Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Debating Blue vs. Green with SCOTUS as backdrop

Ed. note: As this post was being composed, Jill Stein has selected human rights activist Ajamu Baraka to be her vice-presidential running mate.  More on that later.

I don't want to be harsh every single day for the next three months to all of these binary thinkers, but I need to point out how often they use the same threadbare logic.

-- Ben Jealous debated Jill Stein on Democracy Now (you may recall he was a Sanders supporter up to last week) and the tropes he employed were, in order, "Trump", "privilege", "George W. Bush in 2000", and "Greens need to start at the bottom", all of which have been debunked in these pages in recent days.

Jealous also referenced at the end a mashup of 'pie in the sky' and Nader.  ('Pie in the sky' is one of John Coby's old standbys; he's earned future Daily Jackass consideration with his 'pinch your nose because you must'.)

-- Robert Reich and Chris Hedges had the same faceoff in the same venue, and Reich went Trump, "Supreme Court", "wait until next cycle", and followed that with Hillary's own faux pas, which riffed off Ted Cruz at the RNC's 'vote your conscience'.

These debates would be very instructive for those who still have an open mind as to whether to vote for Clinton or Stein.  There are always going to be certain understandings -- biases -- that each person listens or reads with, so in that sense there are very few true undecideds.  The arguments against Stein, as Jealous and Reich demonstrate, are always rooted in the same handful of lame rebuttals.

Let's examine one that rarely gets scrutiny: the SCOTUS premise, beaten like a rug previously here but this time we take a look from a more nuanced perspective.  In 2000, Barbra Streisand hosted a gala fundraiser for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman in Los Angeles and raised what at the time was reported as a record-breaking amount of money, $5.1 million.  I remember watching at least part of the event, though not live, perhaps on YouTube or as part of some other documentary some years later.  Tommy Lee Jones, Gore's old college roommate, did the introductions.  Streisand and several other prominent artists of the time performed, and Barbra gave a short speech, calling for Gore's election to "reform campaign finance regulations, strengthen gun control laws, improve education and healthcare, safeguard a woman's right to choose, and control homophobia".

Isn't it fascinating how little things change in our presidential politics?

Streisand's brief mention of the Supreme Court's importance in the 2000 election was direct and blunt (I can still see her holding up her fingers with a determined look on her face): "The first three reasons to vote for Al Gore are the Supreme Court... the Supreme Court... and the Supreme Court."  You can read the rest here.

At the beginning of this primary season about a year ago, I polled a handful of Democratic activists about their choice for nominee and why, and a couple of them, sadly, named 'Clinton, because of the Supreme Court'.  Leaving aside the question of picking a party nominee on this uncareful logic, it seems obvious even to your average Democrat fifth-grader that electing a Democrat and not a Republican because of the SCOTUS makes sense for the same reason that it does for a Republican to vote for a Republican instead of a Democrat.

Having cleared that up, let's return again to the year 2000 and Gore and W. Bush and the infamous circumstances that occurred in Florida that year.  The myth that Ralph Nader is to blame for the outcome has been thoroughly refuted, but let's look closer at the numbers laid out by Jim Hightower in the oft-cited Salon piece from November 27, 2000 -- a full two weeks before Gore actually quit, on December 12.  Bold emphasis is mine.

Now it gets really ugly for the Gore campaign, for there are two other Florida constituencies that cost them more votes than Nader did. First, Democrats. Yes, Democrats! Nader only drew 24,000 Democrats to his cause, yet 308,000 Democrats voted for Bush. Hello. If Gore had taken even 1 percent of these Democrats from Bush, Nader’s votes wouldn’t have mattered. Second, liberals. Sheesh. Gore lost 191,000 self-described liberals to Bush, compared to less than 34,000 who voted for Nader. 

If the Supreme Court was such a vital part of the message to Democrats to elect Gore, why did over 300,000 registered Florida Democrats vote for Bush instead?  Did they miss the memo?  Did they defy the exhortations of thousands of their fellow Democrats, from Barbra Streisand on down?  Were they just, as so many people have delighted in saying about Florida Democrats in 2000, stupid?

What about those 191K who self-identify as 'liberal" Democrats?  What in the world was going on inside those people's brains?

I've not been able to track down -- in a decade of searching -- a single solitary response from the Blame Nader crowd, or anybody else for that matter, as to why these folks cast a ballot for Bush and not Gore.  I know they've never been appropriately held to account for Gore's defeat, while Nader's 90,000 or so votes always are.  Which begs the next question: how is it that Nader's votes are assumed to belong to Democrats, when more than triple that number of Ds can run off the reservation and vote Republican without consequence?  Whatever conclusions we might draw, one thing seems certain: "SCOTUS" was obviously not an important enough reason for them to vote for their own party's nominee, no matter what Barbra Streisand said.

(Sidebar: "SCOTUS" is a tenuous argument also because so many Justices have not turned out to be the "slam dunks" John Sununu, to use one example, predicted David Souter would be.  Hillary Clinton will likely appoint judges whom she believes most closely resemble her own mushy middle, corporate-styled centrism: Merrick Garland, Sri Srinivasan, Amy Klobuchar.  We're more likely to see those political types grow more conservative than liberal as the years pass.)

I suspect to the chagrin of Hillary supporters everywhere that history may be repeating itself in 2016.  It might be that the old and tired arguments to vote for the moderate Democrat against the freak-right fascist might carry even less weight than they have in elections past.  Let's establish clearly that a Trump presidency would be a disaster for all of us, irrespective of our class and/or privilege.

But it is still not a good enough reason for progressive Democrats -- who have been bullied and defrauded from start to finish in the just-completed primary -- to abandon their principles, pinch their noses, and avert disaster on behalf of others.  If Clinton is to win the Sanders bloc, she's going to have to do so without the standard guilt and shaming.  She and her supporters are going to have to come up with some more intelligent reasons for people to vote for her.

I don't see it happening, but they have a few final shots at it.  If they want to take them, that is.

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