All That Glitters Is Not Feingold

Hans Johnson writes that John Ashcroft's nomination for attorney general posed a challenge for progressives ("Ashcroft's Acid Test," February 19). But it clearly was a challenge not everyone was up for.

Some in California had started to talk about Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin) as a potential presidential candidate in 2004. But with national stature go national responsibilities. In explaining his vote in support of Ashcroft's appointment, Feingold said that he "offered an olive branch, not a white flag." That is incorrect. He offered a white flag. Feingold's vote in committee gave cover to other Democratic senators to vote for Ashcroft--a vote that brought Feingold's support here down with a resounding crash.

Feingold also helped give George W. Bush an indication of the Democrats' mettle. If the Democrats could not even unite to block this most provocative and unsuitable appointment, it's clear they will be paper tigers--and he will ride roughshod over them.

Aris Anagnos
Los Angeles


Vaginal Discourse

There are a lot of people in Tennessee who would respond to the issues James Weinstein discusses in "Let's Crash the Party" (February 19). Unfortunately, in the very same issue in which you call for moving away from the fringe, your back cover ("If the 'Story' Could Talk") was guaranteed to offend anyone here in Greene County you might have been able to talk to about issues. People here are aware of vaginas. We even laugh about them among our friends of the same sex. We just don't see the need to bare them to the world. If the left wants to reach a majority of people in the United States, it cannot carry on with in-your-face sexual politics.

Jim and Dianne May
Greeneville, Tennessee


And Now for Something Completely Different

As a Nader voter, I have to commend James Weinstein for his excellent article, "Let's Crash the Party" (February 19). The 2000 campaign certainly has made me re-evaluate my views toward third-party politics. It was sickening to see liberal states like Oregon, Wisconsin and Minnesota almost go to Bush because good progressives voted for Ralph Nader.

Richard Clark
Salem, Indiana


I voted for Ralph Nader last November, not because I was totally enamored of the candidate nor because I thought the Green Party had truly become a viable institution, but because I wanted to do my part to destroy the two major parties by any means necessary. Unlike Robert McChesney, I don't really give a damn what Joel Bleifuss (or John Conyers or Eric Alterman) thinks about that, because I consider them the enemy to the extent that they help sustain the Democratic Party. At this point in my life (as a middle-ager, not a crazed youth), I am more interested in performing nihilistic acts that seek to tear down the Washington consensus on economics, military, society and the global free market., than I am in attempting to do small and ultimately useless constructive acts within existing institutions. Help the Democratic Party, James Weinstein? I'd rather die.

Loring Wirbel
Monument, Colorado


Ralph Nader didn't steal my vote--I chose to vote for Nader. I just ended up getting sick of being triangulated against. Instead of demonizing Nader for stealing voters from the Democrats, ask what the Democrats did to drive so many people away. The answers are near at hand. Immediately after the election, with nothing political at stake, Clinton's people single-handedly sabotaged the agreement on global warming. I hope to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. But it's up to the Democrats to convince me.

John Emerson
Portland, Oregon


I truly don't get it. Why do progressives feel betrayed by Bill Clinton and Al Gore? I mean, they helped found the Democratic Leadership Council, which was explicitly designed to push the Democratic Party rightward. They acted just as leftists should have expected them to act. Why the hurt feelings?

Jason Schulman
Brooklyn, New York


Ralph Nader simply should have run as a Democrat. The only argument I have heard against this strategy is that it takes too much money to run within the Democratic party. I think a vigorous Nader candidacy against Al Gore and Bill Bradley could easily have garnered 25 percent of the Democratic primary vote.

This kind of primary run certainly could have, in the words of Doug Ireland, "inject[ed] a radical, systemic critique into the national discourse," "mobilized and trained tens of thousands of younger, single-issue militants in electoral politics," and accomplished the other gains that Nader's supporters claim in the results of this year's election ("The Blame Game," December 25).

The same logic will apply in 2004 even more powerfully. I strongly disagree with Nader's faith that the election of George W. Bush will move the Democratic Party and its voters to the left. But if that argument is true, then it would surely be perverse to reward that movement by once again running a third party candidacy whose net effect is to make Bush's re-election more likely.

If it's not true, and if the message the Democrats draw from this year's Nader run is that they really need to figure out how to get at border state voters by being more conservative on cultural issues like guns, then another Nader run will simply further weaken the progressive leverage over the Democratic Party. So whatever the impact of this year's election, it seems to me that what is called for in 2004 is a strong progressive challenge within the Democratic primary process.

But the Greens as a party are, of course, subject to the same kind of Darwinian political logic that afflicts the Republicans and Democrats. They are genetically constructed to go after votes, even if this hurts their issues. In addition to a seat in New Jersey, the Greens cost the Democrats a House seat in Lansing, Michigan; ran against Mark Udall in Colorado, making his race much closer; and competed strongly in several New Mexico swing districts. They ran in these districts not because the Democrats were Republican copycats, but because these districts are where most of their supporters live.

While Ireland argues that this ought to "have the Democratic high command worried," it also ought to worry all of us who have to live with the results of a House controlled, even narrowly, by Tom DeLay and his allies. We need voices like Udall's and Rush Holt's to provide leadership against the more corporate-oriented members of the Democratic caucus.

Carl Pope
Executive Director
The Sierra Club
San Francisco



Oy! the Yiddish words were misspelled in the illustration for "If the 'Story' Could Talk" (February 19). The correct spelling is:




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