Nader the Leninist : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

I've read a lot of blistering -- and absolutely accurate -- commentary on Ralph Nader in the past week, but this analysis from "Slate" is one of the best.

Ralph the Leninist

By Jacob Weisberg

Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2000, at 5:13 p.m. PT

Over the past 10 days, liberals have been voicing shock and dismay at the imminent prospect of their old hero, Ralph Nader, intentionally throwing the election to George W. Bush. A first, eloquent protest came 10 days ago from a group of a dozen former "Nader's Raiders," who asserted that their former mentor had broken a promise not to campaign in states where he could hurt Gore and begged him to reconsider doing so. Others, including Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter have expressed a similar sense of disappointment and betrayal.

Nader's response to all this heartfelt hand-wringing has been to scoff and sneer. On Good Morning America, he referred contemptuously to his old disciples as "frightened liberals." The Green Party nominee is spending the final week of the campaign stumping in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Washington -- the very states where a strong showing stands to hurt Gore the most. Nader has said he wants to maximize his vote in every state in hopes of attaining the 5 percent of the vote that will qualify the Green Party for $12 million in federal matching funds in 2004. Speaking to foreign journalists in Washington yesterday, he explicitly rejected Internet vote-swapping schemes that could help him reach this qualifying threshold without the side effect of electing Bush president. In various other TV appearances, Nader has stated bluntly that he couldn't care less who wins.

This depraved indifference to Republican rule has made Nader's old liberal friends even more furious. A bunch of intellectuals organized by Sean Wilentz and Todd Gitlin are circulating a much nastier open letter, denouncing Nader's "wrecking-ball campaign -- one that betrays the very liberal and progressive values it claims to uphold." But really, the question shouldn't be the one liberals seem to be asking about why Nader is doing what he's doing. The question should be why anyone is surprised. For some time now, Nader has made it perfectly clear that his campaign isn't about trying to pull the Democrats back to the left. Rather, his strategy is the Leninist one of "heightening the contradictions." It's not just that Nader is willing to take a chance of being personally responsible for electing Bush. It's that he's actively trying to elect Bush because he thinks that social conditions in American need to get worse before they can better.

Nader often makes this "the worse, the better" point on the stump in relation to Republicans and the environment. He says that Reagan-era Interior Secretary James Watt was useful because he was a "provocateur" for change, noting that Watt spurred a massive boost in the Sierra Club's membership. More recently, Nader applied the same logic to Bush himself. Here's the Los Angeles Times' account of a speech Nader gave at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., last week: "After lambasting Gore as part of a do-nothing Clinton administration, Nader said, 'If it were a choice between a provocateur and an anesthetizer, I'd rather have a provocateur. It would mobilize us.'"

Lest this be remark be considered an aberration, Nader has said similar things before. "When [the Democrats] lose, they say it's because they are not appealing to the Republican voters," Nader told an audience in Madison, Wis., a few months ago, according to a story in The Nation. "We want them to say they lost because a progressive movement took away votes." That might make it sound like Nader's goal is to defeat Gore in order to shift the Democratic Party to the left. But in a more recent interview with David Moberg in the socialist paper In These Times, Nader made it clear that his real mission is to destroy and then replace the Democratic Party altogether. According to Moberg, Nader talked "about leading the Greens into a 'death struggle' with the Democratic Party to determine which will be the majority party." Nader further and shockingly explained that he hopes in the future to run Green Party candidates around the county, including against such progressive Democrats as Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and Rep. Henry Waxman of California. "I hate to use military analogies," Nader said, "but this is war on the two parties."

Hitler analogies always lead to trouble, but the one here is irresistible, since Nader is actually making the argument of the German Communist Party circa 1932, which helped bring the Nazis to power. I'm not comparing the Republicans to fascists, or the Greens to Stalinists for that matter. But Nader and his supporters are emulating a disturbing, familiar pattern of sectarian idiocy. You hear these echoes whenever Nader criticizes Bush half-heartedly then becomes enthusiastic and animated blasting the Green version of the "social fascists" -- Bill Clinton, Gore, and moderate environmentalists. It's clear that the people he really despises are those who half agree with him. To Nader, it is liberal meliorists, not right-wing conservatives, who are the true enemies of his effort to build a "genuine" progressive movement. He does have a preference between Republicans and Democrats, and it's for the party that he thinks will inflict maximum damage on the environment, civil rights, labor rights, and so on. By assisting his class enemy, Nader thinks he can help the wool from the eyes of a sheeplike public.

If Nader's goal were actually progressive reform -- a ban on soft money, a higher minimum wage, health-care coverage for some of the uninsured, a global warming treaty -- it would be possible to say that his strategy was breathtakingly stupid. But Nader's goal is not progressive reform; it's a transformation in human consciousness. His Green Party will not flourish under Democratic presidents who lull the country into a sense of complacency by making things moderately better. If it is to thrive, it needs villainous, right-wing Republicans who will make thing worse. Like Pat Buchanan, Nader understands that his movement thrives on misery. But the comparison is actually unfair to Buchanan (words I never thought I'd write), because Buchanan doesn't work to create more misery for the sake of making his movement grow the way Nader does. From a strictly self-interested point of view, Nader's stance is the more rational one.

So Gore supporters might as well quit warning the Green candidate that he's going to put George Bush in White House. Ralph Nader is a very intelligent man who knows exactly what's he doing. And they only seem to be encouraging him.

-- Celia Thaxter (, October 31, 2000


A post-script -- on the local NPR radio in Seattle I was listening to a discussion about Nader taking votes from the Democrats, and heard lots of "things have to go to hell first!" arguments (if they could be rightly called arguments, and I don't think they could). One of the most memorable was from a wild-voiced young man who insisted there had to be "blood in the streets!" first, and that the only way to assure that there was blood in the streets was to vote Nader.

A rather chilling "argument." Wooly-minded supporters of Nader are going to have no "blood on the streets" after Bush is elected, just a lot of right-wing Supreme Court justices, roll-backs of civil rights, a depressed economy with high interest rates, Reagon-style deregulation, and rank destruction of environmental standards.

-- Celia Thaxter (, October 31, 2000.

Must disagree,Celia. Seems as tho the Gore partisans can't see the forest for the trees. It wasn't Nader that made Gore waffle on his environmental stance(standing by while Bill signed the timber rider "salvage" bill.)Or letting the major automakers weasel by clean air regs by creating an SUV craze. It wasn't Nader that made him accept 470k in soft money contributions from Occidental Petroleum in the 96 cam- paign-while at the same time said corporation was(and is)busy roust- ing native Columbians from their homelands. And it just so happens that Al has half a million in stock of this corporation. Hmm. And this abortion argument just slays me. 7 of the present Supreme Court Justices were appointed by Republicans,two by Clinton. Now the argument goes that Bush, once elected is going to be able to appoint 4-5 new ones who in spite of the fact that the Republican appointees have had the majority for years and years,are going to immediately overturn things. I know things in DC are a bit weird,but it's hard to find any logic in that argument. If Gore loses he has only himself to blame(for attempting to por- tray himself as a conservative,a moderate and a liberal all at the same time). And this doesn't begin to go into the whole NAFTA issue which neither Gore nor Bush has the gumption to tackle. Your move. H justices

-- h (, October 31, 2000.


Have you met people torn between Gore and Nader? Who are reluctantly voting Nader because of Nader's overall platform, but who would otherwise cheerfully vote Gore if Nader weren't there?

Somehow, it seems that Nader's supporters are indifferent to the major parties, and many (if not most) would drop out and become nonvoters if Nader did the same.

Your demonization of the right seems a bit, uh, reflexive on the whole. I find that the Democrats have some excellent ideas and policies, and some awful ones. The Republicans have excellent cures for the Democrat's idiocies, but some stupid policies of their own. I can go down the Supreme Court's decisions and agree with about half the liberal victories and half the conservative victories, roughly speaking. By and large, I find the Dems too heedless of the total costs of their policies (financial and social), while the Reps tend to be far too moralistic.

I hope you read some of the P.J.O'rourke that Ken posted links to. He sees clearly and thinks about things, rather than just reacting to labels like Pavlov's dogs.

-- Flint (, October 31, 2000.


I am no Pavlovian dog, and rather resent the comparison. I am an independent. I was briefly enamoured with John McCain last February and even met the man. My politics are wide-ranging and exceptionally fluid. I think the mark of a healthy intellect is the ability to be perfectly comfortable within contradictions and even to embrace them simultaneously. I intensely dislike "ideology" of all stripes, and prefer flexible, pragmatic solutions to problems. Above all, I dislike dogma or even declarations of faith.

Do you know what the mark of a great president is, Flint? It's not his "principles" or "staunch beliefs" or "political philosophy." It's his ability to make excellent, ever-evolving decisions in the midst of rapid, frightening change, change he has absolutely no control over. A good president must be exceptionally fluid in his response to decisions and intensely curious intellectually.

By and large I do not like contemporary Republicans much at all, as manifest in this Congress, for example, but on some issues I am quite conservative. You'd be surprised.

-- Celia Thaxter (, October 31, 2000.


I can agree with much of what you say; but I would never put more stock in P.J.O'Rourke than I did in Milne.

I wouldn't worry too much about the Green Party. At least here they are a strange collection. Brian is somewhat of an exception. They include moderate environmentalists, radical environmentalists, animal rights activists, vegans, people who oppose the Makah whale hunt. defenders of Orca's, Salmon-lovers, etc. As long as they have no influence they stand together. When they gain any influence they, as a group, implode [each of the many subgroups wants his/her agenda at the top], as they have done here. If they have any success at all, they will cease to exist. Of course I live in a county [Snohomish] with a successionist movement that has declared a separate county government. They are also ignored.


-- DB (, October 31, 2000.


When describing our future with a Bush presidency couldn't you have thrown in the death penalty for everyone who voted against him? Would have kinda rounded your summary out don't you think?

-- Carlos (, October 31, 2000.

Not my original thought but a good one.

"Remember how happy the left was when Perot was in the race sucking votes away from Bush the elder?"

It seems that what is good for the goose is not so good for the gander.

Nader often makes this "the worse, the better" point on the stump in relation to Republicans and the environment. He says that Reagan- era Interior Secretary James Watt was useful because he was a "provocateur" for change, noting that Watt spurred a massive boost in the Sierra Club's membership.

Likewise membership in the NRA has soared under Clinton/Gore, myself included. In fact, I think I have a renewal notice around here somewhere....

-- Uncle Deedah (, October 31, 2000.

Celia, I was going to post something very similar to you, but you have done it far better that I. Although NOTsaying that Nader is equivalent to a German Communist of the 30s, NOR that Bush is equivalent to a German fascist of the same period, still the parallels with the German Communist strategy of that time ("Nach Hitler, uns") are striking.

-- Peter Errington (, October 31, 2000.


[Do you know what the mark of a great president is, Flint? It's not his "principles" or "staunch beliefs" or "political philosophy." It's his ability to make excellent, ever-evolving decisions in the midst of rapid, frightening change, change he has absolutely no control over.]

Here we must agree to disagree. Of course no candidate can tell us what s/he will do under circumstances yet to be determined. I'll gladly grant you the rapid frightening change, this is the world in which we live. What we are selecting is the person who will be responding to those changes in some way.

You yourself have expressed some trepidation at the prospect of conservative justices appointed to the high court. Yet you *cannot* know what cases they will face, which have yet to occur. So is it sufficient simply to appoint smart, skillful judges full of intellectual curiosity, regardless of their principles, beliefs or philosophies? Come on now! Rehnquist is a very smart man, and Earl Warren before him was very smart. Is that all that matters?

It's precisely these principles, beliefs, and philosophies that *guide* us through the swirling contingencies of unpredictability. A sitting President must respond instinctively and quickly, and his beliefs guide his instinct. Reagan was admired NOT because he was smart or knowledgeable, but because people (correctly) trusted his instincts to hoot when we were heading into the wrong part of the forest. People have felt less comfortable with Clinton, whose instinct is to consult today's opinion poll to decide what's best for the country. Yet Clinton's instinct has prevented him from doing anything really stupid, except in his private life.

These political philosophies are essentially *all we have* as voters trying to guess about a candidate's pattern of responses to the unguessable. I'm at least honest enough to admit I'm glad I wasn't the one making many decisions I disagreed with, which turned out MUCH better than mine would have.

-- Flint (, October 31, 2000.


"Likewise membership in the NRA has soared under Clinton/Gore, myself included. In fact, I think I have a renewal notice around here somewhere.... "

I guess our responses are different. After the "jackbooted thug" statement and the appearances of La Pierre [or whatever his name is], I left the organization [damn, there goes that life membership].


-- DB (, October 31, 2000.


.....You make a good case for the repeal of the 19th amendment... any of you that still argue dem/repub, left/right etc. are what the socialists in charge refer to as "useful idiots"... their term, not mine...

-- Patrick (, October 31, 2000.

Mr. Farmer,

You may some valid points. However, it is not longer a question of whether Nader is to "blame," but what progressives must do to get the country on the right track. Believe me, there are stark, dramatic differences between Gore and Bush.

Gore has had to stand by and watch some legislation pass that he probably intensely disagreed with, but all politicians must do this if they wish to govern. That's the reality of political life. I believe that Gore is an environmentalist, not some traitor to the environment, as Nader paints him. Gore has worked with people in government and understands the concepts "compromise" and "negotiation." Any good politician must understand those concepts if he is to survive. Nader doesn't understand either.

Gore has said he supports the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform bill. He has made his declaration plain, and says it's one of his top priorities to do so. Bush has no intention of supporting campaign finance reform.

Gore has had to work within the old campaign finance system to get to where he is today. If he had not worked within the old system, neither he nor anyone else would have even stood a chance to run against Bush. That's unfortunate reality of how politics works today.

Please remember that the Supreme Court barely upheld choice just last summer by a mere ONE vote. And remember that it is the plan of Republicans to destroy a woman's right to choose bit by bit, law by law, incrementally over time. Only ONE vote held the balance in last summer's instance. Surely you cannot confidently predict that the Court will be immune from some fairly reactionary interpretations and roll-backs if a Republican is elected.

I agree that if Gore loses he has only himself to blame. But the voters will either help him lose or win, and thereby help our country lose or win. And if Gore has attempted to portray himself as many things, then he scores points with me. Fluidity in response to change is the mark of a great president. Nader is fanatical, and believe me, fanatics make lousy presidents.

I'm torn about free trade. I honestly cannot say I understand all of its complexities. By and large I think free trade is a good thing. But I don't like the notion of any country's democratic sovereignity usurped or threatened by corporate interests or laws.

Do I know any people who are genuinely torn between Nader and Gore? Plenty. And I tell them they can be Green and still vote for Gore, because Gore is greener than Bush, and some green is better than no green at all.

Finally, talk to some old-timers who voted for McGovern in '68 and swung the election to Nixon because they wouldn't hold their nose and vote for Humphrey. I've heard from three of these old-timers now, and they all intensely regret their decisions because we're still living with the fall-out from Nixonian policies. They have all of them urged the new generation of Greens to vote wisely this time around, and to listen to and learn from their mistake long ago.


-- Celia Thaxter (, October 31, 2000.

Oh Flint,

That Clinton hasn't appeared to do anything "stupid" is precisely because he lives and governs by the polls. His inheritence of a coldwar free world allowed him to piss away many opportunites (and friends) unnoticed just because the "polls" didn't really care.

This past presidency just cant wash either with Celia's preference for a dynamic White House. This White House's dynamisim has been limited to reading the NYT. Beyond Gore's constantly confounded intellect I need a case why a Gore presidency would be dynamic. How about a case where a comparativly freewheeling Bush presidency wouldn't be? Celia I think we're finding some common ground here.

-- Carlos (, October 31, 2000.

Ah, the "choice" thing. Were Roe v. Wade ever overturned (which I doubt) the issue would revert to the states. Here in California we'd run 'em through, on the public purse, without missing a breath.

-- Carlos (, October 31, 2000.

Oh this is such good fun! Go Ralphie!

-- Lars (, November 01, 2000.

Just my observation from reading this thread,but what strikes me are the two sides (D's & R's) going back and forth at how our freedoms will be taken bit by bit,if so and so wins the election.

WAKE UP!!! Both of these parties ARE going to erode our freedoms and have been doing so for a very long time.There is very little difference between the two,it is all posturing to keep us busy arguing amongst ourselves about ideologies,policies and personal preferences as to what should be banned or regulated next.They could give a flyin'rats ass less as long as they are able to keep a stranglehold on their power,money and position.

The Constitution means nothing to them and they would sell it,you and all of us out if it meant them losing their ill gotten gains.

I,myself want a government that says own any gun you choose,but if you committ a crime with it you will pay dearly.

I,myself want a government that says it's a woman's right to choose if she wants an abortion,afterall,God will be the final judge.

In other words *I* don't want a government to try and be my parent or my God.The D&R's both think they have mastered those roles to perfection,I would rather be a godless orphan.

-- capnfun (, November 01, 2000.

Celia, this article you so liked doesn't strike me as any great shakes. It starts right out with a bold untruth:

>> Over the past 10 days, liberals have been voicing shock and dismay at the imminent prospect of their old hero, Ralph Nader, intentionally throwing the election to George W. Bush. <<

First off this is a very select group of liberals. The author wishes to give the impression that this is a monolithic opinion held by liberals. Far from it. This is just the first little trick.

The same first sentence holds an even bigger one. Namely, Ralph Nader does not have the power to "throw" any election anywhere. Elections are determined by the people who vote, not by the candidates. If candidates could determine the outcome of elections, then every candidate would win every election. This is a manifest impossibility. Ralph could ask people to vote for Gore. He sure as hell can't make them vote for Gore.

It further makes the statement:

>> ...a group of a dozen former "Nader's Raiders," who asserted that their former mentor had broken a promise not to campaign in states where he could hurt Gore <<

The credibility of this claim is extremely suspect to me. It has been repeated quite a lot since the claim was made. I notice every time that there is not a scrap of evidence to back it up. No quote. No cite of when, where or to whom this supposed promise was made. No dates. No names. No particulars. No nothing. And based on this I am supposed to believe that Nader has broken a promise? No sale.

Just think. You are Nader and you are contemplating running a long hard campaign for President. From the first, you would know that your campaign had little chance of winning outright. From the first you would know that you might affect the outcome of a close race. From the first you would know that you'd be competing for votes with whichever candidate was nearest you in philosophy. If you were squeamish about this, you'd have to face that before anything else and determine if it was worth it.

Nader ran anyway. To the best of my knowledge he has faced this question from the first day and he has never said anything other than what he is saying now. Why does this article repeat this fabrication and not give any indication about the inherent untrustworthiness of this claim? You go figure it out. It is pretty plain to me.

>> Nader's response to all this heartfelt hand-wringing has been to scoff and sneer. <<

Exactly what would your reaction be if your opponent kept telling you that you should withdraw because you are hurting his chances to win? I'd sneer, too. And maybe laugh. That is exactly what this plea deserves. Nader is the nominee of the Green Party. That position carries certain responsibilities to the members of that party (such as myself). It carries zero responsibilities to the Democrats, or keeping them happy, or ensuring they win.

Can't you see how insane this argument is? Yet, we are supposed to blame Nader for doing exactly what he promised the Green Party he would do - carry their banner, represent them, and make their case. If he were to pull back from that commitment, then I would have nothing but scorn for Nader. But, Democrats who scorn him for vigorously pursuing votes can go jump in a lake. He owes them nothing! Nothing! He owes me his best efforts to the end. I'm damn glad he is doing that.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, November 01, 2000.


Unless I misread you above, you indicated scorn for principles.

At the very least, principles will make life much easier for you. For example, if we adopt the principle of honesty (with rare exceptions, e.g., lying to a kidnapper) we'll have a "natural" guideline for the hundreds of instances each day where we transact and communicate.

I assume, though, that you value and practice honesty without realizing it's a principle. And I'll bet you have other principles, too.

-- eve (, November 01, 2000.

Nader has chosen to ape Pat Buchanan, leading his followers on a costly and quixotic march to nowhere. Too bad the poor and the powerless will be -- as usual -- the ones to pay.

-- E.A. (, November 01, 2000.

>> Nader has chosen to ape Pat Buchanan <<

If, by this, you mean he is participating in democracy through the agency of a third party, then you are correct. Though the word "ape" is perhaps a mite bit loaded. Who do you ape?

>> leading his followers on a costly and quixotic march to nowhere. <<

The followers follow willingly. Since the strategy cannot be played out in one election cycle, your opinion on its future success is purely speculative.

Surely there is risk in this strategy. When is there not? But, it was incleasingly clear to me, that the march to 'somewhere else' that we were engaged in over the past 8 years was leading in the wrong direction. Once that much is settled, the decision to march in a different direction comes naturally. You don't have to come.

>> Too bad the poor and the powerless will be -- as usual -- the ones to pay. <<

The poor and the powerless can vote, too. The poor and the powerless have the ability to assess their own best interests. I am not in a position to vote for them, act for them, think for them or decide for them what political strategy will or won't make them "pay". But I can make my case, ask for their votes, and await the outcome.

What are you doing that is going to change the direction of this country?

-- Brian McLaughlin (, November 01, 2000.


-- Lars (, November 01, 2000.

I've read that when Nader applied for that government money on which everyone hopes he gets 5%, that he didn't specify any party name. Help me out here. I don't really understand how this works, but I thought that Robertson got money this year because the Reform Party got 5% last election. I even remember some problems deciding whether that money should go to Robertson or the other folks who staked a claim to the Reform Party. How does Nader get away with not naming a party affiliation, and what happens to the Green Party next election if Nader wins the 5% and decides to run under a different party name?

-- Anita (, November 01, 2000.


A Libertarian for Nader

-- Lars (, November 01, 2000.

Brian, don't you worry about the Supreme Court at all? Like maybe it get's fucked up for the next twenty years?

-- Peter Errington (, November 01, 2000.

>> Brian, don't you worry about the Supreme Court at all? Like maybe it get's fucked up for the next twenty years? <<

It's a factor in my thinking, but not the decisive one. If Gore wins and the Senate is still Republican, any SC nominee from Gore will be raked over the coals and hung up to dry, unless the nominee is sufficiently center-right.

Strom Thurmond would still be the chairman of the Juduciary Committee. He hasn't succumbed of political embarrassment from holding up something close to a hundred of Clinton's nominees to the Federal judiciary for years. If Gore came in and Strom still held the committee chair, what would be different? Gore would kow-tow.

Also, Earl Warren, whom Eisenhower believed to be dyed-in-the-wool conservative turned out very different than he expected. Bush could get a few similar surprises - just as Nixon did. It was Nixon nominee who wrote the majority opinion on Roe v. Wade.

So, I can't let the Supreme Court override all other considerations. There is just not enough certainty in any direction to let it determine my vote.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, November 01, 2000.

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