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Dom Sandbrook © 2001


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A Response to J. Carter Wood's Bastards in the White House


Fellow Stakhanovite J. Carter Wood’s recent article on the American presidential elections seems to me to hold out an absurdly optimistic view of the possibilities for reform of the American electoral system. Quite how a Bush presidency, coupled with continuing Republican control of Congress -- at least until January 2003 --, will somehow enable the reform of the "farce"of the Supreme Court is completely beyond me. The more cynical might also wonder quite what the legacy of the Green Party’s presidential effort will be, given that once again the valuable task of organising on a coherent local level -- which might yet yield eventual success in certain congressional seat --was subordinated once again to the rampaging ego of that Seventies has-been, Ralph Nader.

Two of Comrade Wood’s paragraphs discussing Nader’s contribution to the recent election are, meanwhile, guilty of highly misleading statements. First, he states that the Democratic Leadership Council, the "New Democrat" organisation currently chaired by Joseph Lieberman and which counts Bill Clinton and Al Gore as former luminaries, was the "progeny of the 70s-era group known as Democrats for Nixon". This is simply untrue and particularly egregious given that Democrats for Nixon existed only during 1972, whereas the DLC was founded thirteen years later in 1985. Those Democrats who did support Nixon in 1972, most of whom now call themselves neo-conservatives, had almost all become Reagan Republicans by 1980 and were certainly not among the Southern Democrats who founded the DLC in order (or so they thought) to present an alternative to Reagan during his second term. Bill Clinton and his like may be guilty of many things, but to suggest that they either supported Nixon, or were the intellectual offspring of those who did, is totally and utterly mistaken. Clinton, in fact, worked hard for George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972. I am happy to refer readers to Kenneth S. Baer’s history of the organisation, Reinventing Democrats, should they remain unconvinced.

Comrade Wood, in company with a host of other self-styled analysts, also suggests that "if Al Gore was unable to crushingly overcome the asinine frat-boy antics of George Bush while Gore enjoyed the position of emerging out of a "successful" eight-year period of Democratic rule, then he doesn't deserve the highest office in the land". A more erroneous assessment of the lessons of American political history is hard to imagine. What would have been genuinely extraordinary would have been if Gore had been able to crush George W. Bush, because the simple fact is that Vice Presidents are notoriously bad bets to win presidential elections. Only one sitting Vice President has won election as President since 1836: George Bush the elder, in 1988. This was never Gore’s election to win and to suggest that it was, particularly given the backlash against Clinton’s sexual misconduct in the South (even in Gore’s home state of Tennessee), is entirely preposterous. Bush’s frat-boy antics were entirely that: relics of his university days which never surfaced as genuine campaign issues two decades later. The true parallel for this election was always 1960, when a Vice President perceived as worthy but uninspiring was narrowly defeated after eight years of prosperity by a lavishly funded playboy with a famous father. Lamentable as the election of Bush is, plans for the future cannot but be compromised by errors of fact and wild exaggerations.


Dominic Sandbrook

[See also J. Carter Wood's Reply to this Reply]




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