Contempt of Court

To The Editors:

Randall Kennedy's "Contempt of Court" [TAP, January 1-15, 2001] confirms what I have always believed about this Supreme Court--that the Court under William Rehnquist postures an image of following court law, when in fact this Court is an activist conservative majority (the gang of five) that is determined to take our country back to the 1950s.

As an observer of constitutional and court law arguments by some of the most brilliant lawyers in England, I have always believed that Justice Antonin Scalia's intellect and wit were highly overrated.

Arthur Durant, Ph.D.

Governors State University

University Park, IL

Who Governs?

To The Editors:

I was both pleased and disappointed with Robert Kuttner's "Who Governs?" [December 18, 2000]. He was right to chide Ralph Nader supporters for abandoning Al Gore, and he was correct to assert the dangers of the New Democrats going along with George W. Bush on deeply divisive issues such as school vouchers and privatization.

But these forward-thinking comments are undermined by Kuttner's withering attack on the New Democrat faction of the party. He labels New Democrats a "Trojan horse" and asks, "what earthly good did the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) do?"--as if he believes the Democratic Party can win a mandate to govern the country without us. Need I point out that Bill Clinton, who is the only Democratic president in the last 20 years and the only two-term Democratic president in the last half-century, is a card-carrying member of the DLC?

Democrats will win elections and govern the nation by large margins--but only if we get away from the notion that we must pander prominently to our interest groups. Rather, all factions of the party should respect differences and attempt to reach a consensus within this framework: Government is often a solution, though it can be a problem.

William D. Conner

Norfolk, VA

Papa Don't Preach

To The Editors:

Danny Goldberg's take on the recent presidential election ["Papa Don't Preach," January 1-15, 2001] makes a lot of sense if, like Goldberg, you are the CEO of an independent record company. On the other hand, if you aren't, his article reads like a self-serving distortion of recent events in American politics.

Goldberg implies that the First Amendment protects the entertainment business, but not people who try to clean up the industry's act. He also implies that popular taste is an expression of the popular will--much like election results. But as we have learned recently, election results can sometimes be manipulated, and so can popular taste. Goldberg never considers that this "popular will" might in fact reflect a demand created by the entertainment industry itself. In effect, he is urging those who seek public office to pander not to moral conservatives but to him and to those people who buy his records.

Goldberg seems to reject entirely the notion that elected officials might offer some moral leadership to citizens of this country. It's okay for the entertainment industry to lead us all in a race to the bottom, but if anybody in public life objects, they're deemed preachy, elitist, and clearly out of touch with mainstream culture. This extreme position would be suspect coming from anybody. It is particularly suspect when you consider the source: a guy who makes his living selling records.

Carl Silverman, M.D.

Madison, WI

Trust Fund Babies

To The Editors:

I really liked Jonathan Rowe's proposal to use the estate tax to fund a grubstake for all Americans ["Every Baby a Trust Fund Baby," January 1-15, 2001]. But it will either have to be sold to legislators or forced down their throats--and I support either method. Though difficult to accomplish, such a program would put the country back on the course the founders intended. Let's make it happen.

Roy Stout

Kadoka, SD

The Morning After

To The Editors:

I agree with everything said about Ralph Nader (particularly with Michael Dukakis's strangling recommendation) in your December 4, 2000, election postmortem issue. But Nader and, perhaps, the Green Party itself are more than spoilers for progressive candidates; they are anti-liberals who should be opposed by progressives.

Rather than spend time defending Al Gore and other progressive candidates against Nader and the Greens, we should leave them, along with so many of our adversaries on the right, to languish in their own self-righteous dustbins.

David Perel

Los Angeles, CA

To The Editors:

The Democrats may have lost the election because the Greens refused to compromise with the Democratic Party. But it takes two to compromise. We could equally well say that the Democrats may have lost the presidency because they refused to compromise with the Greens.

Furthermore, it may well be that many liberals who voted for Democratic congresspeople would not have bothered to vote at all if there had been no Green Party candidate to vote for.

Gus Rabson

Haverhill, MA

To The Editors:

In "The Morning After" [December 4, 2000], Paul Starr claims that "there is a simple, numerical answer" to how the Republicans managed to win. Unfortunately, Starr got his arithmetic wrong. Here's the correct math: Of the 47 million Americans who voted for Bill Clinton in 1996, more than 7 million of them voted for George W. Bush in 2000!

That's why Al Gore lost the "border" states of Arkansas, Tennessee (Gore's home state), Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia, with a total of 41 electoral votes, that Clinton carried in both 1992 and 1996. Gore didn't lose these states because of Nader; Gore lost them because he ran a weak campaign.

Hysterical liberals seem to be demanding that Nader and the Greens remain in a coalition that has taken them for granted and has failed to deliver on too many progressive issues. Gore and Bush support the death penalty; Greens don't. Gore and Bush want to increase military spending even though the Cold War is over; Greens want to decrease military spending by 50 percent. Gore and Bush support the undemocratic WTO; Greens don't. And the Democrats and the Republicans take hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate soft money; Greens support public financing of elections and refuse to take corporate PAC money.

The Democratic Party has sold out many of its historical principles to attract corporate money, cynically calculating that there's no place else for progressive voters to go. Well, the "simple, numerical answer" is that Democrats can't take the 2.8 million Nader voters for granted any longer.

Jim Lynn

Stamford, CT

To The Editors:

Paul Starr may claim to be a progressive Democrat, but he shows no sign of noticing that Al Gore is nothing more than a Republican in drag. To Mr. Starr, I say: Wise up, it's not your party any more.

Perhaps the Nader campaign did spoil a clear victory by Gore, but the Democratic Party went on the auction block 20 years ago, following their defeat by big business and Ronald Reagan in 1980. They sold out cheap, name and all. Ralph Nader was the closest thing I saw to a Democrat this year.

Gore's campaign failed to address the most basic elements of my old Democrats: universal health care for all citizens, diverting defense spending into social programs, controlling the greed of huge corporations.

Roger Gates

Taking Back Democracy

Point Roberts, WA

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Nader's Latest Safety Concern

In his column "The Morning After" [TAP, December 4, 2000], Paul Starr quoted Ralph Nader as having said before the election, "After November, we're going to go after the Congress in a very detailed way, district by district. If [Democrats in a particular district] are winning 51 to 49 percent, we're going to go in and beat them with Green votes." Nader included among possible targets Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. Starr then wrote:

It does not seem to have dawned on Nader that by trying to defeat Democrats in general elections, he and the Greens are alienating the very constituency they need to attract. Once a hero to liberals, Nader is now reviled by them for his role in helping Bush. On election night, the normally placid Michael Dukakis said that if Nader tipped the election, "I'll strangle the guy with my bare hands." Former Governor Dukakis has always been against capital punishment, but like a lot of Democrats, he is willing to make exceptions.

In response to this column, Nader, in a phone conversation with us, described that paragraph as potentially inviting threats to his physical safety, and in a follow-up letter to Starr, he called it "inexcusable" and a "reckless loss of control." He added: "And maybe in a future issue you can explain to readers why the Democrats, for the last decade, have become so good at electing such bad Republicans who have controlled the Congress since 1994." We invited Nader to revise his letter for publication, but he declined. Paul Starr, who worked for Nader from 1971 to 1973, replies below in an open letter.

Dear Ralph:

Certainly you should be safe from physical harm; it never occurred to me that anyone might take Michael Dukakis's words or mine literally, much less as a provocation. You may remember that in 1988, when the governor was asked in a presidential debate what he would do if a man raped and murdered his wife, a lot of people thought he should have said, "I'd strangle the guy." Since he didn't use that line then, I realize where this puts you. Still, if you see him coming down the street, I don't think you'll need to run in the opposite direction. In the meantime, we will check the costs of printing irony in a different color ink for those apt to miss it.

I am mystified by your challenge that I explain "why the Democrats, for the last decade, have become so good at electing such bad Republicans." Even good candidates sometimes lose elections; the onus for their opponents' victories doesn't always fall on them. Perhaps you're implying that if Democrats had adopted your ideas, they would have won more often. With under 3 percent of the vote, you are not in the best position to make that case. It's also odd for you to blame Democrats for electing Republicans when your own strategy for the Greens would deliberately help elect Republicans, regardless of the Democrats running against them.

When I worked for you 30 years ago, you had surrounded yourself with people interested in achievable reforms. Our primary means were research and litigation and the effects those might have on mainstream public opinion and political leaders. Many of us who worked for you then, and oppose you now, have been steadfast; it's you who turned from that path and chose to become the delusional and destructive Pied Piper of progressivism.

Paul Starr