« Bastille Day | Main | Mmm...policy »

Possibilities

Brutal hugs notes in regard to my most recent anti-Nader post that Kerry won't actually be able to do all the progressive things I listed him as favoring. Quite true. It's impossible to know how many of them he'll do, but it will certainly be less than all, and possibly quite a bit less, depending on congressional circumstances. But this is another reason the Naderite critique of Bill Clinton makes so little sense. "But what do the Democrats actually do for the left," they whine. But Clinton didn't fail to achieve universal health care because he was too rightwing, he failed to do it because of a combination of Republican obstructionism and tactical failures on his part. Those tactical failures are, indeed, serious failures, but there's no reason to think that a Ralph Nader or a Dennis Kucinich would be a better wheeler and dealer than a Clinton or a Kerry and, indeed, a great deal of reason to think they would do worse. One can find many more examples from the minimum wage to welfare policy to the environment where, again, Clinton wanted to do more progressive things than he could get through the congress, especially after 1995, but before the '94 debacle as well.

Which is just a way of pointing out the obvious: The prime obstacle to progressive politics in America is the Republican Party. The Democrats are not as progressive as I might like on some issues (and others will feel this way about different issues, or all the issues, or to a different degree) but even if they were more progressive it wouldn't make much of a difference as long as the GOP controlled one or more of the branches of government. President Nader would not actually create single payer health care or a living wage any more than President Kerry would.

July 14, 2004 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345160fd69e200d834247ed053ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Possibilities:

» Gift Basket from Tom Jamme's Blog
Sweet Blessings, a new Christian-based online shop featuring cookie bouquets, candy bouquets and gift baskets, opens with a campaign to donate a portion of all profits to Habitat For Humanity. The devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, while not a... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 6, 2005 8:56:02 PM

Comments

The Republican Party! I think you're on to something. Now if we can just think of a way to get them out of power...

Posted by: LowLife | Jul 14, 2004 1:57:57 PM

But Matt, you're just refusing to acknowledge that if Clinton had just presented the American people with the full progressive agenda in its unvarnished form, we would have seen a groundswell of popular euphoria that would have overwhelmed the GOP's obstructionist schemes! Clearly, the voters wouldn't have felt that the Democrats were too far to the left in 1994 if they had just acted like they were even further to the left!

Posted by: JP | Jul 14, 2004 2:11:02 PM


I've been around and around on this issue and have finally come to approximately Matt's conclusion: at this moment, there aren't enough liberals, however defined.

The answer, I say, is to recruit new voters on the basis of liberal issues. The percentage of non-voters is around 50%; while these are obviously not all liberals, there should be enough liberals in the group to change the political landscape -- if we could get them.

From that point of view, my criticism of the underfunded Democrats is that they blow all their money on this year's campaign (mostly sending money to Big Media which will shaft us in the end anyway), and not enough on "party-building" and the long term.

My blogpartner Dave Johnson is working on a related issue: Democrats put too little energy/money into research/propaganda orgs like the Heritage Society and the Cato Institute. These groups change the terms of the dialogue by bringing up new issues and spinning them. Whenever the media need info on anything, they can get the conservative point of view with the snap of a finger. the disproportion in spending is enormous.

Finally, surveys of non-voters show that the wealthy don't vote because of indifference, whereas the poor don't vote because of problems or inconveniences. Making voting easier is another goal, though the Repubs resist that furiously. (George Will assures us that non-voting is a good thing. He'd probably reinstitute literacy tests and the poll tax if he could.)

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 14, 2004 2:31:02 PM

If Nader has no chance of winning (and he doesn't), how many progressive things will Nader do as President while he's not in office?

Posted by: Bang! | Jul 14, 2004 2:34:17 PM

hmmm... and it seems like a major reason that Clinton lost Congress was because he pushed for healthcare. Another reason that is cited was his intial gays in the military folly.

Posted by: theCoach | Jul 14, 2004 2:57:14 PM

Now, I think Naderites are wrong but there is a point to what they say. When a small (but significant) relatively radical group supports a bigger, mainstream party, they are sacrificing their self expression and autonomy in exchange for seeing some of their ideas implemented. This is a trade off; if the influence of the small party drops below a certain level (and the reason why doesn't really matter) the incentive for the trade off dissapears. If public opinion moves so much to the right that the leftists lose almost all power in the Democratic Party, it increases their impulse to get out, because their ability to influence policy has diminished so much that it's not worth sacrificing your autonomy for it.

Posted by: Carlos | Jul 14, 2004 3:07:31 PM

The shortage of liberal think tanks/ propaganda mills has been noticable for a long time.

Posted by: Levi | Jul 14, 2004 3:10:15 PM

what does doing something for "the left" mean? bill clinton did a lot for this country: he helped create millions of jobs that helped prevent many people from requiring govt assistance. he focused on economic growth and deficit reduction and policies that made sense for working americans. if those interests are not ralph nader's, then ralph nader has no business pretending that he would be a godo president.

as for doing progressive things, the most obvious answer is dispostivie. ralph nader has no chance of being elected president, so he won't do anything for progressives. he MAY help defeat kerry, which helps nobody. all other debate strikes me as superfluous

Posted by: bisged | Jul 14, 2004 3:11:20 PM

Matt, you are SO beating a dead horse. There was never any chance of Nader becoming president. Judging from the posts I've read here, there is no such thing as the "Nader voter". If there was, so what? I lived through the Lyndon LaRouche crowd and the Perotistas and I'm sure a few Naderites won't kill me.

And it's no secret that when business is booming the 'undecideds' lean Republican. Roosevelt helped us keep our eyes on the tasks that still needed doing. Johnson called in all his markers to get the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Bill passed. Certainly nobody expected that Clinton would establish universal healthcare coverage or end war. However, some of us were sure surprised when Clinton essentially told the left (if there is one) to get lost.

The whole story was actually in the first inaugeral. Clinton started with a masterful performance, speaking without a functioning teleprompter (try to imagine Bush doing that), and the address ended with everyone listening solemnly to the worst doggerel verse since Rudyard Kipling.

When you describe your imaginary Nader voter, it sounds a lot like my mother. Now 80, she was a Democratic precinct committeeperson for 30 years, delegate, volunteer on citizen oversight, etc etc. She's tired of waiting for a candidate who will actually support the U.N., support education, work for healthcare, and help the unions. I don't blame her.

Posted by: serial catowner | Jul 14, 2004 3:39:06 PM

liberal think tanks/ propaganda mills has been noticable

Yeah, other than the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Harvard feminist studies department, etc....

Posted by: gc | Jul 14, 2004 4:41:09 PM

It's a fair point, but it's not just what he didn't do, but what he did do.

Clinton facilitated the conservative agenda by signing a welfare reform bill that had little relation to the kind of welfare reform that he and other progressives were talking about in the late 80s and early 90s. You could make the argument that vetoing that bill would have cost him re-election, but I don't think it would be a very good one.

Poverty policy is a significant issue on the left, and there are a lot of liberals who won't forgive him for that.

Pushing NAFTA, while the right decision in my opinion, is another one that probably irks some on this side of the aisle.

Posted by: Shankar D | Jul 14, 2004 5:00:35 PM

Just to add to my comment, it's not just about what you can and can't get done. I'm a political realist, but the political landscape isn't static. Effective presidents shift the landscape through the strength of their leadership.

When Clinton declared that "the era of big government is over," it was a complete and total rhetorical concession to the past 25 years of conservative retrenchment and '94 revolution. Rhetoric might not mean much (Clinton has said that most people are "rhetorically conservative, but operationally progressive" which may be true), but it does frame the debate. Now, ironically, the Gingrichians overplayed their hand, and Clinton was able to win reelection in party by defending big government -- Medicare and Medicaid -- from an attempted conservative rollback. But institutional inertia is enough to make the American people appreciate the government that they have. Some measure of leadership is necessary to convince them to accept more.

Posted by: Shankar D | Jul 14, 2004 5:14:16 PM

GC: idiot.

Both the Post and the Times are centrist at best, both promoted the Clinton scandals, and both retailed idiotic anti-Gore stories during the election. (Um...you weren't trying to be funny, were you, with the Harvard Women's studies Dept line?)

Granting all the strategic questions, problems about third parties per se, problems with Nader per se, there are substantive issues where Clinton, the DLC Democrats, et. al. really have abandoned traditional liberal positions. When I hear the anti-Nader boilerplate I am not even sure that the person I'm listening to has any idea what these positions are.

In some cases, such as voting accessibility and the equal time provision, the Dem compromises actually were politically suicidal. In others, such as corporate governance, they were bad policy. The way free trade worked out it hurt the Dems, good policy or not.

The Republicans will always be worse than the Democrats, so the Demorats will always have an excuse. I've seen it proposed as a strategy for the Democrats to wait for the far right to take over the Republican Party, and then move into the moderate Republican position, leaving the left wing of the Democratic Party high and dry. This does not seem like a good strategy for the "party of the left".

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 14, 2004 5:21:59 PM

Is healthcare really your example of choice for how left-wing Clinton's policy would have been if not for Republican resistance? Yes, he made some significant tactical blunders on the issue, but I'd say Theda Skocpol (no raging socialist she) was right to argue that the most profound and damaging of these was that he proposed a relatively moderate reform thinking it would appease his opponents on the right and in so doing only managed to alienate his allies on the left while earning himself no olive branch from the HMOs and confusing everybody in between with a complicated, uninspiring plan.

Posted by: Josh | Jul 14, 2004 5:43:38 PM

I have to disagree. It's not Republicans that stand in the way of progressive reform, the Republicans are just proxies for... other people. As long as progressives have decided that we can't even convince Democrats to support progressive reform, we might as well pack up and go home. The only choices we have are to vote for people we don't agree with or to not vote at all. The "symbolic" "protest" or other vote is just a variety of the latter.

Posted by: Anand Hattiangadi | Jul 14, 2004 6:00:50 PM

I vote for not voting. Maybe someone will listen when people are convinced that things are really as bad as you say. Until then, you are just embarrassing yourselves. It's hard for me to watch.

Posted by: pills | Jul 14, 2004 6:31:39 PM

"Yeah, other than the NY Times, the Washington Post..."

Yes, that's exactly right, gc. Why does the neutral reporting of facts always have to be so biased against our side? Obviously, the only explanation is that it must be a left-wing conspiracy...

Posted by: JP | Jul 14, 2004 6:37:05 PM

Two points: One, I know Theda Skocpol and she seems like a raging socialist to me. Two, after Clinton's "big government is over" speech the government has gotten bigger each and every year.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jul 14, 2004 7:14:08 PM

Matt:

By what measure?

As a percentage of GDP, total spending decreased every year from the speech (January '95, I believe) until Clinton left office in 2000. Spending has been creeping upwards since then.

Posted by: Shankar D | Jul 14, 2004 7:27:34 PM

Also, given that "raving socialist" is a term of degree, whether Skocpol classifies as one depends on your perspective, I guess. She doesn't strike me as one. But either way, as The New Majority and The Missing Middle suggest, she's not politically tone-deaf and, functionally, is no more of a leftist than some of the folks at the Prospect.

Posted by: Shankar D | Jul 14, 2004 7:42:12 PM

Certainly, the optimistic take on Maoism at the end of (the otherwise brilliant) States and Social revolutions is good evidence for Matt's case, but she's obviously changed over the years. I think democratic socialist is a fair term for Skocpol.

Posted by: Scott | Jul 14, 2004 10:13:10 PM

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

"By what measure?"

In absolute value terms? Isn't that enough? Anyway, I thought the goal was to help the poor and the downtrodden, rather than to see the government's share of GDP climb monotonically upwards. If the goal of helping the disadvantaged could be achieved while shrinking government's share of the the national cake, are you saying you'd be against it?
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.2.4 (MingW32) - GPGshell v3.10
Comment: My Public Key is at the following URL:
Comment: http://www.alapite.net/pgp/AbiolaLapite.txt

iD8DBQFA9lAtOgWD1ZKzuwkRAq6xAJ4kHr3udzuKonhOPryd5YN5sA5PqwCdF0JL
IZL9u7ZUfGY6WLeyz52V78U=
=tJtc
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

Posted by: Abiola Lapite | Jul 15, 2004 5:37:06 AM

>Anyway, I thought the goal was to help the poor and the downtrodden, rather than to see the government's share of GDP climb monotonically upwards.

Absolutely true. My initial point wasn't about numbers and numerical size of the government, but about rhetoric and the staking of normative values that make it harder to implement such programs. But my comment about the diminution in total government spending was just a response to Matt's claim that the government has gotten bigger. That's the only objective measure that I know of that could support an objective claim like that.

In fact, I thought about adding a line or two about how the numbers aren't even my point, but didn't have the patience to do it. I should have known better, and your point is well-taken.

Posted by: Shankar D | Jul 15, 2004 9:27:33 AM

I don't usually listen very hard to what a politician says. If elected, they have the opportunity to show me what happens on their watch.

I didn't see government shrinking during Clinton. A radical bold leader would have demanded huge defense cuts, and the end of agricultural subsidies to go along with that free trade stuff. Someone who could really jawbone might have been one-term, but gone down in history as the first to seriously state the need for these moves. Obviously, Clinton was not that person.

Dwight Eisenhower, of course, was the first in the modern era to warn us about the military-industrial complex. To men like Eisenhower and JK Galbraith, who could remember a different time, the militarization of the state was an alarming and undesirable development.

Today it just 'goes with the territory'.

Posted by: serial catowner | Jul 15, 2004 9:30:16 AM

I don't usually listen very hard to what a politician says. If elected, they have the opportunity to show me what happens on their watch.

I didn't see government shrinking during Clinton. A radical bold leader would have demanded huge defense cuts, and the end of agricultural subsidies to go along with that free trade stuff. Someone who could really jawbone might have been one-term, but gone down in history as the first to seriously state the need for these moves. Obviously, Clinton was not that person.

Dwight Eisenhower, of course, was the first in the modern era to warn us about the military-industrial complex. To men like Eisenhower and JK Galbraith, who could remember a different time, the militarization of the state was an alarming and undesirable development.

Today it just 'goes with the territory'.

Posted by: serial catowner | Jul 15, 2004 9:31:14 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.