One of the consequences of having a political system that can only accommodate two parties is that the parties inevitably become big tents, encompassing an incoherent patchwork of incompatible political views. What’s more, political perspectives that are far from the mainstream tend to be systematically disempowered, because there is only one party that can realistically appeal to them.
This is why, long ago in 2000, a faction of progressives supported the candidacy of Ralph Nader for president. The Democratic Party, it was argued, took its left and liberal constituency for granted, because it knew they had no place else to go; the party, led by Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council, spent all its time looking for ways to move to the right and pick up moderate voters. The only way to pull the Democrats back to the left, it was argued, was to defect and support a third party candidacy.
The question of whether to support or oppose Nader provoked a passionate and sometimes vicious debate on the left. Those were difficult times for the left, for YDS, and for me personally, so I wouldn’t revisit them without cause. (The statement we issued in 2000 is still available on our website, for anyone who wants to see where we ultimately came out on the question. All I’ll say is that the statement can’t convey the difficulty of the political battles YDS fought over the question of Nader, in chapters and in the national leadership.) But I bring it up because I think we’re going to see some people revisiting this issue in the near future. And that’s because something similar to the Nader dynamic–but on a much larger scale–is happening to the Republican party.
Where the disaffected constituency in the Democratic Party is leftists, in the Republican Party it is religious conservatives. This may seem like an odd thing to say, as it seems like religious conservatives get plenty of love from the GOP. But it has long been argued–by Thomas Frank, for example–that the Republicans actually deliver a lot less than they promise when it comes to repressing gays, promoting state-sponsored religion, forcing women to have unwanted children, and so on. I’m not entirely sure I buy this. But the argument is that while the Republicans do, of course, support all kinds of policies along religious right lines, the party’s number one priority is, and always has been, redistributing money from working people to the ultra-rich. That, and bombing people.*
Which brings us to Rudy Giuliani, current leader in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Rudy is, in some ways, the personification of the Republican id–the authoritarian, tax cutting, liberal-ass-kicking, Muslim-bombing Jack Bauer that a portion of the GOP base seems to want so badly. The trouble is, he is also on record as being pro-choice, and what’s more, it’s even possible that he doesn’t hate the gays.
In consequence of which, key leaders of the religious right are seriously threatening to support a third party candidate if Rudy is the nominee. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family and a key religious right leader, wrote an editorial stating that he “cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008″.** A short time later, Dobson met with other far-right leaders, and the group concluded that they would consider a third party effort if Giuliani was nominated. Most recently, Randall Terry, Operation Rescue founder and apologist for anti-abortion terrorism, said something truly shocking (for a far-right nut): “we must deny [Giuliani] the White House at all costs – even if it means Hillary becomes President.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about this in the liberal blogosphere. The basic point of debate is: would the right be nuts to do this, or does it make political sense? The right is arguing that they may have to break with Republicans, in order to avoid being taken for granted–the same argument the Naderites made in 2000. Could they be right?
Scott Lemieux thinks Dobson is bluffing. Matt Yglesias isn’t so sure. Yglesias argues that breaking with the party over Giuliani is the only way for the anti-abortion crowd to maintain their power in the party–by showing that they have the power to throw the election to the Democrats if they aren’t propitiated.
I think this is right–and I also came down against Nader’s candidacy in 2000. But there’s a difference here. The general argument for breaking with the Democrats wasn’t–and isn’t–a bad one. The problem was that the Nader forces didn’t represent any of the key progressive constituencies that would have to support a left-wing breakaway, such as people of color and union members. Dobson and company, on the other hand, really do represent a big chunk of evangelical voters. So if they do decide to make a break, I think they can make it work.
In any case, I really hope they are serious about this. Not just because it would guarantee a Democratic president in the event Rudy is nominated, although that would be nice. But more specifically because one way or another, it will keep Rudy Giuliani out of the White House, whether by sinking him in the primaries or in the general. That, to me, is more important than whether the Democrats win. This post is already too long, so I can’t go into all the reasons why I am so terrified of Rudy Giuliani. So let me just say this. Imagine a President who is totally ignorant, totally arrogant, in love with war, and happy to shred the constitution and violate the rights of Americans in the name of “national security.”
OK, never mind. You don’t have to imagine it. So imagine, if you can, a President with all of George W. Bush’s bad qualities, but worse than Bush. That’s Rudy. For further reading on the idiocy and insanity of Rudy Giuliani, I suggest you start here. And be afraid. Very afraid.
So…Godspeed, Dr. Dobson!
* Just so we’re clear–I completely accept that having Republicans in office is really bad for the interests of women, gays, and other oppressed minorities, and that it’s important to keep them out of office for that reason. The point is that it isn’t *as* bad for them as the right-wing wackos would prefer.