Thursday, June 24

A fair shake to Nader

"Tell me what it's like in the toilets," is the first line we hear from Ralph Nader in a June 23 NPR audio report.
Nader is speaking to fifth graders in inner-city Chicago who, as part of a class project, had spent the year trying to improve the conditions in their own school. It is hardly the sort of line we hear spoken by the dominant-party political candidates these days. Nader offers encouragement to the students in their civic endeavors. After highlighting this civic activity, on which Nader had written a short piece in April, NPR cites a host of irrelevant questions that are typically asked of Nader such as--my favorite, a question packaged by the New York Times--"Does the fact that some call yours a 'vanity campaign' hurt your legacy?" and then samples a Nader speaking engagement in Indiana that occurred the next day. Nader here urges citizens to avoid having their vote taken for granted by not indicating that the Democrats have won it by default (even if they do intend to vote for Kerry). This, notes, Siegel, is the closest Nader has come to asking Democrats to support him but vote for Kerry if they feel it is necessary for assuring Bush's defeat.

An interview ensues with Robert Siegel in which Nader makes some typically amusingly sober and incisive comments. I copy here my favorite exchange, in which Nader makes a point that was missing from most of the debates surrounding the week of Reagan eulogies.

Robert Siegel: If you had been president the week Ronald Reagan died, would you have done some generous eulogy in the Capital Rotunda the way Bill Clinton spoke at Richard Nixon's funeral, or would you speak the way you would always speak of Ronald Reagan, as a genial person who did damage--as you see it--to most of the people of the United States?

Ralph Nader: Well, there are certain mourning ceremonies that require an equinimity, in fact, so, you don't sieze on the mourning ceremony to go after his misdeeds.

Robert Siegel: But... you're... what I'm getting at is that you're a partisan. You're one of the great partisans of American life of the late twentieth century. Is the presidency really suitable to that... to that role?

Ralph Nader: Well, I would not wallow in excessive ceremonies day after day the way presidents do. I mean, there's work to be done. I would go over to the Department of Defense and spend some time there. I would go over to the Department of the Interior, go over to the Food and Drug Administration and motivate the civil servants.
This nearly 12-minute feature on Ralph Nader suggests that NPR is far more open-minded than Air America Radio. Air America Radio touts itself as a "liberal" response to the dominant radio right but would never allow Ralph Nader to be featured in such a way, much less to answer questions. Air America Radio is less "liberal" or "progressive" than it is Democrat. It is the Democratic Party answer to right-wing shout radio, not the liberal answer.

What I say here about NPR doesn't mean that I share the right-wing view that NPR is ideologically "left-wing" or "progressive." It simply means that it has not shut its doors to political candidates and office-seeking voices as Air America Radio has. (And the same is true for the Jim Lehrer News Hour, even though its coverage of Nader's campaign is slim. Jim Lehrer allowed Nader to make his case and did not shout him down like Randi Rhodes of Air America Radio did.)