Comments: We've tried nothing, and we're all out of ideas

I wrote "Green Party" as my affiliation on the voter registration form and the card that came in the mail said "Unaffiliated".

Posted by Cloud at February 11, 2010 06:19 PM

Hmm. Do you think the Green Party still has a chance? I worry that it became too obsessed with becoming an ideal party for liberals with college degrees, and now it's suffering the usual fate of third parties (getting marginalized out of existence) but I would love to hear I'm wrong.

Posted by will shetterly at February 11, 2010 06:44 PM

If Cynthia Mckinney didn't buy into a stupid anti semetic conspiracy theorist (no, I don't mean her criticism of Israel) or the one world government theory, I'd be more able to warm up to her: http://adamholland.blogspot.com/2009/04/cynthia-mckinney-and-far-right-red.html

If matthew gonzalez ran however, I'd vote for him that is if Feingold doesn't throw his hat in the ring first.

Posted by Jenny at February 11, 2010 06:45 PM

We have a political system designed to accomplish exactly this sort of maddening "stability" that prevents change and protects elites, and that system was designed by "liberals" (aka known as Founding Fathers) who really didn't like mobs whatsoever, so maybe they weren't so stupid after all.

Part of the reason for the stability of the system is that rational choices for individuals operate irrationally as with regard to the system a whole. I might easily be wrong, but that sounds like Chomsky's view to me.

Vote third party and often the result is that you waste your vote. We haven't had too many third party Presidents. Hell, even a popular, almost iconic former President named Teddy Roosevelt couldn't pull that off. Same as to Congress as a whole, though of course individual seats can be won by independents or third party candidates. But not control of the government.

Anyway, change the system and you can laugh harder at those dumb liberals while they drown. Until then, they aren't the ones drowning.

Posted by N E at February 11, 2010 08:13 PM

control of the government
What a concept . . .

Posted by Murfyn at February 12, 2010 12:35 AM

Vote third party and often the result is that you waste your vote.

This is a question of perspective, NE. It's unrealistic in most races to hope that your 3rd party vote will translate into a win in that particular race, but theoretically there are levels of support that, as they increase from year to year, may persuade otherwise reluctant voters to take a chance on party X in the subsequent election. Admittedly,

"If we get 10 percent in 2010 we might get 16-18 percent in 2012, and then...who knows!"

isn't much of a rallying cry, and not just because it isn't particularly succinct.

(I kid, but that in effect is what the right did in the post-Goldwater 70s. But then, they also had quite a few other things go their way: a protracted recession, the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, the failure of the subsequent rescue operation, and the personality of Reagan.)

Posted by Jonathan Versen at February 12, 2010 03:34 AM

and...duh...they took over an existing party and refashioned it to their liking. I don't know why I left that out. S'pose I was expecting you to read my mind. Clearly I need my beauty rest, or a whiskey.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at February 12, 2010 03:36 AM

Any non-alligned independent candidate on almost any congressional ballot in the land, in 2010, will stand a good chance of being elected. Getting on the ballot will be the hard part. In some states the time has already passed for getting on the ballot. In Florida you have until noon, March 29th.

Just changing party affiliation to something other that Democrat or Republican (to independent, no party, or non-alligned, etc) should warrant a main stream news media story of some sort if enough Americans did it.

Posted by whatweneedtodo at February 12, 2010 08:14 AM

Jonathan Versen

I just meant 'waste you vote' within the election, not in some larger political sense. The German anti-war movement used to have a saying, "imagine that they gave a war and nobody came. Well, in my opinion it's not so unprincipled to just refuse to participate in our electoral politicals. I believe the whole present system is rigged and basically a sham, so I understand the impetus to find an alternative.

But there has to be a plan to then turn that non-participation or third-party support and all other discontent into political influence somehow. Not necessarily control of the government, but at least some greater influence than what exists now, because you're right that the populist/left/progressive/best parts of the Democratic party have lost not just control, but influence.

I haven't yet figured out a way to pressure a President like Obama from the left without cutting the legs out from under his (insufficient) reform efforts. Maybe that's just inevitable. Probably the answer is just to form a movement to the left of him and build it up until it is significant enough that it can't be ignored--that's what happened in the 30s for sure. But that's going to be a really slow process without a media presence or a politician on the left with an existing place on the national stage.

Posted by N E at February 12, 2010 11:23 AM

We have a political system designed to accomplish exactly this sort of maddening "stability" that prevents change and protects elites, and that system was designed by "liberals" (aka known as Founding Fathers)...

You're saying that had the Founders understood the concept of instant runoff voting, they would have OUTLAWED it?

Part of the reason for the stability of the system is that rational choices for individuals operate irrationally as with regard to the system a whole. I might easily be wrong, but that sounds like Chomsky's view to me.

This is certainly not a view I would attribute to Chomsky, if you mean this wrt voting. Instead, I think he would say almost the opposite: that narrowly rational institutional structures preclude a rational choice by the voters, i.e., the act of voting (in the US) is irrational wrt its intended purpose.

Posted by scudbucket at February 12, 2010 01:57 PM

Adding to my previous comment: What you've described above (individual rationality leads to collective irrationality) is just the prisoner's dilemma. I certainly don't think that Chomsky views US politics within the framework of a prisoner's dilemma.

Posted by scudbucket at February 12, 2010 02:01 PM

You really should stop talking about Chomsky, N E, while you're still behind. You clearly have no idea what he thinks or says.

In an earlier comment thread, no closed, you wrote:

Duncan finds preposterous my (our?) assessment of what is going on in the world, including the enormous role played by the various Western intelligence agencies, which all routinely work together. He considers that crazy talk to be mocked, and in a sense it is, because when it comes to culture, perceptions are reality.

The trouble with this is that it's not true. You are not the only person who notices and takes into consideration the enormous role played by the various Western intelligence agencies -- indeed, it has been a major theme in Chomsky's writing and speeches -- and I do not consider talk about it to be crazy talk to be mocked. What I object to is 1) your vacuous "assessment" which mainly consists of declaring that what might conceivably have happened, did happen; and 2) your misrepresentation of both those who differ with you and those who agree with you. I'd now add 3) that you forget about the enormous role played by the various Western intelligence agencies when you're prescribing approaches to reform, and offer up some simple fixes like taking away corporations' person-status, and "educating" the masses. By your own account, education won't work -- the fault lies not in our schools, Horatio, but in our neurobiology and the inaction of the Holy Spirit.

Posted by Duncan at February 12, 2010 03:19 PM

"which mainly consists of declaring that what might conceivably have happened, did happen; "

I think I've noticed that too. It's sort of why I brought up the paranormal stuff in a couple of threads--one can conceive a lot of things and even assign nonzero probabilities to them with some degree of justification but one should also keep in mind the serious likelihood that one is merely imagining things.

Posted by Donald Johnson at February 12, 2010 04:50 PM

I haven't yet figured out a way to pressure a President like Obama from the left without cutting the legs out from under his (insufficient) reform efforts.

well NE, the problem is wanting to have it both ways. you want to keep supporting the democrats, when your choices are supporting them or withdrawing support. In a way your comment answers itself: you have to withdraw support or accept your role as mere validator of what they want to do anyway.

To me Obama is a lost cause; I accept that he will fuck over liberals and liberalism at every turn. I am more concerned with trying to convince liberals they must abandon him if they care about liberal ideals, as opposed to being preoccupied with having somebody who is "more like them" being in office.

In a way it's a shame that Edwards wasn't elected then brought down by scandal and left by his wife, because I get the impression that something like that would shake liberals of their perceptions far more than more relevant things like, say, cutting single-payer off at the knees or turning up the wick on the killing machine in Afghanistan. (Of course some dems would then decide it was all his wife's fault, and start comparing her unfavorably to Hilary.)

But that's because large numbers of liberals are full of shit and more concerned with having a president who flatters them than with good policy and good government. In this they are no different and no better than the republicans who were enamored of Dubya for his perceived straight-talkin' authentic manner.

You have several choices. You can vote for the green party candidate, if there is one on the ballot, you can ask for a paper ballot and make up a candidate and vote for, say, "Jane Smith, Green party" as a write-in candidate, or vote for another established 3rd party, like the libertarians, or not vote.

(I would argue that even voting for the libertarian party candidate, if that represents the only 3rd party that's actually on the ballot, is still preferable to not voting or voting for a character like Obama. Not because having the libertarians in power would be desirable, but because it would be a tangible expression of disgust with the two-party system, even if the wags on teevee are likely to interpret it as right-wing angst.)

Or you could ask for a paper ballot and vote for "no confidence" instead of any of the candidates on the ballot. Of course then you have to follow up and pester news organizations to make sure all the write-in votes are counted.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at February 12, 2010 05:01 PM

scudbucket

I thought I was saying something like you thought I wasn't saying, so Duncan is probably right that I should just quit when I'm behind. I am no Chomsky expert. (I think Duncan must have a crush on me, which is why he so consistently has this helpful advice.)

Leaving Chomsky out of this, what I meant to say is that it is rational for an individual to not want to "waste" his vote on a third party candidate even if all voters collectively, were they able to coordinate their actions, would not reach the same decision. That individual rationality departs from collective rationality in such a way, in much the same way that externalities give rise to inefficiencies in economicies, underlies Duverger's Law. Going back to Chomsky, which I can't help, this reminded me of his thought on my amateurish level because Chomsky certainly does contend that actors do act rationally within the crummy systems in which they function. (I hope my daring to say this does not diminish Duncan's profound and persistent affection for me.)

This perhaps is something like the prisoner's dilemma too, in that an individual making a decision in voting acts rationally but the collective result is irrational from the perspective of the actors as a whole, which does remind me of the prisoner's dilemma. So that seems like a good analogy to me, but I didn't have it in mind in particular.

Finally, I certainly didn't mean to suggest that the Founding Fathers would oppose improved voting procedures such as instant runoff voting, though frankly many of them would have opposed any increase or improvement of democracy. Hell, the President of the Second Continental Congress, Henry Laurens, was the largest slave trader in America. Not all those Founding Fathers were Tom Paine or Ben Franklin, and my man Ben had nothing but contempt for John Adams or, for that matter, George Washington, probably our most overrated President, though that's something not lacking in competition.

Posted by N E at February 12, 2010 07:50 PM

Jonathan Versen

I do want to keep supporting the "democrats" as you say, though I'm less enthusastic about the "Democrats." I am not much wowed by your willingness to abandon Obama, nor do I share it or would I encourage others to support it, simply because though you don't want it to have this effect, it does cut the legs out from under all efforts for his administration to get done what we want. I would bet that you and I are pretty much agreed about most goals.

I recognize that it's politically strange to support Obama in his tame efforts to incrementally and almost even imperceptibly improve a fundamentally corrupt system while saying that it is indeed a fundamentally corrupt system in need of radical change. That may well be too much nuance to expect in politics, and I guess I'm odd that way.

The thing is, the system is what it is and it isn't gone yet. The GOP really is goddamned dangerous, increasingly so, and really is worse than the Dems. And an important part of undermining someone like Obama is depriving him of the support of his base (though of course that takes some cooperation from him and his advisers too).

So that's my dilemma. But you won't admit your own, or explain just what influence over politics you are going to have, or what you are going to do, when things get really ugly. If you think this is as bad as it can get, think again.

Posted by N E at February 12, 2010 08:13 PM

Donald Johnson

Even I am not quite ready to try to prove how 9/11 happened, or why, or who killed JFK, or why, in a COMMENT. Even 10,000 words wouldn't get me or anyone else there. The way I think is probably more like the approach of a systems analyst than anything else, but you should have noticed that I point to sources now and again, and I do explain what leads me to my conclusions. I'm not hiding the ball, and I say what I believe and why. Take from it what you will. The Holy Spirit will have to do the rest. (Sorry Duncan, and you should quit making fun of the Holy Spirit. That's bad kharma.)

George Monbiot long has had on the top of his blog the following:

"Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it. Tell them something new and they will hate you for it."

Now, I know you don't hate me, but you get the idea. Notwithstanding my reference to the Holy Spirit, I'm an empiricist, and also a skeptic and cynic. Plus, my background is mainstream to the core. I grew up watching football after church, and I was happy! I didn't set out to see the world through Ramsey Clarke's eyes. The world gets credit for that, not me. Or maybe the Holy Spirit--take you pick.

In any event, you seem thoughtful and fair-minded, and your heart seems to be in the right place. That's all any of us who don't work for the NSA can do.

Peace.

Posted by N E at February 12, 2010 10:44 PM

unreal! haven't visited ATR for several months, but "jenny" still spews lies. nice lies about McKinney, "jenny." are you still a "colonel" whose surname is "sparks"? gee, you're priceless!

Posted by buster poindexter at February 13, 2010 11:33 AM

and N E continues to spew dogmatically, as if he were an expert. N E, the Perfect Pwog! N E, the lion-like liberal! N E! N E! N E!

not exactly intelligent, is he?

Posted by buster poindexter at February 13, 2010 11:36 AM

buster: XXOO!

Posted by N E at February 13, 2010 01:55 PM

"I recognize that it's politically strange to support Obama in his tame efforts to incrementally and almost even imperceptibly improve a fundamentally corrupt system while saying that it is indeed a fundamentally corrupt system in need of radical change. That may well be too much nuance to expect in politics, and I guess I'm odd that way."

NE,
I guess the problem we have is that I don't believe that Obama is trying to "incrementally improve" our system. I see Obama as a soulless careerist who figured out that he was better off signing on with the democrats in order to further his ambitions, in much the same coldblooded way a top football prospect might weigh offers from, say, Michigan versus Arizona State. He decided that the democrats were the better conference.

I agree with you that the GOP is dangerous, but I don't believe that supporting DLC type democrats is the way to oppose them. That type of thinking is precisely why the democrats who routinely disregard the wishes of rank-and-file dems know they can do so time and again, with impunity-- and so they do.

Perhaps I should make my meaning clearer: I'm not saying you should never support any democratic candidate, although I note that the higher up they are on the food chain, the more likely they are to be worthless. Rather, you should support specific candidates based on what they have to offer in particular and not others, and that might mean voting in the democratic primary but not voting for the nominee in the general election.

As far as what I hope to accomplish, I only have one vote, just like you. What do you hope to accomplish?

(I've lived in less-free countries, and I am aware that things can get worse. So if your observation is intended to be patronizing I wish you'd spare me the attitude. Even though I often find your views frustrating I'd like to think I discuss them with you without sarcasm intruding.)


Anyway, I may discuss this more at my own blooig tomorrow. Follow me or don't, as you see fit. If I characterized that as not exactly an invitation you'd (very understandably) say I was being sarcastic, so I'll leave the not out. Heck, even buster's welcome, as long as he behaves himself.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at February 13, 2010 08:35 PM

Jonathan Versen

I wasn't being sarcastic and certainly didn't intend to be patronizing. I'll check out what you say at your blurg. I don't support DLC types either. But I don't agree with you that politicians always get worse as they get more powerful. Lincoln wrote: "Nearly all men can stand adversity. If you want to test a man's character, give him power." The thing is, not all Presidents have failed that test. Lincoln himself did not. Nor do I think McKinley did, or Woodrow Wilson, or FDR, or JFK, or even Warren Harding. Those Presidents elevated their administrations; they were better than those around them, even if that regrettably isn't saying all that much. That hasn't been too common lately. Bill Clinton certainly did fail his political chacter test in 1995, and the last 30 years haven't seen much from the Presidency.

I have short term and long term political goals. In the short term, I want things to get as much better as possible in this crappy system. That requires Obama to have some success. Smart as he is, I don't think he has received good strategy advice or has shown good populist instincts, which is weird to me given his organizing background. He hasn't yet grasped that he can't be Lincoln--he can't build some sort of bipartisan coalition from this mess and create something good by giving the country a Rahm Emanuel enema until we have cleaned out every last vestige of human decency inside us, which our elites consider shit, if I may perfect the metaphor. Obama needs to use what power of Presidency isn't fully under institutional control by going over the top of the media as much as possible to set an agenda that would benefit the people. That always has been tough, and it's seemingly tougher now than ever, but the system is too corrupt to take his approach.

More than anything, Obama needs to send Rahm packing. That's step one.

I can understand why people might think that the promise of an incremental improvement in our system is like the candy a serial killer uses to lure little kids into his van, because it isn't enough and it deceives people about the system as a whole, but I can't give up on the present. I just am not intellectually resolute enough. Maybe you are. But it's important to remember that the present can be longer and worse than it seems. See 2000 to 2008. And it can cast an even longer shadow. Good God is the shadow of W and Cheney long!

In the longer term, with a hat tip to DavidByron for introducing me to the term that fits the concept, I'd like to move the Overton Window--i.e., to push the whole political spectrum left, or at least to push it away from corporate power towards something that benefits us all more equally and more fraternally and also augments our liberty, giving us the liberty, equality, fraternity trifecta offered by the Enlightenment. I don't think that is going to happen via old-left style socialism, meaning government ownership of major industries, because the world has moved past that point. That historical moment is gone. The one we're in doesn't seem to have come into focus yet, at least for me.

Whatever the left evolves into, I also don't think political change will happen painlessly--our whole economy is now too heavily tied into resource depletion, wars to sustain resource depletion, and resource depletion caused by the wars to sustain resource depletion. We are in the midst of irrationality run amok, a path of long-term social insanity accompanied by high levels of deception and self-deception. Elites use the deception, and people seem to need the self deception, because our political system has gotten so ugly underneath all the bullshit people have pumped into their heads by our media blowhorns. Rationality can no longer adequately sustain the system, so the system has increasingly become irrational. That's a natural, self-protective response in a political system, which is why fascism arose in the 20s. I'm not Dave Neiwert, but it looks to me like that's happening again. We're just getting a different flavor for the 21st Century USA than the Germans and Italians got in the 20s and 30s. The right wing in the USA today is absolutely as batshit crazy as the German right was in the 20s. Their craziness just hasn't been unleashed yet, and it's obviously important that it not be. How to prevent that isn't obvious to me, but I can't think of anything more crucial.

Perhaps if we can step back from our present descent into madness and develop green alternatives, and if we stop the insane fight over central asian resources that is gearing up, maybe we can avoid a Bladerunner future (because we probably won't get the cool androids and space ships). To avoid that sort of grim future, we'll need to take back the country from the banks, because all the banks care about is profits, and they will make any bargain with the devil in pursuit of them. That means the banks themselves won't destroy the world, but they'll throw their support to someone who will without even considering the possible consequences if that seems like a good business decision. Though industrialists rather than bankers were the key in Germany in the early 30s, that's essentially what happened in Dusseldort in 1932 when Hitler won the support of German Business with a speech against the left. American Business likewise views destruction of the entire human race, or a world war, as a concern equivalent to the mental illness of paranoids. Business types think what we truly desperately need to worry about is stifling initiative with excess regulation and, worst still, redistributions of income. That will kill us all.

If we don't get power away from the banks, we'll keep moving toward the kind of society bankers dream of, a balance sheet society in which people are no more important than inventory or other costs of doing business, and are as disposable as any other capital asset. Nobody but the business cult really wants that, on the right or the left, but the strategists of Wall Street pit us against each other very effectively. That has always been the game.

As a strategy, what I wish people would do is focus their animosity where it belongs, not against people who disagree with them but against the system as a whole and those evil forces, and the proponents of those forces, who are leading us toward a very bleak and immoral future of more and more war and increasing social injustice. The biggest proponents of that system are bankers and the denizens of the National Security State, or better still, mistah charley's MICFiC (becauase the media and Congress are certainly part of it too).

Ultimately, that certainly is a matter of conscience. As human beings, we ultimately have to be creatures of conscience if we aren't to be just predators. But that's as far as I let moralizing take me. I think of Obama as driving a big gas-hog of a vehicle, perhaps a tank, that is stuck in the mud. Collectively, we need to push him to the left. It doesn't matter, and isn't helpful, to focus on whether he should have paid more attention to where he was driving, or whether he drove into the mud on purpose for some perverse reason. It doesn't get us anywhere to argue about whether he is just a paid stooge of the elite, a glorified limo driver used as a front man. He's still stuck in the mud, and we need to clear the road. Let's push him to the left, not the right.

I don't know if you have heard of appreciative inquiry, and I'm no expert or practitioner, but it seems to me that there is something to be said for an appreciative inquiry type of approach, which does look to put people to work for common, productive purposes instead of focusing on problems. The divide and conquer game is pretty easy for the MICFiC otherwise.


Posted by N E at February 14, 2010 08:54 AM

Recent op-ed in the LA Times:
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-turley11-2010feb11,0,457747.story

Lists several suggested reforms e.g. runoff voting to level the playing field for 3rd parties, then goes on:

"It is unlikely that members of Congress would implement such sweeping changes. But Article V of the Constitution allows citizens to circumvent Congress and call for their own convention "on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states." To be successful, a convention would have to be limited to addressing political reforms and not get sidetracked by divisive issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion. Individual states could also lead the way in enacting some of these reforms, such as requiring electoral votes to be divided among candidates according to the popular vote."

Whatever that means.

Posted by godoggo at February 14, 2010 12:43 PM

godoggo:

Constituional amendment's don't have to be done by a Constitutional Convention and resulting free-for-all. The procedural options are set forth in the Constitution itself.

Though the procedures haven't changed, amendments used to be more common. As I noted in an early comment, fairly mainstream politicians used to propose changes that the media would now proclaim as a rebirth of Communism or Islamofascism or something even worse. (In some cases, like that of Teddy Roosevelt, a mainstream politician would even propose radical change, like stripping the Supreme Court of its power to strike down laws, just to coopt a radical movement and impede the rise of more genuinely radical mainstream politicians like Robert LaFollette.) It is movements, not leaders, who get the ball rolling.

Look at Wikipedia to see the history to the amendments to the US Constitution. Other than the elimination of poll taxes, no Constitutional amendment of any real significance has been passed since WWII, or it might be noted, since the creation of the National Security State. We used to have big amendments like outlawing slavery and mandating equal protection of the laws, providing for direct election of Senators instead of appointment by corrupt legislators, giving women voting rights, authorizating the federal income tax. Big stuff, not just little tweaks like letting people vote at 18 even though you couldn't make most of them do it without paying them anyway. (And poll taxes should have been held illegal on equal protection grounds anyway, so that amendment is in my mind is of the "we really meant it so cut it out" sort of clarification.)

The process for generating amendments is the same as it used to be, when it worked, but obviously something else has changed to impede necessary political change, because the amendment process isn't working now. It seems likely to me that the amendment process isn't working now for the same reasons that the political system isn't working as a whole.

I think instant run-off voting is a good idea and helps fix some problems arising in plurality-based voting systems, but it doesn't do nearly enough. And requiring division of electoral votes on the basis of the percentage of actual votes received in a jurisdiction might not be an improvement at all, especially, for example, if it were to happen in California but not Texas. The rules need to be the same across States.

The biggest problem with Congress is the Senate isn't based on proportional representation at all, and the Senate chooses to make itself even more oligarchical with ridiculous internal rules like the filibuster. So we get just an endless list of corrupt, self-congratulating glad-handers like Baucus and Tim Johnson and Joe Lieberman, just to pick on the purported liberals instead of the maniacs and neaderthals on the GOP side like Brownback and Linsey Graham. The Senate isn't much better than the House of Lords, and it has disproportional power, so it's worse in practice.

A lot of folks out there in the Heartland won't be easily convinced that the Senate isn't all that protects them from Socialism and Big Government and Abortionist Gun-haters. Give them an assurance, in the form of a Constitutional amendment, that they can make abortions illegal and decide what constitutes marriage in their states and have whatever guns they want within their borders, and that would be a carrot. That isn't that much different than what we have in practice anyway, and without the political system working as a whole, all rights are built on a foundation of sand, so it's crazy for progressive forces to let themselves not get needed reforms because of a commitment to values issues that ends up pitting one half of the country against the other. That hasn't been working out so well.

Posted by N E at February 14, 2010 02:00 PM

Spend time with the Green Party in San Francisco if you don't understand why the party is non-viable and why the world would be (marginally) worse if it were a force. It's made up of nothing but posturing Democrat wannabes and their large-pupiled acolytes. It's not a political party, it's a cadre of people pissed off that they were shut out of the local Democratic Central Committee and their surrogates. Even though the Greens' closest Dem allies now control the local party, Greens continue to lobby from outside to redress old grievances rather than forge an effective political force. Nobody but first-time voters could mistake American Greens for anything but ineffectual bundles of ambition married to adolescent idealism. (Would a serious party keep drinking at the Nader well?) Enjoy your Matt Gonzalez persona, Greens. Self love is totally safe.

Posted by hilarie at February 15, 2010 07:34 PM

"Hilarie," are the rumors true that you're running for Lt Governor?

Posted by JMC at February 15, 2010 08:17 PM

hilarie asks: "Would a serious party keep drinking at the Nader well"?

The Green Party endorsed Ralph Nader for president in 1996 and 2000. In 2004 and 2008 Nader ran as an independent, while the Green Party endorsed David Cobb and Cynthia McKinney. How does that translate into a party that "keep[s] drinking at the Nader well?"

Even so, Nader was right: the national Democratic Party has been awful since 2000. Obama and the Democratic majority have ushered in exceedingly little "change" that you can seriously paint up as progressive.

Posted by reminder at February 15, 2010 10:42 PM

I voted for Nader in 1996 and 2000. Big mistake. Not because it 'gave' the election to Bush - Gore gave the election to Bush when he didn't immediately demand a state wide recount in Florida and go to court to get it from day one. No, the disaster was the Green Party was used as a vanity vehicle by Nadar. At least he got them recognized, however, and that is why, in 2002, the Greens proudly led the amazing resistance to the upcoming invasion of Iraq... or actually, they did squat. They'd accrued a very high vote for a third party and they pissed it away, and were AWOL just when they were needed most. The big rallies of 2000? They might as well ahve been a farewell concert tour for Nader.
I have strong doubts a party is going to change anything. As long as you have a declining, marginalized labor movement, you have rightwing politics. Which means that we have center right Obama or right right Republicans. It looks like this is just going to be a paler version of the Bush decade - or perhaps a redder meat version, depending on how deep the Republican sweep over the next two years is.

Posted by roger at February 16, 2010 01:24 AM

The Dem party isn't an anchor. It's a ball of foam, wrapped around wood, wrapped around iron wrapped around depleted uranium.

What you're asking libs to do is pull the foam off. They'll still go: "but it's wood underneath, so that's OK". Oh, and of course, if you have enough foam, you get somewhere near neutral boyancy. The ball is a *lot* bigger than that life preserver, too. Big enough for millions of people to cling to. A lot of people don't want to just have a live preserver just for themselves.

The thin ring of land with a great shark-infested pool in the middle looks good to a lot of people too. Even when people get thrown in the pool: it's very pleasing to not be thrown in a shark infested pool.

[snap! ping! whizz!] oops, there goes the metaphor...

Posted by me at February 16, 2010 08:14 AM

Also, the problem is not just viability-- and there can be none with a FPP electoral system. Find me a single country where a two party country has gone to a third party without taking a large number of candidates from the existing parties. I don't think you will, save cases where a massive scandal has seriously damaged one of the parties (like that's going to happen with the US media being what it is). Even when it has happened the way I described, there are few cases of those parties going on to be elected.

It's not viability that matters. It's that neglect of the Dem party by the left means it just swings further to the right. That's what happened in the 80s and 90s. So Reps go further to the right. So the CW goes futher to the right, because that is as far to the right as they can get away with and appeal to independents.

I think that's why the viability argument is put forward: because it's such a poor one.

The key, it seems to me, is to provisionally support specific Dems in the house and senate, whilst being clear about their shortcomings. And to work to replace them when needed, e.g. in primaries. More and better Dems. The more is there, the better isn't.

Obama is irrelevant, and always has been, save as a symbol of things that never had anything to do with his political actions. Centralised institutions are inherently right-wing. Power concentrated in a few hands can always be subverted. That's the case with the presidency.

Posted by me at February 16, 2010 11:07 AM

"Centralized institutions are inherently right-wing. Power concentrated in a few hands can always be subverted."

We aren't going to eliminate centralized institutions from our national and international life without drastically reducing the human population of the earth, so we better learn how to control centralized power structures, just as we have learned how to accomplish other things that were once unprecedented (such as the abolition of slavery, craetion of a universal electoral franchise, the rule of law and equal protection of the law, and human rights).

The rightward shift of the political spectrum has not happened by operation of abstract principles. There has been some choreography behind most of our great, epoch-making political events, including all of the wars, all or nearly all of the assassinations, many of the scandals and, most recently, many terrorist events. That "choreography"--whether or not it rises to the level of conspiracy and planning of the crimes themselves, as I contend it typically does--at a minimum it includes a degree of permitting or facilitating the happening of events in a way that benefits The Right.

Whether or not somebody with orders from somewhere inside the US military/intel community blew up the World Trade Center, we know that Langley and the FBI and DoD and State all received many, many warnings that something BIG was about to happen, and thereafter Cheney and Rummy and the neocons certainly made great use of 9/11 politically. That's why such high numbers of people outside the GOP (and even some inside it) have consistently believed without much trouble that the government "let it happen." One has to almost believe that everything is the result of incompetence to believe that 9/11 happened just becasue of incompetence.

Similarly, whether JFK was killed by the CIA or the Pentagon or Oswald or the mob or the Russians or the Cubans, or some combination of some of the above, the assassination was enormously helpful to Langley and the Pentagon, because LBJ immediately let them do what JFK would not, most notably in Vietnam, but also with regard to the Cold War in general. The assassination moved the country to the right.

Finally, whether or not anyone believes Stinnets' evidence that the navy had broken the Japanese Codes and new Pearl Harbor was about to be attacked, the US invited the attack with everything but a formal linen card requesting an RSVP, and the war gave FDR and the government just what they needed to get involved in WWII before Hitler sacked Moscow, as everyone from Marshall on down in our military expected would soon happen. WWII turned the US into the world's greateat military power, and once the US entered the war, the New Deal began to disappear. Again, the political spectrum shifted toward the right.

That's just the three biggest examples I can think of for events of enormous political significance whose occurrence ended up driving the political spectrum toward the right. The movement toward the right didn't happen because of the working of an abstract principle, but because powerful men positioned within the National Security State took the control of events to determine the future. If they didn't plan the events in question, at a minimum they facilitared them so they could make great political use of them. It is fatalistic to say those events were inevitable because centralized power just works that way; they were not inevitable.

If the centralized power structures of the National Security State can set the political table in this way, it should surprise no one that the political spectrum has shifted toward the right. How could it not do that? That doesn't mean "power concentrated in a few hands can always be subverted." The events in question happened not because they were inevitable, but because we let them happen. We need to stop doing that or such events will happen again.

It's true that unaccountable power can easily be subverted, but not all power has to be unaccountable, and that is true even if power is held in few hands. If the eyes of many are watching those few hands, especially if the rule of law truly prevails, the subversion of power held in the hands of a few can be prevented. Even the Nazis, operating a totalitarian state, paid close attention to public opinion--that's why the conquest of the USSR proved so helpful to them. (Wrote Goebbels in his diary in the middle of WWII: 'Our intellectual and social strata have suddenly rediscovered their sentiments of humanity for the poor Jews. The Jews need only to send a little old lady with the Star of David badge hobbling along the Kurfurstendamm, and the plain honest German is already inclined to forget everything the Jews have inflicted on us over the past years and decades." (See Hitler's Empire by Mazower at 373) No one should underestimate what the eyes of the many can do, if they are open.

Of course, the eyes of the many can only watch the hands of the few if the hands of the few are not hidden from view. And that's a big problem, because right now all "the few" have to do is whisper "National Security" and no one can ask them any more questions. That needs to change.

Just as importantly, people need to believe their eyes. At every turn, the media shouts at the public: "Who are you going to believe--me or your lying eyes?" If people won't believe their own eyes--and regrettably there is much history to support this too--then it hardly matters whether the eyes of the many are watching the hands of the few. The few will just don the mantel of indigant, shocked outrage at the suggestion that anyone would dispute their patriotism and ethics, and then they will promptly return to manipulating the political process to ensure that democratic processes never endanger national security. They don't care about honesty--it's national security, and power to control its protetion, that matters to them.
As Edmund Burke wrote: “There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men.” -- Edmund Burke


Posted by N E at February 16, 2010 01:46 PM

This post is spot-on. As a Green, I'd like to offer my perspective on how we can stop running in circles, and instead find some common ground to work on:

First, support electoral reform, and vocally. Instant runoff voting eliminates the so-called 'spoiler' effect. Use of IRV is spreading - San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Memphis, and Burlington have all voted to adopt it. It allows voters to support their favorite candidates without fear of helping their least favorite candidate - so what are we waiting for?

Public financing for public elections would go a long way towards removing the influence of big money interests over public policy.

Proportional representation for legislatures would make every vote count, and produce much more representative and responsive government.

Ballot access laws also need to be reformed. Laws aimed at preventing citizens from exercising their right to run for office have no place in a democracy.

As one commenter suggested, changing your registration to Green sends a message that your vote can't be taken for granted. You cannot hope to influence politicians unless you show them that you're prepared to vote for someone else.

Get active in your local Green Party, or start one up. Local elections are where Greens and other independent progressives can win and build a power base.

Third parties and movements outside the two-party establishment are responsible for introducing major progressive victories into the mainstream: abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, child labor laws, the right to unionize, social security, minimum wage, and more. So please don't dismiss or fight third parties. Our votes may be wasted by a flawed electoral system that wastes votes by design (solution: instant runoff voting and proportional representation), but they are not wasted in that they influence the political discourse in our society and give voice to pressing concerns.

As the comments here demonstrate, there are many obstacles for the Greens and other third parties. The electoral system is designed to make us go away. Many progressives spurn us for challenging the lesser evil; others spurn us for not challenging it hard enough. Some people buy into the inevitable smear campaigns against Green leaders. As someone who wants the Green Party to contend for power, or in other words, to bring the power back to the people, I am willing to engage in dialogue with all about strategies for building a sustainable progressive alternative.

Posted by daveschwab at February 18, 2010 07:59 AM