Friday, June 22, 2007

Nader the Narcissist: Unsafe in any Election

Please note: This post has also been published at TPMCafe, and has received 25 comments as of July 3, 2007. I hope you are going to join the discussion at TPMCafe or continue it here.

The first half of this title is inspired by Tood Gitlin's criticism of Nader running as an independent in the 2004 election: From Tragedy to Farce, concluding that his narcissism knows no limits:
So, when all is said and done, leave aside Nader's wishful thinking -- his hallucination of ideologically aroused masses, his prayer that the Electoral College system might vanish. What Nader's decision amounts to is not logic but an exercise in monomania by a man who once accomplished great things and now believes that whatever he claims to accomplish is great by virtue of the fact that he claims it. Quixotic Nader, whose first run was tragedy, now tries farce. It's not funny.
This conclusion is as true today as it was three years ago. In fact, it might even be more true and potentially more tragic, and even less funny, because apparently he is seriously thinking about running again in 2008!

In 2000, Nader arguably helped Bush defeat Gore. As a reminder, Gore lost to Bush in Florida by only 537 votes, whereas Nader received 97,448. Most analysts agree that many of those who voted for Nader would otherwise have voted for Gore had Nader not run, at a minimum 538. In 2004, his role was insignificant. What will his impact be in 2008, if he decides to run again?

He has started calling Hillary Clinton a "coward," and, in his recent article, Hillary's Hypocrisy, criticizes what he calls her "twofer strategy:
So she travels around the country with her twofer strategy - pandering to powerful audiences and flattering gatherings of Democratic voters. She has watched Bill’s lack of political fortitude win elections in this two-party, elected dictatorship against the hapless Republicans. Why should she be any different?

If she wins the primary and the November elections the country will get another kind of twofer in the White House. Here they’ll go again.

In an interview with, Nader Ponders Run, Calls Clinton "Coward," he gives all the familiar reasons for running yet again, essentially revolving around the necessity to offer a real alternative to what he sees as the two party duopoly and the corporate interests that dominate the political system.

Nader believes that the Democrats are likely to win the presidency and maintain their majority in Congress. And yet, he still wants to run.
What third parties can do is bring young people in, set standards on how to run a presidential election and keep the progressive agenda in front of the people. And maybe tweak a candidate here and there in the major parties.
For a persuasive explanation of how futile if not counterproductive third parties tend to be in a two-party system and an electoral system based on plurality, and a devastating critique of Nader's justification of his 2000 campaign, see Bill Domhoff's Why Third Parties Don't Work (March 2005). From a progressive point of view, what does this mean for the future strategy of the Green Party? Indeed, a very strong argument can be made that running as a third party candidate in the US tends to be counterproductive.

For the most part, Nader's attempts were pretty much irrelevant; but in 2000 they were fatal. Beyond spoiling the election of Gore, the deeper issue seems to be that Nader is not sufficiently concerned with the effects that a conservative presidency has on precisely those less privileged people that he claims to care about so much. For he must have known how close the election was going to be, both in 2000 and 2004; and likely also in 2008. And how credible is his emphasis on how indispensable third parties are in the US while running as a an independent candidate in 2004, and not as a candidate of the Green Party, as he did in 2000?

Most importantly, how much does the progressive agenda really matter to him when deciding to run? From a strategic point of view, running as a third party candidate takes away precious resources and attention from those candidates who actually do have a chance of winning and therefore can advance the progressive agenda much more effectively.

Nader is 73 now. No one denies the crucial role he has played in advancing progressive causes. But it is high time for him and all other progressive third party candidates to start behaving more responsibly in elections, if not more strategically in politics in general. Quo vadis, Nader?

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bloomberg: Perot Redux?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg changed his party status today from Republican to unaffiliated. This is widely seen as a further step towards running as an independent in 08, which would significantly alter the whole race.

Bloomberg has been a lifelong Democrat and only switched his affiliation for his first mayoral run. A billionaire and former CEO (estimated net worth: $5 billion), he could easily fund his own campaign. Pointing to his record as mayor of New York City, he frequently claims how well "nonpartisan" politics works. Just yesterday, he emphasized yet again:
"The politics of partisanship and the resulting inaction and excuses have paralyzed decision-making, primarily at the federal level, and the big issues of the day are not being addressed, leaving our future in jeopardy"
Given his moderate positions, some think he is likely to take away more votes from the Democratic candidate. A Republican strategist in New York, Greg Strimple even goes so far to predict:
"If he runs, this guarantees a Republican will be the next president of the United States. The Democrats have to be shaking in their boots."
After all, Ross Perot getting 19% of the popular vote in 1992 certainly helped Clinton defeat Bush. This time around, however, the Democrats would be more likely to suffer.

Others, such as former Democratic Party Chairman Donald Fowler, expect that he would get more Republican votes, because "Republicans are more disenchanted than Democrats."

In any case, according to independent pollster Scott Rasmussen,
"He could have a significant impact on the campaign. Nationally there's a significant segment of the electorate that would give serious consideration to Bloomberg as a candidate." (For all references, see this AP article.)

If Bloomberg entered the race, what would this mean for progressive electoral strategy?


Friday, June 01, 2007

The Peace Movement can only win with a strategy: a comment on Wittner's "How the Peace Movement Can Win"

In April 2007 Foreign Policy in Focus published an essay by Lawrence S. Wittner called How the Peace Movement Can Win. In May Foreign Policy in Focus published responses by eleven peace activists and scholars.

Lawrence Wittner and Foreign Policy In Focus have begun an important discussion about peace movement strategy and institutional structures. We really can't expect to have an effective peace politics in the US unless it is guided by a widely shared strategy and the construction of organizations/institutions capable of carrying out that strategy...especially when the opposition is so politically powerful and artful.

The peace movement is made up of many disparate tendencies and so the road to a common strategy will be very difficult. Many of the peace movement tendencies don't share common goals and objectives which is the starting point of strategic analysis: how do we get from this undesirable place to a desired place?

None the less, there is probably a significant sub-set of the peace movement that would agree that one objective should be to contend effectively in the arena of national security policy. If that is the case, nothing short of a serious long-term strategy will do. The forces in opposition to peace politics are well organized and have thousands of professionals employed to advance their cause. If this part of the peace movement proceeds without strategic coordination it will be defeated at almost every turn.

Although Peace Action may be the largest membership-based peace group in the US, it is not structured to lead a strategic challenge to the national security establishment...or to even develop a strategy. Peace Action has an organizational model suitable to running campaigns around selected issues. To the extent it has a democratic process it is limited to its active members.

Peace Action could, and probably should, play a role in developing an effective peace politics strategy. It could join with other organizations in convening a broad and diverse group of progressive leaders (activists, scholars, and even a few trusted politicians) to begin the process of strategic development with the goal of changing US foreign and military policy.

Such a strategy will probably take years to develop and will be implemented over decades; and the sooner it begins the better, especially for the victims-yet-to-be of the current policies.

Charles Knight

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