The Breakfast Table

Response to an Irate Frayster

Jim,

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to reply to the responses regarding the Cantwell-Gorton race and the impact of the Green Party spillover votes on that contest, which did not have a Green Party senatorial contender. Some responses can be described as both irrelevant and true, e.g., the claim that I supported Deborah Senn, the best insurance commissioner in the country, and criticized Cantwell for her purchasing the primary is accurate. Recall I said that if anyone wants to play the selective what-if game, then they must pay attention to the Green spillover vote in the Cantwell-Gorton race. That is, they cannot avoid looking at one set of numbers, and then draw conclusions, and not at another set of numbers just because they choose to focus on a negative Green impact and ignore what to them had to be viewed as a beneficial impact (Florida in the former case and Washington state in the latter). Leave intent, motivation, and other intangibles for another discussion because my point did not include those traits—just the selective what-if numbers.

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As for the preference point you make, in our previous exchange, I was not referring to that—i.e., whether I preferred a Democratic Senate to a Republican Senate. I was just establishing a logical lens from a complaining Democratic Party viewpoint because they were acting illogically in trying to have it both ways. My preferences are for another time and place; this exchange, after all, is narrowly focused on the readers’ reactions. The anonymous RonK’s extravagant exaggerations in the “Fray” deserve a reply only because they are communicated to the unwary. As far as anyone knows, RonK was not in the room with my associates, Sen. Harry Reid and his staffer, unless he has access to some secret technology. So, RonK, my response to your prefatory “unless I am very much mistaken” is that you are.

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RonK is also a pop psychologist. He aspires to reading minds, Jim—a trait that should provide him with a lucrative avocation. He probes the question of “what is the meaning of us?” “Us” I meant to mean “us”—me and my two associates who responded to Sen. Reid’s invitation to meet. I was not claiming responsibility for Cantwell’s win; I was merely referring to the numbers and the conditional “If the Democrats want to play the selective what-if game, then. …” RonK then becomes the political statistician slipping on his premises and sprawling to his conclusions. According to exit polls, about one of three of our votes said that they would not have voted at all if the Green Party slate was not on the ballot. Cantwell wins by about 2,300 votes, loses none to the Greens because there is no Green candidate, and the Nader/LaDuke ticket received about 103,000 votes. Go figure.

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Instead, RonK confronts his audience with an even shakier tier of hypotheticals, which presumably serve as his premises. Maybe he is a comedian. He overthinks! His next sally encroaches on the land of absurdum. A third-party competitor should be held responsible, he thinks, if he thinks that candidacy cost the least-worst major candidate his victory.

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Whatever happened to political competition, diverse agendas, a focus on the concentration of power and wealth in a few hands undermining our modest democracy, and voter choice? Does America belong to just two parties? He should read the history of 19th-century third parties, only one of which won the presidency (the Republican Party in 1860) and view their many contributions that alerted and aroused both citizenry and politicians and pressed for needed reforms and changes (abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, the right to form trade unions, the populist-progressive farmers’ revolt, and more).

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RonK next accuses by asserting broad factual error. He asserts without being at all factual—thereby inviting readers into his bottomless pit of deception. He moves to a presumed list of recent Republican-Bush moves as if the Democrats would have done just the opposite with action, not rhetoric. (For a list of performances by Clinton-Gore under the heading “Wouldn’t President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney Have Done the Same?” see Appendix D from my book Crashing the Party).

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RonK tells us that he suspects that Sen. Cantwell would have “in a heartbeat” sacrificed her Senate seat for a Gore presidency. He forgets she worked at Real Networks. RonK plods on saying, “we’re still not done.” I wonder what the meaning of “we” is, given his singular pontifications. He mistakes again. When I mentioned that there were 120 votes in the House of Representatives in 1993 for a single-payer health insurance bill, I did not say they were cast for that legislation. Single-payer was never presented on the House floor for a vote. But about 120 members signed on to the bill, which went nowhere. And that sends RonK’s assertion of “the perfect being the enemy of the good” to nowheresville.

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RonK unmasks his empty rhetoric with his conclusions: “and you know what’s good for us, better than we do … right, Ralph?” That’s just what you spent e-mail time doing. What I do is urge others to advance justice as citizens in the arena of deliberative democracy. Always looking for better ways to make cars safer, air cleaner, water purer, corporations more accountable, government more accountable, and have the future a little more foreseeable—all within democratic processes. Someday a book may be written showing a correlation between the quality of communications and their ease of transmission. Letters written years ago between politicians, for example, were much more thoughtful than in recent years because they were rarer events and took longer to get there. E-mail is at the other extreme, quick, cheap, and too often thoughtless. RonK can be advised to think a little more before his fingers fly on the keyboard. For this, he should read a sobering new book, titled Silent Theft, by David Bollier, about our society’s commons or commonwealth and how corporations are appropriating it installment by installment. He will receive valuable information about commonwealth that will give thoughtfulness a chance to ponder how a society protects its common assets (public airwaves, public research and development, public lands, public works, and public space).

Thanks, Jim. I’ll give you a call soon.

Ralph

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