Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why, MSM, that's the nicest thing you've ever said!

Timothy Noah of Slate.com writes Lay off Ralph Nader in yesterday's Slate. In what is likely to be the nicest MainStream Media article about him for the next decade or so, Noah acknowledges that while he doesn't believe there are no pertinent differences between the two parties, he does believe that Nader believes it (and thus the talk about ego trips and vanity in terms of his presidential bids are a bit off). I agree with Noah, and I'm glad someone else has said it.

There are two things I don't think people understand about Nader (that I'm presuming I do):
a) if you do believe there isn't an important difference as I mostly do and he almost certainly does, then it isn't egomaniacal to keep running; it is more like Rudyard Kipling's poem "If": "If you can keep your head while all those around you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you... [you'll be a man, my son]." I guess I'm sensitive to this charge because I've been on the business end of it a couple times, just for believing in what I believed in despite the opinions of others around me. While it does take a certain amount of ego to believe you're right despite many, many detractors, it isn't about your ego. Egomania and vanity are about loving yourself excessively -- this is too often confused, I feel, with the passion and genuine belief and conviction in ideals that we praise in legend and song but seem to punish in real life.
b) If you believe in the evils of American Empire, including numerous deaths abroad (i.e., one million Vietnamese soldiers and 2-5 million civilian casualties compared to 60,000 US dead, courtesy largely of JFK and LBJ -- as I've said and presented evidence for before, Democrats have caused an equal or greater number of deaths from imperial ambitions in the past decades as have Republicans), and you believe the science on the environment (especially Global Warming), it is morally unconscionable to continue or compromise with the program of empire that has killed so many for less-than-noble reasons, and simply unwise and not in anyone's best interest to compromise on the environment, which simply put will not compromise with us -- we'll do what's right, in time, or we won't, and we'll make it worse for everyone. Of course, in case of increased environmental degradation the rich will still survive -- it's the poor who will suffer.

So Noah doesn't believe in Nader's uncompromising stance because it is simply not a politically realistic one. The question that I think is more pertinent though is, are politically realistic stances enough to stave off environmental and imperial catastrophe? I think the answer is no...

Side note: I had an extensive argument, well, with numerous people over this, but memorably with J-colleague EON. EON called my views that under a Dem OR Republican, environmental disaster seemed unavoidable and deaths from imperial efforts would continue practically unabated cynical. She also viewed as cynical (but didn't disagree with) my observation that the poorest and most discriminated-against Americans are among the groups who, for the most part, don't vote, likely because of the realistic analysis that the poorest's fortunes have changed little under whichever party. Both parties target the middle-class, with the poorest rarely seeing substantive help. Her response was whether I thought the comparatively small number of middle-class people who would be helped in a marginally better Democratic administration were unimportant -- I replied that they weren't unimportant, just not more important or even as important as the larger number of people who don't see material changes in their welfare under either party. I.e., the fore-mentioned poor and foreign nationals who, for example, starve to death under Democrat-imposed sanctions that do nothing to weaken their dictator. She continuously challenged my interpretation of history (i.e. that any President will do what they have to in order to stay in office, i.e. FDR & the New Deal occurring only with the genuine threat of rebellion by the poor and socialist upsurges in the 20s and 30s, and that political movements were more powerful, important, and largely independent of party, i.e. Nixon and Ford's civil rights work that they were forced to do and their arguably much better record on civil rights than JFK, etc.), without offering a competing interpretation. So, the question is, as I asked my dad the other day, why is it cynical to believe that the "Best of Two Evils/Obama's Not Evil" Plan will not work, and that the only morally and environmentally correct choice is to generate an alternative system -- that no two-party system is ever going to stave off environmental collapse or empire? I believe breaking the US' two-party system is doable, and real change within it is not. *I'm* cynical because I believe your method will fail but *my* approach that *you* don't believe in has a chance? What kind of weirdworld logic is that?

1 comment:

Becky T said...

Oh, where to start? I agree that the two-party system does not serve US citizens’ (or the world’s) best interest. But, I still feel strongly that the two parties are NOT the same. If you want to be stuck in the ‘20s through ‘60s, that’s fine, but since Nixon, the Democratic presidents have led to more peace (think Carter - Israel and Egypt, Clinton – Israel and Jordan (and nearly Palestine)) and considerably less warfare (must I point out Bush – Iraq and Afghanistan??) than the Republican ones.

Now, let’s talk about wealth distribution for just a moment. Trickle-down economics hurts everyone except that very richest. Reversal of that approach may help the middle class more, but shouldn’t be construed to be hurting the poor as much as trickle-down does. Additionally, Bush (with the support of the Republican party) has started a $3 trillion war, which has further undermined domestic programs that help the poor (e.g., Medicaid – there are tons of others, but they are smaller and lesser known). Meanwhile, every single year, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) raves and rants to increase the minimum wage, but that didn’t pass until the Democrats had a rare majority in Congress.

Another place where there is a huge difference between the two major parties is in personal and civil liberties. Democrats are not the ones trying to force specific religious beliefs into schools and public life (e.g., teaching “intelligent design” or keeping certain couples from getting married). (Oh, by the way, Nader was against letting a man carry out his brain-dead wife’s wishes to not be hooked up to machines indefinitely – seems like a bit of an invasion of government into private life to me.) There are some Democrats who would likely be on board with the wiretapping, but I highly doubt that many of them would be so insistent that going through the FISA court is too onerous. Most Dems want to shut down Gitmo and are strongly against torturing our prisoners. Perhaps these things aren’t *important* enough on a broad scale for you to count them, but I see these as inherent to what America is about and I cannot see two parties that have vastly differing views on these issues as “the same”. I also think that human and civil rights in the US has an impact on the rest of the world. It’s much harder for us to pressure China on its treatment of ‘dissidents’, when we are torturing and holding without trial Arab-speaking journalists and other ‘terrorists’.

On the issue of GCC and other environmental destruction, please note that Clinton’s administration worked toward an international treaty on GCC, and then Bush refused to sign it. While I think Kiyoto was much weaker than it should have been, one must realize that a step in the right direction is at least a step!! Bush’s administration didn’t even recognize GCC as anthropogenic until sometime in his second term, while would-have-been-President Al Gore has been pointing out the problem for over a decade. I’m not saying that Gore is the best thing since sliced bread or anything, but at least he acknowledged the environment as a major issue that requires serious policy. As an environmentalist, I just cannot see how the Dems and Repubs can be equated on this issue. I agree that neither is as progressive as one might want (the Farm Bill will still pass, subsidizing oil-drenched commodity agriculture), but there is STILL a BIG DIFFERENCE.

I could go on and on and on and on about ways in which the Democrats, especially the progressive ones who I admire, are way different from Republicans, but I think this is only part of the issue.

I think the biggest problem with Nader is that his actions do not fit his rhetoric. I do not believe that having a third party presidential candidate on the ballot really helps break the two-party system. What would break the system would be to change the methods by which we vote. The issue Nader raised on The Daily Show the other night was how hard it is to get on the ballot. The only way for that to change is for more local and state government officials to come from third parties and instigate the necessary changes. But, I don’t see Nader running for governor or secretary of whatever state he lives in.

The other way that more third party candidates would get into office (which would do the most to increase the strength of the movements) is to improve our voting system. Plenty of people would be excited to vote for Green or Independent Party candidates if they actually thought the vote would help the person get elected, rather than just give a boost to the opposing candidates (I’m not claiming that Nader made Gore lose, I’m just pointing out that many people don’t vote for the third party because they see the vote as “wasted”).

To gain a thriving third party, we would need a multi-round voting system, where one could vote for a first and second choice. If your first choice didn’t get enough votes to get into office, then your vote would go to your second choice. That would encourage people to really look at the other candidates. But, I don’t see Nader taking on the voting system. For that matter, for all his concern about our Constitutional rights to vote, I’ve never heard him say anything about black-box voting or other “irregularities” (unlike the 2004 Green and Independent Party candidates who initiated an investigation in Ohio).

I think you are not cynical enough. Doe-eyed, you seem to still believe in some ideal president who’s never taken money from corporate interests, or compromised on an issue to get elected. It takes a certain amount of compromise to become President. That’s part of politics. You pick your battles. You get some of what you want and take baby steps toward bigger and better things. Perhaps the reason third parties have no power is that they aren’t willing to compromise. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but that may be their limitation. We are a broadly diverse country and no one whose main issue is, say, the environment will get enough votes from people who are worried about the economy or whatever else. Plus, most people think they are “in the middle”, whereas most third parties are on the extremes.

Finally, I’d like to point out that in my history classes, I’ve never heard of the U.S. having three powerful parties. If you want other parties to have a say, you probably should start lobbying to replace Congress with a Parliament. Of course, then the big few would have to make serious concessions to the smaller parties, which is how Israel still has an ultra-religious rabbinate that is in charge of all marriage licenses. I’m not sure that’s any better.