Sunday, September 30, 2012

Of urban legends and the 2000 election

As we draw closer to November 6, 2012 -- just 10 days left before the deadline for voter registration, 22 days before the start of early voting in Texas, and only 36 days remaining until Election Day -- and as I see, almost every day, a new thread on discussion fora populated by Democrats, liberals, and progressives (not always the same thing, to be certain) that begin with the words "Fuck Ralph Nader' ... I am reminded that it is time once again to put another stake in the heart of the stubborn myth that Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election. And by extension is also responsible for all of George W. Bush's atrocities -- including but not limited to 9/11, the Iraq War, the acceptance of torture as an intelligence tool, the Great Crash of 2008, and other messes that Barack Obama is (allegedly) cleaning up even as I type.

*Whew*. That's a lot for even a pariah to bear.

Let's begin with the obvious: correlation is not causation. W ignored more than one PDB that warned of OBL attacking the US, it was Bill Clinton who signed the legislation appealing Glass-Steagall, and Obama hasn't accomplished as much as we all wish he had, and not only because of Republican Congressional obstructionism. None of what occurred -- none -- from January 2001 to January 2009 can rationally be laid at Ralph Nader's feet. No more digressing, though; back to the urban legend of '00.

It's important to acknowledge that Nader did have some influence on the election's outcome twelve years ago, and that influence, in whatever amount it can be properly attributed, was likely to a measure of detriment to Gore. You may, for example, correctly fault Nader for breaking a promise not to campaign in swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania, as Jonathan Chait did. That was dishonorable, in my view.

Here's a good summary of the contentiousness of the question. I'm including the reference links cited on Nader's Wikipedia page (some do not work).

Nader's actual influence on the 2000 election is the subject of considerable discussion, and there is no consensus on Nader's impact on the outcome. Nader's votes in New Hampshire and Florida vastly exceeded the difference in votes between Gore and Bush, as did the votes of all alternative candidates.[63] Exit polls showed New Hampshire staying close, and within the margin of error without Nader[64] as national exit polls showed Nader's supporters choosing Gore over Bush by a large margin,[65] well outside the margin of error. Winning either state would have given Gore the presidency, and while critics claim this shows Nader tipped the election to Bush, Nader has called that claim "a mantra — an assumption without data."[66] Nader supporters argued that Gore was primarily responsible for his own loss.[67] Nader critic Eric Alterman disagreed, writing: "One person in the world could have prevented Bush's election with his own words on the Election Day 2000."[68] Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn cited Gore's failure to win over progressive voters in Florida who chose Nader, and congratulated those voters: "Who would have thought the Sunshine State had that many progressives in it, with steel in their spine and the spunk to throw Eric Alterman's columns into the trash can?"[69] Still others argued that even if Nader's constituents could have made the swing difference between Gore and Bush, the votes Nader garnered were not from the Democrats, but from Democrats, Republicans, and discouraged voters who would not have voted otherwise.[70]

Go here if you want to read more.

In my humble O, there are at least four more severe influences than the presence and actions of candidate Nader that cost the Democrat the White House, two of which were within Gore's greater power to mitigate. It is most accurate, then, to say that 'several confluent events unknowingly conspired to alter the course of history', and no one of them -- not even the United States Supreme Court -- can be solely blamed.

And since I brought that up... here we go.

1. The SCOTUS awarded the presidency to Bush. In a decision that overruled state courts twice, stopping the recount in Florida, and then declaring that their decision in the case should not be considered legal precedent, the five conservative Justices disgraced democracy. Simply read Alan Dershowitz and you will agree.

But the case never should have come to them, because...

2. Florida would not have been necessary for an Electoral College victory had Gore won his home state of Tennessee, or even New Hampshire. Or Arkansas. Or West Virginia, which was blue in 1988, 1992, and 1996. Winning any one of these would have ended the contest and made Florida moot.

There might be factors in each of these states of play in 2000 that would invalidate some of this generalization. I'm not writing a polemic here, or a book. Robert Byrd all but begged Gore to ride in the car with him and visit WV voters to secure the state in his column, but Gore did not. Gore avoided campaigning with Clinton like the plague, a massive error in judgment in hindsight. It could be construed that cost him Arkansas, and maybe a few other states as well.

Gore placed all his chips on Florida by selecting Joe Lieberman as running mate, and apparently took his opportunities to win the other states for granted. (I believe it was John McCain, inveterate craps player, who made the phrase "game-changing pick " popular four years ago.) I would personally choose to fault the odious Bob Schrum, who still to this day offers his "Jimmy the Greek" wisdom on MSNBC and elsewhere, for running a campaign that made the Sunshine State, with the inherent corruption in its processes -- Katherine Harris, hanging/dimpled/pregnant chads, caged voter lists and all the rest --  the battleground. Schrum is 0 for 8 in presidential campaigns he has advised. Why does anyone listen to anything he says?

Whatever influence a different tactic or two might have had on the outcome remains mostly speculative, however, and I would prefer to stick to the numbers for this case. And while the Electoral College calculus is often noted by Nader defenders as the most reasonable way Gore could have called himself president, this next is rarely cited as a reason he does not.

3. 200,000+ registered Democrats in Florida voted for Bush.

Not only that, but this, from Emily Przekwas at this link (scroll to the bottom):

(O)ver half of the registered Democrats (in Florida) did not vote at all.
Every one of the eight third-party presidential candidates in Florida received more than the 543 votes cited as the deciding factor in the election.

On some discarded ballots, voters both filled in the bubble for their candidate and wrote the candidate's name in the write-in-space. If these had been included in the count, Gore would have had a net gain of 662 votes, enough to win the election.

Yes, we already knew Florida voters were stupid (see next, #4). This is just more proof.

We can only guess as to why so many Democrats abandoned Gore; I only know that I was not one at the time. But it is ridiculous for any Democrat to claim all -- or even a portion -- of Nader's 97,421 votes in Florida and not acknowledge that more than twice that many were lost by Gore to the Republican. This, more than anything else, is why Gore lost. But there is also...

4. Palm Beach County elections supervisor Theresa LePore's butterfly ballot, which cost Gore 6,607 votes... and they were lost to Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. This circumstance goes in the "Murphy's Law" category unless you would choose to ascribe ulterior motives to LePore -- who, feeding the conspiracy theories, was elected as a Democrat and then switched her affiliation after 2000 to independent. I'll leave that alone.

A total of 19,000 of these ballots in this one Florida county were "spoiled" because voters punched two chads (mistakenly thinking they had to select both names, president and vice-president). Bush apparently even lost 1,691 votes himself to Buchanan, in the nebulous divining of 'voter intent'. Read this for more.

These numbers, no matter how they are crunched, shake out to slightly less than the exit-polled 25% of 97,000 Nader voters who claimed they would have voted for Gore otherwise (again Emily Przekwas at the end of the above link) and much less than Nader himself attributes he cost Gore (38%, in his book Crashing the Party). So here's where some people start to lean toward "it was Nader's fault". Thus...

5. A percentage of Nader's votes can be assumed as 'belonging' to Gore in some calculation. In my own experience with Greens, I believe that percentage to be closer to 10% than anything else, but the 25% -- or even 38% -- in the previous is a reasonable premise. Just be aware of the fact that any percentage of Greens voting for Democrats when there is no Green option is completely unpredictable and thoroughly inconsistent from one election to another, and even from one race to another.

There you have it, at last: it really was Ralph's fault.

So, to summarize...

If you are typically in the habit of selecting the fifth-best option first, then go ahead and keep blaming Nader for Gore losing an election he should have won, for several tangible reasons and many more intangible ones as well. Some I haven't mentioned yet include the following: Gore's perceived stiff, wooden personality; heavily sighing several times during one debate with Bush; repeatedly characterizing Social Security as being in a "lockbox"; and a pattern of misstatements by Gore, characterized in the 'inventor of the Internet' crap and the James Lee Watt business, all feeding the narrative the Bush campaign used to define Gore as dishonest, detached, unsympathetic, blahblahblah. (Do we see any parallels to Election 2012?)

In the HBO docudrama Recount, at the very end, actors Denis Leary and Kevin Spacey, in the roles of Gore campaign advisors Michael Whouley and Ron Klain, perform their own post-mortem.

Klain: We should have asked for a statewide from the get-go - that was our biggest mistake.
Whouley: Mm-hmm, and Ralph Nader should've pulled his head out of his ass. And Elian Gonzalez should've never left Miami. And Gore should've campaigned with Clinton. And Clinton should've got caught getting a blowjob from Sharon Stone instead of Monica Lewinsky 'cause then his approval ratings would have shot through the roof. And Katherine Harris should've thought twice about purging 20,000 voters from the rolls. And George Bush, Jr. should have never quit drinking, but he did. It is what it is, pal. Four years from now we'll come back, gather our information and go right back at 'em.
Klain: Even after all the mistakes and all the corruption, we still had about half a day there where the entire state was counting.
Whouley: Mn-hmm, and do you think if W had asked for a recount, the Supreme Court would have stopped it? 

That's pretty much everything I said.

Here's a premise I do NOT buy that is meant to block Gore's theoretical, after-the-fact path to the White House the data above suggests: Karl Rove, proprietor of 'THA Math', claimed that the revelation of Bush's old DUI conviction five days before Election Day "cost him five states".  But there that is, anyway.

We now know, at the very least, that this argument has gone back and forth so many times that it has acquired a depth of truthiness that can barely be plumbed. In defiance of the preponderance of evidence, questionable or not, specific or vague, feel free at this time to cast it all aside. Yes; please throw it away. Here's a plain vanilla emotional appeal. A mental health question, if you prefer.

The only rational response to Nader Derangement Syndrome on the part of Democrats is: "It's been twelve years. When are you going to get over it?".

I don't hear Republicans bitching any more about Ross Perot costing them two elections, 1992 and 1996. And that analysis is quite a bit more certain.

You don't want to be like them, do you?

1 comment:

Greg said...

One more note on the "butterfly ballot" part of the controversy -- that ballot style was standard in a lot of states, including Illinois. I've always loved it when I'm told that voters in Florida were uniquely unable to make sense of the same sort of ballot that at least 10 million voters used that year without there being a problem -- and that they had used for years without there being a problem.