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The St. Ralph Lecture Series


As a bookend to Salon inexplicably publishing a ridiculous argument asserting that Mitt Romney is a harmless moderate who if anything is more liberal than Barack Obama, the man who made the Iraq War, massive upper-class tax cuts and Sam Alito possible is back to lecture us with arguments that make Stoller’s look rational (along with some of the same ones.) I always find Nader’s attempts to explain himself after he decided to ruin his admirable legacy by becoming a cat’s paw for the Republican Party entertaining. You might think that he would have some very sophisticated justifications that would fool you if you didn’t think about them too hard.  But in the same was that he was “the house radical of his own campaign” — denouncing followers who wanted to express dissatisfaction with the Democrats without throwing the election to Bush by encouraging vote-trades with voters in swing states — when explaining his unambiguous role in throwing the 2000 election to Bush he actually repeats the same transparently inane non-sequiturs of his most clueless defenders:

Nader points out that 250,000 Democrats in Florida also voted for George W. Bush

Well, yes, there are a lot of conservative registered Democrats who are in fact reliable Republican votes in national elections, especially in southern states in 2000. Your point being? Doesn’t this…well, we’ll return to this point in a second.

and that had Gore not lost his own state, Tennessee, he would’ve won the election.

Of course Gore lost Tennessee. This isn’t 1960. (Anybody think Romney is going to make Massachusetts competitive?) I guess you can’t expect Nader to understand this — after all, he doesn’t understand why registered Democrats in the Old Confederacy aren’t necessarily reliable Democratic votes for national elections in 2000 — but Tennessee was well on its way in transforming from a moderate southern state into Alabama with inferior NCAA football. In retrospect, Gore’s 4-point loss both reflects a clear home-cooking advantage and is sort of remarkable. Obama in 2008, doing about as well in the electoral college as it’s possible for a contemporary Democrat to do — winning North Carolina and Indiana — lost Tennessee by 15 points. The idea that there’s something unusual about Gore losing Tennessee represents remarkable ignorance about American politics.

But wait — it’s worse than that. These two non-sequiturs, in addition to making no sense on their face, completely destroy the logic of Nader’s criticisms of Gore. Remember, according to Nader and his followers Gore was no better than Bush because, although he ran the most progressive Democratic campaign since 1984, he was too much of a moderate and should have reached out to Nader’s small slice of the electorate by running further to the left, perhaps replicating the smashingly successful campaigns of Mondale and McGovern. But these two arguments imply that Gore should have tried to win by appealing to Southern Democrats and swing voters! So which is it? Nader can’t even keep his own narratives straight.

And there is the little matter of the Supreme Court, which voted 5-4 along party lines to grant Bush the win.

The other problem with the first two arguments is that even if they weren’t self-refuting they’re also beside the point. Yes, it’s true that Gore could have made Nader irrelevant by winning Tennessee, but then Nader would have made Tennessee irrelevant had he not thrown Florida and New Hampshire to Bush, forced Gore to waste resources in what otherwise would have been safe Democratic states, etc. And the same goes for the Supreme Court. Obviously Nader’s actions, while necessary to electing Bush, were not sufficient — in most elections, a third party spoiler can’t succeed in throwing an election, and things have to break just so. But the fact that Nader was necessary — there’s no Bush v. Gore without him — is enough to give him full responsibility. Nader, Katherine Harris, Jeb Bush, and Antonin Scalia were all on the same side and they all needed each other.  And of course Democrats are more likely to focus on Nader — after all, the last three were acting in ways perfectly consistent with their stated goals.

Q: People still say you cost Gore the election in 2000.

A: If they couldn’t get a landslide against a bumbling governor from Texas who could barely put a sentence together with an incumbent vice-president in an era with a balanced budget…

What can you even say to this? To think of American presidential campaigns as something like an Oxford Debating Society where the smartest and most articulate candidate should be expected to win is to enter a land of fantasia. The idea that vice-presidents get the full benefits of incumbency isn’t much better supported.

But this nonsense is, in a way, instructive. It’s worth unpacking what Nader and his apologists mean when they say that Gore was a “bad candidate.” What this means is that the media — the mainstream media, not just or primarily the conservative — spent two years in a War on Gore. Bill Clinton was cast as the Biggest Liar in Known Human History, and once his tenure in office was complete the title had to be transferred to Al Gore. And since Gore hadn’t told any real lies, Rich, Dowd, Connolly et al. had to invent them, with two puddle-deep frauds (Bradley and Bush, the latter much worse of course) cast as Bluff Honest Guys You’d Love To Have a Beer With. And these lies about Gore dovetailed with the same Gush/Bore argument that Nader was making — wasn’t the election so bo-ring, and who could see any real difference between a moderate Democrat and a guy who governed to the right of the Texas legislature?  Let’s talk about Al Gore’s extremely troubling three-button suits instead.

You would think that any progressive worth her salt would find this kind of conduct by the press highly objectionable. But not only do Nader and a subsection of his followers persist in blaming the victim, Nader crucially abetted the War On Gore as it was happening by repeating the same idiotic narratives. Nader wants to wash his hands of this like he wants to wash the blood of hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis off his hands, but people who actually still care about American politics really shouldn’t forget.

…a couple additional points.   First, I remain amazed by discussions of the 2000 election that proceed as if Gore lost New York and California rather than Tennessee and Florida.   The fact that people who act under these assumptions then turn around and castigate Gore for not doing enough to appeal to conservative southern swing voters is just icing on the cake.

Second, as to the proposition that nobody can be held responsible for anything unless the event has a monocausal outcome, I’m going to vote “no.”  By the same logic that Nader bears no responsibility for the Iraq War, Bush bears no responsibility for the Iraq War.   I blame the Supreme Court for not ruling standing armies unconstitutional!

…Warren Terra FTW in comments:

Yes, a lot of factors came together to make it possible for Nader to be a spoiler. But what’s your point? Nader is still a spoiler, and it still remains the fact that:
1) Nader and his fans still falsely maintain he wasn’t a spoiler.
2) Nader and his fans still tendentiously claim he had no intent to be a spoiler.
3) Nader and his fans still falsely claim that it wouldn’t matter if he was a spoiler, that Dubya over Gore was no price at all or was a price worth paying.
4) Nader’s entire campaign was a fraud. Far from an attempt to promote a political organization or any particular policy ideas, it was exclusively an onanistic aggrandizement of Nader himself. It has left no useful legacy, nor any party organization because it was designed to leave neither. Nader solicited donations not for the party but for himself. and did not relinquish his supporter database to the party. And anyone who can claim to name a particular policy idea associated with Nader’s campaigns is either a truly dedicated follower of these issues or is engaging in projection – and likely both.

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