Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nader's rationale

Updating the previous post -- it's a little long already and Matt in the comments wants to steer it off topic, as usual -- here is Ralph Nader on Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word last night explaining his reasons for holding what I will call a 'topics primary challenge' to Obama.

I agree with everything Nader says here. If this is the exclusive premise for his tack (no agenda to turn it into another Quixotic bid for the White House), then I can get firmly behind it. Nader and I would still disagree about working within the Republican-Democratic duopoly for progressive change as opposed to without, but there's certainly no reason why both couldn't happen at the same time.

Here's the letter (.pdf) his group has written to the "slate of potential primary challengers", and here's a sample from the announcement:

The letter points to numerous decisions that have drawn criticism from Obama’s own Democratic Party including his decision to bail out Wall Street’s most profitable firms while failing to push for effective prosecution of the criminal behavior that triggered the recession, escalating the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan while simultaneously engaging in a unilateral war in Libya, his decision to extend the Bush era tax cuts, and his acquiescence to Republican extortion during the recent debt ceiling negotiations.

“Robust debate on the crucial issues facing our nation, including global environmental devastation, should characterize all races for national public office and the Democratic presidential primaries are no exception,” said Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus of Friends of the Earth. “The public needs to hear whether a second term Obama will be like the first term Obama, or perhaps more like the 2008 presidential candidate Obama or something else altogether.”

I'm in. Let's have that conversation with the president and not just at him. Compel his attendance and participation, and make him listen. That's a very worthwhile objective in our republican democracy.

Otherwise, the 2012 campaign -- the next thirteen and one-half months -- is going to be the same old weekly Republican freak right debate, where TeaBaggers cheer death and corporate takeovers, and the Congress bogs down in another squabble with repetitive conservative talking points and FOX-News-buzzworthy phrases ("class warfare" is this week's poll-tested one).

Otherwise, Obama is reduced to what's he been doing ever since he was elected: forced to defensively respond to some right-wing lunacy. Birth certificates, death panels, job creators, Ponzi scheme, blah blah blah. In other words, losing.

And I'm not in on that.

But hey, don't feel bad if you don't get it; Russ Feingold apparently doesn't either.


Matt Bramanti said...

Ralph Nader is y'all's Ross Perot.

PDiddie, aka Perry Hussein Dorrell said...

I think the comparison fails equivalency.

As I stated in the OP there were a variety of factors that could be accounted for as collectively influencing Gore's defeat, but 3000+ Buchanan votes in Palm Beach County when Bush won Florida by 1700 is direct and measurable and verifiable.

Unlike Perot, who drained off nearly 20% of the vote in 1992 and may have cost Bush the state of Maine in the EC, Nader got less of the total vote percentage-wise in 2000 than Perot did in 1996 (8%).

Though if it were your intention to mean that both men were minor flies in the ointment ... then I agree. ;^)

Matt Bramanti said...

Sorry, I should've gone into more detail. You know I'm not one to give Dems advice, but if I were in your moccasins, I'd be really skittish about Ralph Nader.

There's always the hope that the third-party firebrand (be it Nader, or Perot, or Paul, or even Trump) will steer the mainstream candidate towards one's desired side, without siphoning off enough votes to elect the other guy.

I just don't think it works -- those two ends seem mutually exclusive. If the potential third-party guy commits to not running, and launching a verbal/ad/message campaign to try to push the mainstream guy away from the middle, the mainstream candidate can effectively ignore it because it's not a real threat.

In order for the verbal/ad/message campaign to succeed in pushing the mainstream guy to the left or right, it's got to be backed up with votes. And when that happens, you run the risk of a serious pyrrhic victory -- a more solidly ideological guy who loses because Mr. Third Party Hero siphons off enough votes.

Remember, Nader cost Gore a lot more votes in Palm Beach County than Buchanan did. If only one-third of Nader voters had voted for Gore, Gore would have won New Hampshire, Florida and New Mexico.

I'm not slagging on Nader, he's just the example at hand. It's the nature of the beast. Maybe it can be done, but it's a really, really tough balancing act, and Nader hasn't shown that he can pull it off. I loathe the guy's ideas, but it's a weird sort of affection, because I completely understand his appeal. You're an ideologue and I'm an ideologue, and the same dynamic is at play, just from opposite sides.

I agree they're minor flies in the ideological ointment, but they can really screw up elections. I guess Nader would say that Big Ointment has been suppressing anti-fly consumer protection measures. :)

The time for picking an ideologically acceptable candidate, or firming up a squishy one, is in the primary.

PDiddie, aka Perry Hussein Dorrell said...

Remember, Nader cost Gore a lot more votes in Palm Beach County than Buchanan did. If only one-third of Nader voters had voted for Gore, Gore would have won New Hampshire, Florida and New Mexico.

"There is no consensus on Nader's influence on the outcome", according to the Wiki on Ralph. More from there:

"Nader, both in his book Crashing the Party and on his website, states: 'In the year 2000, exit polls reported that 25% of my voters would have voted for Bush, 38% would have voted for Gore and the rest would not have voted at all." This lends supports your premise, Matt, particularly in NH but IMO less so in FL. 250,000 registered Democrats voted for Bush in the Sunshine State.

That had nothing to do with Nader.

Anyway, this has been bandied about for 12 years now and there is still no definitive answer. Mine remains that, with some bad luck and the accumulation of many small, poor choices -- refusing to campaign with Clinton comes to mind here -- Gore (with an assist from Murphy's Law via T. LePore) ultimately did it to himself.

That would be especially true if you don't want to blame the SCOTUS for stopping the FL recount, too. I give them their share of bad decision-making also.

Then again, Gore mishandled managing that from start to finish as well, if the various documentaries on the subject are to be believed.

Matt Bramanti said...

This lends supports your premise, Matt, particularly in NH but IMO less so in FL. 250,000 registered Democrats voted for Bush in the Sunshine State.

That's true, but the margin was so narrow that it wouldn't have taken 1/3 of Nader votes for Gore to win -- it would have taken less than 1 percent of Nader votes.

I agree with you that Gore lost because he ran a losing race. If I were a Gore supporter, I'd be pissed that it was close enough for Nader's little sliver to matter.

It's probably a fool's errand to apply ceteris parabus to something like this. But I think it's safe to assume that had Nader declined to run, a large percentage of his voters would still have cast ballots, and they would have been mostly for Gore, enough for him to have won Florida.