American democracy: Stronger than ever

T.A. Barnhart

A friend sent me a message on Facebook yesterday that included mourning for, as he put it, "our ebbing democracy." I understand his feelings, of course: with the invasion still on-going, telecom immunity, corporations running the world and a criminal sitting in the White House because of the SCOTUS Coup of 2000, mourning American democracy seems like a rational response.

Thomas Jefferson, America's great democratYet, as I replied to him, I believe our democracy has never been in better shape. We have much to celebrate this 4th of July. Despite the problems we face, I think the Founders would be both proud and excited by actions of American patriots as we move deeper into our country's third century. How can I make such a claim in the face of all the challenges we face? Easy: I'm paying attention, not to the challenges but the responses.

When all is going well, when people are fat and happy and life's circumstances aren't too bad for most people, complacency is an understandable humans response. And until George W Bush and his criminal gang came along, most Americans were complacent about our country's politics and the state of our democracy. People had jobs; not necessarily great jobs, but the bills got paid and there was a bit extra. Gas was cheap. The status quo was tolerable. Most people didn't get involved in politics because few people believed it mattered much what they did or said, so most people did or said little. I don't think most people would have said things were great, but things were acceptable enough for most Americans.

Then came the Bush coup, and then came 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and the attacks on Constitutional rights. Complacency was replaced by fear, and then fear itself became the new flavor of complacency. Where for so long a resigned acceptance of a tolerable state in society held fast, the new fear-based status quo began to have an effect. Some people became demoralized by the direction our nation was going. Others grew resigned to the inevitable — as that was defined by the White House. But millions of other Americans had a different response: They began to get angry.

With the Dean for America movement in 2003, American patriots who rejected both despair and apathy were encouraged to take back their country. Which they began doing, with growing success. The bitter losses of 2004 masked the growth of the progressive movement and the injection of millions of citizens into the political process. But 2004 became 2006, and more Americans got on-board with the idea that they were part of the democratic process — a victorious democratic (and Democratic) process. 2007 and 2008 saw Barack Obama pushed to the Democratic nomination and a record number of people voting in the primaries — every state's primary actually mattered, for the first time in history. Suddenly, in the midst of the darkness flooding out of Washington, DC and the corporate boardrooms the way darkness and horror emanated from Mordor and Isengard, something amazing has happened:

Democracy is stronger than ever.

What we've been seeing for the past five or six years is not a blip: it's a new way of thinking for millions of Americans. The message activist groups have been hammering for years — that every person, every vote, every donation matters — is not merely sinking in: It's bringing results. The candidates we-the-people support are winning elections, and then they are working to pass good legislation and oversee government on behalf of the 90% of Americans who are not wealthy and powerful. (Congress may not have gotten there yet, but other legislatures and governments, like the Oregon Leg of 2007, have made great progress for the majority of citizens.)

Democracy is working. Even with the ugliness we see in Congress, Wall Street and the federal courts, democracy is working. Look at Zimbabwe, where the voters were finally ready to get rid of a tyrant every bit as bad as Saddam: Instead, they got violence, bloodshed, the destruction of the main opposition party, and Mugabe's re-election (such as it was). Here in America, with our democracy in allegedly so much trouble, we have a free and vigorous election that will — not might, but will — replace the illegitimate usurper with, quite likely, a skinny black guy whose parents could not have named him more awkwardly for national politics. Even the coup of 2000 was, I hate to admit, done legally and without violence — apart from that suffered by the body politic.

Democracy is working. Last Saturday, too many people showed up for the Bus Project's trip to Washington County: A bunch of young, active citizens — including Bus co-founder, Jefferson Smith — literally could not get on the Bus and instead had to take (bleah) cars out to Hillsboro to participate in the electoral process. Dozens of us, spending a beautiful Saturday not playing in the park but making sure democracy was moving forward.

Democracy is working. People are registering to vote for whom that act had before been seen as a waste of time. They are actually casting that vote, too, not just filling in the card and forgetting about it. They are paying attention to the issues and voting for candidates who oppose the war, who are not going to kowtow to the corporations, who will work for universal health care. They are voting on the issues, and they are about to remake the Congress and state governments in an overhaul that will overshadow anything we have seen in our lifetimes.

Democracy is working. People aren't just voting: they are getting involved in the process. The Obama and Clinton campaigns (and Ron Paul's, for that matter) got the publicity for the numbers involved, but the phenomenon goes deep down-ticket. People are getting involved because it's dawning on them, as Dr Dean said over and over, that they have the power. "Keep hope alive!" was Jesse Jackson's rallying cry in the 80s, and it seems to me that people were paying attention. They have hope for their country, and so they are getting to work to undo the damage that has been done. Progressives are taking control because progressives are doing the work where it matters most: down at the 'roots.

Democracy is working. It's alive, strong, growing and effective. It is also a process, a journey, a state-of-mind and a state-of-being. Democracy is not about focusing on what the Congress is doing right now; it's about what we, the citizens who vote for the members of Congress, are doing. Democracy is not about the laws that are in place (or, in the case of net neutrality or universal health care, not in place); it's about how we, the citizens, respond: either meekly accede to these laws or unite to challenge, remove and replace those laws. Democracy is not about the Supreme Court deciding that the rights of corporations outweigh those of actual human beings; democracy is about how we, the citizens for whom the 14th Amendment, and the rest of the Constitution, live our lives despite the attempts to make us the chattel of those who would profit from what goes on behind the Beltway.

Yes, we need to mourn what is being done by those to whom we, the American people, have given power and authority. But we, not they, are responsible for these failures. When the Gang of Five decided to throw away the results of the election in Florida, did we take to the streets and demand that every vote be counted? When Bush spread his transparent pack of lies to invade Iraq, how many citizens bothered to do more than let their fears overwhelm their sense (a bit late now, their remorse over the war)? How many of us turn off corporate television and the marketing/brainwashing that transforms us into numb-witted sheep? How many keep their bodies healthy so their minds and spirits will follow suit? How many sit in church and wonder why God's is so often in agreement with the mere human being standing at the front?

For American democracy to ebb and fail, the citizens of the United States would have to give up belief in it and turn away from their civic responsibilities. This is not happening, and as a result, I say democracy has never been stronger, has never been in such great condition. Democracy is not the laws on the books, not the occupants of offices, nor the fluffstorms being raised by the corporate media. Democracy is that overwhelming force, that unshakeable foundation into which the Founders put their faith; the one institution and process so vital, so insurmountable our founding document, the Constitution, begins with the words that measure how weak or strong our democracy is, and upon which my own faith in the current condition of democracy rests:

"We, the people..."

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    It's a good thing people are getting more involved. But for democracy as "rule by the people," this feels a lot like whistling past the graveyard to me (or whistling into it).

    They are paying attention to the issues and voting for candidates who oppose the war, who are not going to kowtow to the corporations, who will work for universal health care.

    It's becoming increasingly clear that those who think that in voting for Barack Obama, this is what they're getting, will be disappointed, perhaps sorely. As for those with the smaller ambition to prevent complete right-wing takeover of the judicial branch, we'll have to see. In any case, once again it looks more like a defensive election than anything else.

    For House and Senate, maybe a few more fit your bill, but are the totality of the candidates, including the incumbents, really going to challenge the corporations?

    Roll back media concentration? Undo the excesses of the Millenium Copyright Act? Change the credit and bankruptcy and foreclosure regulations to favor ordinary people rather than the banks? Strengthen the FDA? Deal with drug costs driven by huge marketing expenses? Reform health insurance in a way that creates even the possibility of a path to a national government-funded health system? Go after ecological issues other than global warming, like persistent problems with toxic chemicals -- really restrict corporate ability to continue externalizing ecological costs onto the commons? Seriously address corrupt corporate governance?

    Effectively persuade or press Barack Obama to go further than he's indicating?

    I'm skeptical about any of that. I'm not sure how the ferment around global warming will play out, maybe a bit more hopeful about modest reforms of workers' rights to organize. But I'm not sure about any of it. The powers of obstruction seem great, the sense of accountability to the people rather than to the lobbyists and the inside baseball rules and patronage structures seem weak, the capacity of the people to change any of that seems obscure.

    Then there's the immigration wild card -- though there were comparable forces at times of progress in the past.

    Democracy was much stronger in the 1930s, and from the mid-1950s through the 1970s (civil rights & women's & LGBT libeartion movements), perhaps even in a way with "Reagan Revolution," much as I disliked being in the minority then, than it is now -- in terms not just of people being engaged, but being able to make the government responsive to them.

    I don't see that power to force or gain responsiveness in our time. In addition to the corporate power issues, I see Congressional Democrats who ran on an anti-war platform in 2006 not following through, an administration utterly contemptuous of the people, and a Congress unwilling to challenge them on that -- making an issue out of telecom immunity but not the underlying FISA law, and then caving even on that, with no contrary leadership from Senator Obama e.g. I see a mass media echo chamber that throttles debate and excludes the voices of the increasingly engaged. And I don't see how all the engagement is going to change any of that.

    I don't see any change I can believe in at the top of our ticket, only a reneging on words even before the election: NAFTA, Iraq, Israel & Palestine; Obama was always going to expand the military, he voted against us and for the banks on debt and bankruptcy, and he never was going to and still won't challenge the big energy companies or big pharma or the medical-insurance complex ... I'm not quite sure, yet, but it's beginning to look to me like I may to have to eat my words about the difference between Clinton & Obama on Iran & acknowledge that some of her supporters with whom I argued were right about there being none.

    Resistance isn't victory. Democracy isn't just process or engagement.

    Democracy means rule by the people.

    The institutions and structures of governance and accountability matter for that.

    What renewed purchase have we gained or can we gain on the levers of governance, above the state level? What reason is there to think that the police state powers and assertions of the president to be above the law will really be rolled back?

    Engagement is good. You make a case that the democratic spirit is undergoing a revival that could matter. That's the strength of your argument IMO.

    But that isn't the same as democracy being strong. There have to be institutional means for the democratic spirit to have force and effect. The means still seem obscure.


    Pessimism is easy, & can be a cheap cop-out. I hope others will come to support your case, and that you and they may help me see why I'm wrong in these doubts. I'd like to be wrong.

  • Jiang (unverified)

    You all the same ones that talk about sitting in Gordon Smith's office and never getting in?

    Why do supose this is so different? It's at least access!

    So is UK democracy stronger? Different? Access doesn't count?

  • Roger (unverified)

    In as much as I don't agree with anything else T. A. Barnhart says, (which basically consists of no original thoughts at all and simply parrots the anti Bush mantra of the left, who has said it so many times they have actually started to believe it…don’t get me wrong Bush has ruffled some feathers on both sides of the aisle T.A. doesn’t need to dig out the tried and true left wing rebuttal slogans to find some issues of Bush’s to take issue with ….but he does). I do agree with the first comment in part when he makes the observation that

    "Democracy was much stronger in the 1930s, and from the mid-1950s through the 1970s (civil rights & women's & LGBT liberation movements), perhaps even in a way with "Reagan Revolution,"

    While I can't speak to the state of our democracy in the 30's and 40's when Roosevelt provoked and mislead the US into WWII I can say that democracy was much stronger during the Reagan years mostly because Reagan believed in it as passionately as any man ever has. Reagan preached that the Government gets its power from the people and only has that power which we as a people decide to give it. We haven't had a President who has shared those beliefs since Reagan and we may never see one who shares those beliefs as deeply as Reagan did. The reason we feel frustrated and powerless to change the things that are wrong (in our government) is because our government has become way way way too large. Even our state government through these decades of mismanagement and growth under one democratic governor after another has inserted itself into more people’s lives than ever before. When the government grows to this extreme it does so at the expense of personal liberties and our privacy and ultimately all of our civil rights.

    U.S. President Thomas Jefferson once said:

    "When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."

    The other compelling reason that our Democracy has become diluted and less meaningful is because we have seen the judiciary creep into the democratic process time and time again overturning the express will of the people. Now I am not talking about SCOUSA's decision back in 2000 telling Florida that they couldn't keep recounting votes over and over again at the sharp end of one misguided lawsuit after another brought forth by Al "The Goracle" Gore just because he didn't like the outcome of the election. T.A.'s mind numbing blather on this point, especially so early in his article loses him a great deal of credibility on my score card for anything else he says after that. If you can't get past the reality of Bush's victory in 2000 and still want to continue to spread the false blame or credit for that victory on the Supremes then you need to grow up and get a grip and do some reading and you will discover that even if they were still recounting those same ballots today ...8 years later they still would not have found a combination of recounts that would have made Gore the winner...sorry it just didn't happen that way.

    What I am talking about are the many grass roots issue driven votes that have taken place recently, where the mind and will of the electorate is not in doubt based upon the outcomes and where the courts have stepped in and overturned the clear will of the people. Whether or not you like the results and the far reaching impact of a decision by one to three or 9 judges or not you have to at least be able to recognize that when the judicial branch usurps the express will of the people then we should stop voting and just send our ballots to the judge's because as the next generation starts to see and feel that they have no meaningful voice or role to play in this democracy then they will simply stop participating in it. The reason that Bill Sizemore is vilified by the left is because he has an impact that runs contra to their big government for everyone mind set. How many more initiative's do you think we would see from Bill if he was never successful and had been disenfranchised by the courts (which he has too many times) whether you agree with his measure or not please recognize that the courts have done allot of Blue Oregon's heavy lifting for them most of the time against the express will of the citizens of Oregon!

    In California recently we have seen this time and time again, Democracy usurped, the voters wishes do not matter, whether its Proposition 187, or Proposition 22; the Gay Marriage Ban, its no longer 'We the People,' it is now, 'They the Judges' who make the decisions and it's we the people who are forced to live with the decisions of some crack pot judge instead of what we the people have determined the best course of action for us all will be. Proposition 187 was a 1994 measure that passed with about 60% of the vote and called for denying social services and free education etc. to people who have entered our country illegally ...the court overturned it essentially saying those votes had no meaning and disenfranchising all of the grass roots hard working people who put in 1000's of hours of their time to help change the direction of their government.

    The bottom line people is this long as the government can bastardize the express will of it's constituency and ignore or have some judge overturn and render meaningless the fruits of our political involvement in the process then we can't help but feel like we have less and less impact in the process and in the finished product and eventually we will be exactly where we were when we broke away from a totalitarian government over 230 years ago. The government is slowly making our efforts and our voice meaningless and we are letting them do it ...each one of us no doubt for our own reasons or with our own rationalizations...once again from the words of the Gipper himself:

    "There are those in America today who have come to depend Absolutely on government for their security. And when Government fails they seek to rectify that failure in the form of granting government more power. So, as government has failed to control crime and violence with the means given it by the Constitution, they seek to give it more power at the expense of the Constitution. But in doing so, in their willingness to give up their arms in the name of safety, they are really giving up their protection from what has always been the chief source of despotism — government..

    Lord Acton said power corrupts. Surely then, if this is true, the more power we give the government the more corrupt it will become. And if we give it the power to confiscate our arms we also give up the ultimate means to combat that corrupt power. In doing so we can only assure that we will eventually be totally subject to it. When dictators come to power, the first thing they do is take away the people's weapons. It makes it so much easier for the secret police to operate; it makes it so much easier to force the will of the ruler upon the ruled."

    It's not only our voice in our democracy that is being silenced bit by bit it is also the rest of our civil rights (not gay rights ...those aren't civil rights shame on you for hijacking that term ...) but our rights to a trial by a jury of our peers ... with the government controlling the evidence and witnesses that get to be heard in an environment where dishonest cops lie under oath to gain convictions in front of Judge's who turn a blind eye to this daily occurrence and the courts who decided what and who the jury will hear and see it ceased being a trial to a jury of our peers long ago. IT is already a trial by the government controlled by the government. That is not the way it was ever intended and is exactly what our forefathers warned us about letting happen over and over again so many years ago. Our legal system is corrupt and it’s broken (maybe beyond repair) and we no longer try cases but negotiate convictions. Privacy, Jury trials which have become the twins of the “show trials” we all joked about when Stalin was having them. Dishonest cops, judge’s, loss of privacy, too many laws made for all the right reasons at the time but which have been bastardized to further strip away what is left of our civil rights, unlawful searches… Big Government inserting itself into every aspect of our lives… pray you or no one you know and love ever gets sucked into the vortex of our legal system…. It ruins more lives than it has ever saved. Obama is clearly not the answer …I don’t think John McCain is either. My thought process is that before we vote ourselves back into the darkness that were the highlights of the Carter administration when the sentiment was anyone but Nixon…I can only hope that Mc Cain picks a good running mate who will become president when he dies or sleeps through it. Obama is a Trojan horse of unknown qualities except the ability to say whatever his audience wants to hear. Over 120 votes in 3 years where he was present and able to vote and instead of committing himself on the record to one position or the other he instead took the easy way out and failed to do the job he was sent to Wasdhington to do and that was to represent his constituents. That combined with the Che Guevara wall hanging in his office, the 20 year relationship with one of America’s foremost race baiters and the teachings he received and did not take issue with of Black Liberation Theology make him even too left winged for Blue Oregon. McCain would be a better caretaker of our democracy for the 4 years (or less) that he is President than Obama in a race where neither candidate has the resume necessary to steer us back on course. The left is going to shoot itself in the foot should Obama somehow get elected because as long as they control both houses of congress they have a lot of juice to push their social programs and big government programs through …after 4 ruinous years with Obama at the helm they will lose both houses of congress at midterm elections and in 4 years he will get tossed out with his America hating wife and then you will be back to a Republican President as well as republican control of both houses. Quite frankly it’s a none of the above election year …you should have let Hillary have the nomination …maybe she would have brought back all of the stuff they stole from the White House when they left the first time ra

  • Eric Ramon (unverified)

    Roger, Roger, Roger....

    If your hero, Ronald Reagan, hadn't cut funding to mental institutions, effectively closing them down and sending patients into the streets, you'd be getting the care you need.

    One good thing about your post, from your perspective, is that the rant is so long it'd take up too much of my time to rebut the whole thing and to take any one point would leave the impression that the rest of what you wrote is valid.

    I think my favorite, though, was this: "that combined with the Che Guevara wall hanging in his office..."

    Hysterical! 100% wrong which is what makes it so funny. But then, again, I shouldn't be laughing at your personal problems. That's what makes us on the Left who we are. Our compassion for nutters like you.

  • BOHICA (unverified)

    We do not nave a democracy, we have a representational republic. Once the bastards are in office you can't remove them for cause, you have to wait 2,4 or 6 years.

    And most of them don't have the integrity to resign in disgrace from the crimes they have committed in our name. They are just whores bought and paid for by the corporate oligarchy. Both sides of the aisle.


  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Chris: After giving some thought these last couple of weeks to our different opinions on "a nation of sheep" I haven't changed my position and presume you haven't changed yours, but I second you on this: "Pessimism is easy, & can be a cheap cop-out. I hope others will come to support your case, and that you and they may help me see why I'm wrong in these doubts. I'd like to be wrong." To which I might add. Skepticism is essential.

    With Obama and McCain now clearly purchased by the corporatocracy and AIPAC, pandering to the religious right, and accepted into the Democratic Party oligarchy, democracy and the republic appear to be as irrelevant as ever.

    Obama had the potential of inspiring the younger generations to change America and restore the republic. He has given every indication of betraying all those young (and not-so-young) people as naïfs with the opposite likelihood of creating another generation of cynics - a change this nation does not need.

    There is now only one reason to vote for Obama. To keep McCain from stacking more right-wingers in the Supreme (?) Court.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    I share your enthusiasm for increased level of participation in US politics. Apathy is destructive to democracy. I am not so sure there is much democracy left to destroy, though. The Soviet Union had impressive election turnout statistics, but that was not an indication of healthy democracy. In the US, we do have the advantage of free speech. I am not sure that the diversity of voices on the internet and in the bit of progressive communication through the press and radio is a match for the well-controlled highly limited voice of the corporate media. I am not sure there is enough of the Constitution left to protect democratic will from executive desire. I am not sure Americans will not take refuge in a strong leader when the strain of peak oil, global warming, and erosion of US economic and military power shake our comfortable way of life.

    I would love to see a rebirth of democratic governance in the next eight years. I will be pleasantly surprised if it is realized.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Where is the democracy in a nation where the major issues - war, the economy, health, etc. - are controlled by the oligarchs in the Democratic and Republican duopoly in an alliance with Wall Street, the mainstream media, and the military-industrial and medical-pharmaceutical complexes? In the relatively minor issues that give an apathy-inducing illusion of democracy and that don't interfere with the plutocracy's ambitions.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    I am a two-time (1996 and 2000) Nader voter who will most definitely not be joining Bill Bodden in voting for Nader in 2008. I've written on this website previously about Nader: his lack of interest in running a meaningful campaign, his lack of interest in party building, his lack of interest in much beaides standing in front of a crowd and pretending to be bored by the chants of "Ralph! Ralph! Ralph!". Mr. Bodden, if you are truly disgusted with Obama, vote for Cynthia McKinney.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Mr. Bodden, if you are truly disgusted with Obama, vote for Cynthia McKinney.

    Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney are both the same in that they won't win and are essentially protest/conscience candidates. As I said elsewhere, I'll hold my nose and vote for Obama as I did for Kerry if McCain poses a threat to Obama with a chance of winning Oregon.

    Ralph Nader has no illusions about the nation coming to its senses and withdrawing from its addiction to establishment candidates representing the Democratic/Republican duopoly and the corporatocracy. He is just giving the people who want to a chance to vote for an honest candidate.

    Name a Democratic Party candidate, other than Kucinich, with better progressive credentials than Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader fought and beat General Motors who were selling dangerous cars to the people. The Democratic oligarchs sucked up to and took (legal) bribes from GM.

  • tl (unverified)

    The masses of youth voters that turned out during the primary were a positive sign. If Obama can avoid turning them into disgusted cynics during his inevitable (and likely necessary) swing to the center/right for the general, that is a good thing.

    However, I disagree that our Democracy is "Stronger than ever". As I was reminded on the radio yesterday, the President and all members of Congress take an oath not to protect and defend the country, but the Constitution. The constitutional rights of the individual have been shredded, Congress has abdicated to try this administration because of political expediency, and corporations continue their unabated manipulation of markets and politics. Even with a landslide victory for a progressive candidate (which I do not predict happening) the damage to our republic will take decades to undo. The power the Executive branch has obtained in the last 7 years will not be readily given up. The rights and protections corporations have gained over the century will not be limited or removed.

    I am not defeatist, though. It may be like trying to turn around an aircraft carrier, but it can be done. If we can at least slow down the rush to war with [fill in the current bad guy country] and increase transparency in government, that would be a decent start. -tl

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    Bill, seat belt laws fall into the category of smallish issues that don't interfere with the plutocracy's ambitions.

    Nader's bigger achievements have been in organization- building. Public Citizen does some interesting and useful work, and bridges politics of popular mobilization with pollitics of engaging with the formal political system.

    However, in his presidential elections IMO he does not look nearly as "principled" as those who would apotheosize him like to make out. His playing footsie with Pat Buchanan was simply revolting.

  • Pere (unverified)

    Smoke your pipe and live it up TAB. What ever you need to sleep at night... . . .

  • Ten Bears (unverified)

    This has been quite possibly the best discussion thread I've read here in many turns of the moon, though the original premise comes dangerously close to vindicating a criminal organization neither elected (appointed by a sympathetic court) nor "re-elected" (rigged). A repeat of history that in and of itself marks the decidedly Fascist turn this "Democracy", or Representative Republic, if you wish, has taken. That the titular head of this organization's grand-father was financier of both Hitler and an attempt to overthrow the duly elected FDR administration with a "Hitler friendly" administration is not at all moot.

    Germany was a "Democracy" before Hitler, and a democracy again today. Would you argue, TA, that Hilter was therefore good for Germany? Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

    I've long thought that the Y2K nuts had it right, they just didn't quite get their fingers wrapped around it.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    However, in his presidential elections IMO he does not look nearly as "principled" as those who would apotheosize him like to make out. His playing footsie with Pat Buchanan was simply revolting.

    Agreed. I was strongly opposed to his running in 2004 because I was for anybody but Bush and I disagree with him on assisted suicide, but if we look at Nader's record prior to his getting into presidential politics he still makes a good protest/conscience name on the ballot as long as it doesn't mean working to the benefit of the likes of McCain.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Chris: Your arguments re Obama are on the mark and well-stated; now you need to find a candidate to represent you, Nader or not. However, I have asked you several times for references re your Rovian claims of Nader "playing footsie with Pat Buchanan". If you can't do that, then lay off the garbage.

    Bill Bodden: Ross Perot, a complete dingbat, got almost 20% of the popular vote because he represented an alternative to the duopoly in the debates. Do you have any doubt that Nader would do better than a dingbat if he were allowed in the debates? I'd love to see Obama respond to the criticisms leveled against him by you and Chris, but it's not going to happen unless progressives leave the fold. Furthermore, the courts issue depends on the assumption that a right-wing Democrat like Obama will choose "liberal" judges, but:

    " the two appointments he made to the Supreme Court, [Clinton made] sure that Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer would be moderate enough to be acceptable to Republicans as well as to Democrats...Breyer and Ginsburg both defended the constitutionality of capital punishment, and upheld drastic restrictions on the use of habeas corpus. Both voted with the most conservative judges on the Court to uphold the "constitutional right" of Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade organizers to exclude gay marchers...In choosing judges for the lower federal courts, Clinton showed himself no more likely to appoint liberals than the Republican Gerald Ford had in the seventies. According to a three-year study published in the Fordham Law Review in early 1996, Clinton's appointments made 'liberal' decisions in less than half their cases..." The Clinton Presidency and the Crisis of Democracy

  • genop (unverified)

    We've seen a power shift back to the people when it comes to fund raising. Witness - Obama campaign. The middle class has rediscovered It's potential through the internet. This phenomena is a shift of significant proportion. We have taken back our government. It is no longer beholden to fat cat donor corporations & other interest groups. A better balance of power has been achieved. We've learned to resist our natural divisions for a greater benefit. We should all thank George Bush for creating a level of public disdain sufficient to coalesce such a diverse populace. Now, will Obama keep us together? If so, he may well foment a revolution in Governing. Thats an awful lot of hope. I know.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Do you have any doubt that Nader would do better than a dingbat if he were allowed in the debates?

    Harry: I do have great doubts that more Americans would vote for Nader than Perot. Most Americans can identify with dingbats without realizing they are nut cases, but Nader is at an elevation well above them and he is beyond their comprehension. Consider how popular books with titles such as, "... for Idiots" and "... for Dummies" are in the United States.

    Thank you for the link above to "The Clinton Presidency and the Crisis of Democracy." I hope everyone visiting this thread, especially Democrats posing as progressives, reads it.

    We've seen a power shift back to the people when it comes to fund raising. Witness - Obama campaign. The middle class has rediscovered It's potential through the internet.

    A nice theory but utter nonsense. The big money players in an alliance with the mainstream media and lobbyists will trump the masses. Where were the people when Obama declared it would be business as usual with the Likud and Kadima parties in Israel and that he would be sending them $30 billion in military aid over the next decade? Where were the people when Obama sold the Palestinians down the River Jordan to please AIPAC? Where are the people now that Obama is going along with greater surveillance of the American people?

    The only concern Obama and his people have for the people is that they turn out at the general election and vote him into the presidency - then it will be business as usual.

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    Bill Bodden: Who is the Defense Minister in Israel? Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party. Barak was the one who oversaw the attacks on Lebanon. Reducing it Likud-Kadima (and not recognizing that Kadima has formed its government in alliance with Labor and excluded Likud) doesn't lead to useful analysis.


    Harry, it took me a while to write my recent Rovian column on patriotism and I have had some other obligations this weekend (which is why I haven't responded over there either). But on Nader and Buchanan, a key source is an interview with Buchanan that Nader did in Buchanan's magazine The American Conservative.

    Now typepad is preventing me from giving you more extensive commentary with references about some related matters and readings of the interview just cited. I am going to see if I can get a stripped down version through.

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    (Other links cut in effort to get through)

    Back to the interview with Buchanan: of particular interest with respect to what I mean by "playing footsie" are Nader's remarks regarding immigration, and regarding Palestine and Israel. This commentary from 2004, though framed in crude language, makes the basic points succinctly.

    Affirmation of this view comes from the other side too. The 2004 remarks on immigration have very recently been cited by a conservative commentator in South Carolina who calls himself "the Southern Avenger," who says that in a number of respects Nader is a better conservative than John McCain or Mitt Romney. You can read the original comments for yourself and draw your own conclusions as to whether "the Southern Avenger" is right.

    On Palestine and Israel, another commentator puts the issue a bit more politely. I believe that the commentator is correct in saying that "Had Pat Buchanan made the comments below [made by Nader -c.l.] back when he was a presidential candidate, there would have been a huge controversy," since Buchanan has such an extensive anti-semitic record that even William F. Buckley criticized him for it.

    Please notice that Nader's view is the inverse of the one that you have expressed, i.e. that Israel is a U.S. client and would not act, e.g. in attacking Iran, without U.S. assent. Nader, on the other hand, sees Israeli governments as "puppet-masters" controlling U.S. politicians.

    In 2004, Nader sought and gained the endorsement of the remnants of the Reform Party launched by Ross Perot, which had (contestedly) nominated Pat Buchanan in 2000, but I think Buchanan is right in suggesting that most of the Buchananites had left the RP by then, having torn it apart. Nader's somewhat analogous role in Green Partly politics has been a major setback to efforts to one of the more serious efforts to build a progressive alternative to the DP, IMO.

    Oh, and one last thing, on voting Nader vs. voting Democrat and "principle": In 2004 Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, whom you and Bill B. both tend to cite as particularly valuable fonts of wisdom, both advocated a "safe states" approach to Nader's candidacy -- living in a safe state for Kerry (Massachusetts) they would vote for Nader, but in a state that was in doubt, for Kerry.

    Principle, anyone?

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    Links concerning another unprincipled and questionable alliance sought out by Nader, with Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani, formerly of the New Alliance party, who are people who had previous similarly bizarre links to Buchanan, can be found here & here & here

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    Links concerning another unprincipled and questionable alliance sought out by Nader, with Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani, formerly of the New Alliance party, who are people who had previous similarly bizarre links to Buchanan, can be found here & here & here

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    Also try googling Nader with the name of a certain ostensibly libertarian (except when it comes to women's rights to control their own bodies) recently withdrawn Republican presidential candidate, who may run as an independent, with the initials R-- P---, whose name may have been triggering my typepad problems. And keep in mind that this man also supports abolishing the birthright citizenship that has applied to all persons born outside of slavery in th United States since the founding, and to all persons born in the U.S. since the 14th Amendment.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Thanks to Chris Lowe for the links re: Ralph Nader. I want to comment on why I voted for him in 1996 and 2000.

    In 1996, I was digusted with Bill Clinton's co-optation of GOP policies--sometimes called triangulation--and the way the congressional Democrats had simply gone brain-dead. Nader espoused principles that I generally agreed with.

    In 2000, I was disgusted with Al Gore's milquetoast campaign and his failure to clearly enunciate progressive principles. Nader was enunciating such principles; hence my vote.

    In neither 1996 nor 2000 did I see Nader as likely to win, and my vote was arguably a protest vote.

    I later came to see Nader in a negative light and his presidential "campaigns" as distracting ego trips. My standards for "third party" bids also shifted. If one wants to run for president as a third-party candidate with no realistic chance of winning, then by gawd, as least do something like engaging in real party building at the grassroots. Make sure that there's SOMETHING LEFT BEHIND after election day in November--something that can be built on for the future, and something that does not depend upon the force of a single personality.

    And there's the rub with American third parties during my lifetime: they've nearly all been vehicles of powerful personalities, with little or no purpose except promoting that individual. The Libertarians and Greens nominally have coherent ideologies, but in fact, in recent election cycles, they've nominated people with practically no party history--people who simply managed to take over the nomination machinery for the moment.

    Ralph Nader's disdain for party building seems to be such that he doesn't even bother trying to run as a particular party's candidate. Instead, he flits around, sometimes running Green, sometimes running as an independent, and so on. And the people saying they'll vote for him in 2008 are, for the most part, doing exactly what I did in 1996 and 2000: looking with disgust at the Democratic candidate and saying "no way".

    Barack Obama has my vote this year. He was not my first choice, and I am unhappy--as are many who read this blog--with several stands he has taken recently, especially regarding FISA. But I see him as a strong candidate--one who has demonstrated already that he will not sit back and let the GOP swiftboat him--and one who has done a lot in the way of party building.

  • genop (unverified)

    Does anyone else envision Obama in office with an aggressive Attorney General, who assigns an equally aggressive US Attorney to bring criminal civil rights charges against the phone companies? That option is still available, just not civil claims. Perhaps this option is why Obama compromised??

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    Perhaps, perhaps; there are many possibilities. Perhaps Obama would order investigation of the Shrubbery for war crimes. Perhaps Obama would order the destruction of the US nuclear arsenal. Perhaps Obama would propose a 25% wealth tax on personal assets over $10 million.

    Few presidents do much that is more progressive than their campaign promises. Most do much less. Obama's campaign may be about hope, but based on the history of mankind so far, I would not expect very much.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Joel: I frequently find myself at odds with some of your comments but I pretty much agree with what you said above.

    Re: "But I see him as a strong candidate--one who has demonstrated already that he will not sit back and let the GOP swiftboat him--and one who has done a lot in the way of party building."

    It is true that Obama has done much to build the Democratic party - in numbers at least, if nothing else, but if he proves to be another naked emperor or the curtain behind which a corporate wizard is pulling the levers, then he may be the most destructive person for the Democratic party in a long time. This will very likely be particularly true among the younger acolytes who have been inspired by his talk and expect him to deliver on his promises - spoken and implied.

    Old time Democrats will stick around no matter what as the Clintons have proved, but the younger generation may be another story.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Chris: I must say that you guys must really be running scared to be bringing out this stuff. Every rightward movement by McBama means more support for Ralph and Matt, and the impact is palpable. Nader is a more progressive and more moral candidate than McBama: Issues that Matter for 2008, and I hope that BO readers will read what was actually said (not what Nader-haters said in response) in Buchanan's original interview.

    Unlike most DP supporters, I have NEVER viewed Nader or any other politician as a godlike creature. I disagree with him on issues, including the extent of blame that he assigns to Israel and its lobby for U.S. Middle East policy.

    I also disagree with Chomsky and Zinn about things, including the "safe states" strategy, but I want to emphasize that they voted for Nader the past few elections in spite of his differing views on the Israel lobby. (I assume that if Oregon is deemed a "safe-state", you will advise progressives to do what Chomsky and Zinn did.)

    Now for your material:

    (1.) Nader does not acquiesce to the lobby; Obama and the DP establishment do.

    Nader said, "...both parties concede their independent judgment to the pro-Israeli lobbies in this country because they perceive them as determining the margin in some state elections and as sources of funding."

    This is a far more nuanced statement than saying, "They can't possibly do anything because of the awesome power of the lobby", which many continue to believe.

    I don't doubt for a second that Obama believes that his funding will decrease if he takes a principled stand. But it is a disgusting cop-out for him to endanger us all in order to maximize his chances of winning. And those of you who cry your crocodile tears for the Lebanese and Palestinian people should realize that their blood will be on your hands if McBama takes over the foreign policy reins.

    (2.) Unlike McBama, Nader will end NAFTA and treat all workers presently in the country with respect.

    "As long as our foreign policy supports dictators and oligarchs, you are going to have desperate people moving north over the border...Part of the problem involves NAFTA...In addition, I don’t think the United States should be in the business of brain-draining skilled talent..."

    Ralph's position: increase the minimum wage; enforce the law against employers; and end the NAFTA-based policy that drives immigration in the first place. He also says in YOUR own reference that undocumented workers should be given "all the fair-labor standards and all the rights and benefits of American workers", including drivers' licenses.

    Furthermore, "we have to say what is the impact on African-Americans and Hispanic Americans in this country in terms of wages of our present stance on immigration? It is a wage-depressing policy, which is why the Chambers of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, Tyson Foods, and the Wall Street Journal like it..."

    Compare what McBama says about NAFTA if you can tie them down to any intelligible position. (Obama admitted that his anti-NAFTA statements were primary-election bullshitting, in case you missed it.)

    (3.) Nader will institute taxes against Wall Street speculation, the addictive industries and polluters, and he will tax wealth rather than work. McBama is opposed.

    "We should tax polluters. We should tax gambling. We should tax the addictive industries that are costing us so much and luring the young into alcoholism and tobacco and drugs. And we should tax, above all, stock and currency speculation...The point is this: work should be taxed the least. Then you move to wealth, and then you move to things we do not like. And you will have more than enough to replace the taxes of under $100,000 income and to provide for universal health insurance and decent public transit and to repair the public-works infrastructure."

    (4.) Yes, Ralph attempted to win the support of the vestiges of the Reform Party. This is old news. I can assure you that no one has tried to use mind-control techniques on my wife or me, although the "hope and change" people sure do seem like they prefer religion to reason. And Obama's right-wing rhetoric of the past few weeks certainly does seem like an attempt to gain the support of Judeo-Christian cultists and militarists.

    (5.) In YOUR reference, Nader expressed support for equal rights for homosexuals. Is this "playing footsie" with conservatives?

    Or, how about, "what representative government is for, [is] to counteract the excesses of the monied interests, as Thomas Jefferson said...So what we have now is the merger of big business and big government to further subsidize costs or eliminate risks or guarantee profits by our government."

    (6.) I especially recommend to BO readers Ralph's final comments on the overlap between principled (you should ignore this, Chris) conservatism and the brand of populist progressivism championed by Nader. If you Dems really want to attract right-leaners to your cause, you should emulate this.

    Does that sound like "playing footsie" with conservatives? It appears to me that either you didn't read this yourself, or you were hoping others wouldn't read it because it defeats your argument. You once told me, Chris, that you didn't value "principles". Until now, I doubted that.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Let's say for the sake of argument that Ralph Nader compromised on a principle or two to improve his chances for getting more votes. Now name a Democratic or Republican politician who can criticize him for that without being a hypocrite.

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    I'm not in the least scared by Nader. You asked what I meant by "playing footsie," these references were what I meant. You read them differently than I do; fair enough. They bother me (see comments to Bill Bodden below).

    It isn't "the vestiges of the Reform Party" that bother me. As Buchanan says, by 2004 most of the Buchananites had left them, having wrecked the party and sucked it dry. Fred Newman and Leonara Fulani are an entirely different kettle of fish, on a par with Lyndon LaRouche.

    I never said that you or any other Nader supporter was brainwashed into supporting him, never hinted at such a thing. Your support for him seems perfectly straightforward, to be based on your understanding of his positions and to be internally consistent with other aspects of your view of the world, as far as I can discern it.

    The point about Fulani and Newman is that Nader's willingness to work with them calls into question for me his principles -- just as Fulani and Newman's much more active collaboration with Pat Buchanan in 1999-2000, trying to get hold of the bucket of money Ross Perot's 1996 run had called into being, speaks volumes about what kind of "principled conservatism" Buchanan represents.

    But what I see as "playing footsie" actions are not the whole or the main of my reasons for not supporting Nader. Joel Dan Walls expresses my feelings very well regarding Nader, and apart from the 2000 vote, when I went with Gore, it appears that we have a similar history.

    As I've mentioned to you, for a period in the 1990s I worked to try to build the Labor Party because it seemed to me to have exactly the qualities Joel mentioned, plus a strategy based on real resources besides the personality of a "man on a horse."

    Perhaps there is an alternate universe in which sectarian micro-parties didn't wreck the LP and internal struggles around how to deal with Ralph Nader didn't wreck the Greens (to give Ralph himself the benefit of the doubt), and a convergence that seemed possible around 1998 came to pass and created a more powerful progressive alternative, one that changed the overall dynamics of which you are critical. However, we don't live in that universe, and Ralph Nader has not had that effect.

    But in any case my vote this year is defensive, and has to do with the fate of the courts.

    You can go ahead and make whatever assertions you care to make about what you say I think, or you think motivates me or whatever else, and cast similar aspersions on other people, but that won't make any of it true. It also isn't going to persuade me that I should consider voting or working for Nader. The thought of dealing with that kind of nonsense pushes me in the other direction, as does the thought that I would be called upon to treat other people that way.

    If you think making such projections about other people is principled, perhaps that has something to do with my skepticism about that term, since it is so often invoked to justify division and destruction and to make moralistic rhetorical power plays.

    Q: How many principled radicals does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: The point is not to change the light bulb, the point is to smash it!

    In the part he wrote about movement and party building I don't share Joel's views of Obama. See my original response to T.A. Barnhart up top.


    Bill Bodden, turn your question around. If Ralph is going to make such self-asserting claims to principle, isn't the hypocrisy question that much more serious with respect to him?

    Personally it's not the hypocrisy that gets to me, not claiming to be a man of principle myself. Ralph's human, puts on his pants one leg at a time like the rest of us, and retains my admiration for a number of constructive things he's done over the years. It's the specific content and alliances, and the judgment involved.

    Let us imagine that Ralph was out there outside the DP in 2004, and that there was some Democrat inside the DP who was claiming to be a populist progressive who had a very similar conversation with Buchanan to "reach out to conservative populists." What would you have said about that Democrat?

    Populism is a tricky business.

    Some day when you feel like reading some history have a look at The Young Tom Watson by C. Vann Woodward, if you haven't. It's a biography of a southern populist who in the 1890s worked with the Farmers' Alliance and the People's Party that emerged out of it to challenge emergent new industrial and financial institutions that were driving small farmers off the land and exploiting wage workers. Among other things, Watson worked to build an alliance between white and black tenant farmers and small landowners, and to fight the disfranchisement laws of the late "Redemption" period, which affected not only black people but many poor whites. Woodward's book is sort of an elegy for an "almost" moment of possibility that this represented, which slipped away.

    After events around William Jennings Bryan's presidential campaign (a lesson in the risks of "fusion" strategies) Watson became disillusioned, became a race-baiter of the first water who promoted the politics of Jim Crow, as well as an virulent anti-semite and anti-Catholic. Watson helped set the pattern and standard for Jim Crow Democrats right down through that other right-wing populist, George Wallace.

    Such histories of the inversion of left-wing populism into a right-wing variety make me highly leery of those who dabble in the waters of engaging with the populist extreme right.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Chris: I have broken my response to your last post into three parts, none of which has more than one link, and yet I still receive the typepad anti-spam message. This has happened to me increasingly lately. What's up?

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    I have now been rejected six times, even with no links and even with re-typing of all words. Have I been banned?

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    Harry, evidently you haven't been banned, or your queries wouldn't have come through.

    I have had things blocked because of citing the name of a previous poster who apparently had been banned, and also because of using terms that may be associated with certain kinds of commercial activity in which spammers often are involved. It never has been an issue of links in my case.

    Once in a while I've been able to guess at the offending words, but not always.

    <h2>Anyway, I commiserate, it's frustrating to put in work composing & have it go for nothing. But I doubt it's directed at you personally.</h2>

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