Why Unity Matters

By - Dec 1st, 2005 02:52 pm
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By Phillip Walzak

In a letter to the editor printed in the last issue of Vital Source (November 2005, Vol. 4, Issue 10, pg. 6) a left-leaning and clearly impassioned reader excoriated me for a mistake I made in a previous column. In the piece entitled “Political Math 101” (August 2005) I wrongly attributed to Al Gore the infamous “I invented the Internet” line – a line he never actually said.

It was clearly an error, and I fully acknowledge it and apologize. But the reader’s letter revealed far more than a sloppy mistake on my part. It unmasked an ugly trend that has seeped into lefty politics since the departure of Bill Clinton, and threatens progressivism’s chance for electoral success in the future.

The Letter.

“If the author would have checked his own facts,” the reader penned, “he would have found that what Mr. Gore actually said was that he ‘funded’ the Internet.” Actually, It appears we both got it wrong: then-Vice President Al Gore really said in an interview with Wolf Blitzer in March 1999: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”

Certainly not as bold as claiming Gore himself invented the Internet in a computer lab, but also more forceful than simply asserting he appropriated funding in some spending bill. No matter, the semantics are petty and pointless – but I admit that I enjoyed the irony for being taken to task over incorrect information by someone who himself got it wrong.

I don’t mind being shown up – if I get something wrong, call me out. I can take it. To the point, it was the angry, negative, visceral tone of the letter that caught my attention. The enraged reader wrote he “was appalled to find the author regurgitating the same right-wing-fueled misquote of Al Gore” and slammed me for being “too damn lazy to do his own research.” After recovering from the body blows, I checked my wallet to be sure I wasn’t a card-carrying member of the RNC.

The Politics of Disunity.It’s too bad the reader was so quick to dismiss my points, because my article basically blasted the Bush Administration for having no credibility when it originally sought office on a platform of being credible. I used the Al Gore line to demonstrate Bush’s line of attack, and to highlight the Administration’s hypocrisy in the wake of the Valerie Plame leak. The reader would probably agree with that. But instead of talking about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and how the Bushies have played politics with our national security, the end result is that two progressives have now expended time and energy discussing a six-year-old quote from a now irrelevant politician who hasn’t held elective office in half a decade. In political jargon, we’re off-message, and this gaffe – not my misquote, but rather the reader’s obsession with it – epitomizes the penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to politics that our reader and so many other liberals appear to take.

Take the 2000 election. Forget the mistakes of the Gore Campaign and the shenanigans of the Florida recount. Gore lost the Sunshine State to Bush by 537 votes, while 97,419 Floridians cast their ballots for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader. That was a tremendous spike in Green Party voting – in 1996 Nader claimed just 4,101 votes in Florida, and in 2004 landed 32,971.

The truth is, a significant number of Nader voters in 2000 were not staunch Green Party loyalists, but rather disaffected liberal Democrats who felt Clinton had strayed too far to the center and Gore represented a continuation of the same. They chose instead to use their votes to send a message to the DNC. The price of progressive dissonance in 2000 was W.

Republicans experienced similar divisive pains in 1992, when the colorful Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot made his biggest splash, nabbing more than 19.7 million votes (19 percent of the total cast). Many Perot supporters were disaffected Republicans who felt that George H.W. Bush had strayed from conservative orthodoxy on taxes, spending and the economy, and they, too, sent a message with their votes.

For conservatives, the cost of Republican disunity in 1992 was eight years of Bill Clinton, but the reward was a George W. Bush political machine that made solidification of the conservative base its number one priority. And this has been the most important factor in Bush’s two presidential victories.

Prospects for 2006 and Beyond.The biggest knock on Democrats during the 2004 campaign was they were more united in their opposition to the Bush Administration than they were in their support for a Democratic platform.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has stumbled mightily: Hurricane Katrina, Harriet Miers, Tom DeLay, the CIA Leak, the Iraq War, the price of oil and the use of torture have all come to the fore in relatively short order, and with the midterm Congressional elections just under a year away, the timing couldn’t be better. But if the left is going to capitalize, it needs more than a negative campaign. It requires a unified and mobilized movement that marches in the same lockstep as those on the right. Sniping over petty concerns, dismissing each other’s entire ideas, thoughts and beliefs because of minor variances, will lead only to more electoral defeat and greater disassociation with the broader body politic.

Instead of divisiveness, small-minded cracks in the phalanx and the eating of our own to prove a point, liberals must focus the cannons on the conservative cabal they ALL so vehemently oppose. I may disagree with many lefties on many points, but I’m always prepared to join those who share my broad values and priorities in the political process. And I’d never compare a fellow progressive to Ann Coulter – that kind of mean-spiritedness is the bailiwick of conservative punditry and the Bush White House.  VS

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