WHEN THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD

7 03 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I was commenting in a discussion thread on Facebook that had started with a local, politically active friend bemoaning the abysmally low turnout in the last election.  Here in Tennessee, only 29.1 percent of the electorate bothered to show up at the polls, the second lowest turnout in the country.  This enabled the sixteen percent of Tennessee voters who actually support banning abortion and income taxes, and who approve of the mean-spirited program of the Republican Party, to feel as if they had swept like a mighty tide over the state.

Well, I pointed out, the Democrat Party hasn’t really put up much of a fight.  Their leadership is inextricably tied to the national DP leadership, which is, truth be told, “progressive” only in its rhetoric, and then only when it needs to attempt to motivate “progressives” to vote for Democrats.  The progressive rhetoric, which is never truly radical, certainly not anti-corporate, and absolutely never questions capitalism, is quickly cast aside once the election’s over, and, if they win, the Dems go back to being the same old imperialist, corporatist, center-right party they’ve always been.  So, I said to the folks in the thread, why don’t all you progressives come over to the Green Party?

stein_chanceResponse? He was shocked, absolutely shocked.  “When Greens run, Democrats lose,” wrote my friend.  Another commenter chimed in, “Nader cost Gore the 2000 election.  Look what that got us.”

It was late at night, I was feeling ill, and I was short on temper and brains. “You guys have drunk too much Democrat kool-aid,” I fumed, and quit the group in disgust.  It didn’t take me long to regret my grumpiness and haste, but they declined to let me back in the group. I had had a chance to unmask some of my friends’ illusions, and I had blown it.  What I am telling you today is for my own benefit as well as for the benefit of the many people who would have echoed their words, reminding me to be patient with those who have fallen for the Big Lie about Nader, and the many other big lies that, er, underlie our sociopolitical fabric.

For the Green Party inTennessee, as with the Nader canard, it’s a simple math question. The approximately 1.4 million people who voted in Tennessee in the last election are just under 30% of the eligible voters.  That means that approximately 3.3 million people who could have voted, didn’t. In the Senate race, approximately 850,000 people voted for the Republican, and about 430,000 voted for his Democrat opponent. All the Democrats needed to do to beat the Republicans was get another half million people motivated enough to vote.  I mean, a measure that is intended to ban abortion was on the ballot–it shouldn’t have been that hard to bump the turnout up another twelve percent or so.  (Ten percent of the electorate=470,000 voters.)  That leaves about 2.7 million voters for the Greens to rouse and beat both of the now-major parties.  In my dreams, anyway…..

Similarly, the “Nader cost Gore the election” meme falls apart when you do the math, and notice that voter turnout in THAT election was just over 50% of all possible voters, and about 67% of registered voters.  All Gore needed to win was a few thousand more votes, or honest elections officials, in a few key states, like Florida, where four and half million people who could have voted, didn’t.  Somehow, this has became Ralph Nader’s fault, when the truth is,  Nader could have gotten millions more votes without affecting the outcome–or gotten so many votes that the election turned into a three-way tie, in which case it is doubtful that the Republicans would have emerged as the winners.  Truth_Image_280w“Nader cost Gore the election” simply doesn’t hold water.  Why, then, has it become such a mantra among Democrats?

It has been pushed by the Democrat party leadership because it’s the best trump card they have for beating down progressive, populist insurgency.  They’ve been doing this since they turned down the Mississippi Freedom Democrats in 1964.  In 1968, there were riots in the streets of Chicago as the Dems rejected Eugene McCarthy and selected centrist Hubert Humphrey as their candidate. The insurgents actually  captured the Presidential nomination in 1972 when George McGovern was the candidate, only to see his campaign founder due to lack of support from the DP bigwigs.  In 1976 and 1980, Jerry Brown and Ted Kennedy attempted to pull the party to the left, with Jesse Jackson taking up that job in 1984 and 88.  Jerry Brown carried the progressive banner in 1992.  No  left Democrat challenged Bill Clinton in 1996, and there has been none since.  The triumph of the center-rightists has been complete.

Ralph Nader, and the Green Party with or without Nader, are the only group that presents any kind of challenge, and the Democrats have done everything politicsoffearthey could to slap us down and maintain their hegemony.  Ralph Nader had been the conscience of the Democrat Party through the eighties, but, when Bill Clinton’s election signaled the triumph of the center-right, corporatist wing of the DP, Democrats in Washington, according to Nader in the documentary film “An Unreasonable Man,” quit returning his phone calls.  The conscience of the Democrat Party did not take this rejection lying down, but, with their superior spin machine, the corporatists were able to put over the big lie that Nader had cost Gore the election, in spite of the math I cited above, and thus continue to suck blissfully at the teat of corporate money.  To hell with that dratted “conscience,” eh, Joe Biden?  Hillary Clinton?  Barack Obama?

Let’s not just “do the math,” let’s look at the events around the 2000 Presidential election.  After the Republican-dominated Supreme Court shot down Gore’s attempts to contest the results of the election in Florida, he gave up.  When the Congressional Black Caucus attempted to contest the admission of Florida’s electoral votes, they could not find a single Democrat Senator to sign on with them, as required by Congressional rules.  Not one of the “liberal” Democrat Senators–Ted Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, John Edwards, Max Cleland, John Kerry, Carl Levin, Russ Feingold, not even Paul Wellstone, was willing to contest Bush’s selection as President.  There is a lot to say in the way of speculation about why it went down this way, but it certainly helped focus the Democrats’ ire on Ralph Nader, and, ever since, Democrat-controlled media has spared no opportunity to savage Nader, and the Green Party, for our alleged role in this.  They never do the math I pointed out above.  “Nader cost Gore the election” is media manipulation, pure and simple.

I’m going to let folksinger Tom Neilson/songwriter Mark Levy provide some commentary….

music:  Tom Neilson “All Because I Voted For Ralph Nader

Media manipulation is not the only way the Democrats and Republicans maintain their hegemony and limit the debate.  The two dominant parties write election laws that work against new parties getting on the ballot.  There is also the unspoken reality of the “ruling class” in America.  Political candidates are only considered “viable” if they are from that class, i.e., lawyers, or successful business owners or managers.  Then, they must be able to raise large sums of money, money that can only come from the business sector, so they can pay our private, for-profit broadcasting companies to air their advertisements on the supposedly public airwaves.  Thus, the American political system is steeply slanted to benefit those who favor the business community and the continuation of the status quo.  Never mind that continuing the status quo is going to lead us straight to hell in a few decades.  If it raises this quarter’s profits, it’s A Good Thing.  Meanwhile, those of us who can see where all this is heading us are locked out of the halls of power.knees

But….when the political parties don’t speak to the needs of the people, people quit voting for them.  That’s one of the big reasons why participation in US elections is dropping.  In Europe, where  it’s easier for new political parties to get on the ballot and into a governing role, election turnout tends to run much higher–often 75-90%.  In Greece, this resulted in the rapid rise of Syriza, a political party dedicated to ending the austerity measures imposed on the people by the European Union in response to a crisis that had been caused by the banks.  The new Greek government went to renegotiate their situation and were, at least in the short term, shot down by entrenched business interests, led by Germany, who were only too aware of what would happen if they showed any weakness in the face of the Greek revolt.  This story is not over, and there’s no telling how it will end.

Meanwhile, Germany, the country that is pushing most strongly to maintain the inhumane austerity measures that ended the domination of liberal and center-right parties in Greece, is seeing a similar erosion. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party, although the largest single group in the German parliament, only controls a third of the seats, and has had to form a coalition with a more right-wing party to stay in power.  The Greens and the Radical Left Party are both gaining ground, while the Social Democrats, who are the rough equivalent of the U.S. Democrat party, received an all-time low percentage of the vote.  Clearly, the European political situation is in serious flux.  The only difference between Europe and the United States is that the Europeans are more open to genuine democracy, which does not discriminate against new political parties and new ideas.

Fifty-plus years of attempting to radicalize the Democrat Party has proved fruitless. I will continue to invite my “progressive” friends to join the Greens. Cracking open the U.S.’s political party lockdown will take courage, coinage, and a squad of good lawyers, but it could be done, if only people like my online buddy would quit settling for the crumbs they get from corporate Democrats.  If this political overturning doesn’t happen, I can only think of the words of Robinson Jeffers, written in 1925:

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire

And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.

Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly

A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption

Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.

There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught – they say –God, when he walked on earth.

journey

“Shine, Perishing Republic” painting by Jim Kirwan, inspired by the poem

Maybe we will, in the end, be grateful that circumstances, and our corrupt elite, have kept us from that “thickening center,” but I think that our grandchildren will inherit a much more pleasant world, even at this late date, if we can somehow get our hands on the wheel, and the brakes, of this careening, out-of-control culture.

music:  Joni Mitchell, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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12 responses

8 03 2015
Ben Ennen-Falsch

“Meanwhile, those of us who can see where all this is heading us are locked out of the halls of power.”

A couple of questions…

Where is “all [of] this heading”?

Am I correct in assuming you are implying that the “solution” to the “problem” involves the existence of “halls of power”?

Make it a trio…

What is so great about the income tax? Or conversely, what is so possibly “mean spirited” about repealing it?

By no means am I attempting to disagree with what you are saying. I agree that the idea that Nader cost Gore the election is beyond ridiculous. I was under the impression that Gore won the election, so at best you could blame Nader for costing Gore the “inauguration” or “presidency” or “whatever” but not the “election” (though that would require some different evidence i imagine).

8 03 2015
brothermartin

fair enough questions…

Where is “all [of] this heading”?

over the cliff and into the wall, if you’ll forgive my mixed metaphors…

Am I correct in assuming you are implying that the “solution” to the “problem” involves the existence of “halls of power”?

key word is “the.” Those in “the halls of power” are among the ones driving things over the cliff, etc., and any turning aside of our ecocidal trajectory will involve nullifying, or turning around, their influence, or some combination therof. There is not some single solution to this mess. I’m in favor of everybody who can trying everything they can. I don’t know enough to judge beforehand what will or won’t work.

What is so great about the income tax? Or conversely, what is so possibly “mean spirited” about repealing it?

Politics is not black and white to me. It’s many shades of grey, and I am not making any reference to a certain book/movie when I say that. Thus, while ideally, in the long run, I see our monetary system as something I hope we will outgrow, in the short run, an income tax is a reasonable way for a government to serve two of its functions: raising money for projects that promote the common good, and redistributing income so as to help level the playing field. Here in Tennessee, the state derives most of its revenue from sales tax, which, both because it is a “flat tax” and because low-income people spend a greater percentage of their income buying things retail than wealthy people do, is a regressive tax–one that impacts the poor more heavily than the rich.

If that’s not “mean-spirited” enough for you, consider that the wealthy folks who bankrolled the campaign to ban, not repeal, an income tax in this state made it sound as if not having an income tax would make it easier on the people of this state, the vast majority of whom would actually benefit financially from the lower sales tax (currently about 10%) that would result if there were a state income tax.

Finally, it’s true that Gore received more votes than Bush, but what counts as a win in US elections is the electoral college, and Bush prevailed there, so no, Gore didn’t win the election.

8 03 2015
Ben Ennen-Falsch

Thanks for clarifying. Are you still feeling a little testy? Hang on spring is coming…

10 03 2015
Ben Ennen-Falsch

So… I’m nobody special. I have essentially hung around badgering you now for a while. I don’t even honestly know why. My only agenda, if you could even call it that, is to try to learn from you. I ask a lot of questions mostly just for the sake of asking (by my own admission it is reasonable to describe that as badgering). I guess I’m too lazy and ambivalent to read up on these issues myself and answer my own questions and too nihilistic to do what you do with your initial posts and take a stance (I recognize by the way how unfair it is to be picking at your positions when I don’t have any of my own but so it goes). I’m maybe like that guy who lived in your barn now inhabiting your blog – simply wasting my time searching for entertainment on the web but you have to eat up those hours somehow…

Might I offer a not so humble but very well meaning something? If yes, hear me out all the way. I assume you are an honest guy though you, as we all on occasion are guilty of, do a fair bit of shilling.

I wonder why, if things are going “over the cliff and into the wall” as you say, bother with this Green Party business? The odds of success are incredibly narrow (and that is being generous and assuming that you have odds – is there any solid historical basis for assuming you have odds?).

Realistically your (the GP’s) odds of beating the “corporate oligarchy” or “whatever” are impossibly small at best, are they not? I mean you don’t have (nor can you have) anything even close to a consensus even amongst radicals, right? If you were to, by some or many miracles, gain some real ground then you would be truly in trouble because then the gloves would come off, wouldn’t they? If by many miracles you were to survive that, you would then have narrow odds of the Green Party itself not becoming corrupted, yes?

I mean this is pretty obvious stuff, right? Is there something you know that I don’t?

So before you right me off as a jerk… I enjoy your writing. I find the more personal/experience based writings the most valuable. Not that your political theorizing and non first hand historical writings aren’t interesting or even valuable but those facts and opinions are available elsewhere. What isn’t available elsewhere are your first hand experiences and your learned reflections on those experiences. Might it be of much more value to future generations if you stepped off the precipice of “over the cliff and into the wall” and settled into “over the river and through the woods” (yes, a grandpa reference but not mean spirited)? Might you feel better? Might we younger folks gain more wisdom? Is this whole thing part of somehow still striving to validate the activities of your youth or even a “refusal” to get old or an attempt to leave a legacy or finish what you started, etc?

A compelling case can be made that we approach that precipice, obviously. A case could be made that, as well meaning as you are, your foot is on the accelerator and not the break. A case could be made that you and I don’t have the information to judge one way or the other. A case could be made that we suffer from the same or similar combination of arrogance and ignorance that countless previous people in the human continuum have suffered from in thinking they approach the last days. As self serving and naive as the old simpleton’s retort “humanity ends with you, huh?” may be, it is a rather frustratingly, good argument still the same. In any case it doesn’t seem like there is much to gain either way if the end is near…but if it isn’t we could always use some first hand information from an honest and thoughtful source gifted enough to translate it to the written form in a way that can keep our admittedly fickle attentions.

I know, because you have told me, why you do what you do. I respect it, truly. I know you have hope (not the DP brand). I know you feel you have a responsibility to your principles. I inquire only because perhaps your greater responsibility lies in acknowledging what a true treasure you are because you have lived a life of principles. How many people have lived what you have lived, seen what you have seen, been a part of what you have been a part of in the capacity with which you have been a part of it. There are a lot of voices of “fat and happy” hippies and “mover and shaker” hippies but at least from my own perspective precious few “regular guys” (and that is no insult – i could substitute “real men” in a true sense rather than a chauvinist or machismo sense) You have a nobility and an honesty and real perspective that the “big shot” hippies by nature of their “success” can not. The Farm is a prime example – that story has already been whitewashed and if not for you the truth would be that much more obscured – obviously with these types of things there are more than one “truth” but as a common man of exceptional principles and writing ability you have the right combination to be of extraordinary value – at least until we hit that wall…

p.s. I hope this comes off decently to you. I am nobody to question you or imply that you are perhaps on the wrong track. In thinking about you and your latest post this occurs to me. Take any of it or leave all of it. You, obviously, don’t have to post it and I wouldn’t in the slightest mind if you didn’t. I wonder if sometimes the true and honest historian maybe plays a bigger roll in the grand scheme by witnessing and recording history then anyone of his/her contemporaries though it may not seem so in the moment?
Who do I think I am…Oh well. No going back now.

10 03 2015
Ben Ennen-Falsch

Oh yeah…i’ve never even heard of Electoral College… have they ever even been to a sweet 16 let alone a final 4? No offense to you but I doubt they are swaying elections…

12 03 2015
brothermartin

Ben, in response to your “I’m nobody special” post…
1) “Badgering” somebody means, as I understand it, harassing them–i.e., interacting with a closed mind and the intention to disrupt and harass, rather than being open to the possibility of changing as a result of the interaction. So no, I don’t see what you say as “badgering.”
2) Why I’m involved with The Green Party–you’re not the only person who asks, and I’m one of the others who asks it. I’m involved with the GP because I don’t know what might or might not be effective, so I just support everything and everyone who might, to the best of my very limited ability. My involvement with the GP has come about fairly organically–friends were, and are, involved, and so it is a way to do something with my friends.

Don’t know quite how to respond to the rest of what you wrote, except “Thanks, but, in my own ways, I’m just as much a fraud as anybody else.”

12 03 2015
brothermartin

Really? You’ve never heard of the Electoral College? Do a search on it. That’s who decides elections in this country.

13 03 2015
Ben Ennen-Falsch

“Thanks, but”

You’re welcome. As I said, take any or leave all.

“in my own ways, I’m just as much a fraud as anybody else.”

Might that statement be proving my allegation of honesty and integrity or is it disproving? Could be the beginnings of an interesting post either way…

14 03 2015
brothermartin

I will have to be a lot better known than I am now before I write that one!

udge said “Son, I know your baby well
but that’s a secret I can’t never tell”
Dupree said “Judge, well it’s well understood,
and you got to admit that that sweet, sweet jelly’s so good”



22 03 2015
appalachiacat

Just recently found your site and signed up for it. I enjoy reading your essays very much. I live in Murphy, NC. Unfortunately, the Green Party is not on the NC ballot, but I am considering signing up with them and working to get them on the ballot. However, I am fairly certain that a “fix” for our country’s malaise from within The System is not possible. I think my energies will be best spent working at the local level to support cooperatives, CSA’s (lots of farming around here) and any other community based alternatives to corporatocracy I can scare up. I will still vote and hound my state and federal “representatives” (who sure as hell don’t represent me or anyone else I know) on issues and legislation that will help ameliorate the abominable state of affairs inflicting We The People. So thanks for putting your stuff out there.

23 03 2015
brothermartin

Thank you for your appreciation! I’m right with you on supporting “community-based alternatives to coporatocracy.” I view my involvement in Green Party/electoral politics as a form of theater. I don’t expect to win, I just hope I/we can educate people whom we might not otherwise have reached. In fact, the main the GP and other alternative parties may be demonstrating is the utter bankruptcy and non-responsiveness of electoral politics. If/when the whole thing goes down in flames, I want to be able to say, “I TOLD YOU SO!”….emphasis on the “told you.”

11 07 2015
A DEEP GREEN PERSPECTIVE ON BERNIE SANDERS | DEEP GREEN PERSPECTIVE

[…] 1930’s, of beating back attempts to radicalize the party. I talked/wrote about this in some detail recently, so here’s the short version: it hasn’t worked yet.  But “the times […]

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