July 17, 2004

Final Exam in Applied Politics 101


Explain what has changed about the world between 2000 and 2004 to reconcile both of the pieces below, assuming that they are both the thoughts of a single principled rational mind:

Barbara Ehrenreich in 2004:

All right, Ralph, I always knew we had issues: Me the Led Zeppelin fan, you the policy monk. Me the fervent feminist, you who once dismissed gay rights and abortion as "genital politics." But four years without even a phone call?

We had something going there once — you can't deny it. Remember that sultry August night at some exotic venue like the American Political Science Association's annual convention? Coming from months campaigning by rental car from one Motel 6 to another, you looked too frail to ascend to the podium. But you were brilliant — skewering the robber barons for 45 minutes with no more notes than fit on the back of an envelope.

I voted for you in, yes, Florida. I lost friends on account of you; I risked death by sporting your bumper sticker well into the reign of Bush. But you were irresistible — an Old Testament prophet wandering alone in the desert, thundering about all the ways we Americans are being sickened and scammed, deluded and defrauded, by the plutocrats who've hijacked our country.

So I will admit I was hurt when you didn't call me to discuss your plans to run again this year, although none of the other former Nader loyalists I know got a phone call either. Maybe you could guess what we'd say.

Because, Ralph, a lot of sewage has passed under the bridge since 2000. Back then, Al Gore was campaigning with the furious energy of an old-growth oak. George W. Bush looked like a dumbed-down version of Gerald Ford — a man who could be trusted to while away his presidency on the elliptical trainer.

Who could have guessed that within a year and a half, the genial Bush would morph into a figure invoked worldwide to scare unruly children? Or that a whole slew of candidates — Dean, Kucinich, Sharpton, Moseley Braun — would be preaching your vision of peace and social justice from within the Democratic Party?

You've changed too. If the first time was tragedy — and I will admit now, with hindsight, that it was — the second time is predictably farce. Maybe those years spent wandering in the wilderness — disdained by Democrats, excluded by arcane ballot access rules — have taken their toll, because there's been something grotesque about your campaign from the start, when you advised left-wing critics, in words no one knew your vocabulary included, to "relax and rejoice" in your run. This while casualties mounted in Iraq and civil liberties evaporated here.

In 2000, you could at least claim to be doing it all for the Green Party. This summer you didn't even bother to drop by its convention. You were in Portland, Ore., addressing an audience of 1,100 (you got almost 10 times as many there four years ago) that was heavily larded with conservatives eager to get you on the ballot to suck votes from John Kerry. When Howard Dean confronted you about your conservative "supporters," you lamely observed that "Republicans are human beings too."

Republicans are the least of it. You've been kissing up to the Reform Party, which ran paleo-right-winger Pat Buchanan the last time around. You've been caught dallying with the former New Alliance Party, described by Christopher Hitchens, with his customary restraint, as a "zombie cult." I loved you for your principles, not your lean hot bod, and now you've tossed them for a few more moments in the sun.

And what about that love fest with Kerry in May? You came out of your hour of face time "almost effusive" with praise, according to The Times: He's "very presidential," you said of Kerry, and unburdened by a "squeaky voice." Maybe he is all that — I certainly hope so. But somehow your star-struck response made you seem more eager to get a seat at the table than to even out the portions.

So, Ralph, sit down. Pour yourself a Diet Pepsi and rejoice in the fact that — post-Enron and post-Iraq war — millions have absorbed your message. You're entitled to a little time out now, a few weeks on the beach catching up on back issues of The Congressional Record. Meanwhile, I've thrown my mighty weight behind Dennis Kucinich, who, unnoticed by the media, is still soldiering along on the campaign trail. In the event that he fails to get the Democratic nomination, I'll have to consider my options.   

Barbara Ehrenreich in 2000:

It must be some playful new postmodernist form of politics: First you spend years ranting about the plutocracy that has supplanted American democracy and is rapidly devouring the planet. You complain about the growing numbers of Americans who can't afford healthcare or housing; you rant about the inadequacy of wages and the arrogance of the corporate overclass. then, just as large numbers of people start tuning in and even getting excited to the point of supporting the one presidential candidate who's making the exact same points you've been trying to get across all this time--you whip around and shout, "Only kidding, folks. Get out there and vote for Gore!"

Normally I'm more responsive when summoned to help save a drowning man. But none of the lefties for Gore are arguing that Gore has said or done anything recently to earn progressive support. He's going down, is all, and going down so quickly and inexplicably that no one can call him "wooden" anymore--there's a question whether he's even carbon-based. Here he is, faced with the frothiest Republican presidential hopeful since Dan Quayle, and Gore can ignite no sparks, cannot even rise above his own fundraising scandals or apparently grasp wherein the scandal lies. As recently as late June, for example, he praised an audience of African-immigrant Americans for their contributions to his campaign, promising that the money would be "helping to focus the attention of our country on issues in Nigeria or Ethiopia or Ghana or Cameroon or South Africa."

We are being summoned to save this inveterate bribe-taker because "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." That in itself is a disturbingly Orwellian proposition, easily generalized to "Don't challenge the system, you'll only make it worse." But leaving that aside, let us acknowledge that Bush is indeed scarier than Gore on several discernible issues, abortion the most prominent among them. Hence the familiar plea of the pro-Gore leftists: Keep W.'s pudgy little fingers off the Supreme Court.

Ah, the Supreme Court! Never mind that pro-choice Justice O'Connor was a Reagan appointee or that Clinton's man Breyer is one of the most economically conservative Justices around--the Supreme Court gets dragged out ever four years to squash any attempt to escape the Democratic Party. So it has been and so it will always be until we have a Court consisting entirely of pro-choice teenagers.

Abortion, which is the issue I am most frequently Gored with by the political "realists" of the left, deserves a closer look. Note first that the prominence of this issue in the Gore/Bush race above all reflects the loving concordance of the candidates on almost everything else--militarization, incarceration and the necessary immiseration of working people everywhere in the service of global capital. Note second that what has vitiated abortion rights on the ground is not so much the legal whittling away of Roe v. Wade (although quite a bit of that has gone on too, at the state level) as the relentless pressure from antichoice groups on abortion providers. And aside from reining in clinic picketers, there's not a whole hell of a lot the Supreme Court can do to fix that.

It should be recalled, too, that we didn't get legal abortion in the first place because nine men in black robes were kind enough to allow us to have it. Women fought for it by every means possible, illegal as well as legal. Surely the anti-Naderites of the left can agree that Roe v. Wade wasn't the author of women's liberation, just as Brown v. Board of Education did not create the civil rights movement. Deep social change is made by deep social movements, not by edicts.

But the left-wing Gore-ites often seem oblivious to the dynamics of real social change. They say we have to build an alternative politics--only just not yet. Wait until we replace "winner take all" elections with something more democratic, they urge. Fine, only where is the energy to reform the electoral process going to come from unless we start challenging that process with attractive third-party candidates now? Or they say wait until we have a real party--who are these Greens, anyway? But parties don't just grow by accretion. Sometimes they have to do things--grand, noble, and from a "realistic" point of view, surely foolish things--like stepping into the fray and duking it out with the bullies and their designated surrogates.

What I fear most about a Gore victory--yes, I said victory--is its almost certainly debilitating effect on progressives and their organizations. During the Clinton years, many a feminist, enviro, and labor leader was so charmed by the crumbs of "access" thrown their way and the occasional low-level progressive appointment that they bit their tongues whenever Clinton showed his true DLC colors, e.g., with welfare reform. And every time I would sputter, "Dump this creep!" someone would whisper soothingly, "But he's pro-choice (and so much more pro-labor and pro-tree than the other guy)." Is this what we're going to hear when it comes time to protest the war in Colombia or any other Gore-perpetrated horror? At the very least, the progressive Gore-ites ought to explain how they intend to avoid getting into another hostage situation should their man win.

But I can't get really mad at the Gore-ites of the left--there is such a becoming and altogether seemly diffidence about them. To my knowledge, none of them are sporting Gore buttons or bumper stickers, and I don't expect any of them to invite me to a Gore house party anytime soon. While they may firmly believe that "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," they also seem to understand that a vote for Gore is a vote for the system as it stands--and specifically for the DLC-dominated Democratic Party. Like it or not, that's how the Gore votes will be counted, and that's how they'll be spun.

Here's how generous I am: I'll tell them what they can do if they'd like to save Gore. They should stop flacking for him--stop all this carping about "spoiling" and "vote stealing"--and explain to their man what he'd have to do to start taking votes away from Nader. Like renouncing the substitution of bribery for the democratic process. Like pledging to spend the budget excess on such daily necessities as universal health insurance and childcare. Like embracing a worker-friendly approach to world trade.

I doubt that Gore could ever become Nader-like enough to steal my vote from the original, certainly not after his choice of DLC leader Lieberman as Veep. But it sure would be nice to see him try.

Nevertheless, it is good to see a return to political sanity.

Posted by DeLong at July 17, 2004 09:06 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

I'm curious to see, Brad, where you were arguing in 2000 that George W Bush would prove to be the most unprincipled, power-mad conservatie in US Presidential history. Because that is, clearly, a central theme in Ehrenreich's 2004 piece - if we knew then what we know now.... Not that she is repudiating her 2000 vote, but simply that widely-shared assumptions of the 2000 race have been proven false. And although "not a dime's worth of difference" may always have been loose rhetoric, I've rarely seen any Nader-basher actually point to contemporary evidence that he, the basher, actually argued in 2000 that Bush was a maniac not to be trusted with high office.

Furthermore, there is an explicit connection between the two pieces - in 2000, she argued that the Dem party was not putting forth her positions; in 2004, she points out - happily - that noteworthy, if not leading, Democrats are putting forth her positions. In 2000 she saw no reason to support a party that would not, in her opinion, advance her positions; in 2004 she sees a party that will advance (some of) these positions.

Did you actually read these two pieces before posting yet another infantile attack on Ehrenreich?

Posted by: JRoth on July 17, 2004 09:21 PM


Brad writes: Explain what has changed about the world between 2000 and 2004...

Four years of Bush presidency, silly.

Posted by: a on July 17, 2004 09:43 PM


Brad wrote:

"...assuming that they are both the thoughts of a single principled rational mind:"

An assumption of this magnitude is scarcely seen outside the realm of String Theory.

Posted by: mark safranski on July 17, 2004 10:28 PM


Feckless wishing, followed by whining. An idealist who doesn't understand when realism is necessary, is not to be trusted at either position. The 2004 piece smells of self-absorption and justifying. It induced headache and nausea.

Posted by: Lee A. on July 17, 2004 11:35 PM


I'll plead guilty to the same false assumptions as Ehrenreich. In a piece commenting on the election outcome, I wrote "In the absence of obvious differences between George Bush Jr and Al Gore Jr, the fact that the leadership of the world's most powerful country may turn on the distinction between 'dimpled chads' and 'pregnant chads' has been a cause for more merriment than concern."

I knew that Bush would introduce irresponsible tax cuts (though not on the scale he has), but otherwise I expected him to be a centrist.

Posted by: John on July 18, 2004 12:05 AM


I've been reading B. E. since the 60's or 70's (I admit it's hard to tell sometimes) and she hasn't learned a lot since then. Her lack of development is a testimony to the value of formal education, but not to the left wing infantilism infecting so many college campuses. The hate-America-first campaign is even sillier than the Rummy/Wolfowitz worldview and makes mature citizens despair for democracy.

Even taking into account that social and political questions are genuinely difficult, it is amazing to note Ehrenreich's lack of development and sophistication.

Posted by: Ricky on July 18, 2004 12:40 AM


As best I recall, the question I thought we faced was the conventional Republicans vs. the conventional Democrats. There wasn't much choice between them from my point of view.
It came as a complete surprise to me and a lot of other people (including a great many Republicans) that Bush would push such a radically socialist program once in office.
I don't think Bush and the present Republican establishment is loonier than the previous Republican establishment (or the Democrats), it's just the way that the Republican establishment is loony that has changed.

Posted by: walter willis on July 18, 2004 12:57 AM


... JRoth pretty much said everything I would have already.

Posted by: ArC on July 18, 2004 12:58 AM


Mr. Willis:

Please explain how you came to the conclusion that there 'wasn't much choice' between 'conventional Republicans', circa 2000, and 'conventional Democrats', circa 2000. I am especially interested in the apparent equivalence you seem to be drawing between the party lead, from 1992 to 2000, by Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay, and the party lead, from 1992 to 2000, by Bill Clinton.

As I've been saying for not quite four years now: the evidence for what Bush is and was, and what the Republican Party is and was, was all there in 2000, quite available. Ignorance of that evidence fails to persuade me.

Posted by: NBarnes on July 18, 2004 03:06 AM


Speaking of "feckless wishing" and "realism", (Lee A. on July 17, 2004 11:35 PM):

Us "realists" knew in 2000, and we know today too, that--thanks to the perversities of the Electoral College--the ONLY elections that REALLY matter are those in the FEW states that aren't owned and operated by one or the other of the two traditional parties.

Nader's thesis, you'll recall, was AND is that the "two" parties are really nothing more than two FACTIONS of ONE 'corporate' party.

But I've already covered this ground...



This is interesting--in an idealistic, political Wizard-of-Oz-like sort of way...


"How the Left Lost Its Heart"



This too...


"Harry Potter, Market Wiz"


Published: July 18, 2004



Posted by: Mike on July 18, 2004 04:01 AM


Does Ralph Nader read the NYT?

Posted by: Doug on July 18, 2004 05:01 AM



Posted by: 皇朝娱乐 on July 18, 2004 05:10 AM



Posted by: 皇朝娱乐 on July 18, 2004 05:12 AM


Regarding the remarks of Mr. Roth and Mr. Wilis, I'm with NBarnes:

As Molly Ivins pointed out so eloquently in her book "Shrub", available before the 2000 election, it was clear that George W. Bush had been a terrible, ideological and extremist governor in Texas, who was screwing Texas and his constituents in order to advance an extremist, far-right agenda. That was not difficult to see for anybody who actually looked at his record in the State of Texas.

As Molly Ivins writes in the new book "Bushwacked", If y'all had read the first one, they wouldn't have had to write the second one about the terrible job he's been doing as an extremist president, advancing an extremist, ideological, far-right agenda.

Of course, a large part of the lack of knowledge in 2000 about Bush's actual nature is the fault of the press, and it is legitimate to point out that the reporting on Bush's actual record was extremely lacking. However, I get a bit impatient about people whining that they could not possibly have known. That's not true, the information was out there for anyone to see.

And anybody who is politically active and condemning one of the parties as being the same as the other and sounds off about that in national papers has an obligation to be a bit more informed about the actual facts, in my opinion, as the average citizen. Especially for a progressive who considers herself/himself politically savy there is, again in my opinion, no excuse for not knowing about Bush's policies in Texas, which clearly forshadowed exactly what came to pass on the federal level.

Posted by: Raven on July 18, 2004 05:16 AM


Ouf!! Aren't you blaming Ehrenreich for your own failures -- four years ago and, damn it, again in 2004?

Posted by: Bean on July 18, 2004 05:32 AM


I had the Nade conversation with a good friend of mine in October 2002. I said "do you still believe there's no difference." He said, what exactly would be different? I responded, "Leaving aside the tax cuts for the rich and the budget deficit, do you think we'd be talking about invading Iraq right now if Gore were President?" That sealed it.

Posted by: pj on July 18, 2004 05:43 AM


How many Democrats in Congress voted *for* the Iraq War resolution? (I believe Prof. DeLong would have some vulnerability/lack of prescience on that point.) As a Vermonter, I found it highly amusing that Howard Dean would become the standard-bearer of the Democratic left. The whole point of the Nader challenge in 2000 was to change the parameters of political discourse, not to directly strategize an alternative exercise of power. If George Bush has inadvertently accomplished that, it was not the doing of the Democratic "mainstream". And once Bush is defeated, as looks increasingly likely, it remains to be seen whether the Democrats will be capable of generating anything truly constructive from the process of cleaning up the mess. (The Clinton precedent is dubious.) At any rate, those who would claim that the only "mature" political judgments are those that take account of some sort of pretended "totality" are effectively advocates of political stasis and the reification of the status quo, lacking any mature understanding of politics and what its stakes are.

Posted by: john c. halasz on July 18, 2004 05:59 AM


I'm not claiming ignorance as an excuse, nor that Bush's ideology was impossible to discover (although I would still dispute that it was as clearly foreshadowed as Raven or Ivins would have it; but it's worth noting that Ivins has more in common, politically, with BE than BDL, and so may have been more sensitive to W's radicalism).

What I'm claiming is that there was a huge argument on the left side of the aisle in 2000, and the Dems attacking the Naderites/Greens were _not_ arguing that Bush would be the most conservative, divisive President in US history. To pretend so is dishonest fantasy.

People like Raven and NBarnes are claiming to have won an argument they never put forward (and I apologize if either of them was really arguing this position in 2000; I don't recall having heard it a single time then, and have rarely, if ever, seen anyone point to actual evidence that he or she made it in a timely fashion; if someone had, surely they wouldn't be stingy with the I-told-you-sos). That doesn't make them smarter, or more principled, or rational, than Ehrenreich. It just so happened that the greater of two evils is, in fact, Evil.

Posted by: JRoth on July 18, 2004 06:10 AM


You're a Clinton loyalist. I wouldn't expect any less from you. On election night in 92, I sat in from of a TV and shared a beer with Pierre Trudeau. Looking at the screen as Clinton waved to the crowd, the former Prime Minister of Canada called your old boss a Republican. I agreed and haven't changed my mind.

Even I had no idea the Dems would roll over as much as they have in the past 4 years. Did you know in 2000 how ashamed you'd be of this country in 2004? Gee kid, I doubt it.

Neoliberals chose to run as 'moderate' republicans, forcing the republicans to the right. Politics these days is about competition not policy. If the Democrats made their decisions based on policy rather than perceived expediency they might have been able to fight back. They didn't. Your intellectualism is as shallow as Ehrenreich's Her liberal guilt is just a little closer to the surface.

Bush didn't win the election, the democrats lost it. I'm voting for Kerry this time because I'm terrified that they'll lose it again.

Posted by: seth edenbaum on July 18, 2004 06:33 AM


2000 - Bush was supposedly a idiot boy-king with competent regents who would hold the real power and use it at least sanely, if not in a way that a lefty like Ehrenreich would approve of.

2004 - Bush is an idiot boy-king with idiot advisors who never cease to shock us with their malice and incompetence, no matter how cynical we think we've become. Moderate liberals like Gore and Kerry don't look so bad now, even to a real lefty like Ehrenreich.

Ehrenreich is certainly not alone. I didn't vote at all and my wife voted for Nader in 2000, but we'll both turn out and vote for Kerry this time.

Posted by: rps on July 18, 2004 07:01 AM


Dear JRoth,

you indeed have a point that probably nobody put forward the argument that Bush would be the "most conservative, divisive president in US history". I think that judgement still can be argued about, and it probably could not have been forseen. I do not claim to have forseen it. But I think that is setting the bar to high.

What I do claim is that, form what I knew at the time, I expected that he would be an extremely bad president, rigidly ideological and without any consideration and compassion for anybody but his friends and corporate donors. I did so argue at the time (although not on the net). That he would enact policies according to his ideological beliefs, without regard for their consequences.

It was clear from his record in Texas and from his acknowledged goals in the campaign (about "voluntary controls") that we would have an extremely bad case of "regulatory capture" where big corporations would be able to write their own federal rules.

What was unforseen was of course 9/11. Without this boost to Bush, I think his presidency would have floundered even more badly.

To address your argument, I do indeed remember that people put forth the proposition that Bush had been abysmal as a governor, and would be a president much worse for the country than Al Gore, for all his flaws. From the Naderite left, this was answered by the cry of "Tweedledum and Tweedledee, they're all the same". Although they clearly were not.

If I understand your argument correctly, it turns on the distinction between saying that Bush would be extremely ideological and very bad for the country (what was argued in 2000), to arguing that he would be the "most conservative, divisive" president ever (what was difficult to forsee - even impossible, since in my opinion it very much turns on 9/11).

My point is that your argument sets the bar way to high for moderate to liberal Democrats, in what they should have argued. I don't understand this insistence on perfect vision into the future.

If you compare the arguments of Nader-supporters that "they are both the same", and of the Democrats arguing "Bush would be extremely bad for the country indeed", it seems clear to me know and then who was much closer to the truth, even relying only on the information available in 2000.

Oh, and Molly Ivins does in fact write (in "Bushwacked"): "I (we)'ve told you so!"

Posted by: Raven on July 18, 2004 07:02 AM


In 1968 when Nixon just edged out Humphrey, I thought, Oh well what difference will it make. Hard to say, but I think I was wrong then

Posted by: sm on July 18, 2004 07:58 AM


Brad, I think you've forgotten that we weren't in the mainstream of the liberal left in 2000 in our belief that GW Bush was not just conservative, but vicious and evil, not least for the way he stole the Presidency while appeaser Democrats looked on confused. Now, of course, that's conventional wisdom from everyone to the left of Holy Joe Lieberman.

Posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on July 18, 2004 08:10 AM


>I'm curious to see, Brad, where you were arguing in 2000 that George W Bush would prove to be the most unprincipled, power-mad conservatie in US Presidential history.

I'm repeating myself here, but the only published article I can think of that really nailed down the tenor of the Bush presidency before he took office was the following parody from the Onion, January 2001.

It captures not only the general tone, but surprisingly many specifics. When I first read it, I thought it was funny but kind of mean and unfair. Now I stand in awe of the writer's ability to out-predict the pundits.


WASHINGTON, DC—Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 18, 2004 08:13 AM


I agree with a number of posters above that BE is more coherent than our host gives he credit for, even though she was very wrong in 2000.

Having read Shrub and taken him at his word on tax cuts, I believed he would be an extremely bad president at the time. Recall also that during the campaign Paul Krugman was eloquent about his systematic lying on economic policy, and about what the real effects of his policies would be.

However, the BE faction had astrategy: get the Greens to the 10% of the vote needed to qualify for federal money and use the resulting platform to try to move the country in the direction of at least European-style social democracy, most notably including health care. The precedent of Perot actually achieving this level for one election was another factor, unmentioned so far in this discussion, that made this seem potentially feasible. It's true that this implied losing the 2000 election, but that seemed to them an acceptable price to pay.

I recall a media wizard (sorry, I'm too lazy to Google up who) recently, in a lame attempt to justify the foul treatment of Gore by the likes of Cecie Connelly and Kit Seeley, say something like "It's hard to remember how low the stakes seemed in 2000." In other words, BE's opinion of the similarities between Bush and Gore, although wrong, was widely enough shared that it can't be dismissed as fringe lunacy. It has to be admitted to be at least mainstream lunacy.

Her general view was supported above with this:

At any rate, those who would claim that the only "mature" political judgments are those that take account of some sort of pretended "totality" are effectively advocates of political stasis and the reification of the status quo, lacking any mature understanding of politics and what its stakes are.

To which I reply that it's true that the potential for a major shift in the basic assumptions that govern politics in the country through support of the Democratic party is small, at least in the near term.

To which skeptical and jaded oldsters such as myself reply that major change of that sort isn't going to happen no matter what we do; so, let's try for something we might actually get.

The skeptics were certainly right this time. As Dogbert remarked once, we usually are. Apparently BE's experience in the last three years or so has taught her some skepticism. I have no problem with that.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on July 18, 2004 08:24 AM


I have to agree with Raven, the information on just how bad Bush and Co would be was really out there for anyone paying attention. I guess where I come down on the Gore is as bad as Bush argument is that it is a)obviously not true and b)thinking it was true just showed that the far left just didn't even really begin to believe how seriously awful the far right was. Oddly enough, some people more or less took bush at his word that he would be a "uniter not a divider." This was technically impossible, since what needed to be "united" was what had been "divided" by the vicious partisanship of his own party, a partisanship that he in no way renounced. What is odd about that confidence in Bush (that bush would be the same as gore, in other words) is that it was expressed by people who spent years arguing that every politician in power was terrible, a sell out, a corrupt whore to the special interests. When crunch time came they just failed to realize that, actually, some politicians and political parties are objectively more corrupt, more stupid, more venal, more bought than others. The democrats may be weak, spineless, centrist corporate stooges but, actually, they are less bad than the republicans on almost every issue I can think of. That's why they call it the lesser of two evils, not the best of two goods.

Kate Gilbert

Posted by: Kate Gilbert on July 18, 2004 08:30 AM


I thought the Nader campaign was misguided back in 2000 for a couple of reasons:

1. Bush was obviously a moron. I remember thinking, "What if something bad happens? Do we want a moron in the White House?"

2. The Gingrich-era Republican party is a threat to the future of the United States. Who knows what they'll do once they don't have a Democratic President to obstruct them? Which leads to...

3. We almost had them beaten. Another presidential loss, and that would break their spirit.

Oh, for what might have been.

Posted by: Walt Pohl on July 18, 2004 08:54 AM


I don't begin to understand the 2004 Nader campaign, but I believe that the 2000 Nader campaign worked (at high cost, see below): in 2004 the Democrats had a real primary, with several excellent progressive candidates, one of whom has won the nomination. I am enthusiastic about the Democratic ticket, giving $ as our family can afford and time beyond our means.

As a lifelong Democratic activist and minor short-term staffer in the Clinton administration, I was distraught at the inability of the Democratic base to get much (I won't malign either the 1993 progressive tax increase or BDL's rightly beloved EITC by calling them "nothing") out of the Democratic administration. One way to get back the party was to threaten credible defection leftward--and long-term bluffs are not viable.

It's entirely conceivable that progressives could have had their cake and eaten it too, with a narrow Gore victory tempered by a chastening message from the left. In fact, Gore did win by 500K votes. But Florida happened, etc.

The cost to the left of sending a message to the Democratic Party turned out to be far and tragically higher than anyone could have reckoned because of 9/11. Otherwise we would have only been risking some terrible but *reversible* policies: stupid tax cuts; corporate giveaways; environmental treason; attacking overtime and other Fair Labor practices; etc. In none of these dimensions would (or did) I argue that there was no difference between Bush and Gore, but the differences weren't nearly as large as the Democratic majority deserves.

Some simple class-electoral calculus suggests that the Democrats should win most elections in this country by at least 55-45. That we don't should wake us up to the fact that we are doing something quite wrong, and my assessment, shared with many progressives, is that the Democratic party runs too far right, instead of activating the base.

It is possible that a campaign, movement, or caucus within the Democratic party, along the lines of MoveOn.org, could have started to win back the party for us without the scary and unforeseeably awful consequences of the 2000 defection, but hindsight is 20/20. (We DSAers with long memories of being told to shut up and get on the bus may have had particular reluctance to get burned again.)

Posted by: m-westernmass on July 18, 2004 09:19 AM


How could anyone have missed that Bush was a right winger in 2000? His record in TX, his courting of the religious right, his program of tax cuts for the wealthy were all on record in 2000. Bush is an ideologue who ran as an ideologue and is still running as an ideologue. How could anyone miss it?

I don't get how people can say that Bush did not govern the way they expected, especially the press. Bill Clinton summarized it best. George Bush is delivering on the promises he made during the 2000 campaign. If you don't like it, don't vote for him.

Posted by: bakho on July 18, 2004 09:23 AM


The one line in Ehrenreich's column that baffles me is "millions have absorbed your message." Nader's message was (and is) that there was (and is) no meaningful difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, since both parties were simply carrying water for the corporate state. Have millions more voters actually absorbed this message between 2000 and 2004? And if they have, isn't this is a disastrous turn of events, rather than something to celebrate?

Posted by: Steve Carr on July 18, 2004 10:01 AM


Sad that there seems to be no attention to the issue of the non-voter.

Democrats argue, "Don't vote for Republicans because they are destructive and don't vote for Nader because he's a pawn of the Republicans."

Republicans argue, "Don't vote for Democrats because they're ineffectual cowards, and don't vote for Nader because he's crazy."

Nader argues, "Don't vote for either Republicans or Democrats because they're corrupt."

An increasing number of Americans agree with all of those characterizations. And most of all, they agree that whatever they do, big money will continue to trump their votes. So, they withdraw into their private lives.

The scary part is that after a few years of being politically withdrawn, people become essentially incapable of functioning as citizens. They lose their critical skills to be able to figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth.

Posted by: Charles on July 18, 2004 10:17 AM


Every Dem I knew thought that Bush would be a terrible president. No Rep I knew thought he would be much of a president, but they certainly did not think he would govern so far to the right. Nobody I know, now or then, thinks Nader is a plausible president. How hard was this? All this strategic thinking with the leadership of the Country at stake? Why would anyone risk something that important over the stupid idea of moving the party to the left with a presidential candidate? Only the people unwilling to get off their dead butts and try to move the party itself to their way of thinking, one voter, one precinct at a time.

Posted by: masaccio on July 18, 2004 10:39 AM


m-westernmass is astonished to discover that a presidential primary election works differently when the party in question is out of power and has no clear successor to the chief executive office. He concludes: obviously losing the office was a total success!

There is not enough whisky in the world to drown my despair at this.

Posted by: Doctor Memory on July 18, 2004 10:54 AM


Do we have to spell it out? We live in an oligopolistic plutocracy with the formal appearance of being a democracy.

That just means you’re in a different system than the one you thought you were in! So you’ll have to grow up. But making conditions better, is still possible.

Or maybe it’s because you’re in the land of freedom, that you think you do not have to pay attention and work on politics. The fact is, you do not really have that freedom. If you don’t pay attention, you are going to pay through the nose.

On the other hand, the idea that we should just let things go until we see the knight in shining armor, or force things to get so bad that a [policy] revolution will ensue, is juvenile, historically ignorant, nutty. Of course, it would be easier!

And the idea of voting for that knight in shining armor (Nader, in the case of 2000) even though he can't win, to send a message to "the system" and others like-minded to change it, is wishing for change on-the-cheap. It’s actually rather arrogant: we are here to make “demands”. But THAT message is to be sent at ANOTHER time.

I said to all of my friends on the day of Supreme Court Selection that Bush was going to be bad for the country. Of course, I could have no idea of what would occur! But I was certain that his shortcomings--evinced by the chip on his shoulder, his lack of close friends, and his extraordinary vindictiveness--would have a real effect, divide us further, screw the poor, destroy more natural ecosystems.

People who felt Bush v. Gore was an ideological near-toss-up, had only to look at Texan social and environmental policy. Those depredations reveal the entire intellectual, emotional, spiritual condition that will destroy this country, if we let it. Capitalism is not the issue, nor is it in real jeopardy.

I can understand a person like Ehrenreich becoming a poor person for a while to write a book about the conditions of the poor. That’s a good idea for a book, kind of like “Black Like Me”. What I do not understand is the attitude that you’re not going to play ball, unless your candidate stumps for massive change. Basically, you're left with the position that people who can find the time to read your book, will also find the time to do something about your issue. But you’re leaving them to wade through enormous amount of economic and social thought already in existence about the issue. Now you’re three steps removed from reality! Is this the mechanism she calls "dynamics of real social change"?

In fact, things have gotten worse. Business Week, this issue: pensions are getting massively clobbered.

Another example: why isn’t everyone in this thread hopping mad about the roadless policy being overturned in the national forests? We’ve paid taxes for a hundred years to save the last green beauty on this earth, and now we’re going to let logging and extractive industries, in cahoots with their bought-and-paid for state governors, plunder it. It WILL alter the balance of wildlife. It is NOT necessary for economic growth. That rationale is half-digested economics combined with absolute greed. Any economics professor who ignores this issue should be bounced out of his chair. The people living in those states who don’t like it, should vote with their feet. Move to desolate Texas, a REAL land of opportunity. Or: use their God-given entrepreneurial creativity to find another way to make a buck. Like everybody else does.

Seth Edenbaum is right. The Republicans didn't win the last election, the Democrats lost it. Of course, Clinton's sex life energized the Bible thumpers: canoodling can lead to abortion! And Gore lacked luster on camera, making him look like a liar to dullards who can’t read body language. But it was also the sniffy diffidence, cheap expectation, and unreality of our pundits.

The proper thing to do is, vote for the lesser of two evils, keep hammering on the winner until he does something right, and NEVER let up.

Posted by: Lee A. on July 18, 2004 10:55 AM


The only "return to political sanity" we're seeing now is all major US news media aligning themselves behind a smoke screen of "corporate capitalism and tax cuts are good", "the world is better without Saddam", "who knew about 9/11?",
"abstinence, then (heterosexual) marriage" Nazi ad hominems, with more flag-wrapping their "war president" in charnel house homilies about "the brave members of our armed forces", hoping that will rub off well on a chicken-hawk White House, while blaming Bush's no-show at NAACP on Julian.
And it's only July. Wait until October, Brad.

Posted by: Lash Marks on July 18, 2004 11:09 AM


Nader is a political opportunist looking for a meal ticket and a pension. His day is long past. Kerry Edwards is making no good progress in the polls, this is another Gore-Lieberman meltdown.

Posted by: aaron haffen on July 18, 2004 11:13 AM


The Nader-haters have a real dilemma:

If people who would vote for Nader prefer Nader over Kerry, and Kerry over Bush, and if the probability of Bush winning if they vote for Nader is higher than the probability of Bush winning if they vote for Kerry but the probabilty of Nader winning is always below the probablity of Bush or Kerry winning then what does that say about the people who would vote for Nader? Moreover, what does this say about the Democrat party for hoping to attract these type of votes?

Posted by: christopher ball on July 18, 2004 11:18 AM


Astounding arguments from Naderites and former Naderites.

In 2000, as evidenced by Professor DeLong, both Nader and Ms. Ehrenreich argued that there was no material difference between the GOP and the Dem Party.

Was that true in 2000? Is it true now?

Of course it was not true and it is not true.

What is most galling to me is the deliberate and blatant dishonesty practiced by Nader and Ms. Ehrenreich - be against Dems, fine, but to same that there is or was no material difference between Dems and the GOP is an act of dishonesty worthy of Republicans.

And that is and was indefensible.

Posted by: Armando on July 18, 2004 11:37 AM


When it comes to foreign policy, Nader is largely correct; there are no significant differences between Bush and Kerry. Kerry will be marginally better on domestic issues, but will he turn around the growing wealth gap? Limit capital mobility? Radically reform a totally dysfunctional health care system?

The liberals will love Kerry's "style" while he defends abortion to the very end, saves a few trees and gives up everything else.

Posted by: General Glut on July 18, 2004 12:13 PM


Seth charges,

"You're a Clinton loyalist. I wouldn't expect any less from you. On election night in 92, I sat in from of a TV and shared a beer with Pierre Trudeau. Looking at the screen as Clinton waved to the crowd, the former Prime Minister of Canada called your old boss a Republican. I agreed and haven't changed my mind."

Seth baby--the simple fact is that Clinton had no choice, given the damage done to the country by the combination of reagan tax cuts and fica tax increases.

"Furthermore, the receipts from individual income taxes (the only receipts directly affected by the tax cuts) went up only 91.3 percent during the 80's. Meanwhile, receipts from Social Insurance, which is directly affected by the FICA tax rate, went up 140.8 percent. This large increase was largely due to the fact that the FICA tax rate went up 25% from 6.13 to 7.65 percent of payroll. Hence, the claim that the doubling of TOTAL revenues proves the effectiveness of tax cuts is including revenues which resulted from a tax hike to prove the effectiveness of a tax cut. This seems like the height of hypocrisy"

That's right the Demo congress under RR raised the regressive payroll tax by 25%. Clinton had to spend all his politcal capital on raising taxes, slightly, to balance the budget. After that stage in the mountains, little more could have been expected of him

Posted by: Moe Levine on July 18, 2004 12:22 PM


Kerry's comments on foreign policy make it clear that he put alliances and multilateral diplomacy at the public forefront of the war on terror, not because that will stop terrorists already formed, but because it will slow down new recruits to terror, by offering individuals a chance to live for a world in harmony. This will be far superior to the view of America as stand-alone Satan. A Kerry Administration will also give a better eye to international law, which may be of use when our soldiers are captured, and prepare the ground for a world that will soon have more superpowers to contend with.

Kerry will also be bound to try his hand at the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which even our last Arab allies say should be foremost.

On the other hand, Bush is such an astounding incompetent, we're stuck in Iraq for years. Our intelligence apparatus and special forces will be hunting terrorist cells globally. Innocent people of every hue on both sides will die. Our press will continue tomake false apologies for the thugs we support. And no President (nor any country's leader) has ever rejected unilateral action when it was the only course.

Posted by: Lee A. on July 18, 2004 12:43 PM


To me this is just depressing. Apparently ex-Greens and Nader voters who want to support Kerry are going to be required to abase themselves and submit to The Airing of Grievances first.

I think that it's fair for Andrew Sullivan to get a little grief when he comes our way, because he actively supported Bush for a considerable period while accusing Democrats of cowardice and treason. On almost every issue not concerning his own personal butt, Sullivan is a strong and nasty Republican.

Ehrenreich is a disgruntled Democrat, as am I. She did NOT support Bush, either with her vote or on any issue whatever. What she did was to refuse to support Gore. Gore lost a vote, Bush didn't gain one.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on July 18, 2004 01:31 PM


"When it comes to foreign policy, Nader is largely correct; there are no significant differences between Bush and Kerry."

Rubbish. In election season both parties always use their rhetoric to play more to the center than their actual positions. The fact is that public opinion is not yet ready to support a president who, for example, calls for withdrawal from Iraq ASAP. It might be in November depending on what happens, but not today. So it's a given that Kerry campaign rhetoric will seem a lot softer on neoconservative imperialism than lots of us here think it should be.

So whenever you think about Kerry and foreign policy, give yourself a reality check by looking at the past four years. Do you think Kerry would have invaded Iraq at all? Do you think the Kerry administration will include major players scheming from the get-go to invade certain foreign countries and looking only for an excuse/opportune time? Do you think a Kerry administration would, in response to September 11, have rapidly squandered a huge upsurge in pro-US sentiment by pissing on pretty much every alliance the US has?

Posted by: Ian Montgomerie on July 18, 2004 01:40 PM


ian - do i think kerry would have invaded iraq and afghanistan? yes, i do...look at that big 'ol leftie at 10 Downing Street. the only difference is that he would have done it in with more smiles than exuding that godforsaken canterkerousness of GWB.

Posted by: immatchua on July 18, 2004 01:52 PM


Meanwhile, on other matters, the Bushies have just started their campaign to excuse themselves of the disastrous occupation:


Posted by: Lee A. on July 18, 2004 01:53 PM


Everybody in the press had the meme virus back then that the two major party candidates were not very different.

In retrospect, that was one of the greatest press and media industry failures of all time and should have warned us about how limp the press was going to be until late 2003.

But that's not the scariest thing. The scariest thing was that the meme was getting started and going round the press core again in early 2004. I heard media story after media story noting that "there wasn't that much difference" between Kerry and Bush. I couldn't believe it. They were falling for it again.

When did those press stories die? Not until Abu Gharaib, when it finally occured to the "liberal media" that maybe just maybe that campaign lies aside there maybe just maybe was a fundamental difference between the Bush Administration and the Kerry ticket.

At least Barbara has enough sense to volte face in the right direction.

Posted by: Oldman on July 18, 2004 02:26 PM


Thank you, Brad.

I read your point to be that Ms. Ehrenreich has dramatically changed her political philosophy without taking responsibility for being wrong in the past. I had the same reaction to her article this morning.

She does offer a slight justification in noting that Ralph is not running on the Green Party ticket -- that's one change such as you asked for.

Green Party people perceived the Democrats as being a corrupt authority figure standing over them. The Democratic party was not a group of fellow citizens. It was a bad parent against whom they could find their identity by rebelling.

Because the Green Party had no authority, they could see the Green Party as a group of fellow citizens.

So, Ms. Ehrenreich has an out in that she can justify that Ralph Nader -- without the Green Party -- is another unstable parent. She can find her way to standing with her fellow citizens without undergoing an ordeal of change.

I would like to be able to gladly welcome her, as I have gladly welcomed Michael Moore. But for some reason, I find it more difficult.

Posted by: copithorne on July 18, 2004 04:20 PM


The choice was between Gore and Bush in 2000. If you didn't vote for Gore because you were a disgruntled Democrat, you improved Bush's chances of winning. So, yeah, it's fair for Ehrenreich to be getting a little grief, because she made a little contribution to getting us in the state we're in.

Posted by: Steve Carr on July 18, 2004 04:38 PM


It wasn't a little grief. It was two extended tirades in a week or so.

There were plenty of people who did not vote for Nader, but agreed with him about a lot of the issues. Here and on Yglesias, a lot of the anti-Ehrenreich venom seems to be coming from people who either don't know what those issues were at all, or who violently disagree with Ehrenereich on those too.

If you're trying to get someone to work within the Democratic Party (which is a strategic or tactical choice), it's a bit stupid to make it clear to them that you think that they're idiots on the issues too and that you're going to fight them to the bitter end on all of them.

It's also stupid to recruit people to your party by lengthy insults.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on July 18, 2004 05:48 PM


And still not a word about non-voters.

What a very strange thread.

Posted by: Charles on July 18, 2004 06:23 PM


All this reminds me of Matt Stoller's recent post about the creeping triumphalism on the left -- we're already counting out who to reward and which heretics to punish, MONTHS before an election victory. Completely nuts.

Posted by: ArC on July 18, 2004 06:51 PM


And a genuine danger. If Kerry-Edwards get a big bounce out of their convention or the debates, the Dems might start to relax. That could be fatal

Posted by: Lee A. on July 18, 2004 07:29 PM


Here's an argument that doesn't get made much but the notion of there being "no difference between Bush and Gore" in 2000 was ludicrous on its face to anyone who read the candidates' platforms.

Did Naderites read Gore's tax-relief platform which offered virtually nothing to anyone making over 500% of poverty? Did they know about his minimum wage-increase and Family Medical Leave Act expansion proposals? Surely, anyone who values the continuation of New Deal policies would understand that only one of the two candidates was proposing to keep the system not only pay-as-you-go publicly funded, but excess trust-fund monies wholly out of the stock market (further than even Clinton was willing to go on that issue by the way, and certainly not what the "liberal" media had in mind -- private accounts were in vogue. Gore stood consistently against them to the left.) Ehrenreich argues against welfare reform and the lack of childcare in America. Yet which electable candidate advocated establishing universal preschool in 2000 and ading $170 billion in new federal education expenditures over 10 years? Which had a refundable tax cut proposal offering up to $3000 for lower-income families paying for private childcare? Here's a hint: it wasn't Bush. Health care? Bradley ran on a more overhauling health care proposal in the primaries and failed to win a single state, despite prodigious fundraising and the overwhelmingly anti-Gore media. Gore's health care proposals, while non-revolutionary, would still have extended coverage to 4 million children and offered cut-rate coverage for millions more -- moving toward a single-payer system by which individuals buy into Medicare and Medicaid at cost. Oh, and did lefies read the literature coming out of the right-wing media throughout 2000? "Gore is a reactionary traditional socialist liberal" it said over and over. Maybe that's because -- in the view of much of the population -- he was.

Yeah, Bush was bad in 2000 but I didn't realize how bad. But voting against Gore to "send a message" meant voting against a minimum wage hike of 20%, government subsedized savings accounts for low-income workers, the Kyoto protocol, and a tax-credit proposal that was more progressive than anything that had passed in the 80s or 90s and, according to some experts, could have raised 10 million additional people out of poverty. What kind of "expert" on poverty votes against that to "send a message"? But oh goody! We got to hear from Dennis Kucinich in this year's primary! That makes it all worth it I guess. And even now Eirenreich bitches that Gore was campaigning like "an oak tree" or something equally shallow. I think Nader said something similar in May to the New York Times.

"No difference" was not only fake bullshit, it was a narcisistic, self-indulgent argument by which 3 million people apparently weighted the moral strain of voting for a man who was a little too enthusiastic about the War on Drugs (and by the way, at least two prominent lawyers representing the Uwa in Washington editorialized in Gore's defence on humanitarian issues in that country during 2000) and deregulation for their tastes over electing a tax plan (and candidates usually pass their tax plans) that would have benefitted the working poor overwhelmingly, combatted the debtor-society movement by encouraging household saving, and made a movement toward expanding child care in the US. Even if Bush had been benign, he wasn't going to do any of that stuff and Ehrenreich knew it.

Now Kerry is entering the position Clinton was in in 1992: cleaning up another right-wing budget mess and wasting money cleaning up messes abroad -- and that's if he gets elected. Ehrenreich: talk to the fucking hand.

Posted by: Marsha on July 18, 2004 07:42 PM


I think that this discussion misses a fundamental point: that Barbara Ehrenreich, unlike Brad DeLong, does NOT believe in what we presently call capitalism, and was then and now looking for the best way to overturn it. Brad DeLong is looking for solutions to ameliorate the problems under the assumption that the basic design of the system is unavoidable; Barbara Ehrenreich is looking for the option that will most likely overturn the system in some fundamental and positive way.

People are forgetting that in 2000, there was a developing consensus among allegedly mainstream left-of-centre parties called by various names such as The Third Way, etc. People are forgetting that Clinton and Blair were triumphantly pushing this agenda. The central claim of this agenda was that the left should forget about radical social change and that the tools of capitalism can themselves be used to ameliorate their own deficiencies. Whence the Seattle protests, etc?

Seen in this light, it was at the time a perfectly reasonable position to take that the Democrats agenda actually served to entrench capitalism (by an either mistaken or deceptive set of claims) and that the left was caught in a terrible dilemma. Barbara Ehrenreich and others at the time came to the conclusion that the Democrats were actually the GREATER evil; they were a trap for the left into slowly accepting the somewhat gentler *further* entrenchment of capitalism in their trade agendas and so on. The Republicans, by contrast, would just slash and burn for four years; but at least the left would not be trapped into accepting material defeat at the hands of those who claim to be their own with no political alternative whatsoever.

Democrat claims of being trapped into welfare reform, etc, etc, do not hold water under this analysis. If the Democrats cannot deliver to the left *any* hint of a tendency towards real radical change in economic structures, even to the mere level of European social democracy, then what's the use of them? If they use an excuse of being constrained by external political factors, and this is always their excuse, then is the radical economic left *really* served by supporting the Democratic Party?

In one of Brad's prior posts, he complained about Ehrenreich's giving up on government in her recent books and articles. He claims that this is part of her "aesthetically correct oppositional stance" or something like that. Barbara Ehrenreich's stance is based on her moral and political evaluation of capitalism; if you believe that each party in their own way entrenches capitalism, then there is no way you can support either. If you believe that the system of government ensures, perversely, that inequality (such as that of nannies and housekeepers) will be entrenched and only papered-over, then you will be focused on building alternative systems rather than waste precious energy trying to reform existing ones (for those who suggest that Naderites are too lazy to work to reform the party from within).

There is one way to break this dilemma and prove the Naderites wrong; if Kerry wins, and his government is not merely a Clinton-clone but seriously offers some glimmering of hope to the radical left, then they might return to the base of the Democratic Party. As a Canadian looking at this from outside, I myself am pessimistic about his, and I feel relieved that I at least can reasonably vote for a seriously radical party without fear of the short-term slash-and-burn repercussions that come with a decision to break with the Democrat trap, if indeed it is a trap.

Note well that this was before September 11th when the Seattle protests were a real phenomenon. The context created by 9/11 and war in Iraq made this about much more than mere slashing and burning on the domestic front. That's why Barbara Ehrenreich, Noam Chomsky, and so on now support, grudgingly, Kerry. But if you compare the actual contexts of 2000 and 2004, Ehrenreich has nothing apologize for; she made the decisions that necessarily follow from her views on capitalism.

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 07:53 PM


In response to Marsha, I should note that the Democrats offer any number of things in their platforms; the concern of the radical left had been the tendencies and rhetoric of the Democratic party for the eight years prior, and the feeling that the Democratic Party establishment had severed all possible ideological connection to the radical left.

Simply that Gore had offered XYZ capitalism-ameliorations in his platform was hardly enough to demonstrate to Ehrenreich and company that the Democratic Party could ever be a vehicle even to preserve the hope of radical change. Surely their trade agenda, a MAJOR issue for the left at the time, was evidence of this.

This kind of yelling at Ehrenreich simply demonstrates that Brad, Marsha, etc, seem to believe that Ehrenreich is beginning from the same perspective and reaching an illogical conclusion from that point. But she is reaching quite a logical conclusion if you look at what she actually believes in her columns and her books and ZNet posts.

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 08:05 PM


Anybody who wouldn't have voted for Bush or Nader (or wouldn't have chosen not to vote) if they'd known then what they know now clearly wasn't paying any attention to the actions of the Religious Right or, more generally, to the rise of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States. Most of what has happened as a result of a person with Bush's religious beliefs becoming President was pretty predictable starting around 1992.

Posted by: Susan on July 18, 2004 08:16 PM


In response to Susan, I respectfully disagree that the current foreign policy trajectory can be predicted from fundamentalist Christian beliefs. I think that there are are many more interests shaping it, and it was not clear how much of an opportunity they would have had to act.

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 08:38 PM


Mandos: on the contrary, I'm quite sympathetic to socialists/lefties who are underrepresented in the US. They are underrepresented. The Democrats are a centrist party and show almost no signs of becoming anything other, whether or not Dennis Kucinich gets to speak at the Convention. Many grassroots Dems don't want the party to move radically left and even those that do almost certainly don't agree on what moving radically left even means -- I was just reading another blog were a Naderite was arguing the possible long-run benefits of free trade so I'm guessing the arguments between centrist and leftist Dems are pretty wide-ranging once they get beyond which candidates to support. (And on the subject of free trade, again, only one candidate in 2000 was making sympathetic noises to the unions and talked about "fair trade" during his convention speech.) Also, of course there are better ways to get leftist organizing going that throwing presidential elections to right-wing Republicans but that's not the point of my post.

My argument is pratical, not ideological. There was an ideological argument for voting for Nader that I, as a centrist, don't face and Ehrenreich did. OK. But I've "held my nose" in a lot of elections (I didn't have to in 2000 and I won't in 2004 but I've done it in the past, including for candidates much too far left for my taste) and it's no great hardship compared to, say, being poor in America and not being able to find childcare while you go to work at your minimum wage job. Ehrenreich has written at least two important books on poverty and is an expert on these issues. And if you were concerned about the plight of the poor who were working for minimum wages while not being able to find health care, the choice in 2000 was simple: no matter how weak and/or currupt Gore was, he almost certainly would have passed his tax plan and it would have helped an enormous amount of people living below the poverty line. Instead, Ehrenreich catered to her own ideology: and yes, with real welfare outcomes at stake, that's rather peurile and narcissitic.

Posted by: Marsha on July 18, 2004 08:54 PM


Just glancing at the various responses- and not giving Ehrenreich much credit as a thinker- I'm amused at how many of those who attack her refuse to blame the Democrats for anything that's happened. Did they really have to be so passive? Wasn't it Gingrich who admitted that Clinton stole the Republican program? 'They had to,' you'll say. Perhaps they did, and perhaps not. But your argument has all the morality of desperation.
So blame those who voted their principles once, and laugh at them now that they've given up. Clinton was Lieberman with style and a greedy cock.
And you're proud?
No wonder I'm drunk.

Posted by: seth edenbaum on July 18, 2004 08:55 PM



"Instead, Ehrenreich catered to her own ideology: and yes, with real welfare outcomes at stake, that's rather peurile and narcissitic."

Ah, but this is the dilemma I was trying to highlight. At some point, you have to decide whether you are willing to be trapped by temporary ameliorations to the status quo. Barbara Ehrenreich has studied the plight of these people herself, as you note. To me she had clearly come to the conclusion that while the Democrats can make gestures that temporarily ameliorate some suffering, these gestures do nothing to deal with the reasons why, in her view, inequality exists! Worse still, the left becomes trapped in a vicious cycle trying to hold onto these ephemeral (even if substantial in the short term) ameliorations and are thus unable to influence the Democratic party being beholden to them in constant fear of the Republicans. And, of course, being unable to build alternatives to this system. Good cop, bad cop.

So it becomes difficult to escape the conclusion that supporting the Democrats in order to get these Scraps From The Table perversely becomes a way to keep the Nickeled and Dimed in their present unequal state and *never* to deal with the basic issues in society that a radical believes need dealing with.

Consequently, it is accepting the Real Welfare Outcomes argument that becomes "puerile" or whatever, if one accepts radical premises as Ehrenreich does. Since it becomes self-perpetuating, exactly that Ehrenreich was trying to escape in 2000.

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 09:08 PM


In sum, I guess, what Ehrenreich and her ilk were proposing in 2000 was that encouraging the dependence of the radical economic left on the Democrats also has serious practical consequences, particularly in the wake of Clinton. Consequently, a vote for Nader was the only way to stem the effects of this dependence, especially during the context of 2000.

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 09:14 PM


"the concern of the radical left had been the tendencies and rhetoric of the Democratic party for the eight years prior, and the feeling that the Democratic Party establishment had severed all possible ideological connection to the radical left."

The Democratic Party is nothing other than the people who show up and vote at county Party meetings, and the leadership is nothing other than who they vote for. It is not a "they," it is a "we."

How many Naderites tried participating before they decided to break the coalition that had been forged through so many decades of hard work and experience fighting the moneyed interests? How many are even AWARE of the history that led to why the party is the way it is? Why do they think labor and minorities and women's groups and environmental leaders ALL understood this coalition and the necessity of preserving it? Because THESE are the people on the front lines of the battle against the Right. And look what happened when the Naderites did succeed in breaking that coalition!

I think the Naderites have a faulty analysis of what has happened to the country. They leave out the influence and effect of the Right's messaging machine and how it primes the public to accept their political candidates.

What I think is needed is a new push to develop advocacy/communications organizations to counter the Right's ideology, and restore the public's understanding of progressive values.

I recently gave a talk at the ATLA annual convention on this subject, and have posted it online at http://www.commonwealinstitute.org/ATLAremarks.htm.

Posted by: Dave Johnson on July 18, 2004 09:14 PM


"How many Naderites tried participating before they decided to break the coalition that had been forged through so many decades of hard work and experience fighting the moneyed interests? How many are even AWARE of the history that led to why the party is the way it is? Why do they think labor and minorities and women's groups and environmental leaders ALL understood this coalition and the necessity of preserving it? Because THESE are the people on the front lines of the battle against the Right. And look what happened when the Naderites did succeed in breaking that coalition!"

You are assuming that they didn't. I would think that Ehrenreich has a history of activism of osme kind.

In any case, a previous poster points out that the party is much more than radical leftists. In which case, it is quite possible that reorganizing the party from within is not a possible in the medium term. This can be used as a further argument that the Democratic Party is the wrong vehicle.

Secondly, as Brad has pointed out, Ehrenreich seems to sometimes be proposing an actual withdrawal from governmental involvement by the radical left. The only way she could come to this conclusion is that the systems and external interests (governmental, economic, cultural) in place are actually designed to curb policy options in the radical elimination of inequality, making internal party reformation a futile act. Again, this leaves protest vote as the only moral option in 2000.

I should note to Dave Johnson that messaging in a capitalist environment only goes so far. It can be argued (won't try to do this here) that in the present structure of the media, it is much easier for the radical right to push a message than for the radical left to do it. At best, the centre-left can compete with the radical right, but not the radical left. Capitalist media induces what is effective for capitalism, either slashing-and-burning or temporary amelioration. In this case, once again, ones only option is to deliver a shock to the system.

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 09:41 PM


Mandos: you make good arguments and you at least make me realise I should temper my angry claims (and yup I'm still angry) that Ehrenreich is "peurile and narcissistic" with "IMO" because they are simply my opinions just as everyone's are here. I don't agree with Ehrenreich's basic positions on how to deal with the long-term root causes of poverty; I agree with almost nothing she writes (though there's much I haven't read and I'm glad she's got a spot in the Times because voices like hers need to be heard and debated). To argue this further gets into additional arguments I haven't really made here: among them that Nader was not really "radical" and that the basic fact of his political campaign and the compromise it inevitably entailed belied the whole notion of the idea of being superior to the system; that politics is compromise and corruption is human nature on both the left and the right and that leftist reformers often don't seem to understand this; that even radical root-cause arguments always boil down in the end to questions of degree (as Ehrenreich's and so many other Naderites' about-face going into the 2004 election attests); and that history suggests that radical change is almost never a good thing but that public protests and, as a poster suggests above, hounding the lesser of two evils to be less evil, and increasing public awareness of your issues, is the only solution that's ever likely to work.

So yes, these are opinions and in my case, they are anti-radical opinions from a centre-left establishment Dem. But when you talk about "the scraps from the table" that Democrats throw to the poor, you run a very big risk of being flippant. To a very large number of low-income people -- and studies show that most low-income Americans are staunch capitialists themselves -- those "scraps" were, in the Gore tax reform proposals, an extra three or four thousand dollars a year (I'm not suggesting by the way that it was a perfect plan; the one issue on which I personally prefered Nader to Gore was on beefing up the IRS. People had to know how to claim those credits in order for them to be fully effective.) But since I don't think it's controversial to say that the goal of all progressive politics is to achieve progress for vulnerable groups, helping to throw the election to a Republican who offered essentially nothing to these groups, didn't achieve any progress and, while Kerry may be slightly more liberal than Gore, he's also now in a position where he must curtail new spending to rein in the deficit and engage militarily in the "war on terror" which the vast majority of the American population supports. That's a high price for voting your conscience no matter how many books you've written on poverty. The fact is that human life in the West has been improving over the past hundred years and in the United States, the "revolution" is not forthcoming. I'm not exactly sure that the radicals really want it to -- certainly in pretty much every forum to the right of Counterpunch they're backing down in the face of Bush's Iraq debacle.

And finally, getting back to my original point, the arguments that Ehrenreich and anti-establishment people that I've read almost never acknowledged what was being given up in practical domestic welfare terms by throwing the election to Bush which is why I laid them out in my first post. My argument is that it was obvious that Gore would have been better for the marginal groups Ehrenreich cares about (I think there's evidence of that from the last three years of the Clinton admin as well) and doesn't boil down to the "Gore wouldn't have invaded Iraq" issue, which seems to be the main argument from people of my ideological ilk and is (IMO) essentially beside the point. Ehrenreich is an expert on poverty but she doesn't even begin to convince me she was willing to ackowledge the basic on-the-ground consequences of her vote on those who had the most at stake -- or that she weighted them above her ideology. That to me is very damning.

Posted by: Marsha on July 18, 2004 10:10 PM


"It can be argued (won't try to do this here) that in the present structure of the media, it is much easier for the radical right to push a message than for the radical left to do it. At best, the centre-left can compete with the radical right, but not the radical left. Capitalist media induces what is effective for capitalism, either slashing-and-burning or temporary amelioration."

Well that's my point. How do you think the right GOT this level of control? They didn't have it in the past, in fact they were outcasts and "kooks." What they did was, IN RESPONSE to their outsider status, invested in a long-term strategy to change the public. They set up a network of "think tanks" that are really advocacy communication organizations, and fundced them, and kept pounding out their ideological drivel, until the public started voting their way. It took time, and it worked.

So now moderates and progressives are on the outs - even if they don't understand that yet. They still think the public sides with them, and think they are the majority, so they still think campaign ads and "get out the vote" efforts are all they need. But they ARE the minority now, and need to see that it is time THEY start reaching out to the general public. They need to start advocating progressive values to the general public - even explaining what democracy is and why it is good - because a large part of the public is no longer with them.

It will take time, but it's all there is.

"In this case, once again, ones only option is to deliver a shock to the system."

What does it even MEAN? How is this the conclusion one would reach from your premises? It makes no sense at all. How does this solve ANYthing? And what does "shock to the system" even mean? And if you think there is such total control over everything by the right, how do you think you;re going to provide this shock, and how do you think it will change anything? It's just words without meaning.

Posted by: Dave Johnson on July 18, 2004 10:14 PM


First of all, to Marsha I can only reiterate that:

1. her basic premises and Ehrenreich's are, as she herself points out, fundamentally different. Ehrenreich's conclusions in 2000 arguably follow from her own ideological starting point, and thus little (or much less) inconsistency as Brad accuses her of can really be detected. Marsha's conclusions follow naturally from her own premises, and never the twain shall meet.

2. Marsha is right to point out that "scraps from the table" is a matter of degree, as are many things in life. However, it is possible to conclude that the scraps from the table, while causing material improvements in the lot of many, also ensure that a crucial remainder is submerged as an anti-capitalist assuredly believes is necessary for the proper function of a capitalist society. If it appears that this crucial remainder can ultimately never be alleviated in its relative distance from the wealthy, then at some point (matter of degree) it is possible to conclude without being flippant that the Scraps From The Table do more harm than good.

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 10:58 PM


I would also like to add for Marsha as an afterthought that she raises a number of other good points, such as the capitalist ideology of the low income. In that case I would briefly suggest that this is very much part of the "false consciousness" required for the function of capitalism. This I think is all boilerplate. I also think that while many of the issues Marsha raises are good topics for further discussion, they are not central components of the issue in the way that my last two points are in response to her.

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 11:02 PM


I would also like to respond with a couple of points for Dave Johnson:

1. I think he has misunderstood a crucial point I was making. I am not suggesting that there is material difficulty in setting up progressive alternatives to right-wing media. Of course it will be, in material terms, very difficult to replicate or respond to the right-wing structures in a serious way EVEN FOR the centre-left. My point was rather about the basic structure of capitalist media versus an agenda that seeks to dismantle capitalism. Feminism and gay rights can become mainstream through capitalist media once capitalism knows how to exploit these phenomena. Can a radical economic programme seriously break through the wall of capitalist media from the centre-left to the very right? I am suggesting that there may be an inherent impossibility here, and from there a great difficulty in taking over the consciousness of the Democratic Party.

2. By "shock to the system", I mean, essentially, demonstrating to the Democratic Party that it cannot take the radical left for granted through Republican-fear blackmail. When Nader suggests that the two parties are the same party, this is what he means; that opportunities for radical change are stymied by this form of good-cop-bad-copism. Hence the blackmail must be broken, if this is true, and what is the only way to end the blackmail?

Posted by: Mandos on July 18, 2004 11:12 PM


"If it appears that this crucial remainder can ultimately never be alleviated in its relative distance from the wealthy, then at some point (matter of degree) it is possible to conclude without being flippant that the Scraps From The Table do more harm than good."

Which, in closing for me, is what it comes down to: I find this a fundamentally noxious, and dangerous, argument, especially since it's made primarily by people whose livelihood and material interests are not at stake and who are willing to sacrifice those whose interests are at stake in the interest of ideology. It's the classic "worse is better" argument: if life gets too good for those at the bottom of the food chain, they might never convert to my belief system which is the only true salvation (I'm not sure Ehrenreich or Nader really see it this way because I'm not sure they really are radical socialists rather than disgruntled liberals but this is essentially the radical argument).

And, in fact, what happened? We're no closer to "revolution", socialist or otherwise (thank God). A dimwitted Republican and his neocon / theocrat / corporate-supply side cronies sent the nation back into the red while real wages stagnate and corporate profits (steady after 1997 until 2001) go out the roof, and provoked an almost totally senseless and open-ended war in the Middle East. And now, in 2004, the radicals scuttle back into the Democratic camp to support a welfare-reforming, war-appeasing, Private-Securities-Litigation-and-Telecom-Acts-voting, pro-NAFTA Senator: a mildly more liberal wersion of exactly they said was unacceptable four years ago. Meanwhile, Ehrenreich -- but not the ex-welfare mother working at McDonalds -- got a nice fat tax rebate out of the whole affair and, well, Kucinich has some delegates and will speak at this year's Democratic Convention.

I appreciate the debate, Mandos and others. But I'm back where I started. I see very little that's defensible, or even purist, in any of this.

Posted by: Marsha on July 19, 2004 01:30 AM


It seems to me the Naderites in 2000 mistook George W. Bush for John McCain.

Posted by: Jon H on July 19, 2004 05:00 AM


This seems to be partly or largely a question of who knew how bad Bush would be.

Well, Gore never told us Bush would be that bad. In fact, his running mate Lieberman still hasn't decided that Bush IS that bad, or that Bush is really that much different from Lieberman.

Gore ran as Bush-lite, with his wife Tipper pushing for a Federal law against DANCING. They didn't lose the leftwing vote, they threw it on the floor and stomped on it like W.C. Fields attacking the woman's mink fur wrap.

Would they have been better? Directly above this thread is another about the failure of 'managed care'. That would be the Clinton-Gore 'solution' to our healthcare problems.

Today we hear all about how Gore would have used that budget surplus to build social programs. Too bad we didn't hear about that in 2000. But maybe he didn't really plan to do that.

And how bad is Bush? If you're really poor and disabled, not much has changed.

For the people who were making money, or hoped to make money, from the war industries, a lot has changed. Bush has pretty much wrecked the scam for any latecomers, brought the whole thing in disrepute.

People who supported the War on Drugs but cherished the remains of their rights think this is a disaster. People who opposed the War on Drugs don't see much difference.

In short, leftists attempted to respond rationally to the offer the Gore people made to them. As angry as we may be that Bush was illegally installed to loot the government, that doesn't change the fact that little has changed.

In fact, Bush couldn't have done it without them. He's no Machiavelli. The system was set up to allow this disaster, that's what leftists complained about, and little is changed in this regard. Kerry is not talking about dismantling the war state or putting a social floor under our people. The reason for that is that so little has changed for the technocracy, the moderately well-educated and well-paid that run the country.

That's easy to see from the fact that this discussion is focused on Ehrenreich, and not on the DLC and others who built the tracks the train has run off of.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 19, 2004 06:35 AM


So, the Democrats want left-wingers to vote for them in spite of being offered nothing. Republicans can do that, Democrats can't, what's the difference?

Well, what if Democrats had gotten behind those wacky ideas like the U.N., universal healthcare, cutting the military budget, etc? I've been in precinct meetings and know that these ideas will be adopted in an instant by the faithful. They regularly make it into the party platform.

But there's no bully pulpit, there's no cheerleading section of 'institutes' and 'churches' demanding Heaven On Earth, there's no presidential candidate on the stump staying that maybe we can't do it this year, but the ultimate goal is universal healthcare.

In a really basic way, the just-barely-left-of-center masses, who undoubtedly could contribute to institutions and talk up good ideas, they just don't do it.

Well, as they say, actions speak louder than words. The fact is that four years ago when I wrote to the paper opposing war I was about the only one to do so. Today there are three or four letters in every issue. This is a bad thing?

Maybe it's time for someone other than Ehrenreich to wake up and smell the coffee. The same facts are available to all, but some of us realized in the 60s and 70s that the people around Bush today were criminals, and spend our whole lives being obnoxious on the subject. Not to mention working at crummy jobs because all the good jobs in the country involve war or automobiles.

You want us to help you? Well, the Lord helps those who help themselves. Set the bar a little higher, demanding peace, healthcare, and a decent job in a sustainable society, instead of promising to balance the books when a war-obsessed resource-draining economy periodically wrecks the balance sheet.

Hire a professor who can explain to you the reasons that these good ideas are good ideas. Make it plain that you really do have some values and some ability to explain why civilized people reach these conclusions.

Don't depend on Bush making the case for how good you are. He's failed at just about everything else.

Now, in reply to a poster above- all of the Nader voters I knew were people who had voted Democratic, worked the precincts etc for over 30 years, and in my county some Native Americans. All of them had done A LOT for the Democrats.

What we're seeing today was predicted to me by a professor of the classics in the 70s who said historians had been discussing and predicting this outcome since the 1930s. It's a period called The End of the Roman Republic. A Republic run by a Senate finds it can no longer govern what has become Rome. The 'solution' is found in the end of the Repulic and the beginning of the Empire.

And a lot of people at that time could not see any difference between Pompey and Caesar. From a vantage point of 2000 years later, it is hard to see much difference between the two.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 19, 2004 07:07 AM


One big difference: a lot more people have internet access. And a lot more stuff is on the net.

To say that back in 2000 ordinary people working full time or more than full time to keep from getting kicked out into the street, or even just to keep the lights on, should have been able to do all the research that would have debunked all the lies and vacuity of the SCLM is just rot.

Now it's not simply possible, it's easy.

And back in 2000 average Americans didn't have thrust in their face the disjuncture that showed them how they needed to distrust the mass media in all regards.

They ran, if you'll recall, as "Compassionate Conservatives." We're not scary zealots, we're old-fashioned moderates all about fiscal and personal responsibility, for the Common Good.

(FWIW, they've just now given up and admitted that it was all a front. And this from the Boston Globe, a paper whose entire raison d'etre seems to have become Kerry-vilification.)

Posted by: bellatrys on July 19, 2004 09:01 AM


> In this case, once again, ones only option is to deliver a shock to the system.

In other words, democracy is suffering from an incurable disease, and Nader is the quack doctor who proposes to treat it with a regime of blood-letting and blistering.

Under the circumstances, I think we're better off with the kind of doctor who just wants to keep things as comfortable as possible.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 19, 2004 09:44 AM


not giving Ehrenreich much credit as a thinker--she isn't

We have reached the, "End of History." Hell, even CPAN put that idiot frenchman on its schedule:

War, Evil and the End of History
from May 29, 2004
From Harvard University, Bernard-Henri Levy talks about the responsibility of intellectuals in times of crisis and his own work as an intellectual and reporter. Mr. Levy begins by providing an overview of 20th Century intellectuals, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Vaclav Havel, and then discusses his own intellectual path that led him away from his Maoist/Marxist roots. Mr. Levy also talks about his experience in Bosnia in the early 1990s, his reporting for Le Monde (included in his new book, "War, Evil and the End of History"), slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and the seriousness of anti-Americanism in France. Includes Q&A.


And, what makes a book about poverty, "important."

The problem with the Demo party is that it is no longer the party of the people wanting opportunity ,i.e., students. Rather, it is the party of the special interests who provide opportunty (teachers and tenured university faculty).

Posted by: Moe Levine on July 19, 2004 10:44 AM


It was never true, for those who cared to look carefully, that there was no difference between Gore and Bush. But is it so very surprising that some people may have thought so? Anyone care to remember the second debate between Gore and Bush, where Gore's idiot handlers got him to be "non-confrontational"? Did Gore (never mind deLong) ever call Bush an extremist, a wolf in sheep's clothing? Did he ever seriously contemplate putting up a real fuss in Florida to counterbalance that of the Republicans?

Well, we've all learned a few things. The 2000 Nader is a luxury we can't afford at this time. The 2004 version is even worse. Did you catch his interview with Salon? That told me all I needed to hear. Nader has gone round the bend. It's clear at this time that he thinks it's all about him and the slights he's suffered at the hands of Democrats.

Of course, it's not about him! But neither, Professor deLong, is it about those who voted for him now apologizing for it. It's about beating Bush. Maybe YOU ought to try being "a uniter, not a divider." It might be a little more effective.

Posted by: Steve Cohen on July 19, 2004 07:55 PM


Living on the edge of tin-foil hat land....

Real leftists would argue that it is the system that creates such problems, with a generous dose of enabling by people who should know better. According to our conventional roadmap, this is the 'extreme' position.

Centrists are arguing that Bush is the problem. When confronted by his obvious inability to create anything, they point to a 'vast conspiracy'. Supposedly the Bush family and sycophants are able to run the ship of state on the rocks.

It's a mighty strange turn of events.

Posted by: serial catowner on July 20, 2004 08:14 AM


Bush II and Gore agreed on the following in 2000:

1. Loved NAFTA and WTO;
2. Loved draconian drug laws that had the effect, intended or otherwise, of criminalizing millions of poor, mostly minority men;
3. Loved the death penatly;
4. Loved reforming "mommy welfare," not corporate welfare;
5. Loved campaign financing based upon money donated, instead of public financing;
6. Loved only corporate based proposals for reforming healthcare in the face of any serious analysis showing national health insurance programs had the most promise of efficiency and coverage for all;
5. Both saw war as a first resort not a last resort (before Al saw the light in 2002 as a candidate out of the spotlight, his mentors at the New Republic had started the "bomb Iraq" argument within a week of 9/11--just check Kaplan's article in the archives).

The only thing we Nader voters did not expect--and neither did Brad or any of the other Dem boosters at the time--was that the Congressional Democratic Party leadership was going to lie down and die in the face of Bush II's tax cuts, war mongering, and overall reckless, mean, incompetent policy making. We've seen a couple of judiciary filibusters and little else--compare that to how Republicans have behaved in the past when they were in the minority (they killed Ted Sorensen's nomination to the CIA head spot in 1977 by simply threatening to filibuster!).

I had no doubt Bush would try to roll back further the New Deal and would likely be a war monger.


That's my only regret, though I thought before the election the Greens could make 5% and help move the discussion back toward what would have been the "center" in 1965 in terms of economics ,a position to the "left" of most Democratic Party leaders today.

So, thanks, Brad, for uniting us. Next time the Dems need uniting, we know who NOT to call.

Posted by: Mitchell Freedman on July 20, 2004 03:12 PM


Follow up to my last post:

And just to be clear, I'm voting Kerry with no qualifications whatsoever. So let's get on with winning this fall.

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