Tuesday, June 26, 2007


In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote. He would have won Florida’s electoral votes too, and become President of the United States, had he insisted on a recount for the entire state, not just a few heavily Democratic counties. He would have won by an even bigger margin had the party’s left wing mobilized more against George Bush and less against Ralph Nader. They succeeded in scaring away a lot of Nader supporters, but it isn’t clear how many “independents” they won over. In the end, Nader got only 2.74% of the popular vote. Nevertheless he got and continues to get hell from Democrats – because, but for his Florida votes, Gore would have won there even without a recount. The Democrats are starting up again. Next year, even more than in 2000 or 2004, the election is theirs to lose. It is hard to believe that they could lose, given what they’re up against. But it isn’t impossible; after all, they have knack for it. If they do lose, count on them to find a way again to blame any candidate, should there be one, who, like Nader, advances views that, now more than ever, accord with the voters’ about corporate globalization, “free” trade, imperialism and militarism. Threats of electoral defeat from within the mainstream corporate consensus are a different matter.

Take the case of Michael Bloomberg [See “Not in a New York Minute,” June 20.] The pundits are mostly saying that, were he to run an independent campaign, he’d probably harm the Republicans more than the Democrats. [See, for example, the “analysis” in The Wall Street Journal, June 21, p. A6, where this dubious conclusion rests on extrapolations from out of date polling data and from the fact that, like the current Republican frontrunner, Bloomberg is mayor of New York City and was, until a week ago, a Republican.] To be sure, Bloomberg has been a better mayor than Giuliani – it would be hard not to be! However, he’s also more “liberal” than his predecessor on social issues. Outside New York City, he’s best known for his support of gun control. It’s in the so-called blue states, especially New York, that positions like these are popular. It’s in the blue states too that there are the largest numbers of independent voters and, lets face it, the most acceptance of Jewish candidates. [How unfair it is that the other side gets the color red!]. These are among the reasons why I think the pundits who say that a Bloomberg run would help the Democratic candidate in 2008 are more than usually off base.

But, in all likelihood, Democrats need not worry. Although he has enough money to buy almost anything, Bloomberg is a long shot, even in New York, unless Wall Street falls in behind him. Why should they so long as they have Hillary? However, imagine this scenario: Democratic voters succeed in nominating the least Clintonite of the major contenders – John Edwards, presumably – and suppose Edwards runs a “populist” campaign that puts fear in the hearts of our malefactors of great wealth. Suppose too that the monied interests reject whichever bathetic Republican gets the nomination. [This is unlikely, but not impossible. So long as they help them line their pockets, captains of finance and industry have a high tolerance for buffoonery and incompetence – witness their support, even in 2004, for George W. Bush. But the current lot of candidates makes even the Bush boy look good.] Then, maybe, in some “blue” states Bloomberg would have a chance, after all.

Still, the movers and shakers of the lesser evil party are bothered more by Nader than by Bloomberg. Thus their nature shows. In 2000, Nader never had a chance of winning electoral votes. The hope of his supporters was just that he’d win enough votes, 5%, to make the Green Party eligible for federal funding in future elections; and also that he’d push Al Gore to the left. A candidate more progressive than any the Democrats can offer, whether it is Nader again or not, would have even less chance now in the lingering anything-but-Bush (or Bush clone) miasma that set in in 2004. But even for a more venturesome electorate, a “third party” candidate would probably have little effect. Our not so very democratic institutions make it all but impossible.

It has not been since 1968 that a third party candidate won any electoral votes. The last to do so was George Wallace, running as a segregationist. He got 46 electoral votes from southern states, along with 13.5% of the popular vote from all over the country. In 1992, Ross Perot got 18.9% of the total vote but nothing from the Electoral College; John Anderson in 1980 got 6.6% of the popular vote and, again, no electoral votes. We could debate forever whether these campaigns helped Republicans or Democrats more. But in Bloomberg’s case, there is little doubt. Were his campaign to catch on, his appeal, like Wallace’s would be regional: but the region, this time, would be the Northeast. Were entrenched elites in these states to switch their allegiance from the Republican candidate to someone more palatable, as they did in 2006 in the Senatorial election in Connecticut that Joe Lieberman won, Bloomberg just might win electoral votes somewhere – somewhere “blue” and likely otherwise to remain so. One would think that Democratic strategists would realize this. One would expect that they would be mobilizing now against Bloomberg, just as they would reflexively if it started to look like Nader was going to run again. So far, this has not happened. Are they just not strategizing well? No doubt, that’s part of it. But one cannot help thinking that there is also something more fundamental at work: that Clintonites, no matter how obsessed they are with winning, care even more about giving their paymasters their due.

Note: However deserving they were of contempt, we shouldn’t overestimate the influence of the Democratic “left” in quashing the Nader campaign in 2000. They did go after Nader big time, especially in “liberal” circles in swing states, and they are certainly responsible for scaring many voters away. But that doesn’t explain Nader’s 2.74 % of the popular vote as opposed to Ross Perot’s 18.9%. Neither does Perot’s “centrism,” though the punditocracy claimed and still claims that it did – just as they’ll argue that Bloomberg, should he run, has a chance because he too will run as a centrist. [This assumes that he can find an elusive (because imperceptible) mean between our “polarized” political parties (the ones that agree on everything fundamental to governance and differ only on how socially illiberal they are).] No. The main difference is that Perot got to debate Clinton and Bush on national television, while the Democratic leadership in 2000 succeeded in getting Nader shut out. How much healthier our political culture would now be had they failed!

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