Rocky Anderson’s “Progressivism”

Rejoinder to Rocky Anderson's "Ralph Nader, the Democrats, and I"

Let’s not put too fine a point on it: Rocky Anderson’s response to my earlier article is a dodge and a diversion, chockablock with lies and rank ignorance about the issues. His scattershot screed buries his credibility even deeper than I did in my article—which is, by the way, 100-percent accurate, carefully sourced, and meticulously phrased; it is Anderson who resorts to wholesale deceit in a frantic but doomed effort to rescue the fake-progressive reputation he has so assiduously tried to fob off on credulous and well-meaning activists and voters.

Let’s take his reply point by point to dispel every last wisp of the dense fog of mendacity and distortion that Anderson spews in his reply:

1. The mendacity begins in only the second sentence of Anderson’s reply, when he writes: “Is that what he [Kaufman] means by ‘politricks’ and ‘the dark side of politics’?” There’s only one problem here: I never used either quoted word or the quoted phrase anywhere in my article. Here we get a prompt foretaste of the dishonesty that runs like a bright thread throughout Anderson’s reply.

2. If Rocky Anderson wanted to effectively quash any impression that his campaign was claiming Nader’s endorsement, the staffer’s post with the word “endorse” could have been taken down. It never was.

3. Rocky Anderson’s campaign and his Justice Party are indeed both shadowy in origins and equivocal in political orientation. The party was not, and has never been, a grassroots organization that arose from on-the-ground activism around clear progressive issues; it has always been a consequence, organizationally and politically, of Rocky Anderson’s ambition to run for president.

4. I gave clear quotations to document Rocky Anderson’s aversion to any identification with the left, including his disparaging comments about the Green Party (“just a sliver of the left”) in explaining to Amy Goodman why he did not seek the Green nomination rather than starting his own vanity party.

5. Anderson trumpets his high-minded support for various social issues, such as “expanding rights for inmates, suits for police abuse, my presidency of the Board of the Utah ACLU, my work with Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, my progressive leadership as Mayor of Salt Lake City, and my founding of High Road for Human Rights.” It’s a time-honored ploy of pseudo-progressive Democrats to cite their noble declarations of support for civil liberties, abortion, and other socio-cultural issues while increasingly converging with Republicans on the 1-percent/neoliberal agenda of Chicago-school free-market economics. Notice that Anderson nowhere denies—or even honestly addresses—the nub of my analysis of his campaign’s failure to call for a repeal of WTO/NAFTA and of Taft-Hartley, two pieces of legislation that are most directly responsible for the depressed living standards of working class Americans: WTO/NAFTA through the hemorrhaging of high-quality manufacturing jobs abroad, and Taft-Hartley through a steady and alarming erosion in the power of the union movement and a consequent thwarting of its ability to press for higher wages and better benefits and working conditions. How revealing that on these specific economic and class issues, Anderson is curiously muted on his Web site and silent in his reply to me.

6. On Mitt Romney: Anderson claims that “Kaufman neglected to disclose any of that to his readers.” “That” here means that the Romney that Anderson warmly endorsed in 2002 (and who endorsed Anderson a year later) was some sort of apostle of reason and light who embraced all manner of progressive positions. And exactly what were these examples of Romney’s purportedly enlightened outlook? Anderson claims that he “supported gay and lesbian rights and a woman’s right to choose abortion.” But Romney has never supported marriage rights for gays. He has demagogued abortion this way and that, depending on which audience he was speaking to for which office he was seeking. When Romney ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994, he accepted the endorsement of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a zealous anti-abortion group; when he was thinking of running for governor of Utah, he wrote a letter to a newspaper there stating that he was unequivocally against abortion, just as he does now. As Ted Kennedy wittily observed, “Mitt Romney isn’t pro-choice or anti-choice; he’s multiple-choice.”

More important is the fact that when Anderson endorsed him, Romney was pro-war, pro-gun, anti-labor, pro-WTO/NAFTA, opposed to public funding of elections, opposed to raising the minimum wage, opposed to more progressive taxation, opposed to cutting the military budget, opposed to cracking down on corporate crime and fraud and corporate welfare, in favor of the repeal of Glass-Steagall, opposed to regulating the derivatives that would later wreck the economy, and so on. In short, Anderson warmly endorsed a militant and loyal defender of the interests of the 1 percent against the 99 percent, as I accurately observed in my article. Again we see in bold relief Anderson’s indifference to the class and economic issues that distinguish the true progressive from the neoliberal demagogue; in the Anderson-Romney world of expensively coiffed Janus faces, a warm clasp of the hand of someone who temporarily favors abortion is just dandy, even if it means helping to advance the political career of an avowed adversary of the interests of working people and nearly all of the progressive agenda.

Finally, as for Anderson’s assertion that I “failed to disclose to [my] readers” Anderson’s frail rationalizations for supporting Romney in 2002, this is simply a blatant lie; I quoted in full the lame excuse he gave Amy Goodman.

7. On the carbon tax: Anderson reproaches me for failing to quote this part of his statement in support of Wall Street’s favorite non-solution to the climate crisis—cap and trade: “but support and defend the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions if market mechanisms are not promptly put in place by Congress or prove insufficient.” This is completely irrelevant. We are talking about a carbon tax. The EPA doesn’t have the power to levy a tax—only Congress does. Can Anderson, the would-be president, really be this grossly ignorant of the Constitution? Moreover, the EPA is already charged with the regulation of environmental toxins, so Anderson is just spinning his wheels here. I’m not concealing anything—but Anderson is clearly still concealing his failure to advocate a carbon tax by underscoring his advocacy of the EPA’s doing . . . what it is already doing. How pathetic, how ignorant, and again . . . how dishonest.

But the ignorance doesn’t end there. Anderson, the man who would be president, evidently doesn’t even know that the EPA is only just now beginning (as in three weeks ago!) to address the issue of carbon emissions from power plants, and that its powers are very limited. In the words of Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation:

There is currently no uniform national limit on the amount of carbon pollution new power plants can emit, and the standard we proposed last week is common-sense, achievable and in line with the direction the industry has been moving for a decade. As the [EPA] Administrator and I said repeatedly when we announced this proposal last week, this standard only applies to new sources – that is, power plants that will be constructed in the future. This standard would never apply to existing power plants. And we have no plans to address existing power plants.

And this feeble regulatory regime is what Anderson appends, as an afterthought, to his cap-and-trade folly in the midst of a planet emergency so severe that many leading climate scientists think it may already be too late to avert feedback-driven disaster.

Anderson, obviously no expert in such matters, again parrots the neoliberal party line when he writes, “cap and trade systems were successfully utilized to address both acid rain and the destruction of the ozone level.” This is one of the hoariest myths of the neoliberal cap and traders. Someone who is a world-renowned expert in this area, James E. Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, disposes of this myth in an op-ed piece on this subject in the New York Times:

Supporters of cap and trade point to the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that capped sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-burning power plants — the main pollutants in acid rain — at levels below what they were in 1980. This legislation allowed power plants that reduced emissions to levels below the cap to sell the credit for these excess reductions to other utilities whose emissions were too high, thus giving plant owners a financial incentive to cut back their pollution. Sulfur emissions have been reduced by 43 percent in the two decades since. Great success? Hardly.

Because cap and trade is enforced through the selling and trading of permits, it actually perpetuates the pollution it is supposed to eliminate. If every polluter’s emissions fell below the incrementally lowered cap, then the price of pollution credits would collapse and the economic rationale to keep reducing pollution would disappear.

Worse yet, polluters’ lobbyists ensured that the clean air amendments allowed existing power plants to be ‘grandfathered,’ avoiding many pollution regulations. These old plants would soon be retired anyway, the utilities claimed. That’s hardly been the case: Two-thirds of today’s coal-fired power plants were constructed before 1975.

Cap and trade also did little to improve public health. Coal emissions are still significant contributing factors in four of the five leading causes of mortality in the United States — and mercury, arsenic and various coal pollutants also cause birth defects, asthma and other ailments.

See also Ralph Nader’s devastating critique of cap and trade in his Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, “We Need a Global Carbon Tax: The Cap-and-Trade Approach Won’t Stop Global Warming.”

Devoid of any compunctions about seeking a hedge-fund-financed shortcut to ballot status in all fifty states courtesy of Americans Elect (another key point that Anderson revealingly and dishonestly dodges in his reply), Anderson is also conscience-free about placing the fate of the planet earth in the hands of the Wall Street banksters whose arcane scams have brought the U.S. economy to its knees. The noted progressive economist Dean Baker explains why Goldman Sachs echoes Rocky Anderson’s enthusiasm for cap and trade:

The outstanding value of carbon permits will almost certainly run into the trillions of dollars once the system is fully up and running. The annual trading in these permits and various derivative instruments (e.g., options, futures, swaps of various types) is likely to also run into the trillions of dollars, perhaps tens of trillions. A market that trades $10 trillion a year would generate $25 billion a year in revenue, if fees and commissions average 0.25 percent. If Goldman can capture 30 percent of these trades by getting in on the ground floor, then it stands to generate more than $8 billion each year in revenue from carbon trading. This is enough to explain Goldman’s enthusiasm for cap and trade – it’s all about as clear as it can possibly be.

And whom does Anderson cite as his “experts” in support of this unworkable and reckless bankster fraud? Gary Hart? Van Jones? Gus Speth? Not one of them is a scientist—just the usual suspects: Democratic Party/Obama loyalists whose main job it is to find rationales for the Democrats’ ever-accelerating collapse into free-market rapacity. By Anderson’s chosen neoliberal authorities, ye shall know him.

8. Anderson fails to address my critique of his forceful advocacy of “a balanced budget except in times of war or national emergency”. (Note that, not coincidentally, Anderson routinely dodges my critiques of his flagrant neoliberal positions on economic and class issues). In a blog interview, Anderson was asked, “Why do you support the neoliberal economic concept of a balanced budget or surplus?” In his response, Anderson parrots the rightist Chicago School meme that “accruing debt that is left for future generations is a form of intergenerational tyranny, which is an irresponsible and unjust thing to do.” It is truly staggering to see a self-designated progressive thumping away at this fallacy, which Anderson and many mainstream Democrats have plucked unashamedly from the neoliberal-right-wing-free-market-fundamentalist playbook. As Joseph Stiglitz has written, “a premature ‘exit’ from deficit spending risks pushing the economy back into recession. This is one of the lessons we should have learned from America’s experience in the Great Depression; it is also one of the lessons to emerge from Japan’s experience in the late 1990s.”

As for the Anderson’s recycled right-wing myth of burdening future generations, the progressive economists Dean Baker and Dean Rosnick have observed:

It is easy to see that the national debt is not really a measure of intergenerational burden.  While the taxpayers collectively can be seen as owing the debt, taxpayers (or at least some of them) also own the debt. This is not a payment across generations; it is a payment within generations…

Whether or not the debt has made future generations poorer will depend on how it was incurred.  If we ran up debts so that we could finance schools and colleges, and make sure that our children and grandchildren were well educated, then we probably made them richer than if we didn’t run up debt but left them illiterate. Similarly, if we ran up the debt to construct a modern physical and information infrastructure, then we probably will have made future generations much wealthier than if we had handed them a country that was debt free, but had no Internet and no computers.

Anderson would know all this if he didn’t have his head stuck in the same Milton Friedman-inspired academic bibles that dictate the talking points of the bipartisan Washington corporate elite. Yet this man, who proudly flies in the same deficit-hawk flock as the likes of Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan, has the impudence to present himself as a “progressive” alternative.

9. On health care: Anderson just cannot bring himself to advocate, simply and without qualification, a publicly funded single-payer health care system that would once and for all put an end to the superfluous, dysfunctional, piratical private-insurance middlemen. Anderson evidently considers such programmatic clarity “doctrinaire” (his word), another tell-tale sign of his contempt for unambiguously progressive solutions to socioeconomic problems. Maintaining any role for private insurers is an invitation to more of the redundant billing chaos and inefficiencies that hobble our current system. Perhaps Anderson, in line with his other neoliberal tropisms, just can’t bring himself to forthrightly advocate putting a large sector of the U.S. economy in the public sector, no matter what the efficiencies achieved or the money and lives saved. Why not just come out in support of single payer and putting the private insurers out the health care racket? I mean, the guy supports the cap-and-trade Wall Street scam—so you figure it out.

10. On the issue of Michael McGee: I e-mailed a query to the main address of the Justice Party and the main address of the Rocky Anderson campaign, and I cc’d most of Anderson’s campaign staff, including Mick Johnson, his campaign manager; Nancy Karter, the campaign office manager; and Walter Mason, the campaign’s ballot access manager (since some of my questions were about ballot access—see documentation, below). So I most certainly did make a good-faith effort to reach all the responsible parties at the Anderson campaign. The only person who got back to me was Michael McGee, both in an e-mail and a follow-up one-hour phone interview in which he most certainly did identify himself as the leading strategist in Anderson’s campaign; he told me that he is Co-Chair of the Justice Party (as he is listed on the party’s Web site) and a member of the Steering Committee of the campaign. So McGee clearly has a major role in shaping campaign strategy; these are not minor titles or roles–this is clearly someone in the upper echelons of the Anderson campaign.

In our interview, McGee detailed—at great length—the swing-states-dropout-angle-for-a-cabinet-post strategy that he had also conveyed to Jill Stein and her campaign manager, Ben Manski, in conference calls last September and October. Both Stein and Manski corroborated McGee’s swing-state gambit 100-percent in my conversations with them. Manski, Jill Stein, and I all heard exactly the same story from McGee, who identified himself to all of us as authorized to speak on behalf of Anderson. Anderson maliciously implies that I made up this whole swing-state scenario, but since McGee served up the same line of patter to Manski and Stein, does Anderson wish to imply that they are liars, too? That they and I, who have had never spoken to one another until ten days ago, just happened to concoct the same lie about Michael McGee?

In my initial e-mail, I asked nearly the entire Anderson staff to respond to my queries, and only Michael McGee responded. Now Anderson is cynically disowning McGee because he spoke truthfully to me about the campaign’s strategic ploys when the others would not speak at all. (My e-mail to the Anderson campaign, complete with all the addressees, is reproduced below, along with McGee’s written acknowledgment that we spoke on the phone, along with McGee’s cc to Anderson campaign staff members about his conversation with me).

Truth is an orphan in this world, as Anderson’s verbal contortions above sadly illustrate. My article, by contrast, is entirely truthful—far too much so for Anderson’s taste, evidently. Now that I have exposed the unsightly neoliberal politics and self-aggrandizing maneuvering behind the smiling, fake-progressive mask of Anderson’s campaign, he scurries to conceal the truth with a desperate, diversionary flurry of evasion, distortion, and malice.

Here are the key questions for a would-be presidential standard-bearer of the independent left in 2012: Does the candidate advance a principled, unequivocally progressive agenda on the pivotal class, economic, and climate/environmental issues of our day? Does he/she seek to build a movement that is clearly independent of the ideology, funding, and interests of the 1-percent Wall Street banksters and hedge funders? On all these critical counts, it is clear that this Rocky is more pretender than contender.

Email Documentation

1. My e-mail to the main officials in the Rocky Anderson campaign:

From: William Kaufman
Sent: Thursday, April 12, 2012 8:08 PM
To: ‘gro.asuytrapecitsujnull@tcatnoc
Cc: ‘moc.liamgnull@bewykcoretov’; ‘moc.liamgnull@ecitsuj.nosnhojkcim’; ‘moc.liamgnull@ecitsuj.nosamretlaw’; ‘moc.liamgnull@ecitsuj.retrakycnan
Subject: Need Information for Article on Justice Party

I am writing an article on the Justice Party and the Rocky Anderson candidacy that I plan to submit to the Web zine CounterPunch,[ed note: I ended up submitting the piece to Dissident Voice instead, of course] where I have published several articles in the past.
I need to get some basic information—I was hoping that someone could answer, via e-mail or a brief phone interview (my number is XXX-XXX-XXXX), the following basic questions (a phone interview would be preferable in case I have follow-up questions based on your answers):

1. Has the Justice Party held a nominating convention per FEC requirements? If not, have you scheduled one or announced the date for it?
2. In how many states has the Rocky Anderson presidential candidacy already obtained ballot status? In how many states do you realistically expect to achieve ballot status by election day?
3. How many functioning state branches of the Justice Party are there?
4. How many members do you estimate the party has, either in terms of registered voters or people who have volunteered to work for the party?
5. Does the party accept corporate financing, either through bundled contributions or PACs?
6. Who, besides Rocky Anderson, are the officers of the party, and what are their titles and duties?
I hope to have the article finished over the weekend, so I would be grateful to receive an e-mailed or telephoned response on Friday. If you call, please call after 2:00 p.m. eastern time. Or, if you would prefer that I call you, please e-mail me a phone number and suggested time frame.

Bill Kaufman

2. Written evidence that I talked to Michael McGee:

From: Michael McGEE [mailto:moc.liamgnull@1.eegcm.leahcim]
Sent: Monday, April 16, 2012 2:10 AM
To: ten.knilhtraenull@484namk
Cc: Michael McGee; Lenny Brody; Walter Mason; clbonham
Subject: Answers to “Need Information for Article on Justice Party”

Hello Bill,
Good talking to you. Here is some further information for your CounterPunch article on the Justice Party. You will also find an attached Word document with the contacts for members of the National Justice Party Steering Committee. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any more information.

Yours in solidarity,
Michael McGee
Justice Party Co-chair

  • See also Rocky Anderson’s response “Ralph Nader, the Democrats, and I” to “Ralph Nader, Rocky Anderson, and the Green Party: A Political Un-Love Story.”
  • William Kaufman is an educational writer who lives in New York City. He can be reached at: Read other articles by William.