[EM] duvergian candidates (was: approval discourages issues?)

James Green-Armytage jarmyta at antioch-college.edu
Sat Nov 20 14:00:45 PST 2004

This is James Green-Armytage, replying to Mike Ossipoff. Hi Mike, how've
you been?

You wrote:
>The media, including TV & NPR, decide who will be winnable, who's viable, 
>who's fringe, who's mainstream.  Then you faithfully follow them. And
>if you know that there's  deception, you follow the people who are
>the media, like cattle following eachother into a slaughterhouse. Nowhere 
>does the herd insinct show more than in voting behavior.
>You know that, for whatever reason, Nader can't win. And that for
>reason that's the reality. But if a "realitly" had its origin in the
>maybe you should disregard it.

	I think that much of the voting public intuitively understand the
Duvergian effect of the plurality system, and understand that a plurality
election with more than two viable candidates will be chaotic and can
easily thwart the will of the majority. The response that we have
developed to this is the primary system. The primary is analogous to a
two-round runoff; there are no legal restrictions on who can run in the
"second round" (the general election), but it is understood that those who
win the "first round" (the two major primaries) should be considered the
frontrunners. It's basically just a way of voters coordinating their
intent, so that you don't end up with two 'leftist' candidates getting 30%
each against one 'right' candidate with 40%, or vice versa.
	So, no, plurality is not a good voting system, but as long as we are
stuck with it, I think that the primaries make sense, and I don't think
that it's duplicitous for the media to label the winners of the major
primaries as "frontrunners". It's not an ignorant herd mentality, it's a
way of avoiding a situation where a majority faction loses the election by
splitting their vote.
	I think that if Nader wanted to steer the Democratic party in a more
progressive direction (something that he obviously does want, but probably
despairs of happening), or if he was actually interested in being
president, he should have run in the Democratic primary.
	In the 2004 Democratic primary, the voters had a choice between someone
who ran as an outspoken liberal (Dean), a couple of leftist-progressives
(Kucinich and Sharpton), a batch of more cautious and not-so-outspoken
center-leftists (Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards), an apolitical general (Clark),
and a Republican (Lieberman). A majority chose one of the more centrist
candidates, i.e. Kerry or Edwards. So, we ended up with Kerry. There was a
choice between caution and outspokenness. Caution won the primary but lost
the general election. The hope was that Bush would collapse under his own
weight when faced with a non-offensive opponent, but it didn't happen; the
Democrats underestimated Bush's popularity in 'red' America.
	Perhaps next time, the Democrats will not be so convinced that a cautious
candidate without starkly clear issue positions will be able to prevail
nationally, and they will nominate someone who is more outspoken and who
stands up for more leftist causes rather than being embarrassed by words
like 'liberal'. My own personal hope is that the Democrats are able to
develop a platform that goes further left on economic issues, putting
forward proposals that are clear, progressive and common-sensical, so as
to create a more clear distinction with the Republicans and to revive
their working class roots... while staying moderate on social issues, to
avoid alienating culturally traditional working-class people. I also think
that, for the presidential nominee, they're going to have to find someone
with a working class background, who is not from the northeast.
	Anyway, that's my advice for anyone on the left who doesn't like the
direction of the Democratic party: join it, get your friends to join it,
and try to pull it to the left via votes in primaries. It's obviously in
an unstable state at the moment, and may be open for progressive change.
As for Nader himself, I think it is now safe to say that he can never be
president. He was expecting a lot of disaffected Republicans to vote for
him, and it didn't happen. It is clear that his base comes more from the
'left' than the independently-minded 'right', and yet Nader has utterly
alienated himself from most people on the left (i.e. those who voted for
Kerry). Nader doesn't respect the people who voted for Kerry, and yet he
couldn't possibly win without them. So, I argue that he will never be able
to win. 

You wrote:
>People were saying that Kerry should have better 
>policies, more exciting, more progressive, to be more winnable, to
>people to vote. And these policies that Kerry should have, to be more 
>winnable, turn out to be remarkably like those of Ralph Nader and Peter 

	I agree with this, to an extent. Again, there was a choice between the
cautious-leftist route, and the whole-hog-leftist route. The cautious one
wasn't a bad bet at the time, but it fell short, so we're left wondering
what would have happened with the whole-hog route. Some of Nader's
policies would have been good for this, although not all of them, I think.
A living wage, better environmental protection, a crackdown on corporate
crime, and universal health care are examples of issues that might have
improved Kerry's campaign. On the other hand, gay marriage, which Nader
supported in his campaign, is clearly not a winning issue at this time,
and would have buried Kerry deeper if anything. Likewise, I'm not sure
that a six month deadline for withdrawal from Iraq would have won majority
	So, again, I don't think that Nader is a viable presidential contender,
but I do hope that the Democratic party does embrace many of his issues,
and I agree that many of them could be winners. I am hoping that the
progressive left will find leaders who share Nader's commitment, gravitas,
and depth of understanding, but who are able to be less divisive and more
sympathetic with the moderate left.

my best,

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