Who the Left Should Support in ’08 and Why

Any piece on this subject needs to begin by conceding that most of those reading it won’t get past the title. This is because the left has by and large joined Noam Chomsky in regarding electoral politics and elections as “celebrity driven affairs unworthy of the attention of serious activists” — at best a circus and at worst a dangerous diversion of our energies.

I’ve tried to argue elsewhere that even in their mortally compromised state, we ignore elections and organizing around elections at our peril. This is one symptom of a generation-long flirtation with a pseudo-anarchist (in some cases authentically anarchist) contempt for leadership and organization which has a lot to do with why we are where we are — at the extreme margins of political impotence.

Given that those of us who have tried to argue these points have been unsuccessful, the following conversation will be directed to a minority. Namely, the minority among the left who seriously think about the kinds of a strategy required to make participation in electoral politics worth the investment in time, energy and (sometimes) money.

Rancid DLC Goods

The discussion needs to begin with the uncontroversial assumption that neither of the two Dem front-runners has any credibility among serious progressives. Both are hopelessly compromised, one supported by Rupert Murdoch, the other by George Will. The one a recipient of lavish contributions from hedge fund billionaires, the other stuffed to the brim by investment banking firms. One in the pocket of energy consortia the other bought and paid for telecommunications conglomerates.

For a brief period, the Edwards candidacy provided a flicker of encouragement for the much vaunted Democratic wing of the Democratic party but by this point it seems certain that (yet again) the strategy of working within the Democratic Party promoted by, among others, Norman Solomon, David Sirota and the Progressive Democrats of America has been a failure. Rather than throwing more good money after bad, the left needs to (yet again) recognize the traditional role of the Democrats as the graveyard of progressive movements, the Edwards campaign joining on the scrap heap the failed candidacies of Kucinich, Dean, Jackson, McCarthy among others. While this is all water under the bridge for the moment, it will be something to keep in mind in 2012 and before when a similar cast of characters will try to sell the same rancid meat in different packages.

For the immediate future, the question remains who should we be supporting. For what it’s worth-here’s how I’m going to direct my energies and dollars for the next few months.

Go Cindy!

Supporting Cindy Sheehan’s challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a no-brainer. It should have by now already become the focus of an major national mobilization and while the campaign organization has so far been flakier than I would have hoped, it appears that Cindy’s supporters are slowly getting their act together; a few bucks thrown their way will likely be put to good use. (An immediate order of business for the campaign needs to be Sheehan’s website which is unimpressive, to put it charitably. The campaign should also consider employing an editor to correct grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes in the regular series of “pensées” which Cindy has been circulating to the left blogosphere.)

The logic for supporting Sheehan does not require that she win-though that is not out of the question. A strong showing would send an unmistakable message to corporate Dems that even though they succeeded in locking down the presidential race forcing us into the usual lesser of evils choice, we have the will and the means to address the rightward drift of the party by cutting it off if not at the very head at least at the top level.

Another likely outcome of Sheehan’s run would be similar to that of the challenge to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his local constituency by Reg Keys, like Sheehan, the parent of a soldier killed in Iraq. While Keys did not win a majority, the campaign played a significant role in the subsequent unraveling of Blair’s moral authority. Nothing would be more appropriate than for Pelosi, the quintessential corporate Dem, who recently added “torture enabler” to an already long and bloody resume, to be humiliated by her constituents in a similar fashion.

Go Huck!

The second idea is perhaps somewhat more controversial. Where it is easily done and where there are no significant contested Democratic primaries, leftists should registering as Republicans and voting for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in their states’ primaries. This a purely strategic vote based on two likely outcomes. 1) that Huckabee’s nomination (as William Kristol noted) “would drive the GOP base into therapy” and possibly fracture the party- a good thing, particularly if it were followed by the fracturing of the Dems. But more importantly 2) Huckabee’s economic populism (as phony as it is) would force the Democratic nominee to make rhetorical concessions on (for example) trade agreements, progressive taxation, bankruptcy protection, and various other bread and butter issues.

Of course, we know perfectly well that that whatever promises are made will be quickly jettisoned once the usual suspects set up shop in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget in January 2009. That said, what national candidates say on the stump along these lines will provide at least temporary legitimacy to ideas that had been (since Clinton I) relegated to the lunatic fringe. Of course, it would be ideal if the shift to the left were more than rhetorical but for that we will have to wait for a serious progressive candidate-likely from a progressive third party.

Now that the Edwards candidacy has been dispensed with by the media, the party leadership and their business class paymasters, there will be increasingly less pressure on the DLC frontrunners to even bother mouthing populist rhetoric. They will likely compensate for this vacuum by playing the race/gender card against the other-a vile prospect already materializing. A Huckabee nomination will be the only opportunity to re-inject a serious discussion of corporate dominance and criminality on a national level.

Also, for what it’s worth, those leftists invested in insuring a Democratic administration at all costs would do well to support Huckabee, as doing so will help the weakest, least viable challenger receive the Republican nomination.

Finally, as for Huckabee himself, yes, he’s a kook and a charlatan-albeit an amiable one. As he noted himself, he’s the kind of guy whom you would be more likely to work next to in the auto parts store. The other candidates, Democratic and Republican, fit the profile of the exec who will be signing your pink slip.

The bottom line: when the left is given a choice between a candidate which George Will supports and one George Will opposes, it should know which side it’s on.

John Halle is a Professor at the Bard College Conservatory of Music and former Green Party Alderman from New Haven's Ninth Ward. Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

25 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Steven Sherman said on January 15th, 2008 at 3:03pm #

    Reading the headline, I hoped for a sober assessment of how those to the left of the Democrats might act in a situation in which there is no independent left to speak of, and no prospect of a left Democrat getting the nomination. Instead, we are thrown two silly electoral strategies–one a Quixotic campaign by an increasingly marginal figure, the other a positively dumb effort to manipulate the politics of the right by voting for a theocratic populist. Why is the left more and more coming off as the dumbest and most irrelevant sector of American politics?

  2. John Halle said on January 15th, 2008 at 3:10pm #

    Fair enough. I agree entirely with the characterization of the “left (as) more and more coming off as the dumbest and most irrelevant sector of American politics”.

    I don’t agree, obviously, with the characterization of Sheehan’s campaign as necessarily quixotic-though whether it is or not will be determined by whether “the left” decides to mobilize behind it.

    As for the strategy behind voting for Huckabee, again we disagree, though merely labelling it as silly does not advance the conversation in any substantive respect.

    Perhaps you would like to make some of your own suggestions for a productive left electoral strategy.

    I, for one, am all ears.


  3. HR said on January 15th, 2008 at 5:05pm #

    I’m with Chomsky. All the machinations of the pathetic parody of progressivism that the the left has become will come essentially to naught. Remember, you are living in a country that has been moving rapidly toward police-state fascism for 4 decades now. And, this move has been welcomed with open arms by nearly a majority of the population, the people who voted for Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, and whichever of the vile examples of humanity disguised as presidential candidates is selected in the current go ’round of mindless “voting”.

    How much opposition do you see to regressive, unconstitutional legislation that steals our freedom, our privacy? Most people see video cameras or learn that their communications will be read, and respond with the mantra, “If I’ve done nothing wrong, then I have nothing to fear.” The left loudly touts polls that show a majority now oppose the war, but fails to point out that this majority is comprised mostly of people who are simply fed up that the war failed to be the predicted cakewalk to victory that they were sold, the folks who adorned their vehicles with insipid magnets and antenna flags when the war began.

    It may well be too late to do much but document feelings, conversations, reactions, thoughts, and day-to-day activities at this point. Too late to do anything but provide documentation to future generations, should such exist, of how people here simply caved in, escaped from freedom (to the extent we ever had it) and embraced police-state-fascist authoritarianism. Any citizen of the U.S. over the age of 30 who claims not to understand how the Germans could have allowed the Hitler regime to commit the atrocities it committed is either completely ignorant, completely stupid, or in complete denial, or some combination of the three.

  4. Ron Horn said on January 15th, 2008 at 5:21pm #

    I’m all in favor of supporting Cindy for Congress and ousting Pelosi. Because the citizens of San Francisco are fairly enlightened (compared to the rest of the US), I think that this is very doable and it would about the only way that we, on the left, can strike back at the governing class. And it would be very dramatic–not something that would be hidden on the back pages. I used to live in San Francisco in the 80s and voted for Pelosi, so I guess I feel a special responsibility to punish her. Hence I have sent in a contribution and offered volunteer assistance.

  5. Erik Rose said on January 15th, 2008 at 5:22pm #

    H.R., I agree wholeheartedly. Anything less that anarchy is merely procrastination. How bad does it have to get before people revolt?

  6. Tommy said on January 15th, 2008 at 8:29pm #

    I forgive you this rant on electoral “strategies,” in part because the illusions you spout must’ve been formed by the experience of being a Alderman in New Haven; yet the realities of an alderman and the President are many dimensions apart. The cognitive dissonance that is so glibly offered — everyone’s bought off or revealed as a dead-end, so let’s instead play some pseudo-Machiavellian electoral manipulations — boggles the mind. As long as the seduction of elections, as they are presently constructed, remains as the last hook into “making” this destructive system “work,” the people of the world and the planetary ecosystem will forever remain in jeopardy. I can only hope that as a result of this latest essay the “minority” you have aimed this at has actually gotten that much smaller.

  7. Eric Patton said on January 15th, 2008 at 9:51pm #

    People already know it’s bad. They feel no hope.

  8. Mike McNiven said on January 16th, 2008 at 1:15am #

    Mr.Halle ,
    Your ststement about Chomsky is factually wrong! I wished it was true because then he had to do something about it instead of talk, talk, talk,…
    In 2004 he waged a nauseating campaign in support of… John Kerry! (no wonder he likes to put down Marx all the time)

  9. Peter said on January 16th, 2008 at 3:25am #

    i’m not sure, but I could swear I just read something that seemed to suggest that Noam Chomsky actually has ‘contempt for organization’. it’s not stated explicitly, but it’s linked just like Bush did his Iraq/9-11 stuff.

    whenever asked, “What should we do?”, Chomsky always has a single word answer – ‘organize’.


  10. PatrickSMcNally said on January 16th, 2008 at 3:50am #

    If the Socialist Equality Party is able to run candidates again as they did in 2004


    and 2006


    then it will be worth casting a vote. Apart from something of this type with a clearly formulated socialist program, it’s a waste of time and a bad diversion for people to focus on the elections.

    20 years ago your description of Chomsky would have been accurate. But if you’ve been awake then you should know that Chomsky has slid down the hill in his late years and actually endorsed Kerry in 2004. That can be taken as a lesson in the failures of anarchism. But it’s not a reason to start voting for Democrats. If a vote is to be cast it should be for a party like the SEP which offers a real alternative.

  11. ron said on January 16th, 2008 at 6:25am #

    Why would anyone claiming to be left suggest voting for Huckabee? One must be very careful what one wishes for. Huckabee is a know-nothing wannabe theocrat with a folksy manner that belies his authoritarian program. Let’s face it, elections in the US at the presidential level are a show and mockery of the very word democracy. In this light, voting for a so-called fringe candidate makes complete sense, especially since all the mainstream candidates are beholden to the same monied interests and not the voters.
    Voting for state and local candidates that are not from the DemoRepublicans makes a lot of sense because they can actually win. Of course, what happens to the winners after they go to Washington is hard to predict (Bernie Sanders is certainly not a radical anymore).

  12. Seven said on January 16th, 2008 at 8:47am #

    Why must it always be: “who should the left support” or “who should the right support”.

    Why can’t it ever be “who should the PEOPLE support”?

    Stop allowing corporate media to pit yourselves against one another. Look at your passports – they all say American.

  13. Deadbeat said on January 16th, 2008 at 10:18am #

    Support the Green Party. The likely candidate (I hope) will be Cynthia McKinney. She provided an alternative and working with the Greens helps to build the party and attract people who are alienated.

  14. Deadbeat said on January 16th, 2008 at 10:24am #

    Ron is correct. Supporting Huckabee makes absolutely no sense. I can see folks desiring Ron Paul because they want an end to the war on Iraq. However Huckabee wants to maintain the war in Iraq and the racist “War on Terrorism”.

    Mike McNiven is also correct about Chomsky and the Zionist “left” who abandoned the anti-war movement for the pro-war Democrats/ABB/Safe-State strategy in 2004.

  15. joed said on January 16th, 2008 at 10:36am #

    Seems the “party” doesn’t really matter any more. I will never again vote for a candidate that I consider the lesser of 2 evils. I will only vote for a person I want to represent me. Perhaps the worse thing the left could do is to not vote at all. It would be better to write in your own name or maybe “Gilda Radner” or ???. If votes from the left go to “left field” then what could be better. Not voting is just what the thugs want so just write-in someone ie; Kurt Vonnegut, John Halle, Noam chomsky, Yoseph Stalin, Alan Watts etc. Short of having a viable candidate and seeing the need to vote then what else can we on the left do?

  16. joed said on January 16th, 2008 at 10:49am #

    I would for sure vote for Cynthia McKinney and maybe the Green Party. Another write-in could be Angela Davis.

  17. joed said on January 16th, 2008 at 10:59am #

    Also, your vote hasn’t counted for 7+ years why would you think your vote will count this year?! but, if you don’t vote then the thugs are pleased. but if say 20% of dem votes went to Cynthia McKinney that would give the dems real concern for the 2010 election.

  18. Geoffk said on January 16th, 2008 at 12:31pm #

    I can see voting for Huckabee because he has a bit of anti-free trade shtick going on, but his theocratic preaching is pretty scary. Even more scary because that’s the type of thing that could lead to him getting elected and laws being passed — because which spineless Dem will stand up against the Good Lord Jesus being written into the Constitution?
    That’s why I think I’ll vote for Ron Paul when I cross over to vote in the Rep primary in my state.

  19. Shabnam said on January 16th, 2008 at 2:02pm #


    John Halle’s is joking. He has done it in the past. It is called speculative fiction. Who wants to vote for Huchabee? Unless you are a naïve person. The “president” of the United States more correctly, the manager, is more likely to be changed by the corporations and forces protecting the interest of corporations than to “change” the established economic system which benefits the rich and not those who have been neglected.
    Huchabee’s foreign policy is copied from the Zionist notebook and that is to arm the Kurds up to their teeth to extend the Zionist state to bring more war and destruction through which to rub the regions’ resources through rules of the game “divide and rule” manipulation

  20. rosemarie jackowski said on January 16th, 2008 at 4:29pm #

    Angela Davis, Nader, McKinney – any one of them would be a good president. How about Ward Churchill for president ! That would really make a statement.
    For those who missed the dems debate last night, it was NOT a debate. It was a love fest. Very sad. Kucinich was kept out by the Court. The 3 dems should have refused to “debate” as an act of solidarity with him. But on the brighter side – this morning on Democracy Now Kucinich again said that the USA should pay reparations to Iraq. That was a courageous statement coming from a politician.

  21. Cameron James said on January 16th, 2008 at 9:32pm #

    Try this on for size. Instead of justifying staying away from electoral politics on the grounds Halle says Chomsky does – regards “electoral politics and elections as celebrity driven affairs unworthy of the attention of serious activists — at best a circus and at worst a dangerous diversion of our energies” – why not see not voting as an act of non-cooperation in a corrupt political system, an act intended to further weaken the credibility of an already discredited political system. Halle argues that “even in their mortally compromised state, we ignore elections and organizing around elections at our peril.” He attributes the left’s marginal status in the U.S. as significantly caused by such attitudes. Besides being dead wrong about this connection – the left is weak for a slew of other reasons little related to its skepticism about participating in electoral politics – Halle overlooks the possibilities in actively joining and organizing our biggest existing political bloc which is the majority of non-voting citizens. Together we can help bring down the current facade of democracy represented by the current political system by making it even more meaningless than it already is – if nobody or at least a very small number of us showed up to vote then the system would implode and the formation of a more democratic one would be on the table. Think of it this way – every vote, no matter for who, is an action which maintains an ever expanding masquerade stifling meaningful political debate, meaningful reforms and slams the door on the evolution of a just and humane socio-economic system in this country.
    John Halles’ chatter about the candidates in reality supports the continuation of what most of know is a rotting corpse — U.S. electoral politics.

  22. Harmoon said on January 16th, 2008 at 10:32pm #

    The major strategic mistake of all of us is to prioritize based on hallow words as left or right without explaining their meanings from our point of view. Does it worse a damn if this cruel Empire ruin the world but throw few crums in the plate of a middle class? The reality is the foreign policy of US is the priority not “Left” or “right” or democrat or republican or liberal or conservative. All are prostitutes of the same Epire with different attire. Vote for antiwar candidate, if you close to republicans vote for Ron Paul, if you are close for democrats vote for Michael Gravel.

  23. John Halle said on January 17th, 2008 at 8:35am #

    Thanks very much for the discussion, everyone. A few responses.

    First, I don’t think I made sufficiently clear in the piece that I don’t support Huckabee and regard him with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. Rather, what I’m opening up for consideration is a strategic vote for him in the Republican primary-or, putting it differently, engaging in a legal form of sabotage. If successful the result of this strategy will be that 1) the most unelectable Republican gets nominated 2) the schism between the theocratic and the corporate wings will result in a full fracturing of the party and 3) that if nominated Huckabee’s economic populism will force the Dem nominee to address issues of corporate accountability and bread and butter economics which they would feel no pressure to do with McCain as opponent.

    Given that there is no vote in the Democratic primary which will have any positive political impact, why not consider this? An out-of-the-box idea, I admit, but aren’t radicals supposed to be capable of considering radical ideas? Incidentally, you can be sure that the right engages in all sorts of sabotage of the left, though maybe not of this particular sort.

    As for supporting an independent and/or Green campaigns, yes, by all means. I am very impressed with McKinney’s generally and her appearance at the recent San Francisco debate in particular where she made the following remarks:

    “The Green Party needs to stop being divided. We need to unite the party. We must face the machine of corporate politics and we can’t do it divided. I’ve have never seen something like this like I see now in the Green Party. So please let’s come together.”

    The attitudes McKinney is referring to are luridly displayed on on this list including by some of those who claim to support her. Let’s hope they will begin to recognize their own role in what McKinney recognizes as the descent of the party in to almost total insignificance in recent years.

    While I’m impressed with McKinney, I agree with Ross Mirikami that there is no evidence that what happens at the national level helps the party do what it needs to do which is to build an electoral foundation at the local and then state levels . Again, I’ve tried to make the argument repeatedly that this is what the party needs to do-and I’ve walked the walk in addition to talking the talk. It would be nice if those above who seem so enthusiastic on lecturing to me on this point would get their thumbs out of their asses and turn their attention to what is necessary to get this ball rolling. I have seen no indication that any of them have done so. Note that this requires actual practical political work-talking with neighbors, coworkers, compiling databases, raising money, filing ballot access petitions, familiarize one’s self with election law-there is no glamour in it, and it does not provide the opportunity to hobnob with various left celebrities, a primary concern of the starfucking, elitist left wannabes-not an insignificant constituency, alas.

    Of course, this discussion is of no interest to what appears to be the majority of leftists who have no interest in “building” the Green Party-or any political institution, for that matter, as the piece notes. As we have seen on DV, they are always the first to chime in with denunciations of this or that deviation from ideological purity or failures to maintain strict adherence to an idealized hyper-democratic “process”.

    It is unfortunate that they seem, at the moment, to have a lock on most of the higher profile left blogs.

    That said, I’m grateful that DV is at least open to running perspectives which challenge the dominant views on these questions.

  24. ajohnstone said on January 20th, 2008 at 12:14am #

    I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.

    Eugene Debs

  25. Charles said on February 9th, 2008 at 9:21am #

    Thanks for saying what needs to be said about the national Democratic Party. It is irrational to invest any time, money, energy and hope in any of the Presidential candidates remaining in the race (i.e., those having enough corporate and media support to stay on TV).

    Progressives must identify and support real progressive candidates for the Congress wherever they can be found, regardless of their party affiliation. Targeting Bush-Democrats like Pelosi is perhaps more important than targeting Republicans. We may be able to expect the electorate to punish the Republicans to some extent for their obvious and miserable failure to govern, but if the replacements are led by the likes of Pelosi and Reid then the nation has gained nothing.

    There are a number of organizations out there attempting to identify and support insurgent progressives for Congress (usually on the Democratic line), but their criteria and methods vary considerably. In most states, there will be at least one progressive running for Congress either in the Democratic primary or as a third-party candidate in November – they deserve our support. Nationally, nothing could send a stronger message to the establishment than the defeat of Speaker Pelosi. Go Cindy!