifying T-H. The idea that 40 or 50 years ago were some Golden Age for Democratic labor policy is utterly bizarre.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Couldn’t get 60 votes for Card Check

      Which is different than Democrats 40 years ago how?

      • witlesschum

        Well, I think the real question is what was the labor movement’s main political priority 40 years ago and were the Dems responsive to that, compared to today? I’ve demonstrated I don’t know enough about it to answer that question, but I think it’s the right question.

        • Hogan

          Here’s some background on the labor law reform bill that couldn’t get through a Democratic Congress in 1978.

          • Joseph Slater

            Fun typo at the beginning referring to the “1974 Taft Hartley Act” (as opposed to 1947).

            • Hogan

              In 1978, everything was Nixon’s fault.

        • Scott Lemieux

          The labor movement’s main priority in the 60s and 70s was also repealing or at least attacking Taft-Hartley. What Democratic Congresses did about this was nothing.

  • Latverian Diplomat

    First past the post elections make viable third parties very problematic, for reasons that are well understood. But this simple fact never gets the prominence in these discussions that it should.

    Jungle primaries make this problem worse, by undermining the party primary system, where real change could begin.

    • Murc

      Curiously, this only seems to really apply in the American context. The Westminster systems that use first-past-the-post have had multiple political parties for ages and it seems to work out okay.

      It turns out that directly electing your executive makes a really big difference.

      • Gregor Sansa

        The US is certainly an outlier in terms of two-party domination. But it’s still true that plurality always strongly advantages the two biggest parties in a given race, though in parliamentary countries that is somewhat masked by regional differences and party coalitions.

      • Curiously, this only seems to really apply in the American context. The Westminster systems that use first-past-the-post have had multiple political parties for ages and it seems to work out okay.

        Well sort of? I mean, UKIP is polling at 14% or so and probably won’t get more than a couple of seats due to their voters spread across constituencies. Labor would get more Scottish seats under a proportional allocation (i.e., they might be shut out altogether but there is a significant Scottish Labor voter pool).

        I think the key is that there is some mitigation but it’s still a problem.

        • Murc

          Well, note when I say “work out okay” I mean “their multiple parties all seem to survive as going concerns rather than national jokes.” Despite Nick Clegg’s efforts, the Liberal Party isn’t going anywhere anytime soon I don’t think. Nor are the Canadian Liberals or the NDP.

          • But…I mean, the US communist party survived for decades as a going concern with ballot access. How is this a meaningful measure?

            I mean, there are 5 US parties with “an independent state organization… in a majority of the states”.

            • Craigo

              I think the “national joke” condition comes into play now. Murc framed it as either-or, but you can definitely be both.

              • It would help to have some criteria specified in advance.

                Look, it’s not hard to argue that the Green’s and Nader played a similar role as the LibDems did, only without the libdem coalition there’d have been a minority Conservative government (they reinforced the plurality rather than counter the majority).

                The Reform party loomed large with Perot, and Anderson wasn’t trivial. They didn’t swing elections but they definitely had effects (esp. Perot). It didn’t translate into powersharing but most of the time in the UK it doesn’t either!

            • Murc

              But…I mean, the US communist party survived for decades as a going concern with ballot access

              And they elected a lot of members of Congress, did they? The multiple parties of the UK, Canada, and Australia all maintain strong presences within their legislative chambers.

              • Ok, but then the question is “what’s strong” and “so”?

                SNP and Lib Dems only recently have had any real ability to influence government. In this context, being a separate political party and being a wing of a party isn’t so very clear (though libdem going into coalition with the conservatives is an interesting counter).

                • Murc

                  Ok, but then the question is “what’s strong” and “so”?

                  Well, the “so” would be that they’ve managed to survive as going electoral concerns, taken seriously, with a continuing legislative presence, in a plurality voting system? And that this is basically impossible for third (fourth/fifth/etc) parties in the US? And that perhaps what differences there are between our systems and the Westminster systems that make a thing possible in one and not the other are worth thinking about and exploring?

                • Well, the “so” would be that they’ve managed to survive as going electoral concerns, taken seriously, with a continuing legislative presence, in a plurality voting system?

                  But I don’t understand why having a continuing legislative presence is interesting in a Westminster system. Having a seat in Parliament isn’t the same as having a senator. It’s closer to having a minority seat in the House.

                  “Taken seriously” seems to be doing a lot of work here.

                  Is there a *functional* difference between (most) third parties in the UK and most third parties in the US?

                  Again, I’m not saying that Westiminster systems don’t mitigate the problem, but they don’t remotely eliminate them.

                • Murc

                  Is there a *functional* difference between (most) third parties in the UK and most third parties in the US?

                  … yes! They win elections.

                  That’s non-trivial.

                • … yes! They win elections.

                  That’s non-trivial.

                  How so?

                  I mean, in terms of power or policy?

                  If the Greens won DC’s shadow reps year in and year out…what would that show?

                  (Seriously, I don’t see a meaningful use of “win elections” that doesn’t include some level of “exercising power”.)

                • Murc

                  How so?

                  I mean, in terms of power or policy?

                  In those terms? Not a lot.

                  In terms of politics? If your political party can consistently elect and maintain a non-trivial number of legislative members and be taken seriously as a force at the national level, that legitimates your agenda and also serves as dispositive proof there’s a very real appetite for said agenda. That’s important, isn’t it?

                  If the Greens won DC’s shadow reps year in and year out…what would that show?

                  A better analogy would be if the Greens won twenty or thirty seats in Congress year out. And that would show that the Greens had enough voters out there that their agenda was worth taking seriously.

                  (Seriously, I don’t see a meaningful use of “win elections” that doesn’t include some level of “exercising power”.)

                  … by this logic, the UK Liberal Party winning elections for the thirty years in which they didn’t control the swing votes in Parliament was utterly meaningless.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  That’s important, isn’t it?

                  Yes — had the UK left not split its votes, for example, I can imagine David Cameron enacting a bunch of nutty right-of-Hoover austerity policies.

                  And that would show that the Greens had enough voters out there that their agenda was worth taking seriously.

                  I think that replacing the 20 or 30 leftmost Democrats and replacing them with Greens would show absolutely nothing while also possibly making it harder to assemble coalitions.

                • Murc

                  Yes — had the UK left not split its votes, for example, I can imagine David Cameron enacting a bunch of nutty right-of-Hoover austerity policies.

                  Yes, exactly. That is an important consequence of a political environment in which it is possible for third parties to survive and even thrive (the UK, Canada) and one in which it is not possible (here.)

                  I think that replacing the 20 or 30 leftmost Democrats and replacing them with Greens would show absolutely nothing while also possibly making it harder to assemble coalitions.

                  Er… wha?

                  How can an event “show absolutely nothing” but also make it harder to assemble coalitions? In a hypothetical environment in which the Greens are electing that many representatives, that means that we are operating in a political environment in which coalitions are harder to assemble. That… would be an important fact to be aware of, yes?

                • Scott Lemieux

                  How can an event “show absolutely nothing” but also make it harder to assemble coalitions?

                  Well, I assume that by “show something” you mean something like “show the strength of the left.” I think that taking the 20 or 30 leftmost members of Congress and putting them under the Green label wouldn’t actually show this, and there’s a major bad side effect besides.

                • How so?

                  I mean, in terms of power or policy?

                  In those terms? Not a lot.

                  Er…ok.

                  In terms of politics? If your political party can consistently elect and maintain a non-trivial number of legislative members

                  What makes them non-trivial?

                  I’m asking that seriously. In the UK, seats only matter if you can hope to assemble a government (or seriously influence one).

                  and be taken seriously as a force at the national level,

                  Again, I need more details about this. UKIP has some sort of influence, but is also a joke and almost certainly will never form a government.

                  that legitimates your agenda and also serves as dispositive proof there’s a very real appetite for said agenda. That’s important, isn’t it?

                  I need evidence that it legitimizes one’s agenda and does so more than say the “tea party” got their agenda legitimised. If it’s all just surface stuff (faction of party vs. party) I’m not sure what it matters.

                  And “real appetite for agenda” seems to mean nothing if it doesn’t get power or influence direction.

                  If the Greens won DC’s shadow reps year in and year out…what would that show?

                  A better analogy would be if the Greens won twenty or thirty seats in Congress year out. And that would show that the Greens had enough voters out there that their agenda was worth taking seriously.

                  I see no difference in the two, but ok! How is this better that the Black Congressional Caucus or other progressive subgroups? How does being a party as opposed to a faction help?

                  I mean, I CAN see a difference: they could vote for Republican control. That would suck.

                  (Seriously, I don’t see a meaningful use of “win elections” that doesn’t include some level of “exercising power”.)

                  … by this logic, the UK Liberal Party winning elections for the thirty years in which they didn’t control the swing votes in Parliament was utterly meaningless.

                  And…am I supposed to have trouble with this? Could you articulate the issue?

                  I agree that there are more third parties in the UK. I also agree that they have a bit more influence. But absence spoiler/coalition roles, they don’t alter the basic reality of a duopoly.

                  For example, Labor and conservatives each have about 34% of the vote (at the moment). One of them will have far more than 34% of the power in the next government.

                • Ronan

                  deleted: as havent read conversation so possibly irrelevant

                • Lee Rudolph

                  deleted: as havent read conversation so possibly irrelevant

                  Are you trying to undermine the entire basis on which the internet operates???

                • Murc

                  Well, I assume that by “show something” you mean something like “show the strength of the left.”

                  Oh!

                  Okay, you know what, I think Bijan/you and myself might have been talking past each other.

                  My initial point way way back at the start of this sub-thread was that the Westminster countries seem to maintain a number of active, non-jokey, taken-seriously third/fourth/fifth parties in a plurality voting system, whereas in our particular plurality voting system, such a thing is unthinkable. In that context, “works okay” was meant to convey “is stable;” that is, the Liberal Party of the UK and the Liberal Party of Canada/the NDP are political fixtures that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

                  And that these differences in outcome are worth noting and studying.

                • Oh!

                  Okay, you know what, I think Bijan/you and myself might have been talking past each other.

                  Wouldn’t be my first error :)

                  My initial point way way back at the start of this sub-thread was that the Westminster countries seem to maintain a number of active, non-jokey, taken-seriously third/fourth/fifth parties in a plurality voting system, whereas in our particular plurality voting system, such a thing is unthinkable. In that context, “works okay” was meant to convey “is stable;” that is, the Liberal Party of the UK and the Liberal Party of Canada/the NDP are political fixtures that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

                  Well, this is picayune, but the Liberal Party of the UK is, in fact, no more (but merged to form the Liberal Democracts).

                  And that these differences in outcome are worth noting and studying.

                  I think we still disagree on what the differences are, fwiw. I mean, I’m really just not sure what sense to make of “non-jokey” and “taken seriously”. The reform party was taken seriously. The Greens were taken seriously. They both persist in some form over a lengthy period. They all mostly have power as potential spoilers. They all have disproportionately low power (or even just seats) compared to their votes. Indeed, it’s arguably worse in the UK.

                  So, I still think that our disagreement is founded that I don’t really understand what the differences are you want to note, or rather, their significance. I agree there are differences, but I’m not convinced that they aren’t primarily nominal. (I.e., you trade being marginalised inside a party to being marginalised as a party.)

      • Latverian Diplomat

        The logic still plays out within constituencies though, so there are very few where they are more than two viable contenders. And typically, one of two major parties will be one of those, if not both.

        As a result, UK, dominated by two parties, India, dominated by two parties, Bangladesh, dominated by two parties.

        It’s true that Canada is kind of a mess, that’s due to regional ethnic differences (e.g., Quebec) and which is also why India and Bangladesh can sustain third parties that win a small number of seats.

        It’s also true that a nationwide campaign for President drives Americans into at least a loose affiliation with the two major parties. I think the expense of campaigning in the US, and the terrible ways we have for financing campaigns is also a factor.

      • Craigo

        That’s largely because of the small size of Westminster constituencies compared to Congressional districts – the British House of Commons has over a hundred more seats than the House of Representatives, despite being elected from a much smaller population. Generally the smaller the electorate, the better the chance a small party can win.

      • rea

        directly electing your executive makes a really big difference.

        We don’t actually directly elect the executive, which is how we got the 2000 result.

        • Craigo

          I think his point still stands, though. Our system is far closer in practice to direct election than it is to, say, French Third Republic elections where the President was chosen is by the legislature and the electorate did not directly participate at all.

          • rea

            Rather than having our president chosen by Congress, we have her or him chosen by a special legislative body chosen by the states. Tradition is, these electors are selected by popular vote, but that’s not required by the Constitution. The number of votes each state gets are only loosely related to population size.

      • elm

        There’s a lot of political science work on this. Ken Kollman and Pradeep Chhibber had an article about 15 years ago now, I think where they showed that you still see two-party voting at the district level with first-past-the-post even when the national system has more than two parties. The question is whether the same two-party system exists throughout the whole country, which might not happen if there are strong regional parties (Bloc Quebecois; Scottish Nationalists; etc.)

        Gary Cox has also shown that when you have a seperately elected executive chosen by plurality vote, this tends to force the parties to organize nationally and lead to a two-party system since the executive election will only have two viable candidates and there’s incentives for the legislative and executive candidates to align.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Thank you. You beat me to it, but I say basically the same thing just below.

  • Gregor Sansa

    I really can’t understand how anyone can have these discussions without putting voting reform front and center. Yes, in a spoiler system like plurality, third parties are mostly downside. But why take plurality as immutable? Changing voting systems is not impossible; it’s happened before and it will happen again. As just one example: 90-100 years ago, over a dozen US cities switched to Bucklin voting variants, though party machines eventually managed to roll that reform back in all of them.

    Obviously, I realize that most people aren’t as up on the ins and outs of voting systems as I am. So, for instance, I understand if people see that IRV doesn’t really work as advertised, and conclude that the whole idea of voting reform is a dead end, without realizing that there are ideas (like approval voting) which avoid IRV’s flaws. But even then, if the whole discussion is about whether third parties are a dead end, I think that voting reform would deserve at least a mention.

    • I think the point is always the same: Voting reform in the US is essentially impossible. It certainly won’t happen by the next election.

      And, really, it’s up to advocates of third parties to make the right case that voting reform is the starting place.

      I would go so far as to say that we need to be especially careful in the US context. Republicans control a lot of states and there are ways to dork voting reform to make things even worse than they are (see majority minority districting). We need the politics as well as the theory here. You have the theory, but I don’t see the politics.

      (Look at the libdems and UK voting reform.)

      • Latverian Diplomat

        I think it’s worse than that. Americans, going back to the founding fathers, view political parties with suspicion and even contempt.

        That’s why the US has so many “independent” voters who reliably favor one party over the other.

        That makes wrongheaded reforms like “nonpartisan” elections of jungle primaries extremely popular, even though these reforms sweep the problems with the two party system under the rug instead of dealing with them.

        • Davis X. Machina

          I think it’s worse than that. Americans, going back to the founding fathers, view political parties with suspicion and even contempt.

          We live with that here in Maine. We’ve got a non-trivial portion of the electorate who vote, but who ‘don’t believe in parties’. This is considered the realistic, hard-nosed, compromise position.

          Then there’s the faction who ‘don’t believe in politics’, and still vote religiously.

          Generally, working together they can deliver statewide office.
          Cf. Landslide LePage.
          Or Senator-but-not-a-politician Angus King.

          • Murc

            Yeah, I have a friend who lives up in Millinocket. Sensible guy in most respects. Has a pretty sensible take on things. Hates LePage and King.

            Refuses to engage with politics on a party level. The compromises involved really rub him the wrong way, so he doesn’t bother.

      • L2P

        And also, those advocating for third parties need to show how they do TWO things, not just one: (1) get voting reform to happen, and (2) how support for their third party then does something that is better than the status quo in that system.

        I’ve yet to see any advocate of a third party do either. It’s always, ALWAYS, if only the Green Party (or whatever) had more support, xxxx would happen. And no plan for getting the Green Party more support or getting more support for what the Green Party wants, either under the current system or some reform system.

        It’s also ass-backwards thinking, that political reform starts at the top. It doesn’t. Third parties form because of massive support for something current parties don’t do, and then politics follow. Third party advocates want to do the opposite, something that has never worked.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Right. A PR system would mean more Green representation in Congress, but whether it would produce better legislative outcomes is a different question. I think it would actually be a net negative; having to assemble ad hoc party coalitions would effectively act as another veto point. I don’t think Nelson, Bayh et al would have voted for the ACA if they were Lieberman for Connecticuts as opposed to Democrats.

          • that kid in the corner

            The extra veto point bit is a good point, but wouldn’t a PR system of any stripe mean more wide-ranging changes you haven’t accounted for?
            Depending on the system chosen, we might not be talking about safe districts or swing states anymore. That would have some big effects on turnout, campaigning, candidate selection, etc.
            Maybe I’m naive, but I really do believe – given the electorate we have right now – that a more small-d democratic, less local method of electing presidents and legislators would tend to produce more progressive outcomes.

            • Scott Lemieux

              It’s possible. I’m skeptical, but it’s possible.

              • that kid in the corner

                Hey, that’s something!
                Like I said, the extra-veto-points bit was a good point. Most of your (Lemieux’s) dismissals of voting reform proposals have been based on their implausibility, with which I can’t argue (in the near term). If you have arguments in favor of the status quo, or against reform proposals, on the merits, I’d love to hear them. (Or just put up links if I’ve missed em.)

      • EliHawk

        The Lib Dems are a great example. Third Parties love voting reform because it would grant them more power, and the dominant parties oppose them for the same reason. But the voting public might like it but doesn’t really care one way or the other, and has bigger concerns (paycheck, social issues, war and peace, etc.). So the Lib Dems sold out their positions on those concerns in the eyes of the public in exchange for nebulous voting reforms that didn’t even end up passing in the first place, and are currently headed to a political shellacking.

    • djw

      I really can’t understand how anyone can have these discussions without putting voting reform front and center.

      With all due respect, yes you can. We table all manner of considerations on viability grounds all the time. This isn’t appreciably different than “I don’t understand how we can keep having this discussion about the relative merits of Obamacare without putting single payer front and center.” That voting reform might be plausible at the local levels in the medium term is a perfectly valid point, but Scott’s post is obviously talking about national politics.

      • that kid in the corner

        I like the analogy between voting reform and single-payer. But while “front and center” may be an unrealistic thing to expect, in both cases I’d say there’s benefit from having someone bang the drum when these topics come up. Having a presently unattainable, but long-term desirable, goal in mind doesn’t hurt things, unless you’re also making arguments about why the perfect should be the enemy of the good.
        And Gregor’s a bit of a voice in the wilderness on voting reform in most comments here, while single-payer gets a lot of lip service when people are discussing health care.

        • I love Gregor’s work, but I think at this point that either talking about particular interesting voting reforms or about the politics that might make sensible reform popular would be more effective than repeatedly banging the drum by complaining people don’t talk about it.

          At least for me.

          • that kid in the corner

            I think GS does a lot of the stuff you’re asking for, but I have to admit I haven’t run a statistical analysis of their comments. ;)

            • Funny!

              It’s possible though I do look for them. I might be biased by the ones that make me a bit sad.

        • djw

          Right–I appreciate (and learn from!) his dogged insistence on talking about it, it’s worth doing on a variety of grounds. My objection here is merely to his formulation of the role it *must* play in any assessment of political strategy at the national level.

  • Atrios

    We’ve seen how “third party” (not quite right, but close enough) support can grow in greece, spain, and in a slightly different context, the UK. Parliamentary systems make it more possible, generally, but nonetheless in those places those got/are getting support because…they found a way to get support.

    • Craigo

      You’re really, really understating the effect of structural factors. In Greece if you get 10% of the votes you get 10% of the seats, more or less.

      Manwhile UKIP is likely win the third most votes in this election, which in terms of seats will place it behind Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems, SNP, and maybe the DUP. But hey, they’ll still have the Greens to look down at.

  • NewishLawyer

    Some thoughts on these never-ending debates:

    1. The left is much more divided than the GOP currently. Hardcore social conservatives make up much more of the GOP base than the left does for the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has everyone from Jim Webb/Joe Manchlin types (a dying breed in the party), Old-school welfare state liberals (Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Bill DeBlasio) to technocratic neo-liberals who are too the left socially but prefer nudgeocracy to get people to make the right decisions and seem to think humans are meant for programming via economics like we are computers. Matt Y often gets under my skin with his firm nudgeocracy but he is just as partisan a Democrat as I am. At least for now.

    2. We can never seemingly agree on what counts as liberal and what counts as left. By the standards of many Americans, I am pretty far on the left. I still know people who would consider me a squishy liberal and not left enough. I’ve been told that I am basically a radical communist in disguise and also been given very condescending “Ugh you are the reasons liberals suck” from people who call themselves Left but not liberal. There was a recent thread here where people called Michelle Goldberg a “mainstream liberal”. Most places and people would have her pretty far to the left. I remember overhearing a Pacifica Radio show where they said that the Nation was “too conservative”. If you think the Nation is too conservative, well I don’t know where to place you on an ideological spectrum.

    3. The Left has never really trusted the Democratic Party for a variety of reasons. The totalitarian and theocratic far Right decided that it was perfectly acceptable to join with the Republicans.

    4. The Left seems to have more multi-issue voters than the GOP and the Right so our voting calculus is more complicated which makes “don’t be less evil” a tricky concept. Is it better to vote for the anti-Drug War and anti-NSA candidate who also opposes the ACA or is it better to vote for the person who believes in a robust welfare state but is also never going to question the Intelligence community?

    • TribalistMeathead

      Party unity is also much easier when your base is primarily motivated by fear.

      • LeeEsq

        Saying that the Republican base is motivated by fear and the Democratic base is not does not lead to useful analysis. One can argue that the Democratic base is motivateed equally by fear but it manifests itself differently. The Democratic base has the fear of losing access to healthcare, social security, pro-choice policies, etc. This fear could be more rational than the Republican fears but it is still fear.

    • Murc

      If you think the Nation is too conservative, well I don’t know where to place you on an ideological spectrum.

      … to the left of the Nation?

      If someone had said “the Nation is conservative” they’d be clearly insane, but saying “the Nation is too conservative” is merely an expression that their politics are too far to the right for your liking.

      • witlesschum

        That’s what I thought. (And I thought of how you could classify The Nation’s Russia stuff on a right/left axis. Your eyes just crossed, didn’t they?)

        I also don’t think that people’s difficulty fitting themselves into liberal versus left and don’t forget progressive is particularly unique or important. I mostly can figure out who’s more and less interested in changes to status quo than I am, but I’m also not sure that’s a big deal.

      • LeeEsq

        To a certain extent your correct but I think recent events show that knowing where you stand on the actual spectrum actually helps in politics. Otherwise you suffer from the sincere Pauline Kael problem. Indiana Republicans certainly seem to have really misguessed where most Americans stand on LGBT rights and are suffering from it. Even if you personally think the Nation is too conservative for your tastes, you should be self-aware that it is really far left by the standards of most Americans.

    • xq

      If you are closer to the left the divisions on the left become more obvious to you. All four of your points have strong analogues on the right, and really, with any large and long-lasting ideological group in history.

  • Andrew

    “Mondale and Dukakis took up bankrupt deficit reduction mania”

    There is nothing wrong with deficit reduction mania when you’re not in a recession or depression. Unfortunately, that’s when it usually pops up its head.

    • Rob in CT

      There’s something wrong if it’s “mania” no matter the timing.

      The relevant figure, I think, is debt-to-gdp ratio. There’s no particularly tipping point, but it’s best if that figure generally declines when you’re not in a recession or its immediate aftermath. That can be accomplished without running surplusses. IIRC, Debt-to-GDP declined steadily from the end of WWII until Reagan’s 1st term.

  • politicalfootball

    The weird thing about max’s piece is that after making a show of disagreeing with Tomasky, he essentially endorses Tomasky at the end:

    Is there anything in max’s conclusion that Tomasky would disagree with?

    The best argument for MT’s status quo participation is the lack of manifest alternatives. You can’t beat something with nothing, and nothing is on offer at the moment. A national election tends to consume all available political oxygen, but that should not stop grassroots action and may not preclude some real upsurges. We have witnessed local action around homicidal police practices, low pay, and climate change. The finger-wagging about the presidential election tends to collapse politics to a narrow, us-or-them question.

    There are all sorts of social time bombs that are ticking away. I’d say the political focus belongs on them. Electoral action may follow. In the meantime, I’m no political genius. I’ll have to vote for Hillary, like everyone else. I just choose not to revel in the ugly, doomed necessity of it.

    How is this different from what Tomasky is saying? Is Tomasky really “reveling”?

    • Lefty68

      There seems to be some sort of messianic expectation among advocates of third-party voting (and especially of abstention). The thinking seems to be that if a candidate is not perfect, or at least doesn’t clear a certain threshold, that candidate doesn’t deserve a vote even if he or she is better than the other candidate. It’s completely divorced from reality and is very annoying. Hey Max: no one is asking you to “revel” in anything. Just vote for Hillary so Jeb Bush doesn’t become president.

      • politicalfootball

        Yeah, it’s hard to escape the notion that there’s nothing behind this beyond a desire to express moral superiority. Max spends the whole post posturing, only to comes out on the same side as Tomasky.

        Max again:

        Sometimes the case for alternatives is stigmatized as a vain quest for purity. The implication is that there are no differences of principle, but that implication is not defended. It is merely asserted.

        Everybody understands that the vain quest for purity is a principle; some folks just disagree with it. Meanwhile, support for democracy is also a principle, but max refuses to give the small-d democrats any credit for trying to elect a government in a coalition with a majority of their fellow-citizens.

      • cleek

        messianic expectation

        there’s a similar delusion at work among people who think the President has far greater powers than the office provides. in their minds, the President can do all kinds of crazy things and Congress is basically irrelevant. which is part of why people don’t turn out for mid-term elections – why waste time on that silly Congress stuff?

        and it’s part of why people turn on Presidents so quickly. they want a benevolent dictator who will just get shit done like Kevin Klein’s Dave, not someone who has to work with the 535 idiots in Congress.

  • Pingback: The case for being unreasonable |()

  • maxbsawicky

    Hi folks. I can’t say I’ve read all the threads, and I’m too old and tired to argue with 300 people for too long, but here’s my response to Scott:

    http://maxspeak.net/the-case-for-being-unreasonable/

    cheers.

    • politicalfootball

      I honestly don’t understand any important difference between what you are saying and what Tomasky/Lemieux are saying. And I can’t find any significant difference between what the three of you think and what I think.

      Are you saying that actually voting for the lesser evil is okay, as long as you don’t admit that’s what you’re doing? Or that Tomasky/Lemieux are guilty of inappropriate enthusiasm for Democrats? I can’t work it out.

      • maxbsawicky

        Then I have failed!

    • Hogan

      If by “I’m too old and tired” you mean “I have better uses for my time,” you can say so. We’re not really a polite bunch, and it’s almost certainly true.

      • maxbsawicky

        No I was being honest. Ever tried arguing with everybody here? I did it once.

        I’ll get to some of the comments.

        • No I was being honest. Ever tried arguing with everybody here?

          Sure, nearly every day. It’s fine and often quite interesting and constructive. I’ve learned a lot.

          I did it once.

          With this winning attitude, I’m surprised it didn’t work out better for you!

          Seriously, I like plenty of your stuff but this little schtick isn’t really constructive or honest (in a more general sense).

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            i’m sort of curious, because *i* don’t care to get into the kind of endless discussions that don’t seem to really change anyone’s minds, exactly what is *dishonest* about that?

            • Nothing is dishonest about having alternative preferences. What’s not honest is pretending that it’s something else (being old and tired) or pretending that people who don’t dislike the sort of discussions we have (both constructive and less constructive) haven’t experienced them.

              Perhaps I’m over reading, but it came across as belittling esp in response to Hogan’s comment. But your reading may vary.

              • maxbsawicky

                I didn’t mean to belittle anybody here. I appreciate the attention. But dealing with a huge number of threads piecemeal is pretty daunting. I’d prefer to try to write coherent mini-essays like my blog posts that address what’s relevant to my posts.

                I didn’t want to reopen the whole Nader affair. It’s been beaten to death, and it’s peripheral to my interests.

                And I really am old and tired.

                • Fair enough! Sorry to have gone there.

                  I think writing blog responses is a great way to go. No obligation to wade into the comments!

              • Hogan

                It didn’t strike me that way, for what that’s worth. But that may just be the solidarity of the old and tired.

    • Lee Rudolph

      I can’t say I’ve read all the threads, and I’m too old and tired to argue with 300 people for too long

      Yeah, that was Lars Lih’s response (delivered to me off-line) the time I tried to get him to reply to a post of Eric’s that mentioned an article of his that had been reposted by Jacobin; except that he’s not a blogger himself, nor even a blog reader —his efforts in that general direction seem to stop at subscribing to a listserv for (ex-Soviet)ologists—so he really was overwhelmed by the length of the thread and the number of interlocutors. Thank you for whatever effort you can manage to make before the waves close over your head!

      • I can believe this but then perhaps we could offer alternative formats? Blogging heads or vetted questions?

    • Murc

      For me, “more” means maintaining constant, unrelenting criticism of the Democratic Party, replete with threats to abstain, sabotage, or defect.

      Unless you actually plan to abstain, sabotage, or defect, for realsies, that means a strategy of lying pathetically in the hopes you’ll be believed.

      Bang alongside you on constant, unrelenting criticism of the Democratic Party, tho.

  • Lefty68

    Isn’t the 2000 election a test case of whether the threat of losing votes to a third party will put leftward pressure on the Dems? That disaster was the direct result of Nader’s playing the spoiler in Florida. Is there any evidence that it moved the Democrats to the left? If so, it would seem counter to the idea that the Democrats have been moving steadily to the right for 20 years.

    • TribalistMeathead

      I don’t think it moved the Democrats to the left, I think Republican Presidential candidates have drifted so far to the right that you can no longer credibly claim that the Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates have no substantive differences in their respective platforms.

      • djw

        I would add that “moving the Democrats to the left” is also a means to an end, not an end in itself. If the end is getting a fairer, more decent and just country, even if Nader’s run could be identified as a strong cause of subsequent leftward shift of Democrats, the damage of eight years of Bush governance cancels out a hell of a lot of it.

        • Lefty68

          Agreed. The idea that throwing an election to the GOP is an acceptable political technique assumes that the Democratic Party is the only one who would pay a price.

      • Brien Jackson

        But you already couldn’t claim that in 2000 if you knew fuck-all about actual American politics. This is probably the most annoying thing about Naderites (not you, per se): They still insist there was no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush!

        • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste

          Indeed. Just the other day I was chatting with a Naderite, who was complaining that no one remembers Perot splitting the vote and throwing the election to Clinton so why is everyone still so angry about 2000? I made no friends by reminding that 1992 was followed by eight years of uninterrupted peace(*) and prosperity.

          (*) except for the Balkans, where no Americans died so nobody cares. Or Iraq, where no Americans died so nobody cares. Or Sudan, where… No huge, disastrous wars where lots of Americans died, OK?

  • maxbsawicky

    OK, here’s a few responses.

    A few elaborations, others are found in my follow-up post.

    (Brett) One of my points is not to hinge everything — to narrow the focus of attention — to going against the D in the presidential elections. The less evil imprecations tend to reduce to that. There’s much more — or should be — to left politics. I voted for Nader (in MD, where it was ‘expressive’ as Russell says) and have to say his intervention didn’t end well, though there are ten other things that could have swung the election. Scott exaggerates the extent to which my post(s) are about third parties in presidential elections.

    Scott likes to compare Pelosi, Reid, and Obama to O’Neill, Byrd, and Carter. The latter is a pretty mixed bag, as someone above mentioned. I like to say Carter launched the precursor to Reaganomics (deregulation, bad welfare reform proposals). Byrd was a hero opposing balanced budget amendments. I think O’Neill would have given us a better health care deal than Obama’s (which I support). The late 70s Congress passed Humphrey-Hawkins, a pretty important statement; too bad it isn’t enforced.

    (politicalfootball) My follow-up is responsive to your first comment. The previous one addressed the ‘purity’ canard. As for moral superiority or giving small-d people any credit, I can think of no connection to what I wrote. That’s all projection on your part.

  • jeer9

    The country’s economic fortunes have swung indisputably rightward during the past 40 years to the point where we now refer to our current climate as the Second Gilded Age – while the Dem leadership (and its caucus) has become more and more progressive during the same period. (Obama manages to skillfully shepherd the PPACA through congress but is strangely unable to alleviate the foreclosure crisis for underwater homeowners, which seemingly would have required much less effort.)

    Please resolve this paradox (or tackle the Obama one) without blaming the Dem leadership, mythologizing the accomplishments of the ’70s coalition, or stating that the Right just plays the game better – when many of the issues central to reform are supported by a majority of voters.

    Bonus points for explaining why certain hackish primary candidates in blue districts receive the financial backing of the party apparatus and other more progressive types do not. (Avoid glibness and disparaging comments about Steve Israel.)

    • djw

      Drift. Reader Hacker and Pierson., tldr version from Henry Farrell here.In the American political system, a polarized political environment has a strong tendency to favor established elites.

      • jeer9

        Don’t much care for “drift” as the descriptor because it seems to remove intention from the moral equation. Are we to believe that if the political environment was less polarized (and when was that, exactly?) our fortunes might begin to “drift” to the left?

        The Iron Law of Institutions seems much more apt.

        How one goes about subverting this entrenched power, when any outside social force is perceived as potentially splitting the corrupt established lesser evil coalition and furthering the agenda of unmitigated evil, seems a circle that can’t be squared. I do enjoy the optimistic notion that reformers will somehow take over county, city, and state-wide caucuses or that the primary process, which is unduly influenced by the very powers that it allegedly desires to change, will slowly but surely alter the course of this “drift,” though when sober they seem like so many pony-hunting, hand-waving defenses of the status quo.

        I’m ready, if not excited, for Hillary (and will no doubt be thankful given whom her godawful opponent will likely be).

        • How one goes about subverting this entrenched power, when any outside social force is perceived as potentially splitting the corrupt established lesser evil coalition and furthering the agenda of unmitigated evil, seems a circle that can’t be squared.

          This bugs me too.

          I’m also bugged by how the Republicans just don’t implode. It seems like they should. But they don’t. Demographics won’t get them anytime soon. Their relentless destructiveness doesn’t seem to matter. It’s freaking bizarre.

          • tsam

            They have a compliant media that legitimizes their insane bullshit, and a rather impressive network of right wing media to keep the fear and hate machine well oiled and running at top speed. They don’t implode because nobody that isn’t one of us crazy liberal commenters on a liberal blog calls them on their bullshit.

        • djw

          Don’t much care for “drift” as the descriptor because it seems to remove intention from the moral equation.

          No, that’s the wrong impression. Blocking legal change while figuring out new ways to adapt to and exploit the policy status quo can and does not in any remove intentionality from the story.

  • cpinva

    from Max’s response:

    ” But is it better to be, say, African-American? Or a woman? I am neither, but some starkly negative trends are evident. Residential segregation by race (and by extension, in local public education) is probably as bad, though different, as it was fifty years ago. Incarceration rates are high. Denial of the voting franchise proceeds apace. Reproductive rights are increasingly under pressure in the so-called red states. The police are basically out of control, whether in day-to-day dealings with minorities or in attacking the practice of non-violent civil disobedience. We have no well-founded expectation of privacy any longer.”

    I note that he failed to mention that these are all the results of republican majorities in state legislatures, and republican gov’s. how this is supposed to reflect poorly on democrats remains somewhat of a mystery to me. if a majority of voters in a state votes for the GOP, because a majority of voters in that state are slightly bonkers, I fail to see how this is the fault of democrats. maybe for failing to nominate equally bonkers candidates? this would seem to be self-defeating to me, but what do I know, I’ve just been paying attention to this stuff for 40 years now.

    • tsam

      Jay Nixon? Democrat. World class asshole. Blago, Hillary (I represent New York in the Senate because I’m not from there and I HAVE to vote for war against Iraq because mostly Saudi guys hijacked planes and flew them into buildings. 9/11, you guys), Obama sometimes, Nelson, Landrieu…I could do this all day. Democrats have plenty of blood on their hands, whether from active fuckery or complicity or chickenshit political optics.

      Your point is taken and valid, but the opposing view is equally valid. Democrats can be serial buttholes. It’s frustrating as fuck sometimes.

    • maxbsawicky

      You’re right, red state atrocities are not the fault of Democrats. In my view the lesser-evil mantras tend to dilute criticism of Democrats’ posture in re: those developments.

      So just for those items, my scorecard for the DP is as follows:

      Voter Disenfranchisement: B+
      Incarceration: C
      Reproductive rights: A-
      Cops: C-
      Privacy: D

      We could argue about each of these. My main point is that lesser-evil apologetics should give way to continuous criticism. It doesn’t mean don’t vote for the D in a presidential election.

      • So, two thoughts:

        1) Continuous criticism can become ineffective. If you do nothing but complain (however justified) then you get tuned out.

        2) Similarly, it seems like we do need some lesser-evil apologetics as a tactic to help curb heighten the contradiction maximalists. Or rather, what else do you say to those folks?

        I’ll note that maximalists often criticise this blog for being in the tank and “never” criticising e.g., Obama and they don’t change their view when presented with copious evidence.

        • maxbsawicky

          Have to disagree on (1). Continuous complaint in my book is good, if it’s substantive and well-done. (2) I think the maximalists are numerically insignificant. More to the point is just rallying discouraged types; in that sense it’s worth urging people to vote D. (3) some people are just immune to dialog.

          In my experience, even for those who are ‘in the tank,’ criticism may not have any effect in the near term, but it sticks in there like seeds that can sprout later. People don’t like to be convinced they’re wrong, but they are less averse to realizing they’re wrong. (‘Wrong’ in this context means assuming a rosier picture of the DP than is warranted.)

          • Continuous complaint in my book is good, if it’s substantive and well-done.

            I guess we’re just arguing about what’s “well-done”. If there’s nothing positive then it’s hard to see how it’s well done. (The ACA has issues, but it’s also been an amazing advance. If you leave out the latter, why *should* I take you seriously?)

            ETA: What exactly is the value of “continuous”? I think the goal should be *effective* criticism. If that means “continuous” then great, but that’s not obvious to me. Making “continuous” the value seems hard to motivate.

  • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste

    The irony here is that the self styled Democratic Party Base over at the Daily Kos has a five hundred plus comment thread going on under a diary with the thesis, greatly condensed and broadly paraphrased, “I will never vote for the cryptoRepublican Hillary Clinton, and if that means the real Republicans get to run all three branches of the Federal Government for the next twenty years then I guess the Democrats should have listened to me when they had the chance.”

    My understanding is that the Daily Kos has had approximately zero influence on American politics since 2006, and antics like this make me hope to God that I am right.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      i could never get into the kos thing. not sure why- probably that sort of… i don’t like to say ‘posturing’ but not sure what else i could say. always sort of surprised to learn its still going

      • tsam

        Probably because it’s a fucking psych ward

        • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste

          I like the cut of your jib.

          • tsam

            It is–I’ve seen some scary stuff there–which is not to say that there isn’t a sizable group of bright people there. Our own Major Kong writes lots of diaries there–mostly centered around aviation topics. But every time I see breathless fawning over Obama, vile hate for some supposed turncoat Democrat, and long strings of diaries consisting of nothing more than concern trolling (it got really bad after Chris Kluwe penned that “lustful cockmonster” masterpiece).

  • tsam

    I call myself a liberal and bristle at being called a Democrat. Sure, the Dems take a ton of money from the same oligarchs the Repigs do. Sure, they punch a DFH every now and then to sucker in dumb assholes who like to watch a DFH get punched. Yes, they equivocate, bullshit and lie through their fucking teeth. But is it their fault that the system only works that way? This goes all the way back to the beginning of the republic–the aristocracy is still an aristocracy, they just aren’t called that anymore.

    So do we vote for a guy who was a real hero in consumer protection 50 years ago but says some blatantly misogynistic shit along with some bona fide liberal talking points? Or shoe the fuck up and vote in the primaries and local/state elections?

    I’m going with trying to drag the Demonrat party closer to me, since the infrastructure required to win national elections is there. All this 3rd party business sounds cool and all, but I find that a lot of 3rd party people are just flat out insane.

    /half alcohol half endorphin rage post. YOURE WELCOME.

    • Dennis Orphen

      A former co-worker of mine (in lovely Ferndale, Washington, you’ve probably been there) once said to me that liberals were hated by both the right and the left. True? Maybe. I don’t know. The right seems to hate a lot of people, possibly even their own selves in many cases. I’ve always called myself a Post-1968 New Leftist. It seems accurate enough to me.

      • tsam

        That’s a perceptive thought, though Ferndale is along that I5 corridor that gave our best state in the union a few places with the highest minimum wage in the nation, legalized weed for recreational use, unchallenged legal same sex marriage, and a host of other good governance policies. In other words, your friend lives in one of the most liberal places in the country. Now I’m on the opposite end of the state, where us nearly militant liberals are despised by just about everyone. That thought is intriguing. Your friend is probably right about that.

    • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste

      As I see it, the whole liberal/progressive/left terminology has become bastardised beyond the point of utility; the words mean exactly what the speaker wants them to mean, nothing more and nothing less.

      So I characterise myself as a Michael Harrington style Social Democrat, and work with the Democratic Party because they are the firewall against the Republican Id. Many things would change if I were in charge, but I’m not so I do what I can to build towards the future that I want in preference to screaming over what I can’t have.

  • DAS

    It isn’t just the right wing media, but perhaps just as importantly that “even the liberal” media has given the right wing cover to take over the GOP. For example, Club for Growth, a 501(c)4 organization, was critical in yanking the GOP to the right via their primarying moderate Republicans to electoral death. And how did NPR, et al, respond? By having Stephen Moore on guest panels talking politics. True the host did sneer when talking to Stephen Moore or repeating GOP talking points (which “proves” NPR has a “liberal bias”), but the NPR hosts had Stephen Moore on as a “serious person” and repeated GOP talking points!

    OTOH, what happened when Progressive 501(c) organizations tried to take the Democratic party further left? Did “even the liberal” NPR have the leaders of such organization on panels as “serious” political players? No. “Even the liberal” NPR (along with much of the other “mainstream” media) had a major freak-out over “extremist” 501(c) organizations ruining the tone of elections and such.

    BTW, I had planned to bring up the media role earlier in terms of the difference between the right’s ability to yank the GOP further and further right via primary challenges and the left’s inability to do same with the Democrats, but was having login issues (I forgot my username)

It is main inner container footer text