You Come Back Now!

It’s one of my favorite stories about the difficulty of learning a foreign language, told to me by a coffee house proprietor.

He was born in Armenia, but spent enough of his childhood in Britain that his English was, for nearly all purposes, equal to a native.  Then he went to college in Oklahoma.

In a drugstore there, he spoke to the cashier for a little while, and then said goodbye and walked to the door.  She said:  “You come back now!”.

He stopped at the door, turned around, went back to the counter and spent a couple of minutes in awkward conversation, then said goodbye and again walked toward the door.  She again called after him:  “You come back now!”

He didn’t say how many times this was repeated before it dawned on him that “You come back now!” was simply her way of saying goodbye.

When I told this story to my father, who worked  for some years among local officials in the southeastern U.S., he observed that another form of this habit is:  “Y’all come back and see us again real soon.”, which translates to:  “It’s time for you to leave now.”

It’s a nice demonstration of how understanding the full social context is needed to understand the language.  Does anyone think “May God stay by you” when they say “Goodbye.”?  Of course not.

“Ok, ok, so how is this about politics, or activism, or anything else you’ve written about?”

The nature of much of what I’ve done in the last few years is that it often brings people into politics who are not familiar with the cultural context of politics.  For instance, there’s the one absolute rule of running for office:

“Never, never say you’re going to lose.  Even when it’s plain as day to any reasonably astute chia pet.”

No one with the slightest political savvy expected Nader in 2000 (or Wallace in 1968, or Anderson in 1980, or Perot in 1992) to get elected.  That was never the point of the campaign.  Even if he had been elected, he wouldn’t have lived to Inauguration Day, but that’s another essay.

Yet during the 2000 campaign season, the higher-ups in the Nader campaign were telling us local yokels that there was actually a chance of winning, “if only the 60% or so of Americans who don’t vote would register and vote for Nader”, or some such fantasy.  Sometimes this filtered down to the newbie volunteers.  Some of those newbie volunteers were actually surprised on election night, when Nader ended up getting much less of the vote than the polls had predicted for him, rather than eight times as much.

This is one of the great hazards of taking new people into the fold.  Every culture has polite little lies that it lives by, and politics has more than most. (Duh.)  Learning to accommodate those lies, and not let them throw you, takes some time.

People don’t usually give us much time in politics.  Like everything else that Americans consider “optional” in their lives, it’s either instant gratification or “I’d rather watch TV.”  The idea of slowly, patiently, building a movement of citizens to reform our whole government from the ground up is a good one, but it just doesn’t attract many recruits.

Here are some things that DO attract recruits:

(1) “We’re going to make lotsa money.”

(2) “We’re going to make heaven on earth right now, or some time soon.”

(3)  “There is an imminent disaster that we must do everything to avert.”

(4)  “We’re going to make the bastards suffer.”

(5)  “This is a great leader.  We must sacrifice everything for him.”

Yeah, I like to make lists, and then go through them step by step, don’t I?  But before I do, let me digress a bit.

What 2000 was about.

The Nader 2000 campaign presented a special situation that will never be repeated.  Anyone with a clue knew this at the time.

The Green Party in the U.S. had been around, strongest in California and a couple of other places, since the early 1990’s.  That’s when I first heard of it.  I dismissed it at the time as another pointless attempt to get a “third” party going, with way, way too many things stacked against it.  Not just the election laws enacted by the “two” parties, but the whole political culture of the U.S., all of people’s expectations, are against such a thing.  Previous attempts in recent history, such as Wallace’s American Independent and Perot’s Reform parties, were dependent on one personality, and doomed to failure.

In 1996 I heard that Nader was running for President on the Green Party ticket.  This was something new.  The party had formed, AND THEN a well-known personality had chosen to associate with it.

There were dangers in this, of course.  It was really a Catch-22:

–  If no notable personality came forward to speak for the party, it would remain in obscurity.

–  If a notable personality were perceived as representing the party, many people would think it was all about that personality.

It was a gamble, but it just might be worth trying.  So I went to a Green Party meeting in 1997, and ended up working for the Nader campaign in 2000.

The Nader campaign in 1996 could be discounted as nothing at all, really.  Nader had not campaigned, only allowed his name to be put on the ballot.  No funds had been raised to speak of, and it predictably got close to zero play in the media.

2000 would be different.  Nader would file with the FEC, raise some serious funds, and make a real campaign of it.  There was a chance that he could get 5% of the vote nationwide, qualifying the Green Party for some federal funding in the 2004 campaign.  Failing that, it would provide publicity for both the Party and all the issues that Nader wanted to bring into the public’s consciousness.

We would have to see the result before making any plans beyond 2000, but at the very least the campaign would attract some people to the party who had never heard of us before.


The 5% was not to be.  Not even very close.  But we had definitely made some progress.  Several more states had legally organized Green Parties.  There were all those people who were attracted to the campaign.  They could now begin the real work of building a party:

– Give money
– Network among local activist groups
– Study local issues
– Run for local office
– Go to GP official functions and help with party organizing at the higher levels

We had some good people, and much of this happened.  A Green was elected to office in Orange County for the first time.  A few Greens seemed to be everywhere:  opposing local boondoggles, fighting immigrant-bashing, organizing the antiwar movement from 2001 on.  Many more Greens ran for office, and won, than ever before.  We had a gubernatorial candidate in 2003 who got into a statewide prime-time TV debate with the other candidates and made a good appearance.  Green registration nationwide probably doubled at least, though I don’t know the figures offhand.

But there were red herrings, and noobs love red herrings.

The stinkingest of the red herrings was the “spoiler” myth put out by the Dems, Reps, and their talking heads.  Because the Florida vote was so close, they somehow reasoned that Bush’s victory was all Nader’s fault, and if Nader ran again in 2004, it would all be his fault again.

The reasoning, or lack thereof, in this myth, is not worthy of an explanation.  What I’m observing here is the reaction among Greens, Naderites, and their uh… “allies”.

There’s a certain validation that some Greens felt at getting this much attention.  When someone goes to so much trouble to smear you, you’ve arrived.  We could take some pride in that, and the natural, testosterone-fueled, reaction is:  “Yes, and we’re going to KEEP ON spoiling until you institute a sane electoral system like most of the world:  runoff elections, proportional representation, etc.”

This might make us feel good for a while, but is really the most futile thing one could do.  Who holds nearly all the higher elected offices in the country?  Dems & Reps.  Who instituted all the election laws that discriminate against “third” parties?  Dems & Reps.  Who makes sure the people stay unaware of how primitive the U.S. electoral system is, compared to others?  Dems & Reps.  Who can make MORE discriminatory laws any time they damn please if they feel threatened?

So playing the part they’ve cast us in might be fun, but it’s playing by their script.  Not a good idea.  Still, many people were sucked into it.

Those most sucked into it had an affinity for those who thought the presidential election, and Nader in particular, were what the 2000 campaign was all about.  Most Americans think of politics only in presidential election years.  Greens and Naderites are an improvement over that bit of our culture, but not by much.  Some still think “presidential” immediately after hearing the word “political”.  This would especially be true of noobs.  So a very common noob attitude as 2003 rolled around was:  “We can’t wait to run Nader again, and “spoil” the election again!”

Then there was the other reaction, and I can’t really attribute it to noobs.  Many of these people really REALLY should have known better.  Ok, I’ll try to explain the trap they must have found themselves in.

People who had been politically aware and active in what we call “progressive” politics since long before the Green Party got noticed would generally have had some associations with Dems.  That was where most “progressives” associated, if they had a party.  It means that if you were working in any kind of a broad coalition in the period 2001 to 2004, there would be lots of Dems that you’d have to deal with, and court as allies.

This generally meant putting up with hearing the “spoiler” myth a lot.  As soon as you revealed yourself as Green, all real work might stop and become a debate about Nader.  It was obnoxious, and Greens had various ways of trying to handle it.

Some noises were made among some old GP regulars, very early in 2003, to the effect that Nader should not run again for fear of “spoiling” the race for the Dem.  I can’t account for this, myself.  Surely, with all the “spoiler” whining that we had heard long before 2000, one must have expected that something like Florida in 2000 would happen eventually, and Party regulars should have been prepared for it.  These noises among a few GP “leaders” are often blamed for Nader’s decision not to run as a Green.  It is not sufficient explanation, but I’ll leave that for another time.

In November of 2003 a letter circulated, signed by 18 prominent Greens across the country (a rather small number, considering the pool of prominent Greens), that encouraged Greens to find an electoral strategy that did not contribute to re-electing the “greater evil”.  This was undoubtedly a reaction to how the “spoiler” myth was spoiling our game.  Many people took this as outright advocacy of a “safe states” strategy, and maybe it was.  It’s an idea that had already failed long ago in trying to shut up the Dem propagandists, but some were still trying to push it.

All through the Nader 2000 campaign, I had been hearing from people in California who expressed the “spoiler” fear, and I sometimes tried to end a useless conversation by pointing out that Gore was so far ahead in the polls in California that a vote for Nader had no chance at all of affecting California’s vote in the electoral college.  In doing so, I learned that this argument has no effect at all on the person spreading the “spoiler” fear.  It does NOT have the desired result of settling that question and moving on to a more important topic.  Dem propagandists are given talking points, and they rarely let go of their talking points, even when they clearly make no sense at all — another way in which polite little lies live in the culture of politics.

The “safe states” strategy, advocated by very few, was an attempt to publicly endorse the “Molly Ivins Rule” from 2000.  Molly suggested voting for Nader unless one happened to live in a swing state, of which there were only six or eight.  People who liked Nader, but still thought there was a serious difference between Gore & Bush, didn’t need Molly, or anyone, to tell them this.  They just did it.  Certain Greens advocated avoiding serious campaigns in swing states.

This was exactly the wrong thing to do.  When trying to build a party, showing any concern at all for how the contest might come out among the other parties is saying “We’re losers!” loud and clear.

The signers of the infamous letter, as I said, really should have known better, especially considering how the Naderites would react to it.  To the “spoiler” enthusiasts, it was a capitulation to the Dems, and a gauntlet thrown down to Nader, and this obscured all the more serious considerations about our participation in the presidential election, and much of the rest of what happened within the Party.

The Nader noobs were not aware of the most basic fact of getting a new political movement started:

It starts out small.  A presidential race is mainly for publicity and party-building:  attracting people and gaining ballot access.  Getting votes is secondary.

I cannot emphasize enough how LITTLE importance the 2004 presidential election should have had in the minds of serious Greens.  2000 was great.  2004, if we ran Nader again, would be old news, greeted with a huge yawn by 95% of the electorate.  If we ran an actual Green, showing the public that we were a real party, it might be better, depending on lots of other variables.  No matter how much a candidate says:  “Vote for me, so I can get elected.”, its simply not what the campaign is about.

But noobs didn’t understand this.  Some of the hardcore Nader/spoiler advocates were not noobs.  Some were dishonest, but I don’t really know what their motivations were.

Let’s go through that list of recruiting slogans now.

(1) “We’re going to make lotsa money.”

Clearly, the Dems & Reps have this one sewn up.  Neither the Greens nor Nader appeal much to any noticeable number of rich people, so donations have been low, and nearly all of us work without pay.

(2) “We’re going to make heaven on earth right now, or some time soon.”

A few might be naїve enough for this motivation, but it’s more of historical interest than anything else.

(3)  “There is an imminent disaster that we must do everything to avert.”

With any number of environmental or political disasters hanging over us, anyone might be motivated by (3).  The “do everything” is the difficult part.  It’s an attitude that tends to say “Sprint!” when a marathon is called for.

(4)  “We’re going to make the bastards suffer.”

Among Green-leaning groups, this is of course a motive on which the “Nader Forever!” crowd had a near-monopoly.  The most vicious, slanderous, irrational emails of the 2004 season were nearly all from the “Nader Forever!” camp.  This camp also produced some nice polemics against Dem sellouts like Kerry that I found amusing, but they were overwhelmed by attacks on Greens as “capitulationists”, Dem infiltrators, and such.  Remember my earlier blog entry about infiltrators:

especially the part about infiltrators accusing others of being infiltrators, and amplifying divisions within the group.

There were several Naderites whose behavior became outright trolling before it was over, and their recurring riff was that anyone who didn’t want to campaign for Nader as an Independent must be a “safe states” advocate.  An outright lie.

(5)  “This is a great leader.  We must sacrifice everything for him.”

No question who had the lock on this bit of naїveté.

So there eventually evolved two large camps within the Green Party about what to do in the 2004 presidential election:

The Naderites – those who wouldn’t give up on Nader even when he had plainly said he was not interested in the Green nomination.  They wanted the GP to nominate no one, and endorse Nader’s independent campaign.  (Remember, Nader has never registered with any political party, and his sparse mentions of the GP, even during the 2000 campaign, were always a bit unsatisfying to some of us.)

The Cobbies – those who wanted to run a Green candidate who had been polluted with the smell of “safe states” among his supporters, and a nuanced (i.e., too complex for popular consumption) “strategic states” plan that he had proposed.

I took no sides in this conflict, seeing plenty wrong with both the large camps.  Much smaller camps wanted to run a Green candidate with no smell at all of “safe states”, “strategic states” or whatever, but they were overwhelmed by the two above.  The sad thing is that the Nader camp was accepting the Dem Party narrative of “spoiler”, rhetorically treating it with defiance, while Nader was meeting with Kerry to propose a common strategy “to defeat Bush”.  The “safe states” bunch was also accepting the Dem narrative, and wimping out.  The Naderites of course accepted no motive anyone could have for supporting a Green candidate other than “safe states”.  Noobs took this simplistic bait left & right.

Well, the decision was made to nominate Cobb, the only person actually running for the Green nomination who had any support to speak of.

A new narrative then arose from the Naderites:  “lack of democracy within the Green Party”.  There had been no such complaints at all before the decision had gone against them, though the process followed was well-known years ahead.

Digression on “Democracy”

To speak of “democracy” as an absolute — either you have it or you don’t — is one of the marks of a noob, or of rhetoric aimed at noobs.  There are extremes, and there are many fine degrees between them.

Extreme lack of democracy:  “I’m the only one holding a gun, and you will do as I say or I start shooting.”  Sooner or later, the one holding the gun has to sleep (see Treasure of the Sierra Madre), and power must be delegated.

Extreme democracy:  “We’re going to sit here and pass the talking stick around until everyone who hasn’t walked away agrees on a plan.”  The loudest mouths, biggest bladders, and those with no lives to get on with usually win.

Constitutions, laws, charters, and bylaws are all ways of finding some reasonable middle ground between these two extremes.

The Green Party of California, with its consensus-seeking process that requires a four-fifths fallback vote if consensus can’t be reached, generally tends toward the “more democratic” side.  This might explain a certain number of walk-aways.

But in one sense, given a situation with far more work for us than the few of us could ever do, there’s no point in pursuing something about which we don’t have overwhelming agreement. Sometimes it really is better to decide nothing.

When participation is entirely optional, as with a political party, the greatest compromises come from a need to keep people from walking away.  This is why the U.S. Senate seats are allocated equally between Rhode Island and California.  The smaller states wouldn’t have signed the Constitution otherwise.

A similar compromise occurred when the GPUS was formed for the purpose of nominating a presidential ticket for the GP.  When a party is first forming, in the face of many discriminatory laws that vary a lot from one state to another, how do you determine the number of Greens being represented, when there’s no common definition of a “Green”?  And in states with horrible laws, where the GP is not recognized at all, and probably never will be, and people aren’t even allowed to register Green, how do you decide who represents the Greens in that state?

A compromise formula was reached in order to keep the smaller states and less-organized parties from walking away.  Otherwise, the GPUS might have consisted of California and almost nothing else.  It meant giving some disproportional voting power to states with little to show in the way of “membership”.

The main purpose of the GPUS, remember, is to nominate a presidential ticket.  Without that, the old ASGP organization (with much MORE disproportional representation from the smaller states) would have been just fine.

Now, when a party is just starting, how much should we really be worried about the process for selecting a presidential nominee?  Remember what I said above:  START SMALL.  The presidential race is mainly just for publicity, and not much should be expected of it for some decades.

So the process chosen for the presidential nominating convention was arbitrary.  For a closely contested nomination, it could not be trusted to reflect the choices of ordinary Greens very well.  Everybody knew this, because they knew that there was no way of even COUNTING most ordinary Greens, not to mention asking their opinions.  It wasn’t much, but it’s what was agreed on.  Like the California GP’s consensus-seeking process, it works well only when there’s overwhelming agreement, and thus was rather fragile.  Anything fragile is a magnet for two-year-olds and noobs.

Enter the “Democracy” Whiners….

So when a decision goes against you, often the easiest thing to do is to complain about the process by which it was reached, especially when processes are not hallowed by time, or there are a lot of noobs who don’t understand them.

Just to make it clear what kind of “democracy” the Nader camp had in mind, I’ll remind you all how they came to have any representation at all at a Green nominating convention.  It was by lying to uninformed voters.  No one with a clue could believe otherwise.

Whatever party you might belong to, when you look at the ballot and see a list of names to choose from for the nomination for a particular partisan office, don’t you pretty well assume that each of those people is RUNNING FOR THE NOMINATION?

If anyone answers “No”, I would be interested in seeing your comments.

Well, in both 2004 and 2008, the Naderites managed, through their influence among the party élite in some states, to put Nader or some surrogate for him on the primary ballot.  In 2004 in California, it was Camejo, a quite popular and well-known figure due to his performance in the 2003 recall election for Governor.  He never told anyone publicly that he meant to be a stand-in for Nader, only that he meant to be a “favorite son” who would represent the position of “all-out campaign”, as opposed to any “safe states” proposals that might come out at the convention.  But at the convention he announced that anyone failing to vote for the “no nominee” position would be betraying him personally.

Likewise, in 2008, a GPCA General Assembly was induced to put Nader on the primary ballot with a vague promise that Nader would announce his candidacy at some future time.  When he later announced his candidacy as an independent, California was left to figure out how to allocate its votes at the convention after most Green voters had voted for someone who WAS NOT A CANDIDATE FOR THE NOMINATION.

This is the kind of “democracy” the Naderites have promoted.  I don’t blame Nader himself for what seems to be done in his name, by the way.  I believe he simply decided long ago to stay independent and let the Greens do as they please.  If Green ballot lines were offered with no strings, without requiring him to work for them at all, he might deign to accept them, but he didn’t want to get mixed up in internal matters in the Party.  Not all who appear to favor Nader speak for him.

It’s difficult to describe, to someone who hasn’t seen it, how all discourse within the GP seems to have been colored with this “Nader forever, the party must serve Nader” attitude that has demanded attention again & again.  It’s one reason that I’ve become much less active in the Party.  But the GPCA habit of “inclusiveness” has made it difficult to end this mess.  Those with a habit of talking in tolerant ways can be too polite.

A few days ago, I saw an email from one of the major trolls of the Nader camp, containing a letter from three members of the GPUS National Committee, announcing their departure from the Green Party.  Their primary complaint seems to be an “undemocratic nomination process”.

As interest in the presidential level of GP activity, and enthusiasm for Nader, has waned over the last couple of years, so some of us have been telling these people for some time:

“Y’all come back and see us again real soon.”

Do three of them finally understand the language?

This entry was posted in communication, politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to You Come Back Now!

  1. Pingback: CHICKENS AND EGGS | kitchenmudge

  2. Pingback: Further rant on propaganda: getting personal | kitchenmudge

  3. Pingback: Since you asked… | kitchenmudge

  4. Tian says:

    I totaled my car. Thanks to Nader the crumple zone absorbed a lot of inertia and the seat belt kept me from ruining my face (health?) on the steering wheel and windshield. That’s better value than I got from most of the presidential candidates whose names I’ve seen on my ballot.

    In his campaign for Governor Camejo talked about a solar panel investment strategy. Companies have since used it to ramp up the amount of solar power A LOT! Another good value thanks to the speaking opportunities that the ballot box gave us. Yeah, that’s not enough to support a bureaucracy, but it’s better than nothing. Collectively, we’re in a better place because of what he did for solar financing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s