The Left Taught Him How to Do It

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

The leftists organizing in Vermont since the 1970s prepared the ground for James Jeffords’s jump, and he never would have done it without them. In the 1970s and 1980s Democrats howled with fury when Vermont’s Progressive Party said that no matter what the short-term consequences, the important political task was to build a radical, third-force movement in the state.

In 1988 this progressive coalition backed Bernard Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, in a run for Vermont’s single Congressional seat. Democratic liberals raised the “wrecker” charge, saying the Sanders intervention would cost the Democrats votes and put in a Republican. It did. Then, two years later, Sanders ran again against the incumbent Republican and won. Creative destruction worked. Without decades of work by radicals, nourishing the propriety of independent politics in Vermont, would Jeffords ever have jumped the Republican ship and handed control of the Senate back to the Democrats? We don’t think so.

A couple of weeks ago someone sent us an article by Todd Gitlin and Sean Wilentz, published in an obscure journal called Dissent. Since Gitlin’s prime political function for years has been to fortify respectable opinion about the impropriety of independent thinking, We knew what to expect, particularly since he was in harness with Wilentz, a truly hysterical proprietarian.

Sure enough, it was an attack on those who voted for Ralph Nader, tumid with a full-inventory parade of every clich? from the past forty years about the folly of radical hopes. Want a taste? Numbers aside, there is a deeper force at work, behind the delusion that the masses hanker for radical change that Gore would not give them-a purist approach to politics. This all-or-nothing approach, allergic to democratic contest and compromise, is rooted equally in American self-righteousness and traditional left-wing utopianism. It is as if by venting one’s anger, one were free to remake the world by willing it.

Yup, this pompous cant translates into the single, finger-wagging admonition, “You should have voted for Al Gore,” the latest variant on Gitlin’s one-note career sermon about voting for Hubert Humphrey in 1968. (What is it about these Humphrey lovers? Vermonter Marty Jezer, another sermonizer about main-chance political propriety, recently lashed out at CBS in his column in the Brattleboro Reformer for what he denounced as excessively hostile and prejudicial interviewing of baby-killer Bob Kerrey! The lust to be respectably “fair,” whether to HHH or Kerrey, leads to some astonishingly ridiculous postures.)

Jeffords should sign up right now as a member of the Progressive Party, with whose political positions he has some things in common. Of course Jeffords, at least in his latest incarnation, is truly an independent, whereas
Sanders is effectively a Democrat.

Now let’s see how much fortitude the Democrats on the Hill have in contesting Bush and Cheney. They no longer have the alibi of the Republicans’ controlling the White House and both chambers.

The Bush Menu

The Nation was a tad unfair relaying the claim that the Bush White House has ordered its chef to prepare genetically modified foods on some state occasions. The source of this claim was a piece by Jennifer Berkshire posted on Alternet. The Nation earnestly commented that
“the demonstration smells like a paid political announcement for the agribusiness lobby.”

We remember reading Berkshire’s Alternet piece as an excellent little satire, and Jennifer confirms that this was indeed the case.

Satire is always an uncertain weapon. CP

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch. Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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