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Gored Liberals, Wasted Votes, and Selling Out

by Bijan Parsia Thursday, Nov. 02, 2000 at 4:09 AM
bparsia@email.unc.edu

This article from Monkeyfist.com neatly disposes of the Loyal Liberal's attempt to smear Nader and his supporters. Gore promises to be terrible for progressive causes; the Clinton-Gore DLC gambit has been terrible for the Democratic Party; and Gore hasn't given Nader or the Greens any reasons to support him. It would be ill-advised for Nader supporters to sell out to and for Gore for what he's offered them so far: nothing but scorn, derision, and hypocrisy.

error

Gored Liberals, Wasted Votes, and Selling Out

by Bijan Parsia

Gored Liberals

As Gore fumbles his way out of the White House and Bush spends his way into it (of course, this isn't certain, but...), the odd debate over "Nader the election spoiler" has become a cacophonous roar since Gore mobilized the Loyal Liberals to do his dirty work. The general refrain is quite old: "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush!" and "Don't waste your vote by voting for someone who can't win!" There are three popular counterpunches:
  1. If you live in a state which is solidly for Gore or solidly for Bush (say, by more than 8 points), you may as well vote for Nader to help the Green party get Federal matching funds,
  2. most of the voters for Nader wouldn't have voted for Gore anyway, so no votes are being "stolen", and
  3. Gore and Bush are so close on the issues that a vote for Gore might as well be a vote for Bush.
Let's pay attention to the fact that no one is trying to reach out to Nader, the Greens, pro-Nader voters, or, for that matter, progressive voters. It's lesser of two evilism all the way, and that's just strange. Why should I vote for Gore if he doesn't remotely endorse or even consider the positions I strongly hold? From the selection of Joe Lieberman as running mate to the exclusion of Nader from the debates, Gore has never made the slightest move to give progressive voters the least reason to think he'd toss them the smallest bone, if elected. For a man who treats "the enemy," Bush, with super-kid gloves in the name of taking the "high road," Gore has set his minions not just to make the lame lesser argument, but to mock, derogate, and slander Nader, and, by extension, those who support him and intend to vote for him.

Side-note: This election seems to be a replay of the 1988 one. Dukakis was 30 points ahead coming out of the Democratic convention, and he managed to squander it against what was widely considered the weakest Republican ticket in decades. Dukakis, like Gore, was a unlovable technocrat. Dukakis, like Gore, swore off "mudslinging." The Bushes, on the other hand, come across as genial enough and have no problem with smearing their opponent. Not to mention spending a ton of money.

The money point is crucial. Dubya managed to squash McCain (who is a likeable -- to the press -- more independent Gore) by outspending him two to one. (During the primaries, Bush didn't accept federal matching funds so as to avoid spending limits.) Right now, Bush is letting the RNC buy the ads. Bush just may prove that having no useful qualities except a vague reputation for geniality and a bunch of negatives means little compared to a pile of money and a willingness to be nasty.

Gore's surrogate campaign against Nader is entirely negative. It's not just that it's mean, but, with few exceptions, it offers no reason to vote for Gore. Instead, we are enjoined to not vote for Nader in order to "effectively" vote against Bush. Even the Supreme Court argument -- that Bush will appoint justices that will overturn Roe v. Wade and Gore won't -- doesn't purport that Gore will be an effective and active advocate of abortion rights (e.g., funding for poor women, rolling back Webster, etc.), much less women's rights in general. This is a measure of what progressives can expect from a Gore administration: to be shafted while the chorus sings, "It could have been worse; it could have been worse; hallelujah, it could have been worse."

It could be better, too. Much better.

Remember that the DLC has worked to kill the left wing of the Democratic party. It suppressed Jesse Jackson and dispersed the Rainbow Coalition. It betrayed the unions to bring us NAFTA et. al. Did I mention welfare reform? (And these are just the domestic policies!) All this was done in the name of taking back the White House. We progressives bit the bullet and held our breath and noses and voices and supported Clinton/Gore. Of course, the Democrats lost the House and Senate (with many Democrats switching over), and we didn't get health care, and we did get Kosovo, Iraq, East Timor, and Rwanda. But we had the White House, and if we wanted to keep it we had to keep our mouths shut and accept the little losses which, or so they told us, were better than the big losses we could have suffered. And now "we're" going to lose the White House unless progressives come back into the fold and do their duty: Vote for someone who despises us and all that we stand for.

I confess to feeling the touch of ambivalence. I really and truly despise Bush, and I'm completely embarrassed by him. I'm hard pressed to come up with someone who's more of a pathetic lightweight aiming for high office than George W. Bush: Reagan, Bush Sr, even Dan Quayle had better qualifications, personality, intelligence, stature. I blush for the Republicans.

However, the Loyal Liberal appeal to vote for Gore doesn't heavily focus on the rage and humiliation I feel toward Bush -- even though, I think, such a campaign would play well with the general public. I can imagine several "killer" ads discussing Texas's and Bush's systematic misadministration of the death penalty, ads that could even support the death penalty in general. Given the fact that worry about the fairness of the application of the death penalty, coupled with a "in principle" favoring of it, is the dominant public view, it's mystifying that Gore hasn't pounded on it. I just don't understand why the Gore campaign turns itself inside out to be nice to Bush and then turns itself outside in to be nasty to Nader.

Wasted votes

If you vote for someone who then doesn't win, have you wasted your vote? Suppose Nader gave up and endorsed Gore, and even suppose that Gore picked up a few percentage points as a result, what happens if Gore still loses (which is quite possible, sad to say)? Now that would be a wasted vote for a progressive.

By the same token, suppose Gore would win -- by however slim a margin -- even if Nader didn't withdraw, but in fact Nader did? In that case, wouldn't the Naderites have wasted not just their votes, but their efforts to put Nader on the ballot?

Everyone who supports Nader knew from the start that he wouldn't win the election: the deck was wildly stacked against him, and Al Gore didn't do a damn thing to change that. Some folks wanted to be able to vote for someone they'd actually want to have as President. Some wanted to build the Green Party up. Some wanted to send a strong message to the Democrats. These are all real, positive reasons to vote for Nader which don't disappear because Gore can't beat Bush. Furthermore, none of them are achieved by a vote for Gore, especially a vote which is really a vote against Bush.

So to say that they are "wasted" per se has to be some sort of error. There is the probability that they won't be votes cast for the winner of the election, but it's at least 50-50 that they won't be for the winner if you vote for Gore. And for progressives disenchanted by the Democratic party, it's highly likely that a vote for a winning Gore will involve a lot of waste as well (in spite of Gore's "environmentalism").

It's odd, really: the Democrats spent themselves to gain the presidency (under DLC guidance). Pre-Clinton, they controlled the House and the Senate, they had a large majority of state governerships and legislatures. Post-Clinton, they lost they House and the Senate and many, many states.

The National Conference of State Legislatures' web site has an illuminating table detailing the balance of control of the states going back to 1938. From 1970 through 1992, the Democrats controlled an overwhelming majority of state governerships and legislatures. In 1992, 25 states were under Democratic dominance, 8 under Republican, and 16 split. In 1994, the Democratic states had dropped to 18, the Republican had 19, and there were 12 split states. Historically, this is not entirely unusual, but one does wonder if the presidency is worth the House, the Senate, and control of all those states. It's not clear that a Gore administration would or could do anything to reverse this trend.

Gore's no Reagan. He's not even a Clinton. Can we really expect him to be an effective progressive leader against all the power mobilized against him (not to mention all the power he's sold himself to)? Can we dare to hope that a progressive movement will flourish with him "in charge"? Especially a movement that gave up its conscience, its organization, and its wallet (i.e., Federal matching funds) to save his sorry ass?

I suspect not.

Four years of compromise, of gritted teeth, of excuses and excusing, of rightward movement, of apologetics, of erosion of purpose and drive, of joy at microscopic gains and smaller than feared losses: this is what we're likely to get for our vote? And this is supposed to be an easy, obvious decision?

As I so often do, I find myself turning to Martin Luther King, Jr's Letter From Birmingham City Jail:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive non-violent tension that is necessary for growth...So the purpose of the direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open to the door to negotiation.

Voting for Nader in a swing state entails the risk that Bush may win that state. Not working all out for Gore entails that risk too, yet I don't see the Loyal Liberals trying to recruit Nader or the Naderites. From the convention, to the debates, to the last minute diatribes, there's been no negotiation, no acknowledgement, no honesty. If Nader and his supporters aren't careful, we stand to waste more that just our votes. And the shrillness of the Loyal Liberal diatribes points to a crisis that we should not wish to suppress.

It's strikingly characteristic of the people in power that the call to fall in line is purely top down. The Loyal Liberals are all "leaders," power brokers, pundits, and politicians. They stand ready to blame Nader for Gore's failure and are quick to dismiss the long-term, grassroot efforts of the Green Party. If the membership of the NAACP, several of the major unions, and the like passed resolutions asking Nader to throw in with Gore, the case would be a lot more compelling, for there would lie the possibility of solidarity and change.

Selling Out

If Nader and his voters are to sell out, to waste our votes and efforts in a different way, we should sell them dearly and for solid coin instead of airy promises. While I do not especially trust Gore, there are plenty of things that Clinton could do on Gore's behalf right now (after all, a crucial part of the Loyal Liberal argument is the power of the presidency, a power under Gore's direct influence). Mitigation or elimination of the siege Iraq tops my list. For that, I would sell far more than a vote or Federal matching funds. Just ending the illegal-by-every-measure bombing runs would be worth consideration. Stopping the dropping of chemical/biological weapons on Columbia is another easily acceptable bid. Putting pressure on Israel to stop their violence against the Palestinians is yet another.

The Clinton/Gore policy with regard to any of these three issues results in more deaths and destroyed lives than the mere repeal of Roe v. Wade could hope to produce (not counting that abortion rights can be fought for and secured on any number of fronts). And each of those policies is much more under the direct control of the president than abortion rights. They could be mitigated, at least, with the stroke of a pen. To the contrary, even if elected president, Bush would have to appoint exactly the right justices (which would have to get through the Senate), and then a challenge to Roe would have to come through, and then Roe would have to be overturned, and then restrictive legislation would have to be passed, typically on a state by state basis.

When we are told to save abortion rights by throwing in with Al "Keep-the-Sanctions--Fight-the-War-on-Drugs--We're-an honest-broker-who-happens-to-be-a-friend-of-Israel" Gore, we should ask in turn, "Is the distant risk worth supporting the immediate and definite destruction?" On these three issues and many more Gore and Bush are in total lockstep.

To vote for Nader may be to "help" Bush in that the vote doesn't lower Bush's chances of winning. But sticking with Nader, however painful it may be, at least offers some hope of future leverage. Of course, merely to cast a defiant vote isn't enough. If it is to be more than an empty gesture, it must be joined with a willingness to be active in future battles and to sustain and heighten the tension. If we each make our vote an integral part of our activism, then it is worth more than the fear of a Bush planet can buy.


Bijan Parsia is the scourge of slacker philosophy students at UNC where he is a PhD candidate in philosophy. An avid computer programmer, Bijan writes for The Monkeyfist Collective on issues of politics, identity, and liberation.
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