By Hillel Aron
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THE MARGINS OF THE MAINSTREAM
Judith Lewis and others who found themselves voting for Ralph Nader while “rooting anxiously” for Al Gore [“Say It Out Loud,” November 10–16] have done real harm to many of us from traditional Democratic constituencies, and all the anti-corporation cant in the world won’t change that fact. The Republicans chose to make gays and lesbians the cultural bogeymen of the late 20th century, and the choice of the New Democrats to reach out to us, however imperfectly, cannot be overestimated in its importance. The two big parties may be marginally different in some ways, but when you live in that margin, the difference is everything.
But beyond the immediate effects of this election, I wonder at the apparent lack of understanding of the U.S. political system on the part of Nader’s supporters. The tendency of this system to discourage European-style politics and third parties, and instead to push everyone to an unsexy middle ground, might not be fully satisfying, but it does have its benefits. If it impedes Ralph Nader to the delight of some, then it also impedes the Hitler apologists and the doctor-killers to the relief of others. A pox on both houses? No, a pox on all Nader supporters, and a wish that you may join Buchanan in the spoiler wilderness come 2004.
It is understandable that Dem ocratic Party stalwart Harold Meyerson is upset at the election results [“On the Brink,” November 10–16]. But Meyerson goes off the edge when he fumes that Ralph Nader and the Green Party have “appalled, infuriated and sickened progressives” by spoiling the election for Gore, and that they were big losers in the election.
Infuriated progressives? The term comes from the Progressive Party, which protested the political monopoly and business domination of the two major parties by running presidential campaigns three times this century (twice in disgust at the Democratic nominee). Someone who shills for the mainstream, corporate-dominated Democratic Party and insists third-party efforts are anathemas cannot logically claim the “progressive” moniker.
The losers in the campaign are not those who fought to put real and serious issues into the public arena, nor are they those who continue to fight corporate influence over our political system. The losers are those Democrats who spent a disproportionate amount of time and effort dogging Green Party supporters with torrents of abuse, fear-mongering, bogeyman arguments and personal attacks. Such efforts not only cost the Greens their federal matching funds, but that big stinking albatross the Democrats tried to foist upon us with all their rhetorical thuggery stands to end up losing anyway.
“Self-destruction of the Green Party”? No sir! Harold Meyerson and his friends were able to scare off the 60 percent of polled Na der voters who were so-called “Gore voters.” That took Nader down from 5-6 percent to 2-3 percent. Worse, by making common cause with George Will and David Broder about the ironclad “two party” system, Meyerson contributed to scaring off “nonvoters” who were starting to feel like they might have a real choice.
If Meyerson, Bob Scheer and Jesse Jackson et al. had spent their energies supporting Ralph Nader, and pushed Gore with the negative fervor they reserved for Nader, the Green Party candidate might have gotten into the debates, or into a debate hosted by the League of Women Voters — and there could at least have been a Jesse Ventura scenario in which nobody got the magic 270 electoral votes.
Meyerson and the rest obviously don’t understand the “irony theory” in American politics, that poor people are better served by a strong-voiced Democratic Party opposition in Congress for two years than by a mealy-mouthed friend, such as Gore, who dumps the poor for his corporate donors. I now know how Randolph Bourne felt watching intellectuals genuflect toward the establishment in World War I. I know how Victor Serge felt as he watched the destruction of the Bolshevik revolution under Stalin, and how George Orwell felt as he watched the Stalinists and the pro-business elements of the Spanish Republic kill independent leftists and an archists during the Spanish Civil War. These examples may be overblown, but only by degree, not by kind.
It is not Mr. Nader’s fault (with a paltry $7.7M in donations) that Mr. Gore (with God knows how much money) couldn’t win an election that should have been a “gimme,” that Mr. Gore couldn’t even win his home state. Had Mr. Gore even hinted that the Green Party’s concerns had a place in the Democratic Party’s dialogue, he might be, as I write this, drinking champagne rather than biting his nails. Instead, he chose to ignore and alienate the voters he so desperately needed.