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      In Close Election, Third Parties Might Threaten Obama and Democratic Majority

      A New York Times analysis of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2012.As the 2012 war for the presidency intensifies, it appears that Barack Obama leads in the popular vote but is threatened with defeat in the Electoral College, making the turnout levels and votes of undecided progressives, independents, and liberal Democrats, crucially important in swing districts and states this fall.

      Karl Rove’s Republican machine knows this, and is engaged in an all-out crusade to disqualify African-Americans, Latinos, students and young people from voting, especially in states of the Old Confederacy. A voter-protection movement is building slowly on the Democratic side, but may not be able to fully counter the Republican efforts to suppress the base voters. Disillusionment with Obama on the Democratic side also is a potential dampener for registration and election-day turnout. And Rove is smart enough to encourage Romney to flip-flop for women’s and Latino voters.

      The closeness of the contest is reflected as well in Wisconsin where, despite Obama’s lead and an unprecedented social movement, recent polling shows an unpopular Gov. Scott Walker still holding a small advantage over Democratic candidates who must be nominated as part of the recall process. The primary among Democrats is May 8, the recall election June 5. The irony is that while surveys show voter opposition to Walker’s repeal of collective bargaining rights, the same voters are ambivalent about whether to replace him.

      In liberal Massachusetts, where support for Wall Street reform is strong, the campaign of consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren trails slightly in a close race to unseat Republican Scott Brown with well over 20 percent of the voters remaining undecided. Control of the US Senate may rest on the outcome of the campaign for Teddy Kennedy’s former seat.

      Most experts project these 12 states as battlegrounds:

      1. Colorado - 9 electoral votes; Obama by 9 percent in 2008
      2. Florida  - 15 electoral votes; Obama by 1 percent in 2008
      3. Iowa - 6 electoral votes; Obama by 10 percent in 2008
      4. Michigan - 16 electoral votes; Obama by 16 percent in 2008
      5. Nevada - 6 electoral votes; Obama by 12 percent in 2008
      6. New Hampshire - 4 electoral votes; Obama by 10 percent in 2008
      7. New Mexico - 5 electoral votes; Obama by 15 in 2008
      8. North Carolina - 15 electoral votes; Obama by 1 percent in 2008
      9. Ohio - 18 electoral votes; Obama by 5 percent in 2008
      10. Pennsylvania - 20 electoral votes; Obama by 10 percent in 2008
      11. Virginia - 13 electoral votes; Obama by 6 percent in 2008
      12. Wisconsin - 10 electoral votes; Obama by 14 percent in 2008

      Among battleground-state voters overall, Obama leads Romney 51-42 according to a March USA Today/Gallup Poll.

      Even if Obama leads overall, Americans still do not live in a popular-majority democracy anyway. The rotten roots of our political system go back to an Electoral College compromise based on slavery, which allowed small states greater congressional representation in the allocation of electoral votes. Until a popular revolt someday replaces the Electoral College, so things will remain. If, for the sake of the argument, the GOP wins North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Iowa, and New Hampshire, the outcome will be as close as Bush versus Gore in 2000, and go to the Republican House of Representatives and Republican Supreme Court.

      At this point, after primaries that pushed the GOP candidats far to the right, such a victory does not seem likely. But with unemployment at 9 percent or more, Rove throwing $200 million into battleground states for a GOP makeover, Democratic voter intensity less than 2008... anything could happen. Adding another scary dimension, Republicans might take back the Senate this November. There are heated and unpredictable races for three Republican seats in  states which are trending Democratic (Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada), two Democratic seats in states trending Republican (North Dakota, Nebraska), and eight races considered toss-ups (Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, Virginia and Wisconsin). For updates, please see the New York Times.

      Conclusion: if the issues break right for the Republicans, they are within reach of controlling the White House, Senate, House and Supreme Court.

      Enter “Wall Street’s Third Party,” as described by Harold Meyerson in The American Prospect (March 2012). Launched by socially-liberal, economically-conservative Wall Street multi-millionaires, the group known as Americans Elect has raised $22 million, mostly in $100,000 contributions, and qualified for ballot access in 22 states so far. Claiming that it’s not a political party, Americans Elect is tax-exempt and secretive. But an analysis of 69 individuals on its “leadership” list shows that 20 are senior executives of private-equity firms and hedge funds, while none are from civil society, labor, civil rights, women’s or environmental organizations. They will take votes from Obama in states now considered safely-blue, and threaten Obama among corporate liberals in battleground states. In their political disposition they resemble the Mitt Romney who once governed Massachusetts.

      Then there’s the Green Party, which might only pull a handful of votes compared to the Wall Street party with its millions. Like the Wall Street Party, the Greens hold a fundamentalist view that there is no difference between the two main parties worth anyone’s vote. This notion that there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans seems driven to excess by the organizational need to justify a third party. And since they see no difference between Democrats and Republicans, third parties don’t think that electoral outcomes really matter, as long as their viewpoint is being advocated and their base is expanded.

      You don’t have to be a Democrat or Republican to question this logic. But you must start with an elitist assumption that 130 million American voters are basically deluded in their passionate differences over wealth, poverty, market fundamentalism versus New Deal economics, war and peace, civil rights and liberties, women’s rights, African-American rights, Latino rights, Asian rights, LGBT rights and environmental protection. The 95 percent of black American voters who support Obama would be the most mistaken of all, at least in this thesis.

      True, many independent voters, as well as progressive Democrats and Tea Party Republicans, are dissatisfied with the two-party arrangement. But they are not delusional. They see a profound class, race and gender divide between the base constituencies of the two parties. The right-wing will do everything imaginable to place the Tea Party inside the Trojan Horse of the Republican Party, take back the White House from a president they hate, take over the Senate and, along with the Roberts Court, wage a battle to repeal the New Deal (labor law, social security), the Sixties (voting rights, environmentalism) and build a more militarized empire. Their tax-cut, spending-cut obsession is driven by the covert agenda of “drowning the baby in the bathtub”, as stated by Grover Norquist a few years ago.

      Here’s what Green Party candidate Jill Stein says in a recent interview:  

      Q. As disappointing as Obama has been, there’s a lot at stake in this election. Why should voters give you a vote when we could end up with a situation like we saw with Ralph Nader and Al Gore in 2000?

      A. Progressives have been told we dare not vote for our values and our vision because dangerous things will happen — witness Ralph Nader. We have 10 years of experience with muzzling ourselves politically, and it’s very clear now that silence has not been an effective political strategy, and that the politics of fear in fact has delivered all those things that we were afraid of.

      Obama has basically embraced most of Bush’s policies, including drill baby drill, pro-nuke, pro-coal, undermining the Durban [climate] accords. He’s celebrating the beginnings of the Keystone pipeline. We still have twice as many troops in Afghanistan as we had under George Bush. The only reason Obama withdrew from Iraq was because he was unable to negotiate immunity for the troops, so he wound up having to accept what was George Bush’s timeline for withdrawal.

      There is much that most progressives can agree with here. But every rational and radical argument falters when taken to an extreme or based on selective interpretation, which appear as soon as Stein says “we” have been “silent” for ten years as a matter of strategy, self-muzzled, trapped in a “politics of fear” ever since the Nader campaign of 2000. Meanwhile, she argues, Obama has become the same or worse than Bush while we sit frozen and muzzled.

      Really? I supported Barack Obama in 2008 as much as anyone on the independent left, and yet I have had no trouble in opposing his wars (and Bush’s before) for the past 4,217 days, or 11 and one-half years. I don’t remember meeting anyone in that time who was particularly frozen, muzzled, trapped in fear, or silent because of Obama. Frustrated, upset, sure. Marching on his White House, yes. Pressuring him, again and again. And pushing the present progressive bloc of 100 or more Democrats (and about 12 Republicans) in the House, all the time. Have we figured out how best to pressure Obama from the progressive side, as our predecessors did with Roosevelt in the Thirties and Kennedy in the Sixties? Not fully yet, but that may come with time.

      Back in 1999, the Caliornia Republican leader Jim Brulte approached me on the state Senate floor and casually asked who I was supporting for president in 2000. When I told him Al Gore, he replied, “but Tom, you’ve got a choice.” Who’s that?, I asked him, and he answered “Nader.” I knew then that despite a lifetime of bold and often radical activism, despite the significant issues he was raising, Ralph Nader, even with less than 7 percent of the vote, was an unwitting, unknowing instrument of Republican Party strategy. In a one percent election, everything matters.

      It’s absolutely true that the Democrats’ default, exemplified by Gore’s advocacy of a corporate NAFTA, opened the gates for a Nader campaign which rallied thousands of discontented activists and 2.8 million votes, or 2.7 percent, in the end. When it appeared that the election might go to the Electoral College, I remember frenzied conference calls between the Gore and Nader campaigns, which I was asked to join at one point. Looking for a reasonable and honorable compromise, I suggested that Gore make a promise to pursue progressive populism and Nader ask his supporters to vote for Gore in a few key places. The outcome, thought, would be a Gore presidency which depended in part on Nader voters, and a stronger role for Nader as an advocate in the Gore era.

      Bush “won” the presidency through the Supreme Court and the Electoral College even though he lost the national vote to Gore by 500,000 votes, 48.38 to 47.8 percent.

      I prefer not to enter the prickly and complicated debate over “blame” for the election of Bush. There is too much anger, defensiveness and denial to go there, even today. But it is beyond debate that a whole generation missed an opportunity to discover in practice what the first environmentalist presidency would have achieved. It is not credible to argue that Gore would have tried the same approaches that Bush and Cheney did. And it is beyond dispute that Bush’s appointments to the current Supreme Court, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, were far worse than any Gore would have imagined nominating. It is harder to know whether Gore would have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, but he would not have delegated so many decisions to the lobbies for the Pentagon, Big Oil and the neo-conservatives. Gore would have maintained federal monitoring of local police department racial profiling, whereas Bush eliminated federal oversight.

      My memory travels back further in time. In 1968, I distinctly recall the recently-deceased journalist Mike Wallace cornering me at a party and trying to convince me there was a ”new Nixon” whom I should endorse (Years later, William Safire, then a New York Times columnist, even showed me a speech he wrote for Nixon for the purpose of winning anti-Humphrey New Left votes). I declined Wallace’s entreaty, which I thought was unprofessional anyway. Humphrey rose in the polls after he proposed a new peace policy that October, but there were too many alienated Democrats for him to overcome Nixon’s lead. The result: Nixon 43.4 percent, Humphrey 42.7, Wallace 13.5; an edge of 0.7 percent. Nixon, among other catastrophes, appointed Virginia corporate lawyer Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court, who was decisive in introducing the “corporate personhood” legal doctrine and for the infamous 1973 private memo calling on corporate America to organize against the dangers of Naderism and the New Left.

      Declassified documents reveal that the FBI (and CIA) were instrumental in promoting Richard Nixon’s comeback (1968) and Ronald Reagan’s ascendency (1966, 1980) on pledges to restore “law and order” against “filthy beatniks”, “violent revolutionaries” and their ilk. The record shows that the most committed radicals of the Sixties, whose achievements in changing American policies and culture will be long remembered, also at the same time were targeted pawns in the illegal, secret plans of intelligence agencies to manipulate the political process to protect the status quo.

      Each of us will draw our own conclusions from this clouded history, hopefully seeking constructive lessons rather than opening bitter scars. Each should be aware that the contest over power plays out not only in the public square but behind drawn curtains no one seems able to pull back until a later time. We all know that Wall Street, the Republicans and the Tea Party constitute a threatened, shrinking minority of Americans. “We” are not 99 percent except in rhetoric, of course, but there are many more of “us” than “them.” This explains that the priority of all Machiavellian forces all the time and everywhere in our country will be to undermine, manipulate and defeat democracy itself.

      No one needs to worry about the Left being muzzled, frightened, silent or fearful of speaking out under Obama. The greater worry is that progressive forces will be divided.

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      Reader Comments (2)

      My thoughts:
      1. I would like to see the Republican ticket divided. A showdown between Romney and Gingrich for entertainment sake.

      2. Is it better to have Elizabeth Warren in the Senate or as a Vice President? Think of it ... a woman President in 2016.

      April 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Lerer

      Great job, Tom! I hope your argument about this all-important issue will be widely circulated throughout the Left between now and election day.
      Ken Brociner

      April 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKen Brociner
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