If you think that liberals and lefties in Washington, DC are agonizing about Ralph Nader's candidacy, you're mistaken. In recent days the mood has turned almost entirely to thoughts of payback -- though it's not entirely clear what form of retribution the party's liberal wing can exact on Nader and his lieutenants.
For some time, left-liberal types flirted with the Naderites or refrained from attacking them frontally. But now that's all changed. Partly, this stems from the fact that the prospect of his tipping the election to George W. Bush -- in the electoral if not the popular vote -- now seems very real. But there's another reason as well.
Nader and his chief supporters long maintained the pretense that electing George W. Bush might only be an unfortunate by-product of their effort to secure federal status for the Green Party, by garnering 5 percent of the vote (for an example, see my earlier online dialogue with Nader supporter Micah Sifry). But recent events have put the lie to that proposition -- and exposed its proponents as either deceivers or dupes.
Here's why: In the final week, Nader is campaigning exclusively in those states in which his candidacy has a realistic chance of flipping the state from Gore to Bush. On the campaign trail, Nader has made it more and more clear that this is his preferred outcome. He's even taken to arguing that James Watt, Ronald Reagan's hideously anti-environment Secretary of the Interior, was the best thing that ever happened to the environment, because he outraged so many people and did so many bad things. And the Supreme Court and abortion -- pull-ease! They won't outlaw abortion -- just revert it to the states. Didn't you know that? And how bad could that be?
The Nader folks argue, of course, that there are really no significant differences between Bush and Gore. But listen closely to Nader's rhetoric and you'll hear something interesting. He almost never talks about specific issues per se, only about "corporate wealth" and "concentration of power." If he did talk about any actual questions of policy, he might have a harder time making his argument that Bush and Gore are just peas in a pod.
Yes, I admit that not all Nader supporters are dopey sentimentalists or latter-day Leninists trying to "heighten the contradictions" of our corrupt political order. There are a few exceptions: sensible folks like David Corn of The Nation, whose support for Nader, as nearly as I can tell, stems from some temporary form of dementia from which I sincerely hope he soon recovers (Get well soon, David, we care about you). But in most cases, it's hard not to see the Naderites for what they are: a gaggle of modern-day Know-Nothings with a few million know-littles in tow.
Don't look now, but the Senate might actually go Democratic. Consider the following:
Montana: In the two most recent polls, one has incumbent Republican Conrad Burns leading Brian Schweitzer by 1 point (45-44); the other has him losing (41-43). For an incumbent, that's really bad. That's a 50-50 chance of a Democratic pick-up.
Minnesota: In the two most recent polls, one has Rod Gramms losing to Mark Dayton 42-47; the other has him losing 48-33. Gramms is dead.
Michigan: Of three most recent polls, one has Debbie Stabenow up by two (44-42); another (EPIC, which is Michigan's poll of record) has them dead even (41-41); and another has Spencer Abraham up by three (39-36). The key here is an incumbent who's spent huge sums of money and can't get much past 40 percent. Add in massive labor mobilization in Michigan, you've got to figure Stabenow is the favorite.
Washington: Of the two most recent polls, one has Slade Gorton over Maria Cantwell by four (44-48); another has him leading by three (46-43). You have to figure Gorton probably wins this race. But, again, he's an incumbent who can't get past 45 percent. He probably wins; but it could easily go against him.
Missouri: What can I say, death becomes Mel Carnahan. Since the governor's death, he's moved from dead-even to slightly behind John Ashcroft to dead-even to ahead. The most recent poll has Carnahan up 7 points (50-43); the next most recent has them tied (46-46). For the Democrats, I rate it, macabre but promising.
Delaware: I can't find any polling within the last two weeks on this race, but it's basically a dead even contest between Bill Roth and Tom Carper.
Virginia: Of the two most recent polls, one has George Allen beating Chuck Robb by three (47-44); another by two (48-46). Robb's definitely in trouble but a month ago he looked dead. He has a history of comebacks. And he could still retain that seat. Momentum at least is with him; whether or not it proves sufficient is another matter.
Florida: Everybody thinks Bill Nelson is going to beat Bill McCollum in this race, period. Yet that is probably canceled out by the Republican pick up in Nevada.