Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More Ralph Nader

Eleanor Randolph asks a pretty damned good question about Ralph Nader in her New York Times Editorial Observer piece today. To wit:
He argues that his voice is crucial to combat corporate greed, Pentagon waste and unworkable health care plans. (Remind us. Which candidate is for corporate greed? Pentagon waste? Bad health care?)

Ralph Nader reminds me of an African Big Man, except that he has fortunately not been able to attain power: He honestly believes that he is the only one who can diagnose the ills of the world and that without him, the country is doomed to failure. This is a man who saw no difference between Al Gore and George Bush in 2000. How can anyone take him seriously? The answer: Hopefully no one can.


montana urban legend said...

Ah yes. But Nader made perfect sense for 2000. If the Democrats had done such a bad job of distinguishing themselves from the Republicans, when it came to what they stood for, then on what basis did they have a stronger claim to the attentions of the electorate? Simply because they didn't run Bush, but rather, because they ran an incredibly fatigued and demoralized Al Gore?

As an Independent I can say that many Democrats do not realize how little they would have moved from that same, important perception, had they not finally (are they there yet?) wisened up to the ascendence of Barack Obama, and what that means vis a vis honest and illuminating distinctions in politics. What we had up until now was the obsessively Manichean debate-framing approaches. Approaches that only benefitted the parties.

Special Agent Chet Desmond said...

"This is a man who saw no difference between Al Gore and George Bush in 2000. How can anyone take him seriously? The answer: Hopefully no one can."

Wise words.

dcat said...

Gentlemen --
It's always good to have Special Agent Chet Desmond sighting. I assume you've been on quite a deep mission of late, which explains your absence.

MUL -- I think I reject the premise of your post, which indicates that you believe that there is something to the idea that there really was no difference between Gore and Bush. And yet nothing could be further from the truth. I hardly think that Nader's .3% of the electorate in those states in which he ran validates his candidacy.

And I'd have been happy to support a Gore candidacy in 2008 had things worked out that way. I'm just not convinced that from an ideological vantage point Gore failed in 2000. Where he did fail was tactically.

I'm also not certain that this year's race will prove any less Manichean once the general election campaign gets going. That divide comes far less from the candidates than from partisan cheerleaders in the quasi-media and elsewhere.


montana urban legend said...

You misread me if you perceive that I believe there would have been no difference between Gore and Bush in 2000. I would have been fine with Gore. But Nader was precisely correct in identifying what must have gone wrong with both politics in general and the Democratic party in 2000 when he said "If Gore can't beat the bumbling Texas governor with that horrific record, what good is he? Good heavens ... this should be a slam dunk".

So as far as failing from an ideological vantage point versus a tactical vantage point goes, I will agree with you. But only insofar as I believe contests, such as elections, to be tactical matters regardless. I suppose that apart from very staunch liberals, people wedded to whatever else the Democrats stood for ideologically might not have felt let down by Gore (or more to the point, by his association with Clinton), but then again, I'm not sure what would constitute a distinction of degree between fellow ideologues. As an independent, not only do I get to have more say in helping to decide the outcome of elections, but am more likely to fall into the perceived category of "moderate", or ideologically flexible, as some might see it. So perhaps I am naturally handicapped from understanding this distinction of ideological degree, rather than of ideological difference, which I note that your assertion seems to encompass.

The race this year can become as Manichean as personally-directed Manicheanism can be. But as far as ideology and politics go, I think the Illinois senator - who saw the forest (a political continuum) for the trees (a unidimensional linear spectrum), by convincing liberals and conservatives of the lack of any ideological differences over videotaping crime interrogations, over transparency bills, and perhaps over the somehow allegedly differing degrees of egregiousness between possessing powder versus crack cocaine - might help us to recognize that more important than ideology, and more important than ideological alienation, is a recognition of the disillusionment of principles that results from contests of whatever nature that fail to discern something much more important being at stake than the personalities and parties they involve. The contests I mention would be the eight years before 2001 of party and personality versus opposing party and opposing personalities that did nothing to instill into a substantial chunk of the electorate a sense of what was so worth fighting for anymore. The political survival of the Clintons is and surely was a cause to many, but with little inspirational trickle-down appeal. But one upon which we projected proposed ideological allegiances, with all the fervor that such allegiances imply, but without much of the deep thought that traditionally prefaces decisions on what it means to stand for something on the basis of ideology. Or without much of the deep thought that traditionally prefaces deciding what it means to stand for something on the basis of principle, if you prefer.

dcat said...

MUL --
I simply do not buy the premise of the nader quotation you cite: "If Gore can't beat the bumbling Texas governor with that horrific record, what good is he? Good heavens ... this should be a slam dunk" and I'm not certain how any serious observer of American politics would buy its premise.

Say what you will about Bush -- and lord knows i have -- but the perception of him as "bumbling" seriously undervalues his abilities as a politician. I'm not talking about as one who governs, but in terms of politics qua politics.
only a fool would deny Bush's support on the right -- it's there. And Gore needed to run a perfect campsign to beat him. he did not run a perfect campaign, though he still managed to garner the second most votes in the history of presidential politics up to that point. That would seem to be a somewhat germane fact in any discussion of Gore's alleged incompetence.
The reality is that we have a split electorate. And it was perheps divided in 2000 more than at just about any time. This idea that Gore should have blown Bush out of the water is either ignorant or willfully unaware of very concrete and demonstrable political realities.
I reject that idea that being a liberal and a Democrat makes one an idealogue. Having beliefs that one believes in is not a character flaw. Would that the vaunted independents showed a little more intellectual courage rather than confusing a lack of principles with virtue. I'm tried of the people who know the least every four years becoming kingmakers because the media has told them that their lack of guiding principles is a sign of civic integrity.


montana urban legend said...

I just read your post on Obama, Race and White Men, and now understand where your disparaging remarks for a crucial constituency for the candidate we both support are coming from. Personally, I've never had a problem with Tiger Woods either. ;-)

Anyways, I've got a pretty substantive response to what you've written here, but will refrain from posting it - since I can see that it was likely something else that has angered you. I will say that half of the things you are accusing me of are not what I meant, or said, at all. And I know you didn't mean to say that principles and ideologies are synonymous concepts. At least, I'd hope you didn't mean to say that.

dcat said...

Look, man, you used a daft quotation to try to justify an argument against Al Gore. Nader's arguments about how Gore should have blown Bush out were patently stupid. They represent an utter misunderstanding of the politics of 2000. I have little patience for stupidity, especially when it comes in the self justifying form of someone whose presence on the ballot gave us George Bush, the Iraq War, irresponsible tax cuts, evasion on torture, limits on stem cell research, and the list goes on.
As for whether I ever said that "principles" and "ideologies" are the same thing, here's a hint: You know I didn't say such a thing because I didn't say such a thing. So that was a bit of a red herring. In fact, since I never said it, I have no idea why you'd bring it up.

As for my views on independents, I'm sorry, I know you value your cherished place at the political table, what with every political ad aimes squarely at you, but I'm going to stand by the gist of the assertion: The vast majority of people who run around claiming to be independents really are too hopelessly stupid to be allowed to have political opinions. There are many who do have principles, such as yourself. But I'm really tired of venerating a constituency so self-absorbed that we ought to just change their name to "baby boomers" and be done with it. Instead we sit breathlessly waiting for them to come down from the mount and dispense their wisdom in the form of picking sides. Anyone who had not made up their mind about whether to support either Bush or Gore by about September of 2000 really ought to feel lucky that we don't have tests to make sure that brain function is optimal before people step into the voting booth.


montana urban legend said...

Then in that case, I admit my ignorance in not knowing that the vast majority of independents are too hopelessly stupid... etc. regarding politics. Honestly, I would like to see some stat to that effect (and no, I'm not implying that it's incumbent on you to prove it to me). It just seems that some of the most intelligent people regarding politics that I've run across or read tend to not be all that strictly boxed into any category, or belong to one that the two-party system does its best to make practically irrelevant - like libertarians. Nor have I ever felt that every ad was aimed squarely at me personally, let alone the vast majority of other independents, but perhaps that just reflects my ignorance on not only how apparently ignorant other independents are, but what has appealed to them in the past.

I never realized you had felt so condescended to in this regard, and regret that such is the case. It's certainly not something I would have intentionally exacerbated.

And I did see an incredible difference between Bush and Gore in 2000. Your point that it never would have been easy to make Bush irrelevant in national politics is well taken, even if that relevance did involve a lot of attributes that were not of his own doing. But I think what I was getting to, and what Nader was alluding to - if there is anything in his comments that could possibly be redeeming in your eyes - was that there was something about the way the Clinton administration approached politics that helped get us to the political state that we were in. Yes, Gore wasn't all that responsible for it. Yes, the Republicans played their part. To no end. But when I contrast how Obama's approached this campaign to how the Clintons have theirs, it becomes evident. It reminds me of the 1990s. It reminds me of a guy who could make anything sound acceptably reasonable, a guy who I defended, a guy who I no longer see as the endless victim of his political adversaries that he made himself out to be then. A guy from whom Gore couldn't find a way to untether his political fate - no matter how hard he knew he HAD to, and not just because HE was the candidate, but because of who his predecessor was.

Perhaps some people, and many of them might currently be in the category we refer to as "independents", now understand the difference between Clinton defending a position and Clinton's overshadowing that position with his personalization of it. Some might see that while fuzzy ambiguities and triangulation might make for political success, there is little to defend on principle if your sense of purpose isn't clear and doesn't resonate beyond your own sense of political survival. And if being wiser regarding the implications of how all these ideas are framed - to the point where I prefer to emphasize that in the candidate more than I do the side of the political spectrum that the candidate who does that most successfully (within certain limits, of course, and not least of all with the most intellectual honesty) - puts me more comfortably into a growing group of dumbasses, then I'd have to say so be it. No offense. But then again, even Hillary said that no matter what happens, she thinks (the country) will be all right. And as a proclaimed friend of John McCain, I'm assuming she means that this rosy picture includes the possibility of him winning - even from across the side of that split electorate.

My only point was that I really didn't see Bush coming to power in 2000, and perhaps even governing the way he did, had the Clinton administration (of which Gore was unfortunately an indelible part) not preceded him. I could be incredibly wrong on this. I'm just throwing the idea out there. Some cycles of behavior require a predictable reaction to reverberate, but a more lateral change in direction to cease or allow for new ones to define the interaction.

montana urban legend said...

In case this reads better:

to the point where I prefer to emphasize that in the candidate more than I do the side of the political spectrum of the candidate who does that most successfully (within certain limits, of course, and not least of all would be limits of intellectual honesty)

dcat said...

MUL --
Perhaps you are being willfully obtuse. But when you point out libertarians as an example of thoughtful independents, I don't knbow whether to laugh or cry. Libertarians aren't independents. They are fucking Libertarians.

We all know the independeents I'm talking about. You get into conversation with them about politics, ask about affiliation, and get that smug response: Oh, I'm not partisan. I'm independent. They say it was a self-satisfied smugness and an aura of virtue. And then you scratch the surface and discover that their virtue is actually ignorance. I'll continue to say it until you acknowledge it, or maybe you won't because that's how you operate, but there are plenty of legitimate, intelligent independents. But there are a lot more who just virtue being able to say that they are independent because they are too fatuous to do the hard work to be part of a party, and it is hard work. Maybe it seems passe to be a Democrat ior a Republican, but being a democrat or a Republican means something, or more accurately means many things. I respect that more than some douchebag who still cannot figure out the difference between two candidates on the eve of an election.
That the politics of the 1990s looks hopeless from this vantage point doesn't necessarily ascribe virtue to not picking sides. (And again, Libertarianism is a side. Being a Green is a side.)


montana urban legend said...

1. Either I've never met such self-styled "independents" or, if I unwittingly have, we'd somehow never managed to get into the kind of discussion that would have led me to make the the conclusions you've made about them.

2. In a two-party system, most libertarians I know have typically decided which Republican or Democrat they either actively support or prefer to win; they're not all die-hard support the Libertarian candidate no-matter-what-types, they tend to be a bit less fatuous than Naderites. Call me crazy but I don't see that as partisan behavior, and it doesn't make me want to laugh or cry to conclude that.

3. Apparently our experiences have been different. I fail to see how having different experiences from someone else makes one "obtuse", willfully or otherwise.

4. While ignorance is not a virtue and hard work can be a virtue, it might not be so bad to wonder whether the founding fathers might have been onto something, regardless of how "ignorant" or otherwise unvirtuous the inclination they exhorted us to is apparently thought of today.

5. I'm either obtuse or I'm intelligent. I think you know me long enough to have heard an intelligent point of view, or two, from me before (or at least you said so), and I've never had a problem acknowledging yours. It's always interested me that you've often made it a point to engage or work with others (Bigtent), which suggests that you understand that differences of perspective are not necessarily differences in levels of intelligence. Nor are different experiences. Respectable differences of opinion can occur regardless of whether someone affiliates with a different political tribe, or with no party at all. And I have no trouble acknowledging and living with those kinds of differences, or with refraining from painting them with the same kind of judgmental brushstroke of comparitive intelligence that some Democrats will paint Republicans with and vice versa.

6. Again, if independents, late-deciders, etc., etc. are really all that stupid, how about something empirical? A statistic? Since our personal experiences are plainly different, then is there really something to be gained by using arguments from personal experience to call me stupid just because yours are different from mine?

dcat said...

MUL --
How's this: How's about you stop misrepresenting my arguments? I have never called you stupid. In fact I've gone out of my way to make sure not to call you stupid. You either know this but find it cute to play the beleaguered party or else actually cannot read, in which case, well, it doesn't make your case for being a genius.

As for your points:

1)Apparenttly you have not met those sorts of independents. But that might be because you are an independent yourself. I would hazard a guess that anyone who calls themselves a Republican or a Democrat has run into myriad examples of that exact person -- the holier-than-thou independent who thinks that independence is in and of itself some sort of virtue and that the rest of us are hopeless partisans. And that's ok, I guess, except if you pull that condescending shit around me you'd better smarter and more verbally acute than I am. Most people are not.

2) That Libertarians often have to choose between Dems or GOP members does not change the fact that there is a Libertarian Party in the United States. That it is not popular enough to compete in American politics is sort of their problem, not mine. It does not change the fact that they do have a party. So we agree on this point. That's progress.

3) If you use libertarians, who have a political party, as your example of people who qualify as independents, perhaps there is a different word from obtuse. But don't blame me when you use a bad example. Libertarians were a bad example. They just were. John Anderson in 1980 might have been a better example. But you did not use John Anderson. I cannot make your case for you, man. Largely because I think your case is wrong.

4)Ahh yes, the reductio ad founding fatherum. Of course by 1800 those same founding fathers had broken down into parties, so how that bolsters youtr point is beyond me. As it is, we are talking about the politics of 2008, not of 1792, so trying to claim that George washington would agree with you seems a paculiar argumentative device.

5) Once again, I think I've made the caveat enough times about earnest, intelligent independents that I cannot help but read points like this as "woe is me" whining that feigns being more injured than you actually are. If you want to feign outrage, go to the O'Reilly Factor or Limbaugh. I assume people are adults and don't pretend to have t hin skin when it is convenient for them.

6) Oh, you got me! I have no empirical evidence about the sort of people who could not decide whether they preferred George Bush or Al Gore on November 1, 2000. You see discerning genius. I see drooling fucktards who love to believe that they are discerning geniuses. You can enjoy your time with them. I'd just advise keeping them away from the cutlery lest they hurt themselves and others. because while you want to embrace their perspicacity, I maintain that an inability to differentiate between Al Gore and George W. Bush is prima facie evidence of idiocy. And these are the independents I've been talking about all along, the ones who continue to maintain that Al Gore was no different from George Bush and who believes that Gore should have pummeled bush in that election because of their perceptions of Bush's being "bumbling." You may be right. They may be geniuses. I just strongly suspect that they are not. So if you want flow charts and political science models, you aren't going to get it. But I've given you all sorts of ammo to feign that I've hurt your feelings again. So you have that going for you. Which is nice.


dcat said...

MUL --
Let me try another tack.
I suppose maybe I've been harsh toward Independents when the group that really chaps my undercarriage are the "undecideds." This may be a distinction without a difference, I don't know. But let's go under the assumption that there is a difference and that it is these jokers I've been annoyed with in this conversation.

Because I do feel that every election cycle we see these interviews with dopey man-on-the-street types who are just torn between two candidates who are not at all similar. these are the ones who get me, and they are the ones I feel that we dumb politics down for, the lowest common denominators of the American body politic.

So let's say that there are independents who legitimately are torn -- pro war, say, but also pro social programs, or antiwar business types, or not especially thrilled with either candidate but not so fatuous as to be willing to go with Ralph Nader. Ok. Fair enough, though even there I tend to be skeptical. But the worst are the "undecideds" on whom American politics increasingly tend to tilt. And no, I don't have evidence to prove that these people are dunderheads other than the ability to observe people who on the eve of an election still think the world rotates around their axis and should bend to their will, should do something to make them feel that there are no other voters in the world.

So maybe this is not fair, though more fair than some of my views on all independents. I just think we are privileging some of the least informed voters under the guise of their being contemplative undecideds.

best --