By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Yet this is the promised end for which prospective Nader voters are being asked to sacrifice, in Sigal’s words, “the economically disenfranchised, the elderly and the ill.”
The strategy of “no friends on the left” isn’t without precedent, though fortunately, it hasn’t popped up all that often. Its most prominent manifestation was what historians refer to as “third-period Communism” — the line adhered to by communist parties, during the early Stalinist years of 1928–35, of designating socialist parties rather than fascist parties as their main enemy. The most notorious exercise of this policy came in the German elections of 1933, when the Communists insisted the real enemies were the left-wing Social Democrats, whom they called “Social Fascists.” The Nazis were just a passing phenomenon, so the Communists refused to make common cause with the other left parties (whom, instead, they attacked) against the Nazis. Whereupon the Nazis won a narrow plurality, took power, imprisoned all the Communists they could find, killed their leaders, and did worse things to other folks.
I’m not for a second equating George W. Bush, or even Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, to Nazis. But you don’t have to be a Nazi to inflict terrible hardship on the poor and people of color, and irrevocable damage to the ecosystem.
I am saying, though, that if there’s a single historic instance where the policy of “no-friends-on-the-left” or “it-has-to-get-worse-before-it-gets-better” actually worked in the long run, I sure don’t know what it is. Nader backers who should know better are suffering from a highly selective historical amnesia when they make these arguments.
Nor are they any less amnesiac in suggesting the Greens can someday supplant one of the two major parties. The only third party in American history ever to pull that off, of course, was the Republicans, and that was the result of a unique set of circumstances. The two major parties, the Whigs and the Democrats, were national parties that were already crumbling by the 1850s because they could no longer reconcile their Northern and Southern wings on the question of slavery. The Republicans were a Northern party only, and in 1860, Lincoln polled just 39 percent of the popular vote — which, however, was enough to win, since Democrats had three presidential candidates that year, one from the North, one from the South and one from the border states. In the years before or after, though, no other third party has endured — not even the 1912 Progressives, whose standard bearer was the immensely popular former president Teddy Roosevelt. Absent a shift to proportional representation or the implosion of one of the two major parties — neither of which looms on or even over the horizon — a third party cannot and will not overtake the Dems or Republicans.
So is there no way to impact the electoral system from the left? Am I arguing that Nader should not have run at all?
In fact, there was one way in which Nader could have run that would have enabled him to have much greater influence than he’s having today, with none of the risk that he could make George W. Bush the next president. He could have run in the Dem ocratic primaries.
This, of course, would not have enabled him to level his attacks on the entire Dem ocratic Party as such — lock, stock and Wellstone. But, like Wellstone, Jesse Jackson and numerous other progressives, he could have leveled the very same attacks he’s leveling now on the corporatization of the party, on its rightward drift and betrayal of working people. Other than arguing for a third party, there’s nothing Nader is saying now that he couldn’t have said in the primaries. And gotten a much bigger audience, won more votes, and built a much more potent movement, while saying it.
Consider what would have happened if Nader had run in this year’s primaries. First, he would have been included in all the televised debates between Al Gore and Bill Bradley. Second, progressives who wouldn’t dream of voting for Nader this November would have flocked to his banner this spring. Third, he would have been able to raise much more small-donor money to get his message out. Fourth, it’s likely he would have won the primary endorsement of two national mega-unions: the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers. And fifth, he could quite conceivably have carried some states, come to the Democratic Convention with a bloc of delegates, had his name placed into nomination and addressed the convention, and the nation, at length.
I think back to the last weekend of the New Hampshire primary, when Gore’s shock-troop volunteers on the sidewalks of Nashua came from the UAW, and Bill Bradley’s came from college campuses up and down the East Coast. When the two groups met and got to talking, however, they discovered they disagreed with their respective candidates and agreed with each other on the issue of trade; that they’d both been thrilled by Seattle and appalled by the Bradley-Gore support for NAFTA and kindred accords. Both groups supported universal health insurance and a crackdown on corporations; the list goes on. In a word, both groups were Naderites — only, Nader wasn’t on their ballots.
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