The Brooklyn Rail's otherwise estimable August-Sept. issue contains yet another piece of self-indulgent, sanctimonious moaning from a Green. I suppose someone who writes awful tone-deaf poetry can't be expected to think or to write very clearly, but when will these fuckwit Greens stop dragging out the same hoary old bullshit? To wit:
I voted for Ralph Nader. But I take no responsibility for George W. Bush's election. Had Nader not run, most of his voters (and certainly myself) would have opted for a different third-party candidate, or not voted at all, rather than support Gore, a candidate so uninspiring that he couldn't even win his home state.
Indeed, a candidate so uninspiring that he won the popular vote by a margin of half a million. This in an election when the massive media conglomerates --- the same media conglomerates whom Greens usually credit with preternatural powers of persuasion --- were gunning down Gore with every weapon in their arsenal (everybody who says Gore failed in the 2000 election should be locked in a room and forced to read everything Bob Somerby's ever written). This, also, in an election when Reform Party right-winger Pat Buchanan took a bullet for the team by choosing a black running mate (thereby driving all the racist and crypto-racist votes of the fringe right straight into the arms of Dubya), while "Green Party" "leftist" Ralph Nader defied all tactical wisdom by campaigning hardest in swing states.
In case you're curious why I put both "leftist" and "Green Party" in quotes when describing Nader: news flash Greens, Nader is neither a leftist nor a member of the Green Party. Nader derisively refers to reproductive rights and equal rights for gays as "gonadal politics". When his workers tried to organize a union, he cracked the whip like the corporate bosses he grandstands against. Oh, well, just a couple of issues, you say? Many Greens consider Gore too "conservative" because of Tipper Gore and Joe Lieberman --- a charge that, besides reeking of unfair guilt by association, characterizes Gore's entire political worldview by focusing on a couple of issues. Only an act of supreme intellectual dishonesty could fail to indict Nader by the same standard.
And Nader is not a member of the Green Party. Yes, Green Party activists, here's the man for whom you volunteered long hours and then fell on your sword: a man who won't even join your party officially. He'll accept your nomination but refuses to declare a formal party affiliation. I'm not making this up. Look it up yourself. Can you think of a single other party in American history whose national leadership has been stupid enough to place its faith in a man who refuses even to declare membership in that party?
As for the claim that most Green Party voters simply would not have voted for Gore: this is tendentious sophistry. First of all, it's probably untrue. It was Nader's choice to campaign hardest in swing states, and Nader's deliberate obfuscation of the differences between Gore and Bush helped to confuse voters who might have voted for Gore. Both of these tactics had the deliberate effect of alienating potential Gore voters. Second, and more damningly, suppose Dolack (and other Green apologists) are right: suppose most Green Party voters would not have voted for Gore. How many? 60%? 75%? OK, let's say 95% of Green Party voters would have stayed home or voted against Gore. Suppose that, out of all Green Party voters in Florida, only 5% would have voted for Gore, if only Nader had not made such a strong point of campaigning against Gore in that state. This would still have provided the margin of victory in Florida.
But the paragraph I quote from Dolack's article is nothing new. He's simply the latest mouthpiece spouting the Party line. Green apologists have been making exactly the same arguments again and again and again since the 2000 election. In fact, they repeat these arguments so often, and the arguments are such a monstrous heap of stinking bollocks, that I can only say: the Party doth protest too much. Greens must be on some kind of deeply repressed guilt trip. The broken-record repetition is a lame attempt to paper over their own nagging sense of guilt at having been so stupid, so blind, so utterly taken by Bush's propaganda line that he was a moderate comparable to Gore, rather than a fanatical right-wing extremist.
OK, but believe it or not, the above monstrous heap of bullshit is only the smaller of the fish I have to fry in this article. Here's the bigger one:
This seemingly never-ending debate, however, is a mask for the real issue: the need of so many liberals to cling to the doctrine of lesser-evilism. "If only we knew how extreme Bush was; if only I voted for Gore everything would be different," our downcast liberals moan, wishing that a political priest could assign them a few Our Fathers and allow them to atone for their electoral sins.
Dolack then goes on to describe a number of illiberal policies that were either endorsed or insufficiently opposed by Democrats. I could run down the list, but that's an exercise for another day. For now I'll simply observe that, in the face of a deeply hostile media and Republican control of the legislative and judicial branches, Clinton's tactical brilliance held the line for liberalism better than any Green politician on Earth could have done. Also, Gore's speech at NYU was a far more coherent, precise, and devastating attack than anything that any Green has said about the Bush administration.
But I want to talk about the more general principle here. Dolack, like frustratingly many on the left, sneers at "lesser-evilism" without grasping the fundamental principle that all politics is lesser-evilism. Affirmative action is a lesser evil than continuing racial inequality. Diplomacy is a lesser evil than war. Democracy is a lesser evil than totalitarianism. Government itself is a lesser evil than brute anarchy.
Fundamentally, every political party makes compromises relative to the world it would prefer --- a fact that the American right wing understands perfectly, and that the American left wing seems to willfully ignore. You think Bush's two and a half years have been bad? The frightening thing is that this is the result of the extremist right-wingers compromising with their moderates. The libertarians won't rest until the legacy of FDR has been completely dismantled. The corporate syndicalists won't rest until the entire legal system has been rejiggered into one giant protection racket for their "intellectual property", and the government budget consists solely of corporate subsidies. The religious right won't rest until the King James Bible literally replaces the Constitution, and every last god-damned faggot has been shoved back into the closet, dead or alive. As bad as the government is today, the right-wingers want to make it much, much worse.
Greens: Do you doubt that these right-wing radicals' preferred policies, if baldly stated, would be any further from the Republican Party platform than the Greens' platform is from the Democrats' platform? Do you doubt that their agenda involves any less revolution in our system of government? And yet --- and yet --- do you have the creeping sense that these radical right-wing nuts, who should be your equal and opposite numbers, are somehow more influential than you are? Do you ever ask yourself the obvious question --- why?
Well. Part of the reason is that the Republicans, and the right, have always been the party of the rich, and the rich always have had the upper hand. Progressives generally fight uphill, and reactionaries generally fight downhill.
But part of the reason is tactical. The Republicans have a cooperative relationship, however uneasy, with their pet extremists. Because --- although the extremists think Republicans are a bunch of pantywaist moderates who compromise with those dastardly, devilish Democrats far too often --- when push comes to shove, power begets power, and it's best to help the Republicans obtain power. Once you have power, you can use that power to pull discourse farther to the right. You can use the government as an instrument that creates policies that enable you to take more power, which gives you more control over government, and so on and on, in a virtuous cycle. All the while, you can call in more and more favors, because being friends with the party in power means you're owed those favors. Winning elections means you get to live in the world that you create. If you have to share that power with allies who sometimes disagree with you --- well, that's a damn sight better than watching your enemies, the communist feminazi liberals, take over the government.
The point of politics is to obtain power. Only then can you do good. Even the Bolsheviks knew that you had to seize power before you purged those who lacked purity of ideology. The Greens prefer to purge preemptively.
It's really an astounding measure of the Greens' fecklessness that the Libertarian cat herd has better party organization and tactical acumen than the Greens. And some libertarian (lowercase-l) institutions, like the Cato Institute, have successfully transformed political discourse in this country. Once again, this is because Libertarians (and libertarians) have not shrunk from mobilizing for the broader conservative movement and working with unsavory allies (notice how the Libertarian fundraising letter states an intent to use the "spoiler effect" to oust a liberal, not a conservative). Until recently, it's fair to say that the pocketbook has been Libertarian Priority Number One; and although most Libertarians feel physically ill when they consider Republicans' attitudes towards about sex and drugs, they understand that you have to pick your battles. That sometimes means holding your nose whilst pulling the lever or writing the check.
Now, I won't absolve the Democratic Party of blame. It has too often failed to engage its leftist elements; and, at times, Democrats attack their own left wing more stridently than even the Republicans. I'd like nothing better than for the "centrist" DLC --- whose self-righteous Republican-lite rants are no less asinine and deluded than Dolack's article or any other Green screed --- to go off into the woods and die quietly. But, once again, it's telling that the DLC has influence, and the Greens do not. Why? Well, yes, the DLC has lots more money. But the DLC is also inside the tent, where it can put a bee in the ear of a candidate who might actually get elected.
So, one might reasonably ask: if the Greens are so spectacularly feckless and don't have a hope, then why even bother writing about them? Well, truthfully, it's largely a personal matter. I see too many of my peers --- young, intelligent, politially engaged urbanites --- seduced by the Greens and the ideological purity they hold out as a panacea for all political ills. It's deeply maddening.
Finally, a clarification: all of the above is about the American Green Party's efforts at the national level. At the local level, the Green Party has probably been benign or beneficial, and I don't know enough about the international "green" movement(s) (both traditional and non) to say one way or the other. Actually, I think the Green movement's net effect on the world has been positive. But the delusional stupidity evinced by people like Dolack --- who is all-too-typical of American Green Party advocates --- fills me with rage of puppy-kicking proportions.