Inaccurate Attributions of Activist Attitudes, Etc.

Sometimes I get the feeling that the RTD editorial staff doesn’t spend a great deal of time hanging out with Democratic Party or other liberal activists.

Take today’s column by Barton Hinkle, discussing Mark Warner’s decision not to run for President. The overall point Hinkle makes is perfectly valid and eloquently expressed, that being a presidential candidate must be an exhausting experience in which you are confronted with demands from a hundred different sides and are always liable to being misrepresented in the media or by your opponents.

In the process, however, Hinkle takes satirical potshots at almost every core constituency in the Democratic Party, from workers to the elderly to urban poor to gays. (The inference seems to be that, unfortunately, running for president requires one to deal with people like that instead of just being able to hang out with other middle-aged, college-educated white guys–you know, “normal people”–all the time.)

But that’s not the surprising part. The surprising part is when Hinkle writes that liberal activists “seriously think Al Gore is a capitalist running dog and Hillary Clinton is Karl Rove’s sock-puppet.” Now, surely Hinkle (if not all of his conservative readers) realize that in fact almost no one on the American left actually uses the pseudo-Maoist rhetorical style he is mocking, but perhaps we can excuse the barb as a self-conscious exercise in satiric hyperbole not intended to be taken literally.

But what Hinkle doesn’t seem to be aware of is that Al Gore’s reputation has made a sensational comeback among the activist wing of the Democratic Party that he intends to mock. A straw Presidential poll of 13,000 readers of the left-liberal site conducted in late June found that a Gore candidacy would command suppport of 35% of those voters, far more than any other candidate.

In national, representative samples of Democrats, Gore is tracking well behind Hillary Clinton, but ahead of all other candidates. What’s interesting in juxtaposing those two polls is that to the extent that Gore has a “base,” it’s among liberal activists, many of whom didn’t like some of the barbs he tossed Jesse Jackson’s way in the 1988 nomination race or chose to vote for Ralph Nader in 2000 rather than support Mr. Gore’s perceived centrism.

Those attitudes have changed dramatically, largely because of the increasingly forthright critiques of the Bush Administration on a number of different issues that Gore has issued in a series of speeches over the past couple of years, as well as in response to his film An Inconvenient Truth. Gore is no longer perceived as what Hinkle terms a “corporate Democrat” (and if what Hinkle means to imply is that Warner realized he couldn’t win running as that kind of Democrat, perhaps he is on to something). Rather, he’s perceived as a truth-teller who’s no longer imprisoned by what the polls and the donors and the strategists say.

Just now liberal activists aren’t primarily worried about ideological purity. They’ll settle for competent, forthright, and far-sighted leadership–a bill that many think Al Gore might fit. Whether Gore can pull off (should he choose to try) the biggest political comeback since Nixon ’68 remains to be seen, but it won’t be the crowd that stands in his way.

Published in: on October 17, 2006 at 8:55 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am not a Marxist, but I am also not very trusting of the Democratic Party leadership.

    I still have no idea of their core values except they hate Republicans. I still do not know what they will do about Iraq.

    What is clear with the Republicrats are two things- its ok for Gore talk about the environemnt and global warming in global terms but not local ones, and that they do not want to allow third parties to become mainstream and will do whatever it takes to keep their precious two party system no matter how compromised it is by corporate hegemony.

  2. Thanks for the interesting comment Scott.

    I have no doubt that Gore (and the other mainstream Dems) remain hostile to third parties.

    I also think that given direction of national politics since 2000, for most progressive left activists (I won’t say all) the immediate priority is getting the GOP out, not building a third party. If third parties are going to develop it’s not going to be through the next presidential election cycle.

    I also think a lot of progressives think there’s more chance now than since perhaps the 70s to retake the Democratic Party from the corporate Democrats. There’s good reason to be skeptical about that, but the near total dearth of ideas in the mainstream Democratic leadership (that you recognize) does leave a vacuum. Also, the fact that at the DNC level the Dean build-an-actual-grassroots-party-that-competes-everywhere approach now has (at least to some degree) the upper hand over the Rahm Emmanuel raise-as-much-money-as-possible approach indicates at least the possibility of a change in orientation. And finally, and perhaps this where Gore fits in, the critique mainstream liberals have been offering has gotten notably tougher in the last couple of years and now more often calls out corporate power than in the past. But we’ll see.

    In the long-term I’m interested in grassroots reconstruction of local polities and economies, and I don’t really care whether it happens through the Dems or through third party structures.

    It seems to me though that if third parties are going to become part of the picture, their growth has to be linked to a shift to proportional representation voting systems. A reasonable near-to-medium term aim might be try to get several substantial U.S. cities to adopt a PR approach, then draw up legislation for how it couuld work at the state level.

  3. “In the long-term I’m interested in grassroots reconstruction of local polities and economies, and I don’t really care whether it happens through the Dems or through third party structures.”

    Agreed, but I see no commitment by the Dems to the grassroots or even change. Are the Dems worth changing?

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