Sunday, October 31, 2004


One argument you sometimes hear in favor of voting for a third party, or for Nader, is that we have to endure some short-term pain to further the long-term goal of building a progressive movement. Aside from the fact that the "we" who make this argument are rarely the ones who suffer most from right-wing policies, there are a couple of problems with this. One is that the link between voting for a third party or Nader now and building a progressive movement in the long term is little more than wishful thinking. But the other is that the political impact of a second Bush term would extend beyond 2008, just as the impact of the Reagan and Bush Sr. years can still be felt today.

Partly this is because the structure of the American political system makes it hard to do things, even when the executive and legislative branches are controlled by a single party. It takes a good deal of effort to push through any major initiative; and conversely, once an initiative has been pushed through, it takes a good deal of effort to reverse it. And there's only so much a President can do in four, or eight, years, even with a Congress of the same party. This is why when Democratic Presidents take office, they don't reverse everything their Republican predecessors did, and vice versa.

Another reason is that when conservatives are in office, they push the entire spectrum of mainstream political discourse to the right, and the effects of this continue after they leave office. The policies coming out of the Clinton administration would undoubtedly have been much more liberal had he not followed twelve years of right-wing administrations. The combination of these two factors means that a Kerry administration will find itself far behind where Gore would have been had he been allowed to win in 2000. Even if the Democrats were to somehow manage to win both the House and the Senate, Kerry would still be forced to spend most of his first term just undoing as much as possible the damage done by Bush Jr., in a more unfavorable political climate than that of 2000. And if Bush won a second term, a 2008 Democratic administration -- even a "progressive" one -- would be in an even more disadvantageous position.

(And I haven't even mentioned the Supreme Court, or the federal judiciary in general.)

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