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The "Logic" of Lesser-Evilism

by TODD CHRETIEN

 

You should always worry when someone uses the old “taken to its logical conclusion” line of argument. It usually means that they are about to make some ridiculous claim about you and then spread it around as much as possible. That is exactly what Ted Glick has done in his latest hit piece on Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo called “Kerry and Progressive Party Building.” Here’s what he says,

“Peter Camejo was the first one I heard put it out, back in April: ‘Kerry will do what Bush wants to do better.’ In other words, Kerry and the Democrats are the greater evil, not the Republicans which, followed to its logical conclusion, means that Camejo hopes that Bush/Cheney will win re-election.”

Now Ted, I could go for the cheap retort that “taken to its logical conclusion” the argument you make in favor of voting for Kerry means that you hope Kerry wins so that he can get tough on Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and, in his words, “stop sending mixed signals.” After Bush has backed two unsuccessful coups, I’m not sure what MORE Kerry has in mind, but it can’t be anything other than evil, lesser or greater, you make the call.

But, of course, Ted, you hope for nothing of the kind. You are a staunch opponent of U.S. intervention in Latin America and would join Nader/Camejo in denouncing any American administration’s threats against Venezuelan sovereignty.

So, let’s leave aside your musings about Camejo’s “hopes,” as you put it, and instead return to solid ground of reality.

Your basic argument is that “Since World War II the strongest, national, progressive third party movements have developed when Democrats were in power. The first example was the Henry Wallace/Progressive Party effort in 1948 when Harry Truman was president. Then there was the 1968 national Peace and Freedom Party effort when Johnson was President. The decade of the ’90’s, when Bill Clinton was in office, was a decade which saw the emergence of three major efforts, the Green Party, the Labor Party and the New Party.” That is exactly right.

We can go back even further in American history to make your point. In the 1890’s the Populist Party built a coalition of poor Black and white farmers in opposition to the Democratic Party’s rule in the South and Democratic President Grover Cleveland’s anti-labor policies in the North. In 1920, the Socialist Party and Eugene V. Debs got 900,000 votes, running from inside a jail cell in protest of Democratic president Woodrow Wilson’s entry into World War I. By 1936, the Communist Party had 60,000 members and was central to the creation of the millions-strong Congress of Industrial Organizations. FDR’s increasing hostility to the surging labor movement, and his total failure to end the Great Depression, opened the door to building a powerful labor party.

This same cycle began, as Ted points out, in the 1990’s under Clinton. Lest we forget, Clinton killed more Iraqis in his time in office than Bush I and II combined, shredded the remaining rags of the welfare net, super-sized the WTO and nearly doubled the prison population, all while presiding over the greatest polarization between rich and poor in the United States since the 1920’s.

So the question is, after 150 years of trying, has it been impossible to build a mass party of the people to the left of the corporate Democrats?

In 1896, the Populists abandoned their independent party to support liberal William Jennings Bryan. In the 1920’s, the Socialist Party’s right wing expelled John Reed and the left, in order to project a more “moderate” appeal to the electorate. In 1936, the Communist Party headed-off the creation of a powerful labor party and helped re-elect FDR because Stalin wanted FDR as a friend against Hitler. They have been loyal Democrats ever since. The increasing belligerence of the McCarthyites in the 1950’s, sent all the third party forces back into the Democrats. And Nixon’s carpet bombing of North Vietnam and invasion of Cambodia and Laos, re-directed the forces of the anti-war movement behind Democrat George McGovern.

But, you don’t have to go back into history to understand this. We are living through the answer today.

Skip to the 1990’s. Clinton’s vicious attacks gave rise to a new third party movement in the form of the Nader campaign of 2000. Now, as you ought to remember, Greens were not the only ones who supported Nader in 2000. Many independents, anarchists, socialists, union members and activists of all stripes did as well. This left-wing alliance made a great start, building networks, raising issues and showing that millions of people were ready to challenge the two-party system.

Along comes Bush’s horrifying administration. Traditionally, the American left now forgets why it began organizing a third party against the Democrats in the first place and throws its weight behind whatever Democrat happens to be on offer. All sorts of “this year is different” arguments are created. Usually, the Democrats promise the left a few crumbs in order to mop up. When the Democrats don’t even offer crumbs, then the argument that the Republicans are “fascists” is hauled out. Nixon is a fascist. Reagan is a fascist. Bush I is a fascist. Bush II is a fascist. Thus the left throws away any bit of momentum it has created fighting the Democrats and falls into the historical cycle of disorganizing the third party challenge by driving it back into the Democrats or running for cover.

You are a prominent Green Party member and supporter of David Cobb’s campaign. In your article you argue that Cobb’s “strategic states” campaign will avoid the “deep and broad anger” directed against the Nader/Camejo campaign for its full-on challenge to the corporate Democrats. (Don’t worry about us. I can’t imagine that anything would be worse than the abuse the Democrats are heaping on us today.)

Cobb’s invisible campaign itself is a guarantee that no one will blame the Green Party for stealing votes from the Democrats this year… or remember that it even ran a campaign. But, I’m glad you point out that Cobb DOES have a “strategic state” plan and that you support him BECAUSE it allows you to “maximize and defend the progressive vote on election day,” that is, Kerry’s vote. Every time I’ve made that point, irate Cobb supporters call and email saying I am “lying.” Thanks for clearing that up.

But something surprising has happened this year. Nader and Camejo have refused to take a dive this year, and millions of people are supporting them. This is really remarkable. Especially since most of the best-known figures on the American progressive left are supporting Kerry. Just see the letter signed by 70 former Nader supporters from 2000 calling for a vote for Kerry.

Taking this stand shows the world that there are millions of people in the United States who refuse to vote for either of the pro-war candidates. All by itself, that fact is worth voting for Nader. But probably even more important is the lesson that ordinary people are learning across the country as they flock to hear Nader and Camejo in their tens of thousands. That lesson? Fredrick Douglass was right. Power, be it Democrat or Republican, concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. If we can’t build up a third party force that challenges the Democrats and Republicans EVERY election year, year after year, war after war, cut-back after cut-back, execution after execution, lay-off after lay-off, HMO after HMO, then we may as well just stop fooling around and join the Democratic Party now.

Ted, do you think that all of us Nader supporters are “hoping” Bush wins? Or is it just possible, that we have a legitimate point of view and that we might be right? Maybe it’s time we listen to Malcolm X’s advice from 1964, The Democrats “get all the Negro vote, and after they get it, the Negro gets nothing in return. All they did when they got to Washington was give a few big Negroes big jobs. Those big Negroes didn’t need big jobs, they already had jobs. That’s camouflage, that’s trickery, that’s treachery, window-dressing. I’m not trying to knock out the Democrats for the Republicans, we’ll get to them in a minute. But it is true – you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last….”

The whole left, Black, white, Asian, Latino, union, anti-war, global justice, civil rights, all of us, have been putting the Democrats first for 150 years and they’ve been putting us last. I think that’s sufficient evidence to try some different logic.

TODD CHRETIEN is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch and the International Socialist Review. He can be reached at: toddchretien@comcast.net

 

TODD CHRETIEN writes for the Socialist Work.

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