Sunday, July 04, 2004

Independence Day

This year I've resolved to feel good about the fourth of July. There's no benefit to being the family crank at barbecues and weddings, after all. Yesterday I even watched the FOX News channel, with its ubiquitous American flag graphics, and nonetheless felt right with the world. Today, the vascular integrity of my brain thanked me.

For the engaged citizen, the United States can be a stroke-inducing affair, indeed. But there's no reason to lose sensation or mobility in the left hemisphere of your body if you don't have to. America was founded on the idea that concentrated power is dangerous and deserves to be challenged--overthrown, I think they said. Any conservative worth his weight in ethnic-stereotypes will concede at least this much. And that leaves all of us with a lot more to say to each other.

Last night I ate dinner with a libertarian I like to call my cousin. One might not expect much to be shared between two family members, one who believes in expanding social programs and another who wants to dismantle them. But while I don't know a lot about right-libertarianism beyond Ayn Rand and Adam Smith, I'm pretty sure they would both roll over in their respective graves if they saw the terrific sham masquerading as "free-trade" today: socialized market protection for the wealthy and powerful (e.g. government bailouts), and market "discipline" for the poor (e.g. politically imposed third-world debt). Honest conservatives understand this; at least, that's the theory Ralph Nader is banking his "I'll-draw-from-the-right, too" presidential campaign on: classical liberals and conservatives have more in common with each other than they do with either wing of the American corporatist party, which advocates socialism for the privileged, owning classes, and "less government" for the rest of us.

The tradition of one person, one vote is much older than the tradition of one dollar, one vote. The United States was founded on ideals that ordinary people, in pursuing their own mutual benefit, make real when their leaders don't--by challenging power and authority in the traditional, American way.


Sheryl said...

You talk about Nader as if he is a populist candidate. Here's how see it, which won't be popular with Nader supporters.

I think the best way to see about populist appeal is to look at Individual contributions to campaigns at the FEC website. Everyone, irregardless of wealth, is limited to $2000, so it gives an idea of how many people are actually dedicated enough to a candidate to put their money where their mouth is. The $2000 limit is true whether you are a multi-millionaire or a disgruntled college professor. Although the numbers are tallied by receipts rather than number of contributors, I would suggest that the rich corporate types don't bother with installment plans, so a the higher the numbers the more populist the candidate.

Let's look at the Federal Elections data for April 2004. At that time Howard Dean's campaign was pretty much over, whereas Ralph Nader's should have been picking up steam. And yet Dean received 453 contributions that month, whereas Ralph Nader altogether only received 120 contributions. If I remember correctly, Dean had something like 50,000 individual contributions last , outstripping the Democratic National Committee by almost twofold.

So where are Nader's supporters? His appeal is not populist; it's religious. By religious I mean faith based with no regard for political reality. Why can people with completely opposite policy agendas agree to vote for the man? Because it's not about winning in order to change policies to make life better for people. It's about idealogical purity and thinking that if you stand outside the system, then you are not part of it and can afford to judge those who are trying work within the bounds of what is. That you are inherently superior for sticking to ideals. Just like Kucinich's campaign, which split the peace community in half and was a serious drag on Howard Dean's campaign. Dean, who really could have one, but lost momentum by activists squabbling about who was better.

How many Nader supporters actually think he's going to win? Probably not a lot. That shows it for what it is. Intellectual fluff with no regard for the crisis our country (actually our planet) is in. Sorry, that is just how I see it.

People are going to have to live with the results of this election. If Bush wins again, then he will further tighten his fascist grip on this planet, and all the things I care about like tolerance and multiculturalism and choice will be completely destroyed. Right now they are only seriously damaged. And considering the damage these weapons have on our environment, it will probably ensure the destruction of the human race. Oh well.

J.R. Boyd said...

Hi Sheryl. Thank you for the *AWESOME* post!

That Americans aren't supporting Nader to the extent they were in the last election gives us some insight into the choices people are making in this one. In my view, it's not surprising--precisely why I think the mainstream left would have done well to simply roll-up their sleeves and campaign, instead of becoming apoplectic over a third-candidate entering the race.

Regarding Nader's platform, I don't agree that a candidate becomes more or less "populist"--if I understand your meaning--according to how many votes they get. So far as I know, Nader is running on a populist platform--with traditional populist, democratic goals; for that matter I don't know of anyone else who is, at this point, except maybe Cobb from the Green Party. Kerry has co-opted populist rhetoric, for sure, but that's different from advocating it as a platform.

Sheryl said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ryan.

So how are you defining "populism" then? The word people is written right into it. Populism could just as easily be called peoplism, couldn't it? It's from the latin word populus, which means just that--people. It's also from the same origins as popular and population. And that is why a populist will have popular support. It's just another word for democracy (demos also meaning people), except it's a less loaded term.

Sidenote: some of the recent comments in your blog aren't showing when I click on them. Just thought I'd let ya know.

Thanks for all the interesting posts today. :-)

J.R. Boyd said...

I don't think we disagree except to say that popular support doesn't make a candidate "populist." Populism is a political philosophy; Nader and the Greens happen to represent a particular form of it, but that has nothing to do with whether people vote for them or not. A populist candidate can lose just as badly as a conservative candidate or anyone else. You could say a candidate has a "populist appeal" which means they are popular among average Americans, but that doesn't say anything about their political objectives.

Sheryl said...

When I think of populism, I think of people getting reacquainted with the fact that THEY control government rather than the government controlling them. The more people who think that, the better. I think of overcoming plutocracy by sheer numbers. I think of people participating rather than just voting. You are right that voting is not enough.

When I was in San Francisco right after the war started , I was in this massive peace march. Someone walking along started chanting: "What does democracy look like?" We cried back: "This is what democracy looks like!!!" There were over 300,000 people in that march. I am not normally moved by chanting, but that one got to me. We may not have stopped the war, but we bloody well told the world that not all of America was behind it. We told the government that at least some of the people were not pleased. To me that's what democracy and populism are about. Jesus, I'm crying! :(

I was having a discussion the other day with a friend about the difference between heroes and role models. We both agreed that we live in nation that wants heroes, but which needs role models instead. Albert Camus once said: "Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow; don't walk behind me, I may not lead; walk beside me, and be my friend." For me, that is what populism is about. People understand that our country and trhe world are no more and no less than what WE make of it. That we can't blame things on the leaders, because we need to be the leaders. Each and every one of us.

J.R. Boyd said...

Well said!

J.R. Boyd said...

Hey Sheryl,

Don't worry the posts are getting through. I've noticed the lags, but they seem to be temporary.

I agree with your definition of populism. I just disagreed with the idea that popular support for a candidate makes the candidate a de facto "populist." In this election, the likelihood is that people *aren't* supporting a populist ticket because they don't see it as a viable option. They're supporting a neo-liberal ticket because it is viable, and because, yes, they want to maintain whatever vestige of popular control is left in our political system before it is completely dismantled by neo-conservatives. For people like you and me, it's a tactical choice that is part of a long-term strategy to increase popular control of the society. That doesn't make Kerry a populist; it makes Kerry a populist's best option, in this particular circumstance. Nor does it change the fact that Nader is pushing a thoroughly populist agenda, and is one of the only people addressing fundamental issues that reach much further than November 2004. As far as I'm concerned, he's one of the first people I will be turning to as soon as Kerry (god willing) is elected. So I'm very much unconvinced by the Nader-bashing, which only suggests to me that 1) the Democrats are, yet again, pushing a candidate they barely believe in and accept as highly vulnerable, and that 2) there is a perceived benefit by the Democratic party to permanently vilify Ralph Nader and cast anyone else who challenges their left-monopoly as being motivated by "power" and "egoism"--and in fact secretly scheming to throw power to the right--since articulating progressive ideas outside the party itself is inconceivable. This in my view--and, incidentally, in Nader's--is extremely contemptuous of democracy: Nader has every right to run if he wants to, just like Americans have every right not to vote for him. It's not Nader's job to convince people to vote for Kerry--that's Kerry's job, just as it was Gore's before him. It seems to me that the argument for firing Bush is so strong that Democrats should be selling the idea, not demonizing Nader; the fact that they do, again, tells me something about what they must really think about their own candidate.

Sheryl said...

Hi Ryan,

It's just that the laws have to change before the Green Party can be viable. Gerrymandering splits the spoils of districts between democrats and republicans. Petition requirements that allow candidates to bypass filing fees favor ones of pre-established parties, which already having a large number of activists ready on demand to sign them. A friend just told me the other day that the electoral college electors here in Texas are chosen by the two major parties. Until recently "soft money" contributions were unlimited, so groups trying to buy influence gave their money to the two parties they thought could win. Yet another advantage.

But the dynamic has changed somewhat: right now the Republicans own both Houses of Congress, the judiciary, and the executive. If the Republicans get 50% of the vote, and the Democrats get 45% and the Greens get 5%, then the Republicans win. If the Greens get 45% and the Democrats get 5%, the Republicans win. The Republicans gain from this split, so they have absolutely zero incentive to change these laws that helped put them in power. And as long as they are in power, they are the ones who will decide what the laws are. What incentives do they have to change things, considering that they are the only ones with the power to change things?

Maybe the Greens can pick up some libertarian votes, but let's not forget that there is already a Libertarian Party. Andre Marrou here in San Antonio occassionally runs for President on that ticket.

My liberal "yeller dog" friend David Van Os agrees with you that Greens aren't that big of a threat. He said to me, "Sheryl, don't bother arguing with the Greens. They don't want to vote democrat. Why try to sell someone something he doesn't want to buy? What we need to do is go get the disenfranchised democrats back to the polls. People who actually want to be democrats."

Maybe I am just sensitive, because so many of my friends are either Greens or former Greens. It's kind of like college, where for a while all my friends were either vegetarian or gay.