Old wounds

>> Tuesday, April 08, 2008

When I was looking for something else in the news, I stumbled across a year-old movie review by J.R. Jones of a documentary about Ralph Nader, An Unreasonable Man. I haven't seen the movie myself, I don't know if I'm going to. I admire the old Ralph Nader, the sharp-tongued activist crusading against lazy corporations maximizing their profits at the cost of the common weal; it's almost impossible to admire the man who's subsequently stepped into Nader's rumpled suits and stolen his wallet, the glassy-eyed pawn who allowed himself to be used by the Republicans in 2004 and who seemed intent on destroying the Green party out of hubris much the way Hillary Clinton appears to be willing to sacrifice the Democrats to her massive ego.

Anyway, it's a good review, and worth reading. It does a nice job of summarizing why voting for Nader was the right thing for a progressive to do in 2000, based on the knowledge that was available in 2000. You read that right: I think the few thousand of us who voted for Nader probably would have voted for Gore in 2000 if we'd known what a cluster-fuck George Bush would make out of the post-9/11 aftermath--there are probably more than a few people who voted for Bush who would have voted for Gore if only they'd possessed prescience or a working time machine. For that matter, the Al Gore who ran in 2000, the mild, moderate, snorty, tightassed, rude Gore wasn't the Al Gore we have today--you know, the laid-back, self-effacing, passionate environmentalist and opponent of the Iraq war? That guy? He's kinda cool. But in 2000, working with what we knew then? We thought we had a choice between a pair of moderately-competent assholes who'd piddle through four years of more-of-the-same, that's what we thought. (Thanks, Osama, for your help fucking that up for us. The damage your stooges did to those buildings was nothing compared to all the other dominoes that fell over from that line.)

Here's why voting for Nader was the right thing to do in 2000, even in Florida or New Hampshire, per Mr. Jones' movie review:

By the end of the movie [directors] Mantel and Skrovan manage to put any progressive voter in a bind: if you're not willing to vote based on real beliefs, why should your representatives be expected to act on them?

And then there's this, too:

Gore aimed for the political center and couldn't eke out a victory in the electoral college after eight years as vice president--how is that Nader's fault? And why are voters who turned out for Nader presumed to be Gore's property? "If you don't show them you're capable of not voting for them they don't have to listen to you," says TV commentator Lawrence O'Donnell, who spent seven years as a Democratic chief of staff on Capitol Hill. "I didn't listen or have to listen to anything on the left while I was working in the Democratic Party--because the left had nowhere to go."

Indeed, "nowhere to go" has been a central plank of the Democrats' platform for quite a long stretch of years now--not just with regard to progressives, either. The Democrats have tended to take the votes of labor, African-Americans, feminists, gays, and other groups for granted. Perhaps the Republicans could be accused of the same thing with their traditional constituencies (though I don't care nearly as much what the Republicans do, to be perfectly frank; sorry), hence some anti-McCain blowback from the religious right in the present campaign. I suppose, upon reflection, that this particular complaint might be more about the major defect of our two-party system in this country than it is about a flaw of the Democratic (or Republican) party. Because there are only two choices, you're stuck with the one that's least offensive, and then they don't actually have to listen to you and they probably won't.

Some cynics might see this as a good thing. With two middle-of-the-road parties pursuing middle-of-the-road agendas, you get the blissful stability of preserving the status quo, at least until people start burning down their neighborhoods or getting blasted twenty feet down the street with a pressure hose while marching down the street. And we Americans are so media-savvy now that our mainstream officials are unlikely to call out the riot police unless something really is on fire. It's not necessary, not when you can carefully filter who you admit to thoroughly-planned media events, such as town-hall meetings where selected guests are even thoughtfully provided with their questions at the door ("Mr. Bush, as a concerned American mother, I just wanted to ask you if you ever feel like your sheer awesomeness is in danger of overflowing out of your boyishly charming physical body and emerging as a superhero named Awesome McAwesomepants who would hunt terrorists and visit elementary schools to teach children about good dental hygiene....?") and dissenters discreetly shuffled off to "free speech zones" that look suspiciously like wire-mesh gerbil cages ("Look, they even lined the bottom of the cage with shredded Liberal Mass Media newspapers!").

And of course even those with revolutionary instincts start fearing they might be on the wrong side of the revolution if it comes--I mean, as much as I would love to see a new progressive era sweep the country, it appears far more likely that any "revolution" would be reactionary in nature: God and country, family values, don't ask too many questions. When contemplating that, yes, the status quo looks better. The reactionaries may still have an advantage under the status quo--the status quo, I think, slowly slips into conservatism as time goes on (Jim, over at Stonekettle Station, recently wrote a damn fine rant about this kind of thing). But at least the slipping status quo is a slow slip, with occasional opportunities to grab at a jutting rock or scrabbly bush before you tumble over the edge with the shuffling scree.

Hence the dilemma for the progressive. Vote "safe" and give up your voice in government or vote for your conscience and hope that it will pay off down the road. It's possible that Nader rattled the Dems' cage in 2000--in 2004 we had the glowing transience that was Howard Dean streak through the upper atmosphere of the primaries, and this year we have Barack Obama who is at least relatively liberal and (far more importantly, in my opinion) seems willing to address the electorate as if we're adults and not merely an unfortunate incidental part of the process of becoming President (I'm grown-up enough to sacrifice some of my own liberal hopes in exchange for a nominee who is obviously aware of those hopes and willing to take them seriously).

Ultimately, this is why I support Obama's candidacy over Clinton's. Because, if Clinton gets the nomination I will vote for her knowing that I'm voting for the DLC and the Bill Clinton legacy and the status quo, liberalism when it's easy and conservatism when it's convenient; I will be willing to not vote my real beliefs knowing that my representative won't act on them and that I'm only doing it because the alternative is worse. If Obama gets the nomination, I'm voting for someone who appears to share at least some of my beliefs, who I think will try to act on them and if he compromises (because I think Obama's record shows he's willing to deal with the other side), it will be compromise for the sake of advancement and not for his own aggrandizement--we'll get something for what we give up (I can accept that), hopefully at fair value, too.

Right now, at least for the primaries (and hopefully for the presidency, too), I have somewhere else to go.


Jim Wright Tuesday, April 8, 2008 at 4:18:00 PM EDT  

First, Eric, we need to implement a NSFHCD caveat, similar to the NSFW caveat. In this case NSFHCD means: Not Safe For Hot Coffee Drinking. The reason I mention this is:

"Mr. Bush, as a concerned American mother, I just wanted to ask you if you ever feel like your sheer awesomeness is in danger of overflowing out of your boyishly charming physical body and emerging as a superhero named Awesome McAwesomepants who would hunt terrorists and visit elementary schools to teach children about good dental hygiene....?"

OK? Enough said?

Second and more seriously, very well said. Frankly I'm surprised, and more than a little saddened, that in a nation of 450 million, no one not affiliated with mainstream politics has emerged as a sane, charismatic, and powerful leader - willing to overthrow party politics and lead this country towards its full potential.

While I have high hopes for Obama, for the reasons you stated, I still am very much aware of just how much he'll be beholding to his party should he make it to the oval office. This angers me, because I believe Obama has the potential to be a truly great leader, but I suspect that in the end it will be more of the same, only shinier.

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting! Because of the evils of spam, comments on posts that are more than ten days old will go into a moderation queue, but I do check the queue and your comment will (most likely) be posted if it isn't spam.

Another proud member of the UCF...

Another proud member of the UCF...
UCF logo ©2008 Michelle Klishis

...an international gang of...

...an international gang of...
смерть шпионам!

...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.

...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.
GorshOn! ©2009 Jeff Hentosz

  © Blogger template Werd by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP