Nader Slugs It Out with the Party Duopoly
As most of us know by now, the Republicrat two-party duopoly is squeezing the life out of our democratic system. The majority no longer has a political home, and the choices are so dismal that there are more people in America today who bowl than vote in presidential elections.
Both national parties now exist as wholly-owned subsidiaries of corporate America, selling two brands of the same corporate agenda: Bud Light-Miller Lite/George Bush-Al Gore, take your choice. Mighty small beer.
But wait, this is America! We don't have to take what the Powers That Be give to us. We can create a new politics, just as others before us have had to do: the revolutionaries of 1776, the abolitionists, the suffragists, the populists, the A.F.L, the Wobblies, the C.I.O., the civil rights movement, the antiwar protesters ... and, today, the democracy agitators who are in rebellion against global corporate rule.
In every case, ordinary citizens have had to do the extraordinary, going right into the face of entrenched political and economic power, clobbering the system, getting clobbered in return, yet persevering, pushing ... and eventually widening the possibilities of democratic participation. And, in every case, these democratizing movements have had to create their own political channels.
Now comes Ralph Nader -- he's serious, he's ready, he's running. Forging a blue-green, labor-environmental alliance and articulating (as only he can do) a powerful, unifying message of citizen democracy over global corporate plutocracy, he's offering himself and his Green Party presidential candidacy as an organizing tool for building a new political channel around the corporate-controlled two-party duopoly that's blocking America's majority from democratic participation in power.
Unlike 1992, when he merely allowed his name to be on the ballot, and 1996 when he chose not to fund-raise or campaign aggressively, Nader is going all out in 2000: He's working on the campaign full time; he's traversing America, going to all 50 states, launching petition drives that will put him on the ballot in at least 40 states; he's raising at least $5 million to finance his grassroots organization; he has assembled a top-notch staff (headed by longtime citizen activist Theresa Amato of Chicago) that includes experienced people to handle everything from fund-raising and field organizing to press and the website (www.votenader.com); and he has enlisted the respected campaign veteran Steve Cobble to serve as political strategist. With Native-American activist Winona LaDuke as his running mate, Ralph not only is committed to providing a real choice in November and building a Green Party infrastructure, but he also seems to be enjoying it!
I think Nader is the right person, running for the right reasons, at the right time.
The Right Person
Americans are yearning for a simple quality that's rare in politics these days: Integrity. This was the core appeal of Sen. John McCain, whose candidacy even attracted liberals willing to overlook his right-wing record because he "had integrity." Susan DeMarco and I hear this yearning daily in our conversations with callers on our "Chat & Chew" radio talk show (www.jimhightower.com, M-F, noon-2 EST) where a common refrain is the desire for candidates who are not bought by anyone, who stand squarely on basic principles of fairness and justice for all, and who are unafraid to fight the corporate and governmental elites running roughshod over us.
Who today really fits this standard? Ralph Nader. He needs no gaggle of spin meisters, no policy puffers to concoct a record of integrity for him as Gore and Bush must have -- he is integrity. In a time when the phrase "shallow politics" has become a redundancy, Nader's reform agenda of civic democracy is not a political position -- it's his life!
For 35 years, he has sustained one of the most effective citizen's movements in our history. For example, thanks to his initiatives, cars have seat belts, water is cleaner, children's pajamas don't burst into flame, there's no smoking on airlines, there are right-to-know laws about polluting factories, and our air is less toxic -- the guy has saved more lives than Mother Teresa. Among other fights, he's been on the front lines against abusive HMOs, the autocratic Federal Reserve, NAFTA and the WTO, corporate crime, union busters, Pentagon follies, and the corruption of our government by big money.
When George W. Bush was wasting his twenties and thirties as a party animal, when Al Gore Jr. was carefully plotting his climb up the ladder of corporate-financed politics, when Pat Buchanan was a Nixon hatchet man, Ralph Nader was with the folks, battling for both political and economic democracy.
Ralph has done more for people as a private citizen than Bush, Gore, Bradley, McCain, and all the other presidential contenders combined have done from their positions of governmental power. Nader has the credibility, the conscientiousness, the cojones, and, yes, even the celebrity to make a serious run.
The Right Reasons
Ralph doesn't need this. His legacy is well-earned and secure (unlike Bill Clinton who's still rattling around the White House mumbling, "Where's my legacy?"). Yet, he's out there right now, going from state to state, neighborhood to neighborhood in an earnest, energetic run for the presidency. Why? "I have a personal distaste for the trappings of modern politics," he says, "but I can no longer stomach the systemic political decay that has weakened our democracy... It is necessary to launch a sustained effort to wrest control of our democracy from the corporate government and restore it to the political government under the control of citizens."
Ralph's "deep democracy campaign," as he calls it, serves as a rallying cry to get all of us running. He asks, "Why are campaigns just for candidates?" The campaign itself has to belong to you and me -- we have to do the heavy lifting along with him, using his candidacy as leverage for building a new, national, populist party with an organized grassroots base.
His commitment is to the long haul of party building. Hence, his campaign appearances are with local activists, highlighting the work of those who are already engaged in challenging corporate power where they live; money he raises locally stays with the local campaign; not a dime of the $5 million he's raising nationally is going for pollsters, consultants, or media hype -- rather, it's going into grassroots organizing; as he runs, he's supporting Greens and other progressives who're running for state and local offices; in addition to fund-raisers, he's holding time-raisers, asking people to contribute a specific amount of volunteer time, which translates into millions of dollars worth of work that GoreBush have to spend their corporate loot to get; and the lists of supporters and donors generated by all of these efforts are provided to local campaigns for future organizing.
The strategy here is straightforward -- even if Ralph doesn't make it to the White House this time, the campaign itself will advance the cause by strengthening the grassroots base, electing other people to office, developing campaign talent, and qualifying the Greens for national ballot status. If Nader crosses the threshold of getting even 5 percent of the November vote, this will entitle the Green Party to some $13 million in F.E.C. funding for party-building work in the future. As strategist Steve Cobble puts it, "This is the baseline for a real party, and we're already beyond that".
Ralph is running not only to force the issues of America's populist majority into this year's presidential debate, but also to make the progressive movement stronger on November 8th -- the day after the election.
The Right Time
What if Ralph actually won? I know you'll think I've been smoking loco weed even to suggest such a thing, and Nader himself sure isn't wasting any time on Oval Office daydreams, but don't rule out the possibility that he will at least do much better than the cognescenti now imagines. Why?
* He's already doing better. Before anyone knows he's actually running, before they've heard him turn on a crowd and rip apart the milque toast candidates of the status quo, April's Zogby Poll finds Ralph to be the big surprise, running at nearly 6 percent nationwide, ahead of Buchanan's 3.6 percent, and running even stronger among young people, Independents, the poor and working class, African-Americans, small-city dwellers, and people in the west. The poll understates Nader's strength, since it tallies only people already planning to vote. Nader will appeal to disaffected non-voters who will be lured back to the voting booth when they learn he's on the ballot.
* People really are fed up. As the months wear on, GoreBush will only intensify the disgust and embarrassment people already feel about either of these two corrupted weaklings sitting in America's big chair. They want integrity; they get two whores of the corporate order. They plan to tune out, not vote ... then they find Ralph.
* Realignment. Republicans and Democrats are re-running the '96 campaign, with Bush stressing tax cuts and laissez-faire government, while Gore stresses "prosperity" and social issues. They are running right-to-left campaigns, which entirely miss the real-life concerns of the majority of people, who are thinking top-to-bottom -- issues like the downsizing of the middle class and the WTO/IMF/NAFTA globaloney. These issues -- as well as integrity -- don't fit on the right-to-left spectrum, and by focusing on them, Ralph will draw many people who think of themselves as "conservatives." The only other one even talking to this disgruntled majority is Pat Buchanan, and his xenophobic, brown-shirted populism makes Ralph's run even more imperative -- progressives cannot leave this turf to Buchanan.
* The Kids. The Seattle Tea Party and last month's citizen uprising in D.C. against the IMF and World Bank were driven by the idealism and outrage of the young. Go to a campus today and you'll find Students Against Sweatshops, Students Against Hunger and Homelessness, The Dirty Job Boycott, and much more. Young folks are on the move again ... and Ralph is someone who can get them excited and get them involved in electoral politics. If so, his campaign will become a crusade.
* This is a four-way race. Gore, Bush, Nader, Buchanan -- 26 percent of the vote could get you there, and it damn sure could make progressive populists real players again in national policy. Remember that Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the Republican Party that then was only six years old, won in 1860 in a four-way race, getting 39 percent of the vote.
* Turnout. The conventional hogwash is that Ralph will only draw votes from Gore. Aside from the fact that Gore's plight is his own damn fault, Nader's run is not drawing from hardcore Democrats, but from independents, mavericks, non-voters, and nonoftheabovers. He will increase the turnout of progressives in November, which not only will advance his cause, but also will add to the votes of Democrats in some close congressional races -- people who vote for Nader at the top of the ballot will find some Democrats to support on down the line.
* The debates. What if Nader gets in the debates? He'll eat Gore and Bush like they were a couple of hors d'oeuvres at a corporate fund-raiser, and Americans will see that there really is a choice. He has top notch legal talent at work on getting him in, and he has a citizen campaign underway to call, fax and e-mail the TV networks demanding that they open the process to him.
In addition, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has a bill to let anyone who scores above 5 percent in the polls participate in the debates. As Jesse Ventura showed in Minnesota, getting a third-party candidate into the debates can be the difference between being a protest candidate and a victor.
Who's Going Green?
Of course, where there's a will, there are a thousand won'ts, and too many leaders of Washington-based progressive organizations have been looking for reasons to be Nader naysayers, even to snicker at Ralph's run. Some don't think the Greens are the "right" party -- too many kooks.
Please. Have you been to a Democratic or Republican party convention? Have you seen Congress? Jesse Helms is sane? Bob Barr's not a kook? The Greens are a maturing party, and Ralph's broad-based, blue-green agenda is not only welcome there, but will refine and extend the party's message. Ralph and the Greens will work with all progressive parties -- the Labor Party, insurgent Democrats, the New Party, progressive Reform Party chapters, etc. Supporting Nader doesn't mean you're wedded to the Green Party, and it doesn't preclude anyone from working at the same time inside other parties. We can debate the "right" party forever, but finally someone has to do something.
Ralph has. I say, let's join him. I'll be giving him a helping hand, as will such others as Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Moore, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Ani Di Franco, and Willie Nelson. This is bigger than a party ... bigger than Ralph. It's us seizing our own political and economic destiny, building a politics we're for, rather than settling for the evil of the two lessers (as Dave Dellinger used to call it). Why not act on our ideals and democratic values? It's a politics that's worthy of you, and ultimately, it's the only way to win.
Besides, it's fun! Ralph is looser, funnier, sharper than I've ever seen him. Kermit the Frog is famous for saying, "It's not easy being green." But with Ralph Nader out there, it is easy.