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J. Carter Wood © 2001


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A Reply to Comrade Sandbrook’s Reply

I welcome the opportunity to reply briefly to my fellow decorated servant of the People’s Voice. I am also somewhat mystified at his apparent misreading of the tone, and at times the text, of my commentary and even more concerned at what seems to be an attempted defense of the most morally and intellectually bankrupt elements of the Democratic Party.

First, Comrade Sandbrook accuses me of being "absurdly optimistic" as to the possibilities of reforming the American electoral system. I’ve just re-read my article, and find -- as expected -- a distinct absence of said deviationism. In fact, my concluding sentence sums up what I expect to be the more likely result: cosmetic surgery to give the appearance of real change and a commitment to providing newer machines rather than attending to the rotten principles of the system itself. Pointing out that the re-counting saga provided an opening on the shoddy workings of that system (with a resulting possibility of reform) appears, to my mind, only the barest factual statement. But I thank him for the uniqueness of the epithet: I have been called many things, but "absurdly optimistic" has, until now, never been one of them.

Second, I am puzzled at Comrade Sanbrook’s umbrage regarding what he perceives to be "highly misleading" statements about the Democratic Leadership Council "compromised by errors of fact and wild exaggerations." My comments about the connection between the DLC and pro-Nixon Democrats pointed to an ideological thread that, I continue to maintain, connects the two organizations. That there may have been a more direct lineage in at least some of the membership has been suggested by the typically trustworthy reportage of Christopher Hitchens, but I haven’t done independent research to verify that. However, my evocation of DLC’s ideological paternity should be damning enough. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, in their book Al Gore: A User’s Manual (Verso, 2000), document the way that Gore, like other charter members of the DLC, adopted elements of Richard Nixon’s "southern strategy" in their efforts to shut down the party’s liberal base. That this sell-out strategy has neither won them the South nor a committed party foundation should be apparent. Nor would one expect a DLC sympathizer such as Baer to point out the less savory connotations of that shift. But the flirtation (if not outright fornication) of "New Democrats" with the Republican right put them, to my mind, beyond defense. Joe Lieberman, another foundational DLCer, found support among the likes of William F. Buckley and the exile Cuban community in his defeat of liberal-Republican Lowell Weicker. Let us consider Clinton himself, who brought in former Nixon administration official Leon Panetta as Chief of Staff. (Panetta had switched parties, but only after being fired by Nixon in 1970). And what of the fact that Clinton, as we no doubt recall, made the slimy Dick Morris one of his chief political advisors. When stacked up alongside other items in the long list of Clinton’s atrocious behavior (I mean political behavior), what is the worth of pointing out his participation in McGovern’s campaign?

More to the point: are these people worthy of being defended?

On his third theme, although a historian, I have tended to privilege contemporary political analysis over statistics mongering. The prior electoral track record of vice presidents may be an interesting curiosity, but I don’t think it tells us very much about the recent election. Such tacks remind me of the way that the television media kept pointing to "facts" about which state is the best "predictor" of the final election results. I stand by my argument that Gore’s ideologically bankrupt, spin-driven campaign had far more to do with his loss than the performance of nineteenth-century vice-presidential political candidates. Mr. Gore’s sorry campaign was a symptom of DLC triangulation that began by learning Nixon’s lessons all too well.

As for Nader, I would never suggest that he was anyone’s savior. However, I am curiously taken to task on that point, my comments critical of both Nader and the Greens somehow being missed along with my statement that "it has rarely been clearer that building a viable leftist presence in America is a long term project, most likely, and not the sort of thing that will happen as a result of quixotic charges in the quadrennial identity parade in which we choose our national father figure." However, I continue to respect Ralph Nader and think that his campaign last year was spirited and worthy.

Finally, no, I don’t think a Bush victory will, on it’s own, "enable" any sort of desirable reform. At best (please note: no wild optimism here) I think that having a clear foe controlling the government may help to coalesce various left organizations and might provide more clarity for drawing an oppositional strategy. The Clinton years saw an atrophying and confusion in the ranks of the left, many of whom were lulled into thinking he was "on our side." Perhaps now, the way ahead is clearer.

Yours in good-natured revolutionary zeal,

J. Carter Wood

Dominic Sandbrook Replies to this Reply here.




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