Friday, July 25, 2003

Michael Tomasky's Lupine Ferocity

If you haven't yet read this Michael Tomasky TAP screed, and I mean that in the best possible way, you probably should.

I've hesitated to post it because, frankly, I dread the comments thread it will provoke.

But what the Green Party intends to do in the next election, and what Democrats and others on the left who are determined to defeat Bush as a first priority are going do about the Greens is an issue that needs to be faced, the sooner the better, probably.

Tomasky is responsding to the recent indications by the Greens that they intend to run a candidate in the next election. perhaps Nader, or perhaps Cynthia McKinney.

But short of a megalomaniac whose tenuous purchase on present-day reality threatens to cancel out every good thing he's done in his life, or a discredited anti-Semite, they'll settle for someone less distinguished. The point is to siphon off Democratic votes unless the Democrats prove themselves pure enough to nominate Dennis Kucinich.

Tomasky figures that about half of Nader voters in 2000 can't be won over, so he aims his arguments at those who might be for 2004. His two strongest arguments are these:

First, if it was the intention of Nader voters in New York or Massachusetts (or any state Al Gore was certain to win in 2000) to send a message to the Democrats, that's an understandable and respectable intention. But as the Christian Coalition model shows, such messages are far more effectively sent inside the party than outside it -- the Greens really influence almost nothing in this country, whereas the Christian Coalition, with its power in the GOP, influences almost everything


Second, some voted for Nader because they just weren't inspired by Gore personally. Fine. But it should be obvious today that a candidate's personality is one of the last things serious people ought to be thinking about. No one can survey the past 30 months and conclude, whatever the Democrats' shortcomings, that there's no difference between the parties. We would not have John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, Gale Norton, the USA PATRIOT Act, this Trotskyist war in Iraq, two major class-war tax cuts -- the list goes on and on (and on). And that's only the stuff you hear about. In every agency of government, at every level, there are political appointees who are interpreting federal rules and regulations and deciding how much effort will really be put into pursuing federal discrimination cases, for instance, or illegal toxic dumping. These are the people who are, in fact, the federal government. The kinds of people who fill those slots in a Democratic administration are of a very different stripe than the kinds who fill them during a Republican term, and the appointments of these people have a bigger effect on real life than whether Al Gore sighs too heavily or speaks too slowly.

Tomasky's third argument casts this aspiration on those who voted for Nader; that they were relatively unaffected in their everyday lives by the results of a Bush win.

Among people who were directly affected by which candidate won, Nader was seen as the ornament of frippery that he was. I promise you, you could not have gone to the corner of Lenox Avenue and 145th Street in October of 2000 and found four Nader voters. And at that intersection and the many others in America like it, by my lights, the moral case for Nader crumbles to dust.

Tomasky's proposal is for Democratic candidates to start attacking Nader now. A Sister Souljah moment times fifty, is how he puts it.

I generally agree with where Tomasky comes down on the issues here, agree with him completely about what it takes to to be politically effective in a democracy, and I can't deny the emotional satisfaction to be had in his apprroach. I'm left wondering, though, how such an attack, and what's bound to get said in the way of definiing issues in making it, might sit with that half of Nader voters we're supposed to be trying to court?