Nader Hits People Where They're Vulnerable: In the Illusions

As a progressive—all right, a radical—voter in the last decade of the twentieth century, I'm proud to say I never voted for Bill Clinton, and I wouldn't vote for him in 2004 if he were running. If I wanted a Republican with a sex life, I'd be in the Jack Ryan camp.

But I did wonder for a while why the Republicans were foaming at the mouth over Clinton. After all, if you look at the policies he actually threw himself into implementing, they were basically Republican in nature. Only once, as far as I could see, did he really try to make sure something he was behind would pass, pulling out all the stops. What did he care about most? NAFTA. Who supported him? The Republicans. Who did it help? The rich, the banks, the multinationals. Who did it hurt? Everyone else. Why would a Democrat do this? I don't think a Democrat would do this. In fact, I don't think a Democrat did this. It was a Republican spy.

Sure, Clinton spoke in favor of gays in the military. This is a progressive position? We should be working on reducing our bloated, dangerous military machine before it kills us and the rest of humanity. We should be seeing to it that people who leave the military have opportunities to make use of their talents and their love of country. We should be trying to use the military less, not figuring out how to get more people into it. And after all the bluster, gays are not more welcome in the military after Clinton; if anything, they get discharged for homosexuality more often now. So, big help, Big Dog.

Basically, I contend, Clinton was a Republican. So why did they hate him so much? For a while, I thought it was because he had sex. Clearly many Republicans, at a minimum the entire anti-abortion branch, believe that sex is always wrong in every situation and should be punished by an eighteen-year obligation for each transgression. But the more traditional Republicans, the country-club set, are not really of that stripe, and don't feel sex is wrong (plus, they can afford the eighteen-year obligation).

It's hard to credit the idea that the entire Republican animus came from resentment over the price of sex. Surely this is one strand of the web of hatred Clinton generated. But among those who don't hate sex, I think a lot of the anger resulted from Clinton espousing their policies without being despised by the country. They have to spend unimaginable amounts of money to keep the Mighty Wurlitzer going; Clinton could talk about the same pro-corporate, anti-people agenda, and folks loved him.

This year, a somewhat similar effect is visible among the Democrats, who have taken over the foaming at the mouth role, aimed, of course, at Ralph Nader.

Why do they hate Nader's candidacy? In general, they profess to admire him, or at least his past, with varying degrees of believability. It's his candidacy they hate, and some even claim not to have hated his candidacy last time.

I believe the main reason is that they realize he's espousing the ideals of the Democratic Party, and their candidate isn't. Their candidate is another DLC-based Republican clone. He supports Republican wars on countries that don't threaten us, as well as on our most precious possession as a community, our civil liberties. He's pro-NAFTA, fer goshsakes. This candidate may be an honorable and intelligent guy—I happen to believe he is, to the extent one can be such in the Senate—but policy-wise he's clearly not a Democrat.

Did I hear someone say, “That's where the whole party is these days; he's a New Democrat”? Yes, that's what I'm saying, he's not a Democrat. To say the people he hangs with are not Democrats either is not promoting him, at least to me.

Nader, on the other hand, seems to me to be a traditional Democrat in a lot of ways. He's for things Democrats have traditionally been for like improving the lives of the down-trodden and trying to reduce the level of inequality in the world. Okay, I admit some of his values are more in keeping with the Greens' sustainability theme, but few of these directly contradict traditional Democratic values.

The main contradiction is probably in the area of military muscularity. The Greens, among whom I count myself, are not really into military solutions, although in partnership with the SPD in Germany, for example, they agreed to deploy troops for peacekeeping missions (a question not likely to arise for the US government, since such missions are not going to keep Lockheed Martin in potato chips). The Democrats, on the other hand, are to Pearl Harbor what the Republicans are to 9/11. Giving the benefit of the doubt in each case, both parties thought the war needed to be fought; what remained was the question of manufacturing consent.

But I don't think a perception of wimpiness in the military area is the only reason the Democratic Party engages in tricks, probably all or nearly all legal, to keep Nader off the ballot. Nader, of course, says they're afraid of democracy, which is vintage Ralph: pretty much dead on, maybe stated a little over the top.

To me, what one makes of all this is a function of two variables: economic philosophy, and strength of grip.

Economic philosophy, because I think the US economy depends on the war machine, and most of the so-called leaders know it.

They share the belief that they are public servants choosing the best of the available tradeoffs, which is probably true if you consider the most important job of the government to be keeping the military-industrial complex warm for the next war. But I don't buy that assumption, and in fact I think Chalmers Johnson (Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire) has demonstrated that this leads to a self-destructing military empire. So it seems to me that the leaders' shared belief is an illusion, powerful perhaps but not useful.

Strength of grip, not on reality itself but on world-view, weltanschauung, because as long it doesn't cross the line to moral certainty, being comfortable with one's weltanschauung tends to mean valuing other peoples' right to do the same.

After, according to Bertrand Russell, “pointing out that we must often act upon probabilities that fall short of certainty,” John Locke notes that we discount people who change their opinions any time they hear an argument they can't immediately refute. As a result, most of us end up holding some opinions we're not even sure we believe. If we recognize this, and realize that we're all muddling through the best we can, we'll try to learn from each other,

...and not instantly treat others ill as obstinate and perverse because they will not renounce their own and receive our opinions, or at least those we would force upon them, when it is more than probable that we are no less obstinate in not embracing some of theirs.

If you're not sure and you know you're not sure, then someone pointing out that you're not sure doesn't bother you. On the other hand, if you've chosen a path and you're uneasy about the choice, it's easy to become irritated by claims that the direction is wrong. As Russell said:

The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder's lack of rational conviction.

I know some people truly feel comfortable with the DLC wing of the Democratic Party, understand its weltanschauung and support it. Most of my friends and acquaintances plan either to avoid the whole mess, or to vote for the lesser of the two major evils, hoping that his platform is a lie adopted for the purpose of being elected, and he really won't try to implement it. The question that occurs to me is, when was the last time that worked?

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