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Thursday, October 28, 2010


It's one of the more absurd ironies of our political system that through their support (implicit or explicit) for voter suppression, millions of people who call themselves "Democrats" don't hesitate to reject that core democratic principle.

I still remember how in school we were taught that words like democrat, democratic, republic, were Good Things.

So when it came time to for them to explain names like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the People's Republic of China, or in a twofer the German Democratic Republic, they said "Those names are lies! They call themselves that to pretend they have our democracy freedoms." That was around the same time they said, "Yes, there are elections in the Soviet Union, but you can only vote for one party! It's the exact opposite of the electoral horn of plenty we have here in America."

Ah, those were the days, such childhood innocence....If only there weren't so many biological grown-ups who still think like that.

Well, like I said, our intellectual culture is just a hybrid of advertising and porn. It's not as though words actually mean anything. There are no principles. In fact, our culture depends on there absolutely being no principles.

I personally have been excoriated online by people across the political and religious spectrum- liberal, conservative, Christian, Jew, atheist, etc. Why?

Because I believe that *genocide is always bad.*

Our culture does not, and indeed cannot, have any principles with regard to genocide. This is in part because you absolutely must believe that Moses was a good guy- not just despite, but perhaps even because he was a genocidalist. I think Moses was as bad as Hitler. And for that position, even atheists tell me that clearly even I am not dumb enough to believe something so crazy as "genocide is always bad," and that I'm just cooking up sleazy positions like that in order to troll.

You can see why. While people excoriate me for simply saying that genocide is bad, even when Moses does it, you don't have to dig deep to see the implications of that. Meaningless slogans about how "Israel has a right to exist" (what the hell does that mean, anyway?) are critical shibboleths in our culture. And yet, the Jews originally got Israel through genocide against the Canaanites. If you think the Jews have a right to Israel, then you believe that genocide is a legitimate political instrument. If you don't believe that, what are you left with? Jews have a right to Israel because they lived there for a while, until the Babylonians kicked them out in 600BC? If that's so, then why don't the Palestinians have an even stronger claim? And, if genocide secures the Jews' claim to Israel, then can Jews (or anyone else) really demand the return of Nazi-stolen treasure?

And yet, for asking these questions, apparently I'm a sleazy anti-Semite, or something. Because I oppose genocide, no matter the ethnicity of the perpetrators.

There's really only one principle at work here, and it's the principle of assholism: "I'm right, you're wrong, just because, fuck you." When we do genocide, it's good. When they do it, it's bad. When we talk about "democracy", it's real. When they do it, it's a lie. Why? Just because, fuck you.

Not that it diminishes the point of an otherwise very insightful pair of essays, but the statement about Medea Benjamin is factually inaccurate. I have first hand knowledge of what went down within the Green Party in the leadup to and at the Milwaukee convention in 2004. Going into details about everything that happened would probably not be helpful at this point, but the myth of a Medea Benjamin-led conspiracy to submarine Camejo is simply not true. I know it's been widely repeated by many people I respect, including Nader and Amato, but those people were not there and relied on inaccurate reports (and frankly, lies) from people who were.

Medea Benjamin has made a number of very poor decisions since 2000 in my opinion, but this wasn't one of them. The rumor has less credibility than Glenn Beck's theories about Soros and the Tides Foundation.

Surprise, Medea Benjamin has mindless supporters who troll the internet looking for criticisms to reverse. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Medea Benjamin is a fraud and a self-promoter. And those are the best things I can say about her.

JMC: I know it's been widely repeated by many people I respect, including Nader and Amato, ...

And Camejo himself:

[Benjamin] worked to get the Green Party convention to prevent Nader/Camejo from being endorsed after Nader/Camejo representatives won a number of Green Party primaries and state conventions, including California.

Not having been there I don't know the details, and I appreciate you sharing your firsthand knowledge. Do you feel that what Nader and Camejo were saying here is compatible with something short of the full Benjamin-took-Soros-money-to-block-Nader storyline (which I've actually never heard), though? "Worked to get the Green Party convention to prevent Nader/Camejo from being endorsed" or "provide critical votes" have a more straightforward and less conspiratorial interpretation--I just took it to mean that she lobbied to prevent Nader/Camejo from getting the endorsement, and she did back Cobb in 2004, so that never struck me as far-fetched. And (as Nader says) I think her support for Cobb was based on the fact that he would be less of a threat to John Kerry, since protecting Kerry from the left was one of her main goals in 2004. That's why I included it in the essay even though I was vaguely aware there might be controversy around the details.

I'd also like to thank you for writing these essays, and for your blogging in general.

I had not heard of the Benjamin/Camejo story, so I'm listening to all sides with interest.

I wanted to add a lighter note around the idea that Nader "stole" Gore's votes. On Second Life, there's a lot of debate about economics in virtual realities, copyleft, etc. A lot of store owners in SL are really paranoid about people pirating their works, to the point of treating their customers like criminals. (This is especially amusing when they're complaining that a rival store stole the "look and feel" of their "Blue Wood Elf avatar" that is clearly meant to be a Na'vi costume, ripped off from James Cameron...)

This debate reaches such shrill extremes that the definition of "stealing" has become ludicrous. Store owners are now pretty much saying outright that you're "stealing" from them if you choose to buy cheaper items than they sell, or to only use freebie merchandise. My partner and I joke that soon they'll be declaring that millions of people are "stealing" from them by virtue of the fact that they don't use SL at all. Remember, folks- every Linden-dollar that goes to someone other than me is a Linden-dollar STOLEN from me!

The sad thing is that SL used to stress that it was possible to play SL completely free. But these nitwits have successfully exerted pressure to get all that changed, so now SL starts pushing consumerism right off the bat.

It's certainly accurate to say Medea was publicly in support of Cobb, but she had no more influence over the delegation than other prominent Greens at the time who supported Nader. The phrasing that she "split" the delegation is untrue since it implies a degree of control over that delegates that she didn't have--even "manipulate" is too strong. She's very polarizing figure, so of course it makes a better story to place her as the main actor behind the 2004 nomination of Cobb, but that wasn't the case.

Regarding Camejo, he and the SF Greens were at odds for a while, but we reconciled our differences before his death. No point in debating him or his botnet at this point.

CFO, I'm a regular reader but only occasionally post here. Four days before a big election, I'd normally spend my free time doing real political work rather than posting on blogs, but being stuck at home with a cold gives me time to troll the internetz.

The phrasing that she "split" the delegation is untrue since it implies a degree of control over that delegates that she didn't have--even "manipulate" is too strong.

Ok, I see where you're coming from. The phrasing I used myself was "cynical maneuvering", and given that she did indeed lobby strongly for Cobb--and that her reason for doing so seemingly had little or nothing to do with Cobb and everything to do with lowering Nader's profile, thereby protecting Kerry's electoral chances--I think that's an accurate characterization. In terms of the posting, my point was that the purpose was to deny voters (including me) Nader's name on the ballot.

Hope you're feeling better soon.

One could make exact same argument from a Green's perspective: Nader supporters in Milwaukee wanted to deny voters (including me) the right to vote for a Green Party candidate for president.

Despite trying to put infighting between Nader supporters and other Greens behind us, there are a few reasons I still speak up to debunk the myth of a Medea-led backstabbing of Camejo:

1) Greens are a feminist party, and much of what's said about Medea has a misogynist tone to it. E.g., Matt Gonzalez "lobbies" delegates while Medea Benjamin "manipulates" delegates. While I generally agree with the substance of the critiques of her, the tone often bothers me.

2) It's revisionist history that inaccurately paints us as corrupt and focused on infighting. This framing only discourages people who might otherwise join what I see as the only road to building a viable alternative to the corporate duopoly.

One could make exact same argument from a Green's perspective: Nader supporters in Milwaukee wanted to deny voters (including me) the right to vote for a Green Party candidate for president.

Not at all. My argument isn't that working on behalf of one candidate vs. another amounts to an attempt to suppress votes--that would be far too general. Medea Benjamin never left any doubt either before, during, or after the convention what her first priority was: to make sure John Kerry won the election. So I'm saying that for her to lobby for Cobb not because she genuinely favored him, but just in order to help Kerry's campaign by keeping Nader off the ballot, fits the description of what I'm talking about. And I think "cynical maneuvering" is a fair characterization in this case.

Who the heck's Amato? A few years ago there was a champion funny car drag racer named Joe Amato. That Amato? Now dragsters use alcohol and not gasoline, but as far as I know Amato was not a Green...

JV, Theresa Amato was Nader's campaign manager. She wrote "Grand Illusion," a good book about the ballot access problems faced by Nader. Except that her account of the 2004 Green Party convention in Milwaukee (which she did not attend) had the same accuracy problems as I was discussing above. Like Nader, she apparently trusted unreliable sources.

Don't you think it's a little melodramatic to suggest that democrats hate democracy because they complain about losing a razor thin election due to a third party that was much more ideologically similar to them then the man who did win it? Ralph Nader, Al Gore, and the rest of the left watched in horror as George W. Bush got us into two wars, systematically removed environmental protections, and squander billions in the process. Surely, you, if anyone, should be able to imagine what it might feel like, if Obama were to narrowly win reelection, over a GOP-er within the margin of an independent Tea Party-er, you would probably to feel disappointed and disillusioned that people of very similar beliefs couldn't just work under one banner. It doesn't mean we hate democracy, but in a two party system, we all know we're better off just working together. Much in the way Ron Paul has worked within the GOP for years, with a radically different agenda. No one, other than overzealous campaign staffers on either side thinks voter suppression is a good thing. Why write about it now, anyway?

"You, if anyone"? Oh goodness. You appear to have a) dropped into the middle of this posting series without any context (either of the site or the series), b) followed common Democratic practice of assuming that anyone criticizing Democrats must be a right-winger, c) taken the satirical hyperbole too literally, and d) missed my point. As much as I'd like to lead you out of the thicket of what you think I said to what I actually did write, it would take more words than I'm willing to spend, most of which I already wrote (and which already didn't make an impression on you), so I'll pass. But thanks for the comment.

John, you're missing the point.

"No one, other than overzealous campaign staffers on either side thinks voter suppression is a good thing. Why write about it now, anyway?"

In fact, why write about it, ever? And we're all agreed that the Holocaust was bad- why do people keep whinging about it? Primo Levi, Victor Frankl, quit flogging the dead horse already- WE GET IT.

I like using Nader in 2000 as a jumping of point for illustrating how much the Thanksralphers hate democracy. Like everything else on this site, it's really good.

At the same time, I would like to see us all genuinely embrace spoilage as a means for punishing Democrats, instead implicitly disavowing it. I admittedly don't understand all the rules around elections, but it seemed foolish to me that Nader spent money and time trying to get on the ballots of anything BUT swing states and always denied that he put any disproportionate effort there. There is no doubt, he can't be blamed for Florida. But I got no problem if he could.

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