Tuesday, November 02, 2004

hey jeremy, where do you draw the line?

Graduate students, aren't they the dickens? Sources say that they are still debating Kerry vs. Nader here on their listserv. One of the Nader Forever contingent has reportedly posted a familiar argument, which could be paraphrased as thus:
Voting for Kerry will do the same thing settling for the 'lesser-evil' always does...allow politics to slide further rightward as the Dems take the left completely for granted. Next election we'll have Jeb vs. Lieberman. And in 20 years, at the rate things are going, we'll get to pick between Satan and Beezlebub. (ABBers - Anybody But Beezlebub - will point out that Satan is less likely to appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court...) Where do y'all draw the line?
Now, some might go the route of arguing that if Satan would protect women's reproductive rights, while Beezlebub will make arcane references to Dred Scott to show his committment to reversing those rights, then the difference between Satan and Beezlebub is not for nothing. However, I just want to focus on the issue of where someone on the left should draw the line. Imagining that everybody can be put a single left-right political dimension is a dramatic oversimplification, but it is embraced by the argument above and so I figure it's good enough for my response to it. So, here, the electoral field on which the line is to be drawn.

While Nader supporters typically have various ideas for reforming our electoral system, they generally still support the basic idea of democracy as well as the basic idea of their being a President. Under such premises, I have a very clear idea of where I draw the line:

This results in a candidate that runs a good deal to the right of my own personal politics. However, I recognize that the President is going to be the person who amasses the most votes, and my druthers would be to have that person assemble the coalition of the 50.1% of people whose beliefs are Most Like Mine rather than the 50.1% of people whose beliefs are Least Like Mine.

Now, if 5% of the left decides they won't be "taken for granted" and so opt out of voting for either major party candidate (either to vote for a third party candidate or to stay home and eat Cheetos, it doesn't matter which), then here is where I draw the line:

I like this person even less, but, subtracting those 5%, I'd rather have the President win by assembling a coalition of the 48.6% whose beliefs are Most Like Mine than the 48.6% whose are Least Like Mine.

Say enough people on the left get angry that 20% of them opt out of the two-party system. Then here is where I draw the line:

I like this person even less, but, subtracting those 20%, I'd still rather have the President win by assembling a coalition of the 40.1% whose beliefs are Most Like Mine than the 40.1% whose are Least Like Mine.

Upshot: Thanks, guys, you are really helping! (I say "guys" because it seems like the to-the-end-Naderites are overwhelmingly male, presumably because women on the left are more likely to see the issue of Supreme Court appointments as being more than just a superficial matter.)

Secondary upshot: It is common for people on the left to bemoan the particulars of the electoral system for why there is not a viable left third party in the United States. The bigger problem: unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans don't agree with us! And don't start blabbering about nonvoters, because the vast majority of them don't agree with us either. This all sucks, but an inconvenient thing about the truth is that sometimes it does, indeed, suck. Under whatever system of governance you like, the progress of progressives in America is going to be stunted as long as efforts to gain support for progressive positions continues to go so badly.

Incidentally, I do support instant runoff voting, which would give me the chance to vote for a way-left candidate first and then the electable-Democrat candidate second. I support this not because I think it would make any ultimate difference in who gets elected to national office, but because of the comfort it would apparently provide to others on the left.


A+ said...

I absolutely agree with you, but particularly on the gender aside. I have no patience for a bunch of white guys arguing that there's no difference between Bush & Kerry. Bush appointed Hagar to the FDA Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. This is the same wingnut who won't give birth control to the unmarried, and tells women with PMS to pray it away. No differences? Come on, the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act?" Give me an effing break, people.

nina said...

I, too, agree, though wouldn't Nader types argue that the reason their significant presence doesn't push you to support a more right-leaning candidate is because they have assured us that the more left-leaning person is leaning EVEN LEFTER than would have been the case without their spirited agitation? Thus in trying to co-opt their vote (the bigger their swell, the more likely they will be listened to) the Deomcrats have provided you with a ticket of a lefter left and the Republicans will have given you a more moderate right. Of course, I might add that nothing of the sort happens as evidenced by this year where we have Bush, for Pete's sake, how right of right can you get? So thanks, Naderites indeed!
Forgive the longer comment, but I want you to quash a third reason offered by the white greens: they often say American politics are all about voting your conscience, that this is what democracy is all about, not this succumbing to political manipulations. Now, coming from Poland, I am more familiar with succumbing to political manipulations than democratic ideals, so please knock the s*** out of this argument too. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

agreed, but it's not all about the social/cultural issues in many peoples' eyes (particularly those on the left). also, there's no shortage of female support for the GOP. married women are about evenly split. and i'd guess women represent the majority of the evangelicals who will come out in force for bush. alas, the world is full of interesting puzzles.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, Jeremy. I have been restraining myself since yesterday from writing in angry responses to socgradchat to the handful of die-hard Naderites who keep insisting that there is essentially no difference between Bush and Kerry. They complain that there is no Progressive voice in the Democratic Party (which is not true), yet they continue to throw their support outside of the party by being unwilling to compromise, thereby forcing the Democratic party to look for those votes elsewhere. They don't seem to understand that they create the very problem that they are complaining about.

As for the comparison between Bush and Nader mentioned in another post below, here's one for you: both Bush and Nader are "true believers" who are unwilling to compromise in any way. In my opinion, it is no better to be a conservative true believer than it is to be a progressive one. Both have a paternalistic view of the world in which they "know what's best" for the rest of us and it is their job to define "what's important" and anything that falls outside their definition of what's important is a silly, selfish concern of someone who doesn't see "the big picture".

It must be nice to be so unaffected personally by the neocon attack on civil and social rights that you are able to ignore the real differences between the candidates. Too bad most of us (particularly women) don't have that luxury.

just my $0.02.

Anonymous said...

it's the illusion of real difference between the Libs and the Cons that keeps "debate" within boundaries that ensure that the powers that be are left unscathed (even unperceived -- we're all middle class, right?). i like chomsky's line: the republicans the party of big business; the democrats are the party that aggressively woos big business. there's your difference. having said that, in the world of realpolitik: go kerry!