Democratic Party hack Todd Gitlin stepped onto the op-ed page of the LA Times today and flailed his carving knife at Ralph Nader and the Greens, but he succeeded only in further swelling his reputation as a career slanderer of the Left. In his purported political obituary, "Nader’s Dead End," Gitlin claims "Democrats enlarged their tent to include leftist activists." That comes as news to many of us of a "leftist activist" bent. The on-line rank and file discussions even of very mainstream activist groups like United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) brim with outrage over the all-too-predictable spinelessness of the Democrat establishment.
The touchstone for the delusional Gitlin’s "big tent" thesis would have to be the war in Iraq, the number one issue weighing on the minds of the American people and even more so on the ever patient and unfailingly disdappointment of the Democrat rank and file. Democratic politicians were elected to Congress in 2006 on the expectation that they would end the war in Iraq. They have not. And the people are livid, none more so than the ‘leftist activists."
Here’s what Gallup says in its June 20 report: "According to the June 11-14, 2007, survey, 24 per cent of Americans approve and 71 per cent disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job. Congressional approval is down five points since last month and more than 10 points from the higher support levels in January and February following the Democratic takeover. The current 24 per cent rating is similar to the poor ratings Congress received last year, with Americans essentially voting to take control of Congress away from the Republicans in November." Gallup continues: "It is unusual for congressional job approval ratings to be at or below 24 per cent. Congress has been rated this negatively only a few times in the four decades Gallup has measured this item — in 1979, during the energy crisis; at several points during the "term limits era" of 1990 to 1994; and last year." The Democrat rank and file are the most dissatisfied with the nation’s state of affairs, so one can well imagine the rage on the Left, Democrat or otherwise.
Little wonder then that the "outsider’s outsider," as Gitlin labels Nader, unintentionally bestowing a considerable tribute, provided the high point of the Green Party convention on July 14, with the crowd roaring "Run, Ralph, Run," as Nader concluded his speech, hitting hard at both the War Parties. This writer has attended a series of antiwar confabs over the summer, and only the reception accorded Ron Paul at the Future of Freedom Foundation came close to Nader’s at the Green convention. But Gitlin will have none of it, and in his second paragraph he snidely refers to Nader’s age, 73. (Ron Paul is also in his 70s but both are a lot sprier than the torpid Gitlin. Of course Gitlin blames Nader for the Democrats’ past suicidal campaigns, losing to Bush. He accuses Nader of being on the take with Republican money. (How can this be determined since the two War Parties have pretty much the same contributors?)
But Gitlin assures us that now the "netroots" are firmly entrenched in the Democratic establishment, and all will be well under the" big tent." The evidence? MoveOn.org! But MoveOn has long been disgraced among knowledgeable activists for its timid, belated and, at best, partial opposition to the war, also documented repeatedly here on CounterPunch . Gitlin whines: "MoveOn strategizes with Beltway politicians; Nader ships out on the Nation’s summer fundraising cruise later this month." As Gallup shows in the quote above, the public is fed up with the crowd in Congress to which MoveOn is firmly cemented. There is no "big tent," but it is clear that Gitlin shares a pup tent with Democrat employed pundits.
Lastly Gitlin contends that "To vote for Nader now means to agree with him that there’s no real difference between the Republicans and the Democrats — a proposition as absurd as attributing 9/11 to Saddam Hussein." Never mind that many Democrats went along with just that proposition when they voted for the war. But on the crucial matter of war and peace, there have been no differences between the Republicans and Democrats. That is a fact from the vote for war by the Dem-controlled Senate in 2002, to the prowar campaign of super liberal John Kerry to the failure of the Congressionial Democrats to defund the war since 2006 and even before. From Libertarians to Greens and among all those in between the Democrats are recognized as the "other war party."
None of the leading Democratic candidates (and the media do not include Kucinich or Gravel in their number) calls for prompt and complete withdrawal from Iraq if you read the fine print of their statements. Furthermore, every one of these armchair bombardiers leave all options to lay waste Iran "on the table." These are all positions where the Democratic establishment is at sharp odds with almost its entire base – and not just the "leftist activists." This state of affairs is perilous for the Dems, and they know that a credible challenge might spell their demise.
The Democrats would have us believe that they would like to end the war but do not have the power. This is nonsense. It only takes 41 of the 51 Senate votes to terminate funding for the war by using the filibuster provisions, as argued at FilibusterForPeace.org. That is only 80 per cent of their number in the Senate.
Gitlin argues that Greens are only trying to influence but not displace the Democratic Party, as progressive movements have done in the past. In that he is sadly mistaken; the time for that is over. The Greens are ever more independent minded. The model now is to give birth to a credible new party, not to influence the old. And as this writer has argued before, that gestation and birth can proceed with incredible speed in a time of crisis. In 1853 the Republican Party did not exist; in 1856, it ran its first presidential candidate; by 1860, Lincoln, its second, was elected president. That transpired because the major parties could not meet the challenge of abolition and the possible breakup of the Union. Now neither major party is able to take a stand against war and empire, so despised by the great majority. The Greens and Libertarians take that stand against empire on principle. We may be surprised what 2008 brings. It may be a stepping stone, like 1856, or it may even be like 1860.
JOHN V. WALSH can be reached at email@example.com