Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Democrats And Nader

As promised, I now reflect a little on the Democrats and Nader dimension of the US Elections 2004, and George Monbiot's advocation of a vote for Nader.

I'm not comfortable with this subject, because it is their Nader-bashing where the Democrats (both party leadership and sympathisants) let me down most.

Think of it in an utilitarian way. Your goal is supposed to be an increase in Kerry's votes. You seem to think you can get some from Nader. Now, Nader voters are voters who at present would not vote for your candidate despite all the Bush-bashing (which they most probably agree with). So why do you think they would be inclined to vote for your candidate after a lot of Nader-bashing, even if you succeed convincing them?

You should realise, with this method you are fighting to increase the numbers of non-voters, not of Kerry-voters - and with this campaign plus the legal dirty tricks like sabotaging caucuses with masses of subversive attendants or preventing the acceptance of pro-Nader-candidacy signatures on technicalities, you resemble Republicans more than I thought. (This is what I meant by letting me down most. In case I haven't made it clear earlier, I never thought Kerry is 'Bush Lite' or that the two parties are the same, my arguments were about different but in their effect equally serious faults, or about similar faults from different motives, or about less bad but unworkable policies that result in a Repub return.*)

As Dean rightly noticed but Kerry's DNC/DLC pushers still haven't learnt (and had many Democrat activists forget again), you should focus on getting non-voters. And if you still want Nader-voters too, the way to win them over is through policy promises, by making Kerry more likeable. I was pleased to note that the same point was made by Michael Moore in Boston [last paragraph in the transscript] - and Moore, tough no Kerry fan, is an Anything But Bush convert (remember he was even naive enough to be suckered into supporting that weasel Wesley Clark, Clintonite/DLC intimus and commander of the bomb-all-of-Serbia-instead-of-invading-Kosovo campaign).

On the final subject, I don't entirely agree with Monbiot. Monbiot rightly notes that there is a systemic failure in American democracy that continually leaves decent people with the choice between bad and worse. However, I go beyond him, and posit that this systemic failure also means that a third candidate like Nader can never win.

The American election system is a majority vote system, intended by the American 'Founding Fathers' to result in a Congress made up of individuals responsible to their voters, rather than one made up of parties whose members are loyal to the leadership, not voters.

However, theirs was a pipe dream: parties form all by themselves, based on shared opinions and interests, and because cooperation is a competitive advantage in crucial votes in Congress and in elections. And a majority voting system, unless smaller parties have strong local voting traditions like in Britain and Canada, automatically leads to two major parties: to maximise votes, the initially numerous parties form ever wider coalitions, and gradually dissolve in them - even in Canada, witness the last elections a few months ago, in which all three leftist national parties increased their voter share, but it was the now unified conservatives who increased their seats in Parliament. (Unfortunately, I can observe this same process live in my home country, which has a mixed but predominantly majority-based system.)

And once two large blocks remain - whose representatives, think about it, collected only about half or even less of all the votes cast, making "representative" kind of a meaningless word after factoring in voter participation too -, no upstart third competitor is likely to bust them. Their superior financial resources have their effects in the media as well as courtrooms. If that's not enough, the two bigs can cooperate to shape election and campaign finance laws favoring themselves. They can push through policies against their voters' will, and bury each others' corruption affairs without fear of a third party profiting from it: it is enough to remind their voter base that the other big party will win if votes on their 'side' will be "split".

That is, unlike Monbiot, I don't think Nader or some future progressive third candidate stands a chance of winning, even if progressive opinionmakers and news outlets support him. The system is against it. Only a large non-partisan civil movement or a rather unusually bold reform-minded Presidential candidate from one of the two big parties (who is either from outside the party elite or betrays it) could force through systemic change in the US political system. (It happened in other countries.) The usefulness of a Nader candidacy (or any third candidacy) could only be in what Monbiot noted only passingly: getting Democrats (or Republicans) to campaign for progressive (or whatever) votes.

* Some people seem to believe politics takes place in a bubble, where all that matters is whether your candidate is better in comparison to the others' - but politics is also connected to the real world, where once in office, a bad decision will blow into your face, even if it is less bad than what the opponent would have decided.

UPDATE 26/08: In response to James at Dead Men Left, I would like to make it clear that I strongly support the Nader candidacy, as a vehicle - presently, as the only vehicle - to get progressive issues into the public debate and force the US Democrats to fight for progressive votes (hence: move on policy issues); I regret not noticing that writing about the "only" "usefulness" two paragraphs up could be interpreted as belittling.


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