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?
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. “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 they 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.
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.
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“