Sunday, October 24

Swing for Kerry, pt. 2

What follows is the second of two posts that explain the reasons for my endorsing John Kerry over Ralph Nader in so-called swing states.
There is another dimension to my hesitation to support Nader all-out. Consider, next, his July 9, 2004 debate with Howard Dean at the National Press Club, where Nader was asked by the moderator, Margot Adler, the following:

MODERATOR: If Senator John Kerry wins and asks you, Mr. Nader, to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency, would you take the job?
And replied that:

NADER: The answer is no, because I want to be, after the election, what Howard Dean told me he wanted to be during the election when he lost the primary, [namely,] a hair shirt to the Democrats, a real hair shirt, not a linen handkerchief.
While it would be impossible to imagine Nader answering "yes" to this question, since that would make his candidacy look like a mere power play designed to get him well placed in a Kerry Administration, Nader's stated ambition here is troubling. It makes him fit the spoiler image he rejects and at times mocks, since he seems content to target one opponent in particular. It suggests that it is Nader who has taken his eye off the ball, and not those who are intent on voting pragmatically, or out of well-founded fears of the Neocons who, for self-enriching and ideological ends, swarm around and manipulate the feeble presidency of George Bush. If Nader's main purpose were the reform of government, he would not liken taking such a position to selling out and suggest that irritating Democrats is his driving ambition. Heading the EPA would give Nader enormous powers of reform, and his saying that he would refuse such a position to concentrate on irritating Democrats leaves him in the very small role of "guy out to punish the Democrats." Sure, the Democrats deserve punishing criticism. Alexander Cockburn provides some in "The Democratic Party: an Advanced State of Decay: You Can't Blame Nader for This," available at CounterPunch, Oct 22-24. Here's a sample:

We are now witnessing the Democratic Party in very advanced decay. After the Clinton/DLC years, its street cred is conclusively shot. In formal political function the party is nothing much more than an ATM machine, spewing out torrents of cash, supplied by the unions and by corporations seeking favors, to the armies of consultants and operators who have lived off it for decades. Its right wing comprises people who could as easily be in the Republican Party, its center people incapable of standing on any principle. Its left, this season, is made up of the Anybody But Bush crowd, who last spring made the decision to let Kerry be Kerry, without a word of criticism, when he pledged a better war on Iraq and even a march on Tehran.
Still, it is hard to see why Nader would refuse to assert progressive leadership in the EPA, unless his primary goal were simply to be a persistent annoyance to the Democratic Party. At the very least, Nader could have used the question as a springboard to discussing the problematic state of the EPA today and what his appointee to the EPA would look like, in the improbable situation of his being elected.

So, in addition to Nader's not making the case well enough that his candidacy, at this point in our nation's political scene, is the most compelling way to address the myriad problems he astutely identifies, he falters, here and elsewhere, by getting carried away in petty revolt against the mediocre Democrats.

My speculation is that one thing that could have led Nader to feel so embittered toward the Democrats is his having held false illusions about their grandeur. His attempt to reform the Democrats through external opposition and the model of a clean campaign has as much hope as would the effort to bring a level playing field to Major League Baseball by picketing George Steinbrenner's Yankees with nostalgic posters depicting Lou Gehrig. In my view, the Democrats have been the less-worse political party for a long time, and not only for the past thirty or so years, as Nader often says. The shortcomings of the Democratic Party did not emerge with the massive build-up in the 70s and 80s of corporate lobbying in Washington, D.C. Nor will they ever be fully eradicated with the development of a third party. At best, a third party would achieve some gains and end up incorporating into itself much of the corruption that has run roughshod over the Democratic and Republican Parties. And since that is the most believable scenario, as opposed to the triumph of a purified political party that Nader seeks, perhaps the ideal of a pure political party risks becoming a side-show and an obstacle to the promotion of lasting reforms. Third parties have made great gains in the past, it's true, but many gains have been made without them. Martin Luther King Jr. never ran as a third-party candidate for office.

For all the above reasons, I fully embrace the pragmatic approach to the presidential election. I encourage those who reside in swing states and who care about the progressive gains of their fellow citizens, living and dead, to vote for Kerry and participate in politics beyond November 2, whatever the results. However, I urge those who live in states neutralized by the Electoral College (and thus saddled with foregone conclusions) to vote for a decidedly progressive candidate. David Cobb of the Green Party and Ralph Nader each have widely progressive platforms that would promote social change, universal health care, environmental protection, peace in the Middle East, real job creation, etc. Moreover, their websites, while lacking religious rhetoric and shiny family portraits, are rich with creative solutions to real political problems.

It seems appropriate to end this post by linking to a clip from a recent interview with Noam Chomsky, who discusses the election with Amy Goodman. I highly recommend watching this interview (click on "Watch 128k stream" or "Watch 256k stream"), in which Chomsky states that

the election is a marginal affair, it should not distract us from the serious work of changing the society, and the culture and the institutions, creating a democratic culture. That’s what you work on. You can’t ignore the election. It’s there. But it’s designed as a method of essentially marginalizing the population. There’s a huge propaganda campaign to get people to focus on these personalized extravaganzas, and make them think, "That’s politics." Well, it isn’t. That’s a marginal part of politics, and here, a very marginal part.
Journalists themselves confirm Chomsky's assessment, since they judge the coverage of the 2004 elections to be atrocious, with very few exceptions, especially in televised coverage, which is where most of the power is concentrated.