Monday, March 24, 2008

Becky, Nader, Politics, and I should soooooooooo be in bed

A hasty posting for you.

Further debates with J-friend Becky on the presidential election, electoral politics, and history.

It's late (or early). Read. J go sleep.

>>I concede that every US president, Democrat or Republican, has continued the imperialist trend. I do not disagree that all have done a lot to cause harm across the world.<<
This is a bit of an understatement. And as I said, and you didn't address, as much or more of this was under the Dems as the Reps. And it's not just "harm"; it's thousands, if not millions, of deaths at the hands of our military or our proxies. This is hardly something to be brushed past.

>>I certainly agree that the Dems in Congress often seem to be spineless creeps who can't vote against anything, but I also must recognize that even if they had all moved to stop the Prez at any stage, they did/do not have the votes to override a veto.<<
True, but it's a non sequitir to maintain that they should therefore pass bills that are likely to be signed by the President because they give him everything he wants. The fact that he can veto bills, but that Congress controls spending, should make a Democratic-controlled Congress highly effective actually, being that they can cut off funding for any number of things -- it doesn't have to be funding for troops directly that they cut off. Or they could even be clever and transfer huge sums from the "emergency" bills put at the Admin's discretion and then spend it on the VA or research programs for the wounded vets. The fact that they can't override a veto doesn't mean that they're powerless, but that's how they seem to interpret it.

>>I do hold it against them that they voted for the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act, but at least some of them didn't and some of them are now trying to do damage control on these issues and others.<<
Not to the extent that they've taken any political risks on it. You realize that the US public is more progresive on the war than the US Dem-controlled Congress? Surely, there's a better way to use that than to play out the clock and damage control until the elections. They've done precious little of substance to stop PATRIOT from continuing -- i.e. they renewed the warrantless wiretapping in FISA before they recessed last time! That was purely unacceptable and indefensible -- yet they've done it.

>>I'd like to note that there are few issues that the Democrats so shiningly do differ from Republicans on. Most obvious first: One is equal rights for all Americans, including homosexuals.<<
While this might actually appear blindingly obvious, I'd argue that as a party they're ineffective at the national level, and at the local level there are conservative libertarians who are just as fine with homosexual rights as liberals (with a variety of differences that vary from important to mundane, true). But a Dem congress that gives lipservice to gay rights but does little isn't particularly helpful. And as hateful as Scalia is, he did join the majority in striking down the anti-sodomy laws of (Texas?) last year.

>>Another is abortion rights (which may matter more to me, as a female, than you).<<
That's a bit condescending. It does matter to me as a progressive and a believer in women's right to control their own body. Of course, one must weigh various aspects here. Clarence Thomas, a reliable vote against women's rights if there ever was one, was appointed under a 57-43 Dem majority Senate, with 11 Dems voting to confirm (and the Dem-controlled committee not willing to stop his nomination from going to the floor despite the huge Anita Hill sexual harassment allegation, and being one of the few, if not only, Supreme Court nominees to have been not endorsed as "Qualified" by the American Bar Association). 2 Republicans, of of the 43, also voted against him.

>>A third is actually doing something about GCC.<<
Again, it depends on your perspective. I would maintain that given the fact the latest science alleges we have to make drastic changes in the next 5-10 years, and that the probability of drastic changes under an Administration of Dem or Rep. is approximately zero (and one must give McCain credit as being occassionally sensible about Global Climate Change), it seems to me that failing to stop a catastrophe through half-measures is not meaningfully discernible in outcome from failing through complete inaction. I'm willing to debate this point -- but that's my problem. Dem supporters never positively assert how we'll get from here to there under the "we've got to support person X" plan. And almost all agree that Obama is possibly the best Dem of a generation to get a chance at the presidency; yet he quite simply is not proposing the necessary measures to avoid catastrophe. (Not to mention that he has: said he's open to the possibility of bombing Iran, and Pakistan; said he's not for gay marriage but perhaps civil unions during his Senate election campaign where *he could not have lost if he wanted to against Alan Keyes* -- and if a politician can't speak for full-throated gay rights then, when running against someone polling like 4% of the vote, frankly, fuck them.) It may be "better" to fail through half-measures, but there really is a relatively firm estimate of what we absolutely need to go below in order to avoid a qualitatively different worsening of GCC; not reaching it is not reaching it, despite "good intentions." I frankly see no possible way to address this under a two-party system. Zero way.

>>A fourth is health care and a fifth is cutting taxes for the wealthy vs. giving services to the poor (you're likely to throw Welfare Reform in my face, right now, but if I remember correctly, most Dems were against it and the bill that passed came out of a Republican-majority Congress).<<
Well, health care seems likely to improve in the near future, but that remains to be seen (though it is true it is a primarily Dem issue, but again, if the results aren't seen on the ground, then clearly it's a waste). Cutting taxes/services etc etc they are quantitatively different, but not shiningly -- the poorest of Americans do pretty poorly under both parties. Granted that the poorest are the ones actually suffering and dying -- poverty has nominally decreased, but the "poverty line" is a ridiculous one so one needs to dig for the numbers, but they don't much change (I think) -- then the fact that those who are just getting by get by better or worse is far less important to me that the eventual addressing of the poorest. Welfare Reform was indeed passed in a Rep-controlled Congress, though it looks to me like more Senate Dems voted for it than against it, though "only" 15% of the House Dems did. (I would also point to the sad spectacle of disenfranchisement seen in Fahrenheit 9/11 when all that was needed as one senator to support the House procedures to stop the coronation of Bush and properly investigate, and not one of either party came forward.)

>>sanctions must be preferable to bombing the s*&t out of a country (or two) and then occupying it<<
I would tend to agree, but again, I feel things must be judged by results. Estimates imply something near 1/2 million child deaths due to the sanctions under conservative estimates; that would put total "excess" deaths likely in the 500 or 600,000 - 1,000,000 area (with some estimates around 1.5 million). While this is similar to the estimated "excess" deaths in Iraq right now, and Iraq's suffered huge infrastructure losses as well as life, the direct casualties are at least comparable -- something beyond unacceptable in my book for sanctions, which were about pride and exerting power, for which a million Iraqis had to die. The fact that bombs were not involved does somewhat little to move me.

>>I agree that it would be nice to have a leader who is not involved in any of the deplorable actions that our nation has undertaken in the last 100 years and one who is actually interested in solving some of the real problems in America today. However, I don't think Nadar is the guy to do it.<<
Well, I think Katha does make some fundamental errors, but I can see her points. (No one has any proof it is "vanity" -- that would require seeing inside his head -- and like I said, from all reports, he is just stubborn as a mother-fucker. Impugning his motives does little to advance the debate and expresses instead an understandable frustration. But it is a needless ad hominem.) There's a reason to documentary about was called "An Unreasonable Man." And of course, his net effects on electoral politics could be debated, since he has started several ground-based groups, Public Citizen chief among them, that have taken on some of these issues that he doesn't.

But in the end this is distracting from the point. He was and is right not to campaign in primaries with Kucinich because, as I've written in my blog before, Kucinich serves in the long-term to marginalize the left-prog arm of the Democrats. He gets their/our support, and then invariably throws his full support to the Dem. nominee without even publicly asking for concessions for the few delegates he gathers every 4 years. I love DK's policies and the voice he brings to primaries, but I've realized he's utterly ineffective -- moreso, actively damaging -- to progressive causes when he goes with the Dems, no matter who they support.

Which brings me to the last bits: one, I still have yet to see from anyone, including you, how voting for the Dems works to form any kind of long-term change. As I may have said, my analysis of history is that things change dramatically either a) after disaster or b) after a powerful ground movement takes off or c) both. The critiques of Nader on ground movements both hit and miss -- he, after all, didn't leave the Greens so much as they left him, and then worked hard on imploding; he became the Independent Party candidate, the party that brought for example Ventura to Minnesota (I may not've really agreed with "The Body", but he was different, I'll give him that). So Nader worked with and within parties -- but as the Greens have now realized, running *no* national candidate actually hurts their local efforts for a variety of reasons I won't go into here (not to mention their fucked up decision to run a candidate who more or less encouraged people to vote for someone else in 2004 and ended up looking like ineffectual fools). So Nader should be building, but it's not as if he hasn't tried recently, only to be rebuffed by people whose strategies were worse than his.

In any case, a ground-based movement on issues is not an apparent goal of the Dems -- indeed, I could name you 50 examples of them quashing real grassroots participation in the party. The Dems are active opponents of changing the status quo. One can debate about individuals, but stated plainly, as an institution the Dems will naturally block electoral reform (they just want to, *and have*, preferred re-rigging the system in their favor) just as much as Reps, and they will continue to ignore the base, blunting grassroots movements. Now, I am willing to listen to historically-grounded theories as to how supporting the Dems will get us past the impasses of the status quo, but it rather seems to me that supporters of the Dems are NOT thinking strategically, because they have never enunciated to me a plan of how this achieves long-term change, such that we don't keep killing foreigners and continue to dawdle about GCC. Nader may not be the answer (I don't support him so much because he's "the" answer but because I don't believe that one should vote for the Dems regardless of whether they end up supporting the policies they were elected to support, and I believe we need 3rd parties). Voting for Nader may not be the way to bring in 3rd parties. But, I think it's a start. Feel free to disagree -- but arguments with facts, evidence, and analysis are important parts of strategies, and I don't see it from Dem supporters. After all, is there *any* case you can imagine not voting for the Dem? If the answer is "probably not, barring something ridiculous and unforeseen" then voting is not an exercise in democracy because there is no real choice -- and Dems will use that to continue to not respond to the progressives, to "support" but not enact policies they were elected to support, until gays and lesbians still don't have equal rights, the environment is crap, and the other countries have enough of our shit and overrun us.

I really think that a widespread, and possibly, if unfortunately, violent global revolt against us is going to happen in the end anyway; I'druther try and change things for the better before then (and maybe even avoid it).

1 comment:

Becky T said...

I think that even though we agree on nearly every issue, the difference between us is that I believe changing in small ways for the good (e.g., cutting carbon emissions, even if we don't end up cutting enough to advert what is probably certain disaster) is worth doing, rather than doing nothing. So, I'm actually very much for incremental change that helps some people, rather than nothing or more active degradation of the world, etc.

The only other point I must make is that we are both somewhat on the fringe of American politics and many of the policies we see as requisite are not passed by Dems or Reps because they do not reflect US public opinion. I think you may be right about the current war funding, but when I hear people talk about it, I get the feeling that if Congress did step in and decrease funding in any way for the troops, they would lose all hope of re-election, which as politicians they certain don't want.

Being that I am a scientist, not a political scientist, I honestly cannot give you the kinds of facts that you are rightly looking for, which is why I think I must defer on this discussion. My basic point is that I don't see Nadar as doing anything to truly help the cause of having alternatives to the two major parties, and perhaps he could do a lot more as a senator (had he been one in 2000, he could have stopped the coronation, like you said) or running for something other than President every four years.