Could Nader be the Come-Back Kid of 2008?
By Chris Driscoll (Board member of the Campaign for Fresh Air and Clean Politics)
Down But Not Out
As a life-long activist in the labor, peace and social-justice movements, I've watched with amazement, wonder, and exhilaration as the American people gave us the most surprising primary races in decades; and that was just the first month! We have eight months to go and undoubtedly many surprises yet to come. The race among major party candidates has provided more highs and lows than a calliope on rocket fuel. However, we've already entered a new phase of the election cycle: the Republicans are putting aside their differences in order to unify around a strongly pro-war position. The Democrats have coalesced on a neck-and-neck race between two "triangulating" Iraq war funders whose differences are more about race, gender and style than substance. And the progressive left has, as usual, fallen into lockstep behind one or another corporate-owned Democrat like some enabling abused spouse. Honest progressives will admit that neither Sen. Hillary Clinton nor Sen. Barack Obama offer us-at this point-a seriously better chance of ending the war on Iraq and turning out attention-and tax dollars-toward desperate domestic needs than Sen. John McCain does.
Sen. Obama on his official campaign website says he will "immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months." The last I heard, removing "combat brigades" could leave as many as 80,000 American troops in Iraq, not to mention the thousands of American mercenaries from companies like CACI, Titan and Blackwater, and a flood of American commercial vultures who have been just as destructive to that war-torn country as the troops and mercenaries have been. Sen. Clinton's deceitful plan to continue the war and keep U.S. forces in Iraq in perpetuity is not any better than Obama's. Neither Sens. Clinton nor Obama have agreed even to pledge to get the U.S. military out of Iraq by the end of their first term in 2013! And history is brutally clear on one important point: while Democrats in the last century have often promised to studiously avoid war while campaigning for president, they have never followed through once in office. President Lyndon B. Johnson, for a typical example, campaigned by casting Barry Goldwater as the guy who would turn Vietnam into an all-out war zone, but it was Johnson himself who did that as president. And this "talk peace, wage war" strategy goes way back with the Democratic presidential candidates: Woodrow Wilson in his 1916 campaign for re-election stumped on the slogans, "he kept us out of war," and "peace with honor." Yet by April 1917, the United States had entered the war that even Wilson himself later admitted was a fight between international commercial interests over who was to control lucrative international markets. Are the Democratic Party leaders of today any different; any better; any more courageous and committed to creating a world without war, even if corporate profits suffer as a result? Most Americans know at some gut level that for Democratic Party politicians commercial concerns always trump moral concerns or the concerns of the hard-working people. We've seen it far too often to deny it, even when we wish it were not so. Both Sens. Clinton and Obama are following a campaign model in regard to the War on Iraq that is most reminiscent of President Richard M. Nixon when in his 1968 campaign he promised to get us out of the Vietnam War in 6 months. That was even quicker than Obama's 18 month promise. But after Nixon was elected, there were "complications," just as we can expect there will be "complications" for Sens. Clinton or Obama. When you know in advance that these "complications" will develop unless we are successful at building a powerful and large enough anti-war juggernaut, you can understand why some prefer the brutal honesty of a Sen. John McCain, who is at least truthful about his intentions.
From the perspective of the labor, peace and social justice movements, we are now left with little-to-no maneuvering room within the Democratic Party, the party progressive movements traditionally have looked to since the 1930s for allies and alliances. With the withdrawal of Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson and John Edwards, there is little chance that the pro-people, anti-war position will have any leverage at the Democratic Party nominating convention, not inside the convention hall in any case. The demonstrations outside the hall will probably remind us of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
Corporate America has already won the election. With Sens. Clinton, Obama and McCain, their interests are hedged three ways while the rest of us lose on all counts. The presidential campaign will be at the center of the public discourse from now till November 4. We are left with only one reasonable alternative if we hope to force our issues into this year's national public debate: support the independent peace and justice candidate with the biggest megaphone, Ralph Nader!
Alone, Nader still has huge name recognition and a large and faithful following. If he is joined by the larger social movements, and by the working families so threatened by the acts of a Democratic Congress and Republican president, he could turn that solid base into a powerful campaign for the people insuring that the people's concerns are addressed. At best, that could be turned into a three way race that would for the first time in a century give the progressive left a much needed face lift, opening up the prospect of building a mass, independent political force to the left of the Democrats. Ask yourself, why do Democratic Party politicians take you for granted? Why do they count on your votes but ignore your needs? Why do they talk like they care about you but act like they care a lot more about your boss? Could it be that you are so utterly dependable to them that they simply have no need to do any more than pretend to address your interests? They make you the same promises election year after election year, yet the rich keep getting richer, the poor, poorer, and the peace, labor, woman's, minorities', environmental, and other people's agendas keep getting the short shrift.
Now, I know that among some right-leaning Progressive Democrats, just the mention of Ralph Nader will elicit fits of rage followed by volleys of hate speech more violent than even the worst Nazi or KKK invectives. Talk show host Ed Schultz calls these people "hate merchants," and it's hard to argue with him. But in my experience over the last 8 years as a Nader supporter intimately involved in the labor, peace and social-justice movements, I've found that for every hate merchant there are dozens of honest progressives who know full well how important Ralph Nader has been to our movements and what a great potential he offers as an effective incentive for a Democratic Party presidential candidate to be more accommodating and attentive than they have been in the past. Among the honest majority, all acknowledge that Ralph Nader has been the single most effective and important social reformer in the last half century. In nations across the world when reformers look for models, they look to Ralph Nader, who is almost as well known abroad as here in America. Honesty compels us to admit that we have no greater asset to run as a center-left counterbalance to the corporate-dominated Democratic and Republican candidates, even now, after a concerted and well financed, 8-year corporate-Democrat smear campaign against him. I know of no other person in American history who, after doing so much for our people, has withstood such a sustained campaign of malicious character assassination. But a single viewing of the documentary, "An Unreasonable Man," reminds us that Nader is a political pugilist who's been through the worst corporate America and its two parties can throw at him, and he's still standing! What's even more amazing, he's still ready and willing to serve our cause, to serve the American people, as he has been unfailingly for more than 40 years. Americans who have been fooled by the triangulators usually fail to understand that when you stand up to the warmongers and corporate criminals, you will always elicit a violent reaction. A test of political maturity and determination so crucial to our success is how well we are able to inoculate ourselves from the slings and arrows of these political opponents. Is it any wonder that the people who most fervently support the Democratic Party war funders are also the most likely to turn to hate speech against our most effective social reformer?
I expect the hate merchants to throw their best punches at Nader and anyone else who dares to suggest the emperor has no cloths. That's no surprise. What's been more surprising in the last 8 years is the number of otherwise honest progressives who have chosen to avoid objecting to the Democratic Party's ad hominem crusade against America's preeminent civic reformer. The damage they have inflicted on Nader's reputation harms us all. Their every success is a blow to the entire effort for political reform, peace and prosperity. In warfare an enemy strikes at your leadership, and wise armies protect their generals knowing as much.
But it's not too late. We have the ability to turn this situation around if we chose to, and by turning it around for Ralph Nader, I believe we can redeem our own fortunes as well. To start that process, we need to shine a light on the corporate-Democrats' subterranean hate campaigns, aimed at selected leading reformers, but designed to damage our movements. The honest progressives, laborites, populists, Greens, civil libertarians, radicals and reformers of this country have the power to stand up and say, once and for all, "Ralph Nader is not the problem, untrustworthy Democratic and Republican politicians are." In fact, Ralph Nader represents everything positive about our movements for social change and has for decades acted as a leader, a catalyst and an organizer for those movements.
Often when you hear the axiom, "the left is like a circular firing squad," it turns out to be a false analogy. The so-called "leftists" we supposedly fire upon are revealed to be fakers, not the genuine article. Like wolves in sheep's clothing, they talk the people's talk, but walk the corporate walk. Listen to Sens. Clinton or Obama on any given day, and then compare that to their votes in Congress. Their votes to fund Bush's war on Iraq are well publicized, and contrast critically with what they say about the war. But you would find the same incongruity between what they say and how they vote on just about any economic, labor, peace or social justice issue. And the contrast with Ralph Nader's 4-decade record of public service is instructive. Only the most dishonest person would claim that Ralph Nader is not a genuine reformer on behalf of the people. We truly become a "circular firing squad" when we allow others to fire on him without coming to his defense, which is the best way we can come to our own defense. We are no better than those who stand aside and watch a violent crime against a helpless individual if we don't speak out against it. And when we stand by and watch the innocent mugged and raped in our communities, our communities suffer by becoming the victims of spreading crime.
One thing that decades of experience in the labor movement has taught me is that "solidarity" with your co-workers, co-thinkers and co-activists is useless if it is only a hollow phrase. For it to be successful, solidarity must be an act of courage, not just a rallying cry. It must represent a willingness to band together and defend the weakest or the strongest among you when they are attacked. The current weakened state of the labor movement undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that "solidarity" frequently appears in the speeches of labor leaders, but seldom as a strategy or tactic in our day to day labor rights struggles. Given Ralph Nader's record of promoting successful pro-labor legislation and movements, the way the leadership of organized labor has joined in the corporate smear campaign against him is doubly unconscionable, although it is not universal among them. There have been some exceptional labor leaders who stuck by Nader in the true sense of the term "solidarity."
I believe in the power of the "come back." Maybe I read too many novels, but in the case of Ralph Nader, I look as objectively as I am able to at the numbers, the positives and negatives, and I continue to conclude that a Nader 08 presidential campaign offers a better chance for the progressive left to make a serious "come back" than any other opportunity we have available to us today. If the honest progressives stand up to the triangulators and war funders, the fake friends of labor, women and oppressed minorities, and say, "hey, we can do better-we have to do better," we will have what it takes to run a powerful, insurgent, Nader reform campaign for president, and together we can accomplish what seems impossible. If we allow ourselves to be browbeaten by the fraudulent peace candidates, the triangulators, the corporate-controlled politicians and the hate merchants, we might as well give it all up and acknowledge that the faceless corporate powers have won, our republic is as dead as the Roman Republic on the day Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and we'd better start practicing our goose step.
We've arrived at the leading edge of a historic watershed, a unique period in which the American people are obviously alarmed over the coming economic crisis; outraged over the mortgage debacle that was engineered by the Federal Reserve, Congress and the last two presidents; angered by an unrestrained corporate crime wave that has wiped out the pensions of millions and put millions more out of work; dismayed by the deregulation and privatization that has sold our nation off to the highest bidder; and, feed up with a costly corporate-inspired war that has siphoned off the funds needed to avert domestic catastrophe. We are equally weary of the bumbling destructive Bush administration and the backboneless Democratic Congress that enables the bumbling Bush. We've not seen such incompetence in the White House and Congress since the 1920s! And we are ready to change course and seek out real solutions.
The polls showing historic low ratings for the president and Congress are key indicators that the American people are approaching a breaking point. As a people, we have declared our independence in ever greater numbers and expressed our discontent with the direction in which the president and the Congress have taken us. Nearly half of us (48 percent in a 2006 CNN poll) have expressed support for a mass third party. In a more recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken from Dec. 14-17, 2007, 76 percent characterized the American two-party system as having either "real problems" in need of repair or as "seriously broken." A Fox News poll in July 2007 found that " more than twice as many voters think it would be good for the country if an independent candidate were to win the White House in 2008 than think it would be bad (45 percent good, 19 percent bad). In addition, there is rare partisan agreement on the issue as 42 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans think electing an independent candidate would be good for the country, as do 56 percent of self-described independents." The Fox poll also found that 67 percent would consider voting for an independent, "including more than 6 in 10 Democrats and Republicans."
Americans are still unsure of how to fit into our new role as a nation in rebellion. Those who last lived through such a time as adults are now in their late 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. It will take time for us to grow sea legs, to relearn the lessons of our forefathers and foremothers about how to reform corrupt government and recreate the balance we once had between the rights of the people and the rights of commercial business. But I am convinced that enough of us are ready to make history this year with a Ralph Nader campaign, enough of us at least to offer a successful incentive to the major party candidates to be better and act better, and that's why I've urged Ralph Nader to run. And you can be ready as well, as long as you first learn to defend one another from the "divide and conquer" strategy of America's corrupt corporate elite. If you are able to recognize that the Democratic Party slander campaign against Ralph Nader is part and parcel with other corporate strategies, like their union busting strategy or their subtle use of racism, sexism and classism to divide us from one another, then you'll be ready too.