Obama, the left, and the two-party system

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49 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    This is why it’s important to have crazy friends on both sides of the spectrum.

    When one of them screams at you that a vote for Earl Dodge is a vote for John McCain and, later, when the other one screams at you that it’s really a vote for Barack Obama, everything falls into its proper perspective.Report

  2. greginak says:

    Good, good post. I voted for Nader in 2000 for a lot of reasons other lefty types did, however i also live in a red state so my vote was never going to shift an EV. While you are correct on many things, too many Nader followers, before and after the election, lapsed into the stark lunacy of “there is no difference between gore and bush.” Tell that to the dead in Iraq.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to greginak says:

      A suggestion that Gore would have been a wise, prudent, peaceful President is based on faith and specualtion. Just because the man is personally intelligent (so was Bush) does not mean he would not have made a significant miscalculation. And Gore ran a centrist campaign, too, nor was he coming out of a White House that distinguished itself by pushing hard for progressive policies, so there is ample reason to believe that President Gore would have been as big a disappointment to progressives then as Obama turns out to be today.

      Discussions about a Gore Presidency in 2000 are counterfactual history, and as discussed recently on these very pages, of limited utility — such speculations illustrate more about the speculator than they do about the subject.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

        This is a good point. I would also hasten to remind people that in 2000, the candidates were not a choice of Black and White, as we like to remember them today. Instead, they really ran on basically identical poll-driven platforms: Pro-environment, wanting to make government more efficient, pro-education, pro-technology, etc. You could have reversed the stump speeches in the general and no one would have been able to tell the difference.Report

      • greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I don’t doubt that Gore would not have been a liberal dream prez. Its the silly claims of equivalence between G and B that i have always thought to be , well, silly. Its the purity police on the left, right and libertarian circles that only see things in blacks and whites that lead no where. I would still contend that the insane decision to drum up a war in Iraq was uniquely a Bush admin move. Gore may have done a dozen other stupid things, but it took the Bush’s to decide to invent the Iraq war.Report

        • North in reply to greginak says:

          Gotta Second Greginak here. The idea that Gore would have gone into Iraq is highly dubious. Everything we know about the decision processes leading to the Iraq invasion points away from such a conclusion.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

            This, in the main, probably would have been better for some Iraqis.

            $5 sez we still would have been in Afghanistan, though. And looking at a map of Asia will remind us all that Afghanistan is land-locked, and thus we would have had to bring our troops through *somewhere* to get there.Report

            • North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              If we had not invaded Iraq then we’d probably be chatting about how Saddam is desperately trying to beat off the uprising of the Iraqi’s inspired by Egypt and Tunisia. Now that I think about it Saddam’s sanction rotted military would probably have made his state a particularly vulnerable one to popular uprisings once they actually got into full swing.

              As to Afghanistan I imagine we’d likely be there as with Bush. But as with Bush we’d have gone in through Pakistan.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to North says:

                “Saddam has killed such clerics as Moqtada al Sadr who would have been a staunch ally of the United States.”Report

              • Elias Isquith in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t think Gore would’ve been the same (who knows, of course); but it’s worth noting that throughout his career he was something of a protege of Martin Peretz.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                Gore was one of the main supporters of firebombing the ‘coca fields’ in Columbia as part of the war on drugs. If I recall correctly, he had significant investments in Columbia, and the targets of the action were political opponents of the then-existing Columbian regime.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                al Sadr would have been an ally of the US against Saddam, just as Saddam was a ally against Iran. Ally is not forever nor does it mean “good guy”.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                So is this a point in favor of the argument for invading Saddam and getting him to stop killing our allies, assuming a Gore Presidency?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Since my point is that “ally” is at best contingent and at worst random: no.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Ironically, my original alternate-universe quotation was a point in service to an argument for intervention.

                It’s weird seeing how it’s technically true… but not in service to the argument.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

                Going through Pakistan would have been an interesting strategy. Not so sure it wouldn’t have resulted in bad outcomes, though.

                India would have loved that.Report

              • North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’m, perhaps, missing some point. The US invaded Afghanistan first, so whether or not they invaded Iraq I don’t see how that would have changed how they invaded Afghanista?Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

                It’s not the invading part.

                It’s the supply and logistics (plus surge, if any) part. Staying in a country as an occupier requires supply lines.

                Having Pakistan as the sole supply route puts a lot of pressure on the U.S. to negotiate continually with Pakistan.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Our supply chains to Iraq and Afghanstan have always been mostly independent of each other. And where they have not been, the’yre pretty much in competition with each other (i.e. the various points around the Persian Gulf that were entry and egress points at the CENTCOM AOR level)

                With or without Iraq, Pakistan (and the former Soviet Stans, and mother Russia herself) would always have been a factor for Afghanistan logistics. Unless the relationship with Iran was radically altered sometime during the campaign.Report

              • North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Kolohe pretty much nailed it in my view. I don’t see the two as complimentary wars. If anything they competed and compete with each other for attention, resources and logistic assets.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                > Our supply chains to Iraq and
                > Afghanistan have always been
                > mostly independent of each other.

                Well, most of the supplies that go into Iraq have been destined for Iraq, and most of the supplies that go into Afghanistan route through Pakistan (at least, this is my understanding – do you have a source?)

                However, if we never invaded Iraq at all, we would have exactly one option for supplying the effort in Afghanistan: Pakistan. We wouldn’t have the option to get supplies there any other way. I’d be surprised if the transfer of force from Iraq to Afghanistan during the Iraqi draw-down wasn’t direct, in any event.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to North says:

                Saddam is desperately trying to beat off the uprising of the Iraqi’s inspired by Egypt and Tunisia

                If Iraq had never been invaded. Egypt, Tunisia, Syria et al would never have happened. The middle east deck got shuffled, for good or bad we don’t know yet, but shuffled it was. The terrorism of suicide bombers is nothing compared to the state terrorism of constant surveillance and secret police reinforced with ‘re-education centers’ where your aberrant views can be beaten out of you.

                Given that we were in a major (for that era) recession in 2000, Gore’s immediate shilling for massive climate change legislation (carbon trading markets so his buddies could reap billions) would have caused problems, maybe sending us into an early larger recession. Bush was able to point to something like 80 successive months of GDP growth even while fighting two wars and allowing the Republicans to spend like… Democrats.

                While Bush gets blamed for the financial meltdown, the inconvenient truth that the administration was attempting to INCREASE regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is constantly ignored and swept under the carpet by the left. Fannie and Freddie BTW are responsible for an additional 15 Trillion in unfunded (and off balance sheet) liability to the Federal government, part of the reason for our credit downgrading. Enron went broke because of the off-balance sheet shenanigans even as its bonds enjoyed AAA status. Sarbanes Oxley did nothing to keep 2008 from happening, Dodd Frank won’t solve the next crisis either.Report

              • North in reply to wardsmith says:

                That narrative only works if you honestly believe that Fannie and Freddie alone caused the financial meltdown which is of course an utter canard.

                I see no reason to believe that Gore would ever have been able to pass anything like a global warming bill. I see plenty of reason to believe he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq.

                Heck, with a hostile GOP congress spending might well have been lower rather than higher during that era.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to North says:

                Saying Freddie and Fannie “alone” is akin to saying Michael Jordan “alone” won all those NBA rings. While it is obvious he couldn’t have done it alone, it is equally obvious (and proven by events BTW) that without him it wouldn’t have happened. Same for the GSE’s.

                Gore would have pushed (strongly) for an AGW cap and trade bill. He’d have had big corporate backers (hoping to cash in). Eventually it would have passed, it would have been a mockery of course with pork out the wazoo, but it would have passed. Meanwhile while Nero fiddled Rome would have burned down.

                The very best thing about the Internet is how it tickles memory I found that article because I remembered part of this quote circa 2000: ‘Vote for gridlock,” said Edward Yardeni, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown. ”It’s good for Wall Street, and for Main Street, too. If we get gridlock in November, then tax cuts will be limited and so will new spending programs. We will have no choice but to continue paying off the federal debt.” Report

              • North in reply to wardsmith says:

                Hmm well I still do not see how President Gore exactly gets an AGW bill through the GOP congress. Particularly a cranky one that is claiming he didn’t actually win the election. Especially in the time he had between election and 9/11.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to wardsmith says:

                Mr. North, since the Senate unanimously rejected Kyoto in 1997 before the ink was dry, I’d say you’re correct here, but your choice of villain is too partisan.

                On July 25, 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was finalized (although it had been fully negotiated, and a penultimate draft was finished), the U.S. Senate unanimously passed by a 95–0 vote the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98),[40] which stated the sense of the Senate was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as well as industrialized nations or “would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States”. On November 12, 1998, Vice President Al Gore symbolically signed the protocol.

                Many of the arguments here for a hypothetical President Gore give me a great sense of relief he didn’t make it.Report

  3. Tod Kelly says:

    Shawn –

    Great post, and it hits me how closely what you are describing as idealism overlaps with what I think of as pragmatism.

    I would add two points to what you say:

    1. The trick with recognizing Nader as a spoiler (and he absolutely was), is to remember that the Democratic Party does not exist to make positive changes in public policy, despite it’s advertising and PR to the contrary. Nor is that the goal of the Republican Party. The goal of each is the accumulation of power, and the wealth and influence that power bestows. And so Nadar was a spoiler of the worst kind for the Party: someone who could have helped deliver power, but instead removed it.

    2. While I understand the Left’s frustration with the Ds, on behalf of the rest of the country I have to urge them not to go too far down that rabbit hole. I have the impression from what I hear that a lot of people on the left look at what the right is currently doing with the GOP, and are looking to create a mirror image with the Dems. The part of me that finds the GOP profoundly irritating these days likes the idea of fighting fire with fire, but the part of me that wants to get sh*t done and the government to actually… well, govern, thinks this would be a disaster.Report

  4. North says:

    I sympathize. Voting your ideals is perfectly defensible.
    That said, one must sometimes open ones eyes and appraise their given circumstances with gimlet eyed pragmatism. There are such things as less bad and worse and one should be aware of that.Report

  5. Art Deco says:

    Replacing first-past-the-post with ordinal balloting would save you chaps from these dilemmas.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Art Deco says:

      Good point. I’d take all the ‘Obama’s worse than Bush’ criticism from ‘real’ lefties if they were working to change things in any way other than repeating horrible Obama and the Dems are. If the gripers don’t like Reps voted in by Democratic voters in a two-party system, then change the system to allow the expression of more political views. Their own political views. IRV would be a great progressive initiative to achieve this. At least, it has a higher likelihood of shifting the center than merely bitching very loudly.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        ‘more seriously’ belongs somewhere in there at the top.Report

      • Aren’t these “real lefties” more like the loudest, dumbest of the lot, though? I’m not saying they don’t exist — they do, and they are mighty loud — but I think for any issue it’s best to take it on from its most intelligent proponents. FDL is, on the whole, not where such folks reside…at least as far as I’ve seen.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Elias Isquith says:

          but I think for any issue it’s best to take it on from its most intelligent proponents.

          ‘Most intelligent proponents’ is relativized to the person making the judgment, no? I sorta reject that any criticism of Obama or the current Dems that doesn’t include the political reality currently in play isn’t an intelligent one. Eg, taking the view that Obama’s failure to do X at time T shows he never really wanted liberal intiatives to pass is an instance of that. Even Westen’s after-the-fact attempt to pin all our liberal woes on Obama’s lack of clear vision and story telling doesn’t comport with the facts. He did try to tell a story, provide a narrative. It went unheard. Even by Westen himself. Part of this is due to Obama not striking the right chord, not doubt. But the lion’s share of the ‘blame’ for this, in my view, falls on the media and the Dem CCers who consistently failed to reinforce the themes Obama was putting out there.

          I admit the disappointment is real. I think the majority of it derives from a) a false idea of what Obama was going to actually do in office (psychological), b) a recalcitrant GOP majority in the House (structural), c) a very conservative group of SenDems (structural), and d) that the economy sucks (he deserves some blame here, but given b) and c), it’s not entirely clear what he could’ve done differently).

          Of course, there’s some truth to the claim that he bears a responsibility for the policies enacted. I just disagree that he bears the most responsibility, or even a substantial degree of it. In the last congress, SenDems drove everything to the right. In the current congress, the TP is driving everything to the right and the same SenDems are going along for the ride.Report

          • Well, this is somewhat a different conversation than what I meant to get into. But, hey–

            I don’t think Obama is a stealth conservative; but I don’t think it’s right to say he was doing what Westen said he wasn’t — at least not in full. Yes, he told told a story; but he did not tell an easily transferable, simple story, and, due to his insistence on switching from campaign-mode to governing-mode, he did not tell it repeatedly. Maybe this was in the end irrelevant; but that’s a different counter-argument than to say he did in fact do what he didn’t.

            I also would disagree that it’s wiser to blame ~260 people collectively for failing to back-up his message, rather than blaming one man for not doing the best job he could do on his end in terms of framing. I won’t deny that the Blue Dogs and Max Baucus etc. often were cutting him off at the knees — but, similarly, Obama himself (for various reasons) was often undercutting Pelosi, to one degree or another.

            So just to make my position clear: I’m under no illusions that a more confrontational Obama somehow renders the filibuster non-existent. If Senate rules were tweaked, suddenly the same people in the same circumstances give us a raft of progressive policy that otherwise did not pass. But Obama still didn’t do a great job explaining the stimulus and campaigning for it in the same way he campaigned for HCR post-Scott Brown (ditto HCR, too). This wasn’t decisive, but it wasn’t nothing, either.Report

  6. Bob Dobolina says:

    PS: I’ll bet your the kind of guy who goes to a football game, and when your team scores a first down, you scream: “First down?!? SCREW your first down! I demand an immediate touchdown or I’M LEAVING!”Report

  7. Patrick Cahalan says:

    > None of this should make us all run to the
    > nearest milquetoast major-party candidate,
    > though, desperate for political relevancy.

    I love this line, by the way.Report

  8. Lovely post. I was going to write something similar soon, but you’ve beat me to it and I’d have little to add.Report

  9. E.C. Gach says:

    It’s important to distinguish between the Democratic party as it relates to Presidential politics, and the Democratic party as it relates to Congressional elections.

    My critiques of Obama, from the left at least, would all relate to things he actually makes policy on: foreign relations, war, civil liberties, etc.

    Part of the problem seems to be that the group screaming loudest about Obama’s betrayal is that they are really angry about Congressional policies.

    I’d gladly support a candidtate like John Huntsman for instance, because I think he might actually tend to the left of his party no a lot of Presidential issues, somehwat like George H. W. Bush (who has endorsed him), while at the same time supporting Democrats at the Congressional level.

    In fact, I care much less about the Presidential election, then getting my ultra conservative Congressman thrown out.Report

  10. Jonathan says:

    You are absolutely correct, Shawn. The problem is more pronounced in Canada where, federally, you’ll have between 3 and 5 “major” parties (what constitutes a “major party” is another tedious debate). Every election, you’ll hear partisans complaining that another party is stealing or splitting their votes. Such a sense of entitlement is irritating, to say the least.Report

  11. Bill says:

    I voted for Nader in 2000. I hoped my vote (and others like it) would contribute to an effort that would eventually result in the Greens becoming an established third party. However, I also knew that my vote would not cost Gore my state.

    In 2000, Nader claimed that he wanted to help establish a strong third party, while denying that he was trying to cost Gore the election, thereby throwing the election to Bush. I am convinced that Nader did try to throw the election to Bush. For that, he deserves criticism.

    If Gore had won (or if the Supreme Court had not stolen the election), there would not have been an Iraq War. (Unless he has changed his position, Noam Chomsky also agrees with that.) If Gore had been President, Neither Alito nor Roberts would be on the Supreme Court.

    That said, I probably will not vote for Obama. I may even vote for Nader if he is on the ballot.Report

  12. wardsmith says:

    This just in LOL, wow, makes me even MORE glad Gore didn’t win in 2000. Wassa matter Al? Lost a few hundred million on your cap and trade dream? 100% putz.Report

  13. James Hanley says:

    Like it or not it is a two-party system, and a third party can do no more than be a spoiler. It’s not because America is intrinsically dividable into two dominant political camps (which is manifestly not true), but because of our single-member districts with first-past-the-post voting. Duverger’s Law–you can’t break it, no matter how much it pisses you off.

    That doesn’t mean you have to hold your nose and vote for Obama. Your individual vote won’t cause him to lose. If nobody else joins you in voting Green or whatever, he’ll still win. If a whole lot of people go vote Green while you stab yourself in the heart with a Dem vote, he’ll still lose.

    So vote whichever way most satisfies you, but if a more liberal candidate takes enough votes away, don’t play the game of pretending that person didn’t tip the election.

    The confusion people have about this comes from not distinguishing carefully between individual votes and aggregate votes, and not paying attention to how the structural elements of the American voting system work against the interests of those who don’t track with what is the current political center (except in primaries and in very gerrymandered districts; but the President’s district–the whole country–isn’t gerrymandered).Report

  14. Alex says:

    It’s a one-party system disguised as a two-party system. The illusion of choice. Distract people with meaningless debates about crap that doesn’t actually matter (See: Abortion, Gay rights) while both Republicans and Democrats alike stand by while the rich rob the middle class through inflation and printing money. Who cares what party someone is voting for? The only politician with a spine is Ron Paul, anyway. Doesn’t matter what party he’s on.Report