Using the Tea Party to Split the Right?

  The below is instructive. What is totally missing from the analysis are two massive downsides of this strategem:
1) That acting in ways such as this confirms the electorate’s perception of the Democrats as unprincipled, as ‘politicians not statesmen’, etc. – it cancels out any efforts that they might be making (and that Obama did make) to rehabilitate politics itself. This is bad news for politics in general and for the Democrats in particular.
2) That the danger of this strategem is not only that it COULD lead to the far Right (e.g. Palin, following Bush) being elected, but that, whether it does or not, it is LIKELY to lead to the agenda moving Right. If Tea Party people become ‘normalised’, that is a disaster. “Sure, you might be forced to debate a reactionary nut job. But this only makes you look more reasonable.” But, over time, you look less and less reasonable, and what really is reasonable looks more and more ‘extreme’, as the whole debate shifts rightward.
    …In other words, this is a typical example of a short-term political tactic that is in fact strategically disastrous. It fails to take into account everything that George Lakoff has been trying to teach us: it ignores questions of deep framing, and focuses only on short-term advantage, without thinking of long-term effects.
Using the Tea Party to Split the Right
Mark Engler – August 6, 2010 9:00 am
Are you a Democratic congressional candidate in a tight electoral contest? Here’s an idea: Help to recruit a Tea Party candidate to enter the general election and siphon off voters from your Republican opponent. Sure, you might be forced to debate a reactionary nut job. But this only makes you look more reasonable. More importantly, the new entrant splits the right-wing vote. You waltz to victory.
At least one Democratic candidate—Bryan Lentz, who is running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested Seventh District—is pursuing this strategy for the fall elections. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Tea-Party-identifying candidate Jim Schneller, a new addition to the race, owes almost half the petition signatures he submitted to get onto the ballot to a drive by Democrats:
“Democratic volunteers, including campaign workers for the Democratic candidate, Bryan Lentz, collected 3,800 signatures for Schneller. The campaign made no attempts to hide its involvement….
“The move is not illegal, although some in political circles view it as hardball (or low-rent) politics….
“While the practice is relatively common at the state level, it is not typically seen in congressional races, said G. Terry Madonna, a political analyst and professor at Franklin and Marshall College. And it’s even more rare to clearly see a candidate’s fingerprints on the effort, he said.
“‘This is one of the top 10 congressional races in the country,’ Madonna said. ‘It just shows you how rough and tumble this race already is.'”
There’s some polling data to support the strategy—and to suggest that the Tea Party is doing the Republicans more harm than good. Back in March, CBS news commented on a Quinnipiac University poll indicating that the Tea Party could foil the Republican Party’s hopes of taking Congress:
“Given a choice between a generic Democratic or Republican candidate in November’s mid-term elections, voters preferred Republicans by a margin of 44-39 percent. The presence of a Tea Party candidate on the ballot, however, dramatically upsets that balance.
“In a potential race between three candidates, 15 percent of respondents would vote for a Tea Party candidate. Thirty-six percent would vote for a Democrat, while only 25 percent would opt for a Republican, the poll finds.
“An example of that dynamic played out in New York’s 23rd district special election last fall. Pressured by conservatives and Tea Partiers, moderate Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava elected to drop out of the race to clear the way for Conservative Doug Hoffman. The result: Democrat Bill Owens won a seat that had been strongly Republican for decades.”
Is there a down side to this type of thinking? Only the possibility that Tea Party candidates could actually win, in which case we’d be governed by the far Right.
I’ve worried about this with regard to Sarah Palin. Some progressives have hoped that, amid a weak field of Republicans, Palin will emerge as the Republican nominee for president in 2012. They have faith that she would be a weak and polarizing candidate in the general election, leading to an easy Democratic win.
I’m inclined to think that this strategy is playing with fire. Sure, Palin makes egregious gaffes on a regular basis. Similarly, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Game Change reports in detail how McCain campaign staffers found her to be a liability in the fall of 2008 and often regretted putting her on the ticket. Still, as a friend recently remarked to me, plenty of people thought George W. Bush was a bumbling, unelectable dimwit—and look where that notion got us.
Electoral strategies that must rely on too-clever maneuvering can only conceal a party’s more fundamental weakness for so long. At the local level, you can make a case for trying to split the right-wing vote. But, at the risk of being trite, I think there’s a better case for progressives learning to defeat conservative ideas on their merits.

— Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the Web site

Pledge for success – help Norwich Greens make history on Sept. 9!

I will donate £50 to Norwich Green Party but only if 50 other people will do the same.

– Rupert Read, Norwich Green Party Fundraiser.

Deadline to sign up by: 31st August 2010

More details
We want you to help us accomplish something extraordinary…
Norwich Green Party is this week formally launching its campaign to become the largest party on Norwich City Council, having been just two seats behind Labour for the last two years. This would be the first time that the Greens ever became the largest party on a Principal Authority Council!

Please help us attain our target within the next three weeks! Please pledge; if 50 people join me in making this pledge, then that will raise £2500…


These pledges have worked before; they have been critical to our successful fundraising over the last year.

Thank you in anticipation, for helping us make history on 9th September!

My _Guardian_ letter today: Two words for John Kampfner: Green Party

John Kampfner tells us that “whenever I get the wobbles [about having voted Lib Dem and thus helped put a Con-Dem coalition into power] … I recall two words – Iraq and banks”. Would that be the same Iraq almost every Conservative MP voted to go to war against, David Cameron included? And would those be the same banks now profiting hand over fist from George Osborne’s slashing of corporation tax? You’ve come a long way, Johnny, from being a socialist to being a de facto Cameroon. What a shame you lacked the vision to look beyond the soggy centre, to the only party that consistently opposed the war and the only party that has called for the genuine nationalisation or remutualisation of the banks. Two words that John Kampfner should have considered, and should now consider more carefully: Green Party.
C’llr. Rupert Read   Green, Norwich

‘The Spirit Level’ – My take

Caroline Lucas has been quoting this remarkable book a lot lately. It has also come under attack from various parts of the political spectrum, mostly the Right. Here is my response to the attacks, which may be of interest:

If you want a primer on Wilkinson and Pickett’s joint book The Spirit Level, then the pieces here are worth a look (one by me). And for a comprehensive set of responses to their critics, including a pre-emptive strike against Gerry Hassan’s recent piece on OK this is all you need. (It is worth noting too that Wilkinson and Pickett’s work is peer-reviewed; that of their critics isn’t.)

For me as a philosopher, the thing about The Spirit Level that is most exciting is that as a study of the pervasive harms of inequality it strongly suggests that John Rawls’s ‘difference principle‘, which says that inequalities are OK provided that they materially benefit the worst off, a principle that has dominated political philosophy for 40 years, is simply wrong. Empirically wrong.

Which means that put into action ‘the difference principle’ will create a worse society, across a whole index of measures. Perhaps surprisingly, it will make virtually everybody, and certainly the worst off, worse off. (Or at least: worse off than they could be if an alternative way of ‘organising inequalities’ – a more egalitarian way – were settled upon.)  Even if they have more money or more things (are ‘materially better-off’), this will not translate into an improved quality of life: on the contrary.

In sum: it is now possible for the first time to show that the difference principle (and, by extension, liberal political philosophy whether or not of the ‘trickle-down’ variety) makes the worst-off on balance worse off, and this can I think reasonably be taken to constitute an empirical refutation of the claim that it could possibly be just. (We philosophers don’t often get to make empirical refutations of others’ claims, so this is quite exciting!) Wilkinson has said to me, by the way, that he agrees with this reading of mine, that his and Pickett’s work has a devestating impact  upon the centrepiece of Rawls’s liberal political philosophy.

For me as a Green, what is so welcome about this book is that it provides a powerful way (additional to our standard points about sustainability) to argue back against those who claim that the answer to the problem of poverty is always economic growth. For economic growth that grows inequality will only increase relative poverty. And this brings out once more the truth in an old idea that should never have gone away. That the main reason that the poor are poor is nothing to do with their own alleged inadequacies. The main reason that the poor are poor is simply that the rich are rich.

The Spirit Level is reviving egalitarianism powerfully at a time when neoliberalism had had its way for too long. With the vast financial and ecological crises of recent years neoliberalism was almost asking to be replaced. I can’t help but see the book in this light, as a hugely valuable contribution to our political culture.

A dream of now

I had a powerful dream last night. In the dream, everyone was glued to screens watching a film about an impending/unfolding disaster. Some viewers dimly realised that the film was true, was, in real-time, and was about their actual lives, their actual world. Some people found themselves dragged away from the screen-addiction when they realised that it was true: the dream was reality, and the calamity was fast coming to engulf them. What the calamity in fact was, as it was starting to be experienced – what made the viewers realise that the viewing had to stop – was lots of people driven to despair by societal breakdown produced by ecological disaster turning on each other and on their richer neighbours. In other words: Our heads were rudely jerked away from the screens we were fixed to, that is, by the hordes of desperate violent people charging our way. We then started peeling away and running away ourselves. In some of our minds, we hunted rapidly for solutions – but it was too late, evidently. The time to have solved the crisis would have been a lot earlier, before it was too big, when we had the resource to do it, when we weren’t reduced to a state of preying on others or running away from being preyed upon. But back then, we were caught up simply in watching it, and didn’t act…

 This dream strikes me as a nuanced rendition of exactly the situation we find ourselves in. This dream that I had is a warning: we need to stop this from being the story of the rest of our lives. Otherwise, while many of us will not experience climate-disaster as for example the flooding of our own homes (as currently in Pakistan), but we will experience it as a collapse in our society’s capacity to help others – and then a collapse in society’s capacity even to help ourselves. And then we will all sink together.

 Like in Plato’s allegory of the cave: let us not keep watching the shadows on the wall. Let us turn from them to exit the cave, and do what needs to be done. If we don’t leave the cave until it is too late, then the Sun will burn us and burn our forests down and burn life up, and fires set by nature and by humans will consume us… We have the enlightenment, we have the capacity to act, before it is too late. That is the wonderful thing about humans…

GREENS AIM AT BECOMING LARGEST PARTY IN NORWICH: Candidates display cross-Party experience.

Norwich Green Party today launched its bid to become the largest party on the City Council by announcing its list of candidates for the local elections to be held across the city on Thursday 9th September. Five of the candidates have previous experience as a City Councillor, one of these with the Labour Party and one with the Liberal Democrats. 

Graeme Gee, a former Labour Councillor [1], will be standing as a Green Party candidate in Mancroft ward. He said: “The Green Party is the party with the ideas and the passion to guide Norwich through these tough economic times. I am pleased to be standing for the council again with a party that will really look out for the interests of Norwich residents. I have already been out talking to people about the issues that matter to them and I’m looking forward to being able to work on their behalf if elected.”

Paul McAlenan is a builder and former Liberal Democrat councillor who lives with his family in Norwich [2]. Paul has been a campaigner on key local and environmental issues for over 20 years and is now standing for the Green Party in Crome ward. He said: “I’ve been impressed by what the Green Party has achieved in Norwich and am pleased to be its candidate in Crome. I look forward to working hard with my Green colleagues to achieve a greener future for Norwich.”

Jessica Goldfinch [3], Steven Altman [3] and Claire Stephenson have experience as Green Party councillors. Claire Stephenson, candidate for Nelson ward and the Green Party’s main spokesperson for the election [4], said: “It is fantastic that our list of candidates contains so much talent and experience. Across the city people from all walks of life are coming over to the Green Party because they realise that what we offer is a real alternative that has fairness to all people at its heart.”

The Green Party is going into this election buoyed by its success in doubling its share of the vote in Norwich South and achieving the second highest Green vote in the country at the General Election earlier this year [5]. For the last two years the Green Party has been the second largest party on the City Council with 13 councillors, just two behind Labour’s 15. This election will be a contest between Labour and the Greens to become the largest party [6]. If the party succeeds, this will be the first time anywhere in the country that the Green Party has become the largest party on a council.

Amongst the other Green Party candidates are Jo Henderson, a successful local businesswoman; Lesley Grahame, who works as a nurse; and Jean Bishop, a horticulturalist who runs her own business [7].


[1] Graeme was a Labour councillor on Norwich City Council for eight years ending in 1996. During that time he served on planning, leisure and community services, finance, personnel, and economic development committees. In this time he also chaired planning outer area development and control committee, Bowthorpe Development Group, and was Vice Chair of leisure and community services. He was also involved in licensing sub committee, joint museums committee, and markets, as well as representation for the Council on a number of outside bodies, including East Anglia Tourist Board, Cinema City, Norwich and Norfolk Dance, and a number of community centre committees.

[2] Paul was a Lib Dem councillor on Norwich City Council between 1999 and 2004. During that time Paul was particularly involved with the Planning Committee and worked to promote sustainable building and modern architecture.

[3] Jessica was a Green Party Councillor in Nelson ward between 2003 and 2006. During that time she was the party’s housing spokesperson and a chair of the Licensing Committee. Steven Altman was a Green Party Councillor in Mancroft ward between 2006 and 2007.

[4] Claire Stephenson was until recently the Leader of the Opposition on the City Council. She also chaired the Scrutiny Committee. If re-elected she is expected to become the Leader of the Green Party Councillors on the City Council again and is therefore the Green Party’s main spokesperson for the election campaign.

[5] Norwich South produced the second highest Green Party vote anywhere in the country. Party Leader Caroline Lucas had the best result, winning Brighton Pavilion to become the first Green MP at Westminster.

[6] Both parties start the election campaign with 9 councillors, while the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have only 4 each.

[7] The full list of Green Party candidates is:

Jean Bishop (Bowthorpe)

Rebecca Lewis-Smith (Catton Grove)

Paul McAlenan (Crome)

Nick Clinch (Eaton)

Kit Jones (Lakenham)

Graeme Gee (Mancroft)

Jo Henderson (Mile Cross)

Claire Stephenson (Nelson)

Jessica Goldfinch (Sewell)

Lesley Grahame (Thorpe Hamlet)

Ash Haynes (Town Close)

Sue Carpenter (University)

Steven Altman (Wensum)

Short profiles of each candidate will soon be available on the Norwich Green Party website

VICTORY: Ecuador Saves Major Rainforest and Sets Climate Protection Precedent

This _good_ news, from the excellent people over at Ecological Internet:

– It is reported Ecuador will be compensated for leaving oil reserves in
Yasuni National Park untouched. This is a major victory for Ecuador, the
rainforest movement, and Ecological Internet – who was the first to campaign
internationally on the issue.

From Earth's Newsdesk and the Rainforest Portal, projects of Ecological
Internet (EI) |

Ecuador's government announced today it has reached a deal with the United
Nations Development Program under which donor countries will compensate
Quito for leaving oil reserves untouched in a large primary rainforest
filled national park. Yasuni National Park – covering some 9,820 km2, or
about the size of Massachusetts – is thought to be one of Earth's most
biodiversity rich sites and is also home to several nomadic Indian tribes.
Yasuni's preservation (total protection, not "sustainable management" or
"conservation") would spare Earth some 410 million metric tons of carbon
dioxide (CO2) emissions that contribute to global warming; while keeping
biodiversity, ecosystems and cultures fully intact. The official signing is
reported to be held on Tuesday.

Ecological Internet's Earth Action Network [1] was the first to campaign
internationally on threats to Yasuni from oil exploration, successfully
internationalizing the issue. "This marvelous rainforest and climate victory
is very gratifying and exciting," states Dr. Glen Barry, Ecological Internet
President. "Ecological Internet began to campaign in the early 2000s to
protect Yasuni National Park from oil development, and continuously since.
Like so many of our campaigns, it has just taken off. Our efforts were
picked up by 'The Ecologist' Magazine, and since then a large local and
global movement has been built – including the Yasuni-ITT Initiative,
Scientists Concerned for Yasuni, Save America's Forest and many other
participants – who share in this victory."

In 2007, Ecuador's then President Rafael Correa launched the Yasuni-ITT
Initiative, which sought compensation for agreeing to forgo exploiting the
estimated 846 million barrels of crude in the Yasuni National Park.
Negotiations had centered on the amount of compensation Ecuador would
receive, with Correa insisting his nation get at least 3.5 billion dollars
over ten years — about half the value of the estimated reserves in the
protected area. When international donors were slow to respond, Ecological
Internet launched another campaign which successfully "nudged" donor nations
to fund this Yasuni-ITT proposal[2]. As of early this year, about half had
been pledged, with Germany (910 million) and Spain (241.8 million) leading
the group of donors that included France, Sweden and Switzerland.

### MORE ###

Much of the remainder of the Western Amazon — home to some of the most
biodiverse and intact primary rainforest ecosystems left on Earth, which are
critical for driving regional and global ecosystems and climatic patterns
necessary for life – are threatened with decimation by oil rigs and
pipelines. Over 180 oil and gas "blocks" – covering some 688,000 km2 (170
million acres) of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and western Brazil
(nearly the size of Texas) – areas zoned for exploration and development.
This energy production is concentrated in the Amazon's largest remaining
un-fragmented primary rainforest wildernesses, containing the most species
of birds, mammals, and amphibians.

"Destruction of primary rainforests for oil production and other industrial
developments is a global ecological emergency. Regional governments,
international donors and global citizens must decide whether every last bit
of the Earth's old forest wildernesses; and intact, large ecosystems which
make Earth habitable, will be sacrificed to delay having to transition now
to renewable energy sources. In the process, abrupt run-away climate change,
mass extinction and social disintegration will be ensured. This deal, if
indeed signed as reported on Tuesday, represents a major new model for
achieving global ecological sustainability, which must be replicated
wherever primary rainforests shroud oil reserves. Further, it sets the
precedent that to truly be protected, primary rainforests must be fully
preserved in an intact condition, and not 'sustainably managed', which is a
myth," explains Dr. Barry.