Nader, The Clintons, Obama, Gore, and Edwards
On HOPE, Fear, & Anger
I live in a contested state in the presidential election (
Thus, ever since John Edwards dropped out of the presidential primaries, I have assumed that I would be voting next November “for” Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to block "Mad Bomber McCain" (as Mike Albert rightly describes the Republican presidential candidate, who was embraced by The Worst President Ever at the White House yesterday) or someone else from the GOP roster. It was one thing to make Left protest votes when I lived in the “safe[ly Democratic] state” of
But now I’m not certain I’ll be punching the Democratic Party’s ticket in the presidential election. According to a recent Des Moines Register poll (EN), the Great BaRockstar (the likely Democratic presidential nominee) beats McCain 53 to 36 percent in
The poll shows McCain beating Hillary 49 to 40 percent – no surprise there (Senator Clinton has been the least elect-able top Democratic presidential candidate from the start).
If Obama gets the nomination (by no means a certainty), maybe I’ll be free to “vote my hopes and not just my fears,” as third party folks like to say.
“I HOPE IT’S JUST A PASSING FANCY”
Whatever, I, like many progressives, am reasonably nauseated by Hillary and Barack’s response to Nader’s recent presidential candidacy announcement.
Here’s what Hillary said: “That’s really unfortunate. I remember when he did this before, it didn’t turn out too well, for anyone, especially our country. I hope it’s just a passing fancy that people won’t take too seriously.”
The “before” in the first sentence referred to the presidential election of 2000, when Nader’s
Obama’s typically arrogant know-it-all Harvard Law commentary went like this:
“[Nader] thought there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush and eight years later I think people realize that Ralph did not know what he was talking about….My sense is that Mr. Nader is somebody who, if you don’t listen to and adopt all his policies, thinks you’re not substantive.”
SOMETHING THAT “DIDN’T TURN OUT TO WELL FOR OUR COUNTRY:” THE
Let’s start with 2000. Because of my Bush clan fears, I probably would have voted “for” Gore if I had lived in
Still, it’s not true that Nader claimed there was “no difference” between Gore and Bush. What Nader really said was that the differences were far too slight because of the Democratic Party and candidates’ abject captivity to corporate power and that a Democratic Party that had the guts and progressive morality to run a genuine peoples’ campaign would and should have no trouble running over the openly plutocratic GOP’s rich-boy from Crawford.
Nader was right about that. This is how Jim Hightower put it at a Nader rally in
“Gore and his corporate Democrats say to us that we’re the spoilers. We’re in Al’s way. But wait a minute. We didn’t spoil the Democratic Party with corrupt corporate cash. We didn’t spoil the Democratic Party by downsizing the middle class and shutting out more than one thousands farmers a week off the land in this country. We are not the ones who kicked one million low-income moms into the streets saying get a job when we knew there were no jobs with a living wage, no jobs with health care benefits for their children.”
“I come to you as a Democrat – been elected as such in the state of
Hightower was thinking about a number of “Democratic” policies that “didn’t turn out too well” for many Americans, especially working class and poor Americans. The 1992
Once in office, however,
Described as “recognizably progressive” in Barack Obama’s deeply conservative and mealy-mouthed book The Audacity of Hope (2006), Bill Clinton’s polices and appointments stayed true to his DLC credentials. They also reflected his captivity to powerful corporate and Wall Street interests that key corporate
More than being merely inadequate to the needs of
Ironically (or fittingly) given its insistence on throwing poor people on to the mercies of the "free" labor market, where most Americans obtain (uniquely among industrialized states) their health insurance, the Clinton administration ended without any serious effort to meaningfully deliver on its initial health insurance promises. It also failed to advance any meaningful initiative to protect the beleaguered rights of workers or to increase the woefully inadequate minimum wage. "Both the average wages for non-supervisory workers and the earnings of those in the lowest 10 percent of wage earners," notes Robert Pollin, "not only remained well below those of the Nixon/Ford and Carter administrations, but were actually lower than that even than those of the Reagan/Bush years. Moreover, wage inequality - as measured by the ratio of the 90th to the 10th wage decile - increased sharply during
As Pollin showed in his excellent study of Clintonomics, The Contours of Descent (Verso, 2003), following the testimony of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, the leading explanation for the exceptionally low level of wage growth that occurred even amidst a tightening labor market during the 1990s was the reluctance of workers to demand higher incomes. This reluctance emerged from the weakness of labor's bargaining power in an increasingly global economy where employers widely and quite credibly threaten to close their shops and relocate if workers voted to unionize. It also emerged from the neoliberal pro-corporate-globalization stance of the Clinton administration, which did virtually nothing to enhance workers' bargaining power vis-à-vis business, thereby making it certain that the "traumatized [American] worker" (as Greenspan described American working people to Congress in 1997) would accept only minor wage increases during the 1990s boom.
The “recognizably progressive” (according to Obama)
The significant, albeit limited and uneven, economic expansion that occurred under
The neoliberal deal had been sealed early on. “By the end of May 1993,” Alexander Cockburn noted in 2004, in a book titled A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, “as any kind of progressive challenge to business-as-usual, the
A VERY BAD GORE CAMPAIGN PLUS RACIST DISENFRANCHISEMENT OUTSTRIPPED BIG BAD RALPH IN 2000
Seven years later, moreover, Clintonian neoliberalism helped compromise the Democratic Party’s positions during the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore could see nothing better to do with Clinton's federal surplus than to pay down the national debt even as nearly 700,000 African-American children lived in "deep poverty” – at less than half of the nation's notoriously inadequate poverty level). The centrist, corporate-neoliberal Gore campaign ran in strict, depressing accord with the
As Katha Pollit, a self described “Naderskeptic” put it in a Nation column titled “Don’t Blame Ralph,” written right before (and published right after) the 2000 election:
“If Gore wants to defuse Nader, why doesn't he fire back on a whole range of substantive issues instead of acting like Nader has stolen votes that somehow belong to Gore by right? Gore has a record as Vice President, and he presumably believes in the positions that drive Naderites wild--for NAFTA, for military interventions around the globe, for welfare reform, for ladling vast sums of money into the Pentagon. He could take the trouble to explain why he is right and Nader is wrong on the issues that divide them, or why he is being wrongly blamed for policies that were actually the work of a Republican.”
“According to a group of seven academic political forecasters, Gore is supposed to win because the man and the campaign and the issues are unimportant: Whether the incumbent party stays in the White House all depends on the state of the economy, both actual and perceived. This alone can explain the outcome of every election since 1948. If Gore loses despite his tremendous structural advantages, what can you say except he screwed up monumentally?
The centrist Gore’s really bad campaign plus the massive bipartisan and racist disenfranchisement of black voters with felony records – and thousands of black Americans falsely accused of possessing such records – in Florida did more than big bad Ralph Nader to cost Gore the 2000 election. As social scientists Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza and author Greg Palast have shown beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt, the ethnic cleansing of
And, oh by the way, there were those illegal vote count shenanigans with James Baker, Jeb Bush, and the U.S. Supreme Court – a transparent election theft (a judicial coup) that liberal authorities from Clinton and Gore himself to The New York Times failed to meaningfully confront during and after November-December 2000.
No, it “didn’t turn out very well” for “our country,” though the wealthy few have made out well enough (contrary to Hillary’s formulation). But Nader’s candidacy was a relatively minor – it should have been irrelevant, if Democrats had acted differently – part of what went wrong.
ALL RALPH NEEDED TO STAY OUT WAS JOHN EDWARDS
As for Obama’s claim that Nader dismisses candidates who don’t “listen to and accept all his policies,” that’s a bald-faced lie, kind of like Obama’s claims:
* to have consistently opposed the Iraq War “from the beginning”
* to have passed federal legislation instituting strong regulations on nuclear plant radiation leaks (readers MUST see Mike McIntire, “Nuclear Leaks and Response Tested Obama,” New York Times, 3 February, 2008, section 1, p. 1.
* to honor a pledge to stay within the spending limits imposed by the
* to stand above “ideology” and big money special interest influence in the crafting of his voting record and policy platform.
As the Kansas Progressive Democratic activist Kelly Gerling recently noted on CommonDreams.org, Obama’s charge “is false. Nader was clear that he supported John Edwards and would not run if Edwards was the candidate, not because [Edwards] adopted ‘all’ of [Nader]’s policies but because [Edwards] inched over on domestic and anti-corporate rhetoric (Edwards was and still is militaristic and pro-empire on foreign policy). “Today on NPR,” Gerling added (on February 25th), “Nader stated that he has been trying to get a meeting with Obama for months. Obama won’t meet with him.”
Obama didn’t have to be a Nader-ite to keep Nader out of the presidential race. You only have to be as progressive as the mildly populist John Edwards (1).
Obama knows this. Just like he knows he never lifted a finger for the Maytag workers in Galesburg, Illinois he constantly claimed to care so deeply about during the presidential primary campaign in Iowa (you really must see Bob Secter, “Obama’s Fundraising, Rhetoric Collide,” Chicago Tribune, February 2008, sec.1, p.7). . Just like he knows that his top economic advisor really did tell the Canadian ambassador to the
As Obama also knows, there’s nothing mysterious or absolutist about Nader’s problem with Hillary and Obama. It isn’t that Ralph finds either of them “unsubstantial.” It’s that he agrees with Edwards’ repeated description of them both as “corporate Democrats” during the long contest leading up to the Iowa Caucus. He thinks – well, knows, if my current research is any indication (for a quicker summary see the Matt Gonzales essay cited above) – that they are both substantively corporate-neoliberal, subordinating themselves to the ongoing deep spoliation of the Democratic Party by concentrated wealth.
It’s not that Nader thinks Obama is empty. It’s about Nader’s accurate observation that Obama is following Hillary and Bill Clinton and the rest of the top Democrats in taking their considerable political power and substance and putting it to work for the privileged elite they deceptively claim to oppose on the pseudo-populist pandering campaign trail that defines the Democratic primary season every four years.
Anyone who wants to read a very useful summary of Obama’s audacious corporate-friendly voting record in the
Obama appears to be the most likely candidate to go up against Mad Bomber McCain. It would be nice if he would dial down the level of his maddening attachment to bullshitting voters - an attachment that may (as with his NAFTA-Canada nonsense in
In any event, I have a reason I’d not anticipated for wanting him to stay strong in
How strange. If the Democrats end up going with their most thoroughly corporate and militarist candidate (Hillary) – a person McCain can beat within and beyond
1. Speaking of John Edwards, here’s something to reflect on after Mad Bomber McCain takes up residence in the White House: Edwards was actually the most elect-able of the top three Democrats - something that will be unsurprising to left analysts given his greater willingness to speak about and against class inequality. According to a mid December social-scientific telephone survey of 1,092 adults Americans conducted for CNN by the Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) – the last meaningful match-up poll when Edwards was still viably in the primary contest - “Edwards perform[ed] the best” of all the top three Democratic candidates “against each of the leading Republicans.” Besides being the only Democratic candidate to defeat all Republicans, Edwards’ margins over the Republicans the other Democrats beat are considerably higher. Here were the CNN/ORC findings (please note the divergent numbers against John McCain):
- beat Guliani by 9 points (53% to 44%)
- beat Romney by 22 points (59 to 37)
- beat McCain by 8 points (52 to 44)
- beat Huckabee by 25 (60 to 35)
- beat Guliani by 7 points (52 to 45)
- beat Romney by 13 (54 to 41)
- DID NOT BEAT McCain (48 to 48)
- beat Huckabee by 15 (55 to 40)
- beat Guliani by 6 (51 to 45)
- beat Romney by 11 (54 to 43)
- LOST to McCain (48 to 50)
- beat Huckabee by just 10 (54 to 44)
The Democratic margins of victory broke down like this:
Over Guliani: Edwards by 9; Obama by 7; Hillary by 6.
Over Romney: Edwards (22); Obama (13); Hillary (11)
Over McCain: Edwards (8); Obama (none: TIED); Hillary (none: LOST)
Over Huckabee: Edwards (25); Obama (15); Hillary (10).
CNN/ORC’s numbers understated the Edwards elect-ability advantage since they were aggregate national statistics. They did not reflect Edwards’ especially superior performance over Hillary and Obama in pivotal battleground and swing states and in the disproportionately rural “red” states that are over-represented in the