Monday, March 10, 2008

The Right to Run

Despite actionable culpability in the deaths of more than a million people in Iraq, Yugoslavia and elsewhere, Bill Clinton is a free man and a lecture fee magnet (though whoever wishes to know how much of a magnet risks being likened to Ken Starr). Therefore he or rather his wife, to whom he is joined at the hip (politically, if in no other way), have what his liberal friends concede Ralph Nader also has – a right to run. But there are differences:

-the first is that the Clintons, who will end the primary season with fewer votes and fewer delegates than Barack Obama, are actively diminishing Obama’s chances of winning in November by throwing “the kitchen sink” at him instead of just going away. He’ll probably win anyway thanks to Dick Cheney and George Bush, and thanks to the fact that he’ll be running against an irascible war mongering light weight, but it’s no sure thing -- especially if Democrats continue to portray their opponent as a war hero and national security champion. On the other hand, the Nader campaign takes nothing away from Obama except perhaps an insignificant number of votes in “swing states.” Most of Nader’s votes will come from people who, like me, live in safe states and think that Barack Obama doesn’t quite make it across the lesser evil threshold. In any case, a few votes in swing states will only matter if, as in 2000, the Democrats undermine themselves. Thanks to the Clintons, that’s what they’re now doing. But the harm the Clintons are doing is probably surmountable, inasmuch as they will have to go away sometime before the Democratic convention in Denver this summer -- enough in advance of the general election for Obama’s operatives, if they are skillful enough, to make up for most of the damage.

In any case, one has to weigh the costs against the benefits. I think a very slight diminution in Obama’s chances of defeating McCain in November is a small price to pay for putting utterly sensible and moderately progressive views forward -- to the extent that the corporate and corporate friendly media will allow. These include single-payer, not for profit health insurance; a balanced policy on Israel/Palestine; genuinely ending Bush’s wars and the occupation of Iraq; strengthening labor laws and repealing anti-labor legislation (such as Taft-Hartley); DC statehood; cutting the military budget; rolling back the national security state; introducing measures to combat global warming and other impending environmental catastrophes; regulating financial institutions and public corporations in the public interest; restoring and enhancing state agencies that protect public health and safety; restoring the progressivity and fairness of the tax system; and rebuilding America’s decaying infrastructure. Count on Obama to do none of the above.

-the other difference is that, in the liberal view, the Clintons have every right to harm Democratic prospects significantly by exercising their right to run; while, by exercising his, Nader has the unmitigated gall to harm Obama’s prospects trivially while expanding the universe of political discourse to the best of his ability.

It’s nuts, of course, but it’s an article of faith for true “blue” liberals. Democrats: can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.

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