Turns out that, as I posted my thoughts, (scroll down) in the early hours of this morning, on why Nader would be wrong to run and why the Democrats would be wrong to respond to a Nader run by Sister-Souljah-ing the left, my classmate Dan Munz had, a mere forty minutes earlier, posted his (brilliantly titled) thoughts on why Nader would be wrong to run, and why the Democrats would be right to respond by Sister-Souljah-ing (his reference) the left. It’s a small shtetl after all, eh?
Dan and I disagree, like many registered Democrats who fall into this debate, on both a tactical level and an ideological one, and given that we apparently both lost sleep last night setting forth our visions for the party, I won’t rehash that debate except to say again that I believe the Clinton years and the Gingrich revolution are only the most recent demonstrations of the danger in seizing the center and the power of offering a choice rather than an echo. It’s not surprising, of course, that Dan and I are each largely convinced that a party more in line with our respective ideology would also be more effective at building a governing majority (that, of course, is part of the weakness of the “electability” discourse).
Dan is right, of course, that to argue that there’s no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is a weak straw-man argument, and one that hurt Nader’s case. I would add on the one hand that it’s an argument that’s particularly easy to make from a position of relative privilege, in which the comparatively progressive reforms that Clinton accomplish – the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Earned Income Tax Credit, more progressive NLRB nominees, and others – make relatively little impact on one’s life. I would add on the one hand, however, that relatively few of those who condemn the two-party consensus in America would argue that there is, in fact, no difference between the parties (some of course do for rhetorical effect).
Dan goes on, however, to make an equally unfounded claim: that there’s no difference between the Greens and the Democrats. While Dan’s right that Nader’s agenda is “certainly more in alignment with Democratic than Republican values,” that isn’t saying much. It’s hard for me to imagine many of the sixteen issues Nader lists as the core of his campaign as the centerpieces of a Kerry Presidential run. “Full public financing of public elections with the necessary, broad changes for a more fair and representative election process, replacing present charades?” “Universal health insurance — single payer embracing prevention, quality and cost controls”? “A redirected federal budget for the crucial priorities of our country and away from the massive waste, fraud and redundancy of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex,” as well as the massive costs of corporate welfare”? Dan may not share these as priorities – or even as goals – but I think it’s disingenuous to argue that Nader doesn’t stand for anything the leadership of the Democratic party doesn’t.
Dan argues that “when I see an organization I don’t like, I try to join and persuade it to change. I don’t bail and get all distructive.” I’d argue that social change depends on having folks on the inside and the outside of institutions – be they the Democratic party or, say, the State Department. The system needs to be both kicked and dragged (I’ve tried to act this out with my arms and legs a few times, and I’m told it’s been amusing, if perhaps not enlightening). Dan argues that
These days, a lot of the major battles have been settled, and largely in Democrats’ favor. Both parties now admit we need civil rights, we need social security and other entitlement programs, we need better health care, we can’t be completely isolationist, &c.
To which I’d respond, along the lines I alluded to in my earlier post, that today neither party is proposing the kind of ambitious, radicial, structural change – in areas from public school funding to healthcare to the crippling effects of the drug war – demanded before we could really talk with a straight face about “starting gate equality” for Americans of color, and those who do find themselves labelled “race-baiting demagogues” and are candidates for the Sister Souljah treatment; that neither party is articulating reforms like raising the income ceiling on the payroll tax to make social security a more secure entitlement and a less regressive tax; that neither party is offering the kind of healthcare reform that has saved costs, saved lives, and saved millions from healthcare insecurity in most industrialized nations; and neither party has offered an comprehensive alternative to the use of unilateral military and economic power as American leadership in the global community. As Dan said, “One man’s homogeneity is another man’s consensus…”
Dan and I agree that Nader would be wrong to mount a 2004 Independent Campaign. And we agree that the way for the Democrats to respond to a Nader challenge would be to illustrate the real differences between them and the Republicans. The difference, maybe, is that I think to so compellingly would require more than just a shift in rhetoric.