It seems I upset a lot of people with my recent article looking at the four previous times in modern U.S. politics when many on the Left chose to punish the Democrats by casting ballots for third parties or not voting, a tactic under consideration again this year.
My hope had been to break through the calcified debate over whether it's better to vote for "the lesser evil" Democrat or let the Republicans and their increasingly right-wing agenda prevail. Instead of engaging in that longstanding argument, I thought it might be helpful to see if the "teach-the-Dems-a-lesson" approach had worked in a practical sense.
After those four elections in 1968, 1980, 1994 and 2000 did chastened Democrat hew more to the left? In the longer term, have U.S. government policies become more progressive and less war-like over those 42 years? In other words, did the tactic work and thus should it be tried again on Nov. 2?
And a broader question: Has the American Left engaged in a realistic approach to politics that today's deepening crises demand?
I realize these are not comfortable questions for many people. Several writers were so angry with me that they vowed to punish Consortiumnews.com financially, noting that we depend on donations for our survival.
Some critics accused me of arrogance in my treatment of the topic. Another complaint was that I didn't offer a prescriptive alternative to either acquiescing to the Democratic Party or rejecting it in favor of a third-party approach.
One e-mailer said he was considering voting for Tea Party candidates to encourage even more reactionary government policies and thus to "sharpen the contradictions." His thinking was that a more desperate America would eventually turn left.
Some writers brushed aside my "how-has-it-worked-out" question and simply resumed the "lesser-evil" debate regarding whether the Democrats deserved defeat for all their compromising and half-measures.
One e-mailer accused me of "Green [Party] bashing." Another chastised me for not recognizing the value of building organizations that are independent of the Democratic Party.
While I appreciate the heartfelt comments and I didn't mean to disparage the hard work that many people on the Left have invested in the political process I also feel I should respond to some of the criticisms that the story provoked.
First, as for building independent institutions, the fact is that I have spent the past 15 years trying to build a truly independent news outlet in Consortiumnews.com. Anyone who reads us should know that we don't have sacred cows and don't shy from criticizing Democrats, Republicans, the Right, the Left or the Center.
For that matter, in the "teach-the-Dems-a-lesson" story, I examined serious political abuses by the Republicans and failures by the Democrats to do the right thing. I didn't pull punches on anyone. Yet, despite that, some critics said my implicit criticism of the Left's impracticality would stop them from ever contributing to Consortiumnews.com again.
One writer, who lashed out at the story, said its evidence of Democrats taking dives on Republican accountability made him even more convinced that he should withhold his vote from the Democrats.
What's ironic, however, is that many of the story's examples of Democratic timidity such as Defense Secretary Clark Clifford advising President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 that blowing the whistle on Richard Nixon's sabotage of the Vietnam peace negotiations wouldn't be "good for the country" exist in the public domain only because of the reporting done by Consortiumnews.com.
Further, the broader need to build independent institutions has been a recurring focus of my writings for the past two decades.