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Responding to Jack Rasmus


Jack Rasmus sent his essay “You Can Trust ‘Left Liberals’ to be Liberals First (and Left Last): A Reply to Chomsky & Friends’ Open Letter” to ZNet to publish, which we have done.

In contrast to Rasmus’s approach to addressing an essay, I will try to avoid making assumptions about his motives or mistaking his views. If I err at that, at all, my apologies. The way I will try to avoid any missteps, is by quoting words as written.

Rasmus begins by saying the nine authors, myself, Noam Chomsky, Bill Fletcher, Leslie Cagan, Kathy Kelly, Ron Daniels, Norman Solomon, Cynthia Peters, and Barbara Ehrenreich are “best identified as ‘left liberal’ intellectuals.” So in the first sentence, I found myself surprised. Rasmus doesn’t say why that’s what we all are or even what he means by left liberal, or by intellectuals. I assume by the former he means supporters of left liberal views and not truly of progressive, or radical, or revolutionary views. And by intellectuals, I figure he means academics, or at least not activists. But the two assertions are so absurd that I hoped that later in his essay it would turn out he had some other meaning for the words chosen, and some reason for thinking they were applicable. Otherwise his labeling us in this manner would seem to stand as either incredibly ignorant, which I know Rasmus is not, or as willfully trying to dismiss the substance of what we wrote by besmirching its source (bad enough) – but its mislabeled source at that.

Rasmus next says “[the signers] charged the Green Party with being responsible for Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016.” In fact, we only said their policy was one factor among many and agreed with Howie Hawkins’ list of other factors.

Rasmus next says, “They then declared that the Green Party’s 2020 presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins, should not run in 2020, lest the Greens become responsible for getting Trump re-elected again.”

First, Hawkins is not the Green candidate, but is instead seeking to become the Green candidate. And second, not only did the Open Letter not say that the Greens should not run, it asked what policy in running would be best, and it suggested as an option running full out in what are called safe states, likely 40, and advancing program in the swing states, but not seeking votes there.

Next Rasmus says the Open Letter signers feel that “Left liberals like themselves should simply ‘hold their noses’ and vote for Biden, if necessary, if he gets the nomination.”

That is fair, except, we said only in swing states – which Rasmus leaves out, in accord with his saying earlier we were telling the Greens not to run at all – while voting the Green candidate in the other 40. Rasmus also seemingly misses that we don’t just think left liberals should do that, but also everyone who would like to have a better chance to avoid climate catastrophe, rampant racism and sexism, explosive inequality, authoritarian and even fascist reforms of government, and other abominable Trumpist aims.

Rasmus next says, “For someone like yours truly who has been around and seen the same strategy of ‘lesser evilism’ repeated for a half century now – with devastating consequences even when the lesser evil (aka Democrats) won the presidency – it is not surprising to read and hear the ‘left liberals’ lament once again!”

Okay, but what if the situation is rather different? What if the aim isn’t electing any old typical Democrat, should it come to that, but instead beating Trump and then, of course, battling typical Democrats as the signers have done without fail or interruption for the whole time Rasmus has ‘“been around.”

Rasmus continues, “The coterie signatories of the ‘open letter’ include: Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Leslie Cagan, Ron Daniels, Kathy Kelly, Norman Solomon, Cynthia Peters and Michael Albert.” Correct. Rasmus got the list right. “Coterie” implies we are an intimate and exclusive lasting group, which we are not; we aren’t even a group beyond the letter, much less intimate.

Now Rasmus says, “Their main argument, calling for Hawkins and the Greens to retreat from the 2020 electoral field (and for the record I am not a Green party member or a member of any other party), is that Hillary lost the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, etc. to Trump in 2016 but would have won them–-and thus the electoral college vote–-if only those who voted for the Greens presidential candidate, Jill Stein, in the swing states had not done so but voted instead for Hillary.”

First, at no time in the Open Letter or any subsequent exchanges did any signers “call for Hawkins and the Greens to retreat from the 2020 electoral field.” I know Rasmus some and I know his work more. I doubt he has ever written, and then repeated, such obviously false claims about a text he was addressing. I have to wonder why. Maybe he should too.

Additionally, what happened in 2016 is at most some evidence, not a main argument. Insofar as there even was a main argument it was, I would say, that the possible cost to the world of Greens seeking votes in swing states – Trump’s re-election – is so huge that it greatly outweighs the possible cost to the Greens of not seeking votes in swing states.

Next Rasmus says, “It’s really a logically weak argument that one would think such ‘power intellectuals on the left’ would be hesitant to pen their name to it out of concern they would have insulted themselves to their audience. But they have.”

Does Rasmus wonder about insulting himself when he writes? The nasty tone shows, sadly, that our attempt to ward off ad hominem methods failed, at least with Rasmus, and with some others as well, including an official Green Party funding letter. I would like to happily report, however, that Hawkins didn’t sink to such methods or tone.

Rasmus continues, “First, logically [the argument] is juvenile in that it assumes that those who voted for the Greens in 2016 in these swing states would have voted for Hillary, had there not been a Green candidate on the ballot.”

Setting aside calling us “juvenile,” I have to wonder, did Rasmus even read the letter? It actually anticipated his objection and explicitly addressed it.

Rasmus says, “Its hidden assumption is that all of those Green votes would have voted Hillary had Jill Stein not run. That these assumptions are nonsense is self evident.”

In fact, the assumption is so hidden that it isn’t even there. What is there, instead, is a suggestion that if Greens didn’t campaign for votes in swing states and didn’t argue there was no significant difference between Trump (and the of course abysmal but much better than Trump) Clinton, and if they didn’t deny that their choices could be decisive in a close race, and if they even urged their potential supporters to vote Clinton while preparing to continue struggling after the election, then the outcome may have been different. How Rasmus knows otherwise, I have no idea.

Rasmus’s enumerating the historical ills of Clinton and the Democratic Party serves little purpose as a response to the Open Letter because of course its signers agree. Likewise, Rasmus pointing out that Clinton’s campaign was abysmal and that she could have won with other choices is true too, as the signers of course agree and even agreed in the letter he is ostensibly reacting to.

And likewise for Rasmus’s criticisms of Biden, Bloomberg, et al. I have to wonder how he can possibly think he is privy to knowledge of traditional Democrats that the signers haven’t been pinpointing for decades. He doesn’t entertain the Open Letter’s actual substance, which is that despite the grotesque inclinations of Clinton in 2016 and of Biden in 2020 (if he is the candidate), simply put, a Trump re-election would be so much worse than his exit and our seeking to prepare for further struggle as best we can in post Trump conditions, that blocking his re-election is essential.

Rasmus says, “American voters, especially today’s Millennials, and now the GenZers, in polls are saying ‘a plague on both houses’ of Democrats and Republicans.”

Which is, with the exception of Sanders who is a different thing, excellent.

Rasmus says, “They have lost hope of either party making a difference in their lives.” And goes on to list reasons for their stance, which are all true, and ends by saying “It’s a bleak prospect, created by both parties over recent decades.” True again.

“And if the Democratic leaders continue to scuttle the Sanders nomination–-which they did in 2016 and show signs now of doing again in 2020–-the Dems themselves, not a Green party candidacy, will once again have put Trump in office. It won’t be the Greens.”

The actual point of the Open letter goes unaddressed, though Rasmus does a good job of ravaging the typical Clintons, Biden, Bloomberg. The question left unanswered, however, at least for me, is do the ills of the typical Democrats show that one of them, Biden say, in office for the next four years wouldn’t be vastly better than Trump re-elected? Rasmus seems to think the only way one could believe that is to think the typical Democrats are good guys, which therefore in his view the letter signers must think…which is, obviously false.

Rasmus says, after his accurate accounting of ills, that “This is the decades long record that the Left Liberals want the US working class, students, and others to vote for again. Their argument is ‘anything but Trump’ will be better. But was it? Will it?“ Yes, that is the question. Not whether the Democrats are horrible, which the signers all not only know, but have acted upon for decades.

But changing gears Rasmus says, “I’m not talking here about Sanders, who the corporate wing will never allow as the Democratic party candidate in 2020.”

Well, they will certainly try to stop him, of course. But with enough work from activists, perhaps they won’t succeed. Helping his campaign is or should certainly be a priority.

Rasmus says, “In fact, now that Sanders is rising in the polls and primaries, the corporate wing of the Democrats attack on him has intensified.“ That is true and it is going to get much worse, and if Sanders does get the nomination, even against Trump, I think may well be right that the Democratic Party will still try to “scuttle him,” as will the media, and so on.

But then Rasmus says, “But our Left Liberal intellectuals say we should vote for their candidate, Joe, if it comes down to that, just to beat Trump.” Well, calling him their candidate again seems to be a verbal ploy to imply the signers, called “left liberals” really positively support Biden.

Rasmus goes on, “But Trump will eat ‘ole Joe’ alive in a one on one competition, sad to say.”

That may be true, but does it mean folks should not try to prevent it happening, and shouldn’t avoid contributing to it happening?

Rasmus writes, “They keep saying they want a candidate that can beat Trump. Then push one who cannot. And the Left Liberals want us to vote for Joe and not for a Green or anyone else.”

I like a lot of Rasmus’s work. But this is really beyond response. “The Left Liberals” is his label for the signers. So he is saying, or implying at least, that we are pushing Biden and telling people to vote for him and not anyone else as “the only way to win!”

And actually I fully agree that the Democrats nominating Biden may actually “be the only way to lose,” or at least make losing far more likely.

Rasmus adds, “Vote for Joe and hold your nose, they say.” Actually what we say is get Sanders nominated, but if that fails and if it is Trump versus Biden, then in ten swing states vote against Trump’s re-election by holding your nose and voting Biden, and then organize and fight for change against whoever wins.

Rasmus writes, “The Left Liberal intellectuals, who are mostly well ensconced in secure and decent paying academic jobs, won’t be impacted much by Joe’s or Mike’s or Pelosi’s or Schumer’s policies. But the rest who need a change will be.”

Ignoring that many of us have no such security, it seems Rasmus either thinks he is talking about the nine of us, or is writing so others will think so, as he immediately says, “The Open Letter represents just another form of ‘Liberal’ telling us to vote for another Liberal.” The game plan seems to be call us liberals, and dismiss–repeat.

Actually, I support Sanders, and we haven’t discussed it, but I think the other signers likely do too.

I’ve got a question Rasmus might contemplate, along with wondering why he has, simply based on our belief that Trump’s re-election must be avoided and our suggestion for one way we can reduce the likelihood of that disaster, decided we are Left Liberal Intellectuals, etc. etc.

The question I have for Rasmus is, Jack, if Sanders is the Democratic candidate, will you urge voters in swing states to cast their votes for the Green candidate rather than for Bernie, even though this might grow the election to Trump?

4 Comments

  1. avatar
    E February 3, 2020 12:51 am 

    The idea that lesser-evilism is responsible for the rightward drift of the Democrats is dubious. It was primarily the adoption of neoliberal reforms by concentrated wealth that caused the abandonment of the postwar social contract by Democrats.

  2. Harish Reddy February 2, 2020 6:16 am 

    Thanks for responding so cogently to Jack Rasmus’ surprisingly poor arguments against the straightforward and sensible election strategy put forward in the original open letter.

    There seem to be at least three bad assumptions in the various diatribes against the open letter (which no amount of clarity on your part seems to dispel)

    1) 2020 doesn’t have any special significance for the future of the species
    2) Nothing else of significance happens outside the “Amazing American Quadrennial Electoral Extravaganza”
    3) The differences between the Democrats and Republicans are not a factor in terms of actual outcomes for the population, i.e. there is an assumption that small/medium differences between the parties, augmented by popular pressure, *cannot* lead to non-trivial changes.

    Once these poor assumptions are made, the arguments against the Open Letter fall flat and feel unconnected to anything in the original Open Letter.

  3. owlishdog February 1, 2020 7:26 pm 

    Sorry, but Jack Rasmus is right and you, Chomsky and the others are wrong on this one. God, what does it take for you to see what the Democrats are like? How are you going to build up socialism by always voting for rapacious capitalists? This kind of voting not only KILLS any momentum but has massively detrimental effects. It has never worked, it will never work. What’s that definition of insanity again?

  4. Thierry Blanc January 31, 2020 5:10 pm 

    Some thoughts

    Game theory
    If we — united in stopping Trump — send a message to the Democrats and the DNC in particular and tell them «hey, we want to stop Trump so badly that we even vote for your corporate candidate (despite we despise him)» the DNC will be delighted knowing that they do not have to run a progressive.
    On the other hand, if we tell them — credibly — «it’s Bernie or bust» at least they have to think if they want to lose again or better run a progressive.

    As they don’t want to run a progressive in any case and rather loose against Trump again, they will most likely use any excuse to blame others (see Russians) so that their choice not to nominate Sanders will be deflected. If they can blame the Greens they’ll surely do it.

    For the Greens, however, there is another question:
    If the Green party supports a corporate candidate, for many of its sympathizers — especially the young — it will look like they are «establishment». They collapse under pressure and are not a viable alternative. On long term that will harm the Greens substantially.
    (On the other hand, if the Greens can be blamed for a second Trump term (MSM and DNC will probably do that) then the Greens will be scapegoated.)

    Is a corporate Democrat 2020 really the lesser evil?
    As Rasmus rightly points out the policy of the Democrats create the hotbed for Trumpism. Four years Biden would likely bring back Trump or a Trump-like candidate in 2024. In that case, we would lose 8 years — plus a Green party that has lost credibility.

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