Listening to Democrats screaming about Ralph Nader’s entry into the presidential race I finally understand the mindset of those Communist dictatorships that used to take such trouble to ensure that the final count showed a 99 percent Yes vote for the Communist Party candidate. It’s a totalitarian logic. “Anybody But Bush,” chorus the Democrats. But they don’t mean that. They mean, “Nobody But Kerry.” And if John Edwards wins big in the primaries next week, they’ll start shouting “Nobody But Edwards.”
What they’re saying is that no one has the right to challenge Bush but a Democrat, whoever that Democrat might be, no matter what that Democrat stands for. As our friend Fred Feldman recently sarcastically parodied this totalitarian logic: “Democracy is when everybody but the good candidate pulls out of the race, and indeed the only way to save democracy is for all candidates except Kerry to withdraw. That should include Bush too, of course. If there is more than one candidate, the horror of 2000 may be repeated! More than one candidate means vote-stealing, reactionary advertising campaigns, the possibility of Republican and Green and socialist candidates, and unpredictable outcomes. The good candidate may not win.”
The stream of abuse at Nader, a man who has toiled unceasingly for the public good for half a century has been childishly vulgar and vitriolic. Nader is a “faded chanteuse in a dingy nightclub,” wrote Robert Scheer, venerable liberal pundit for the Los Angeles Times. He should know. If Nader had an ounce of principle, railed Bruce Jackson, distinguished professor of culture at the University of Buffalo on the CounterPunch site, he’d “go sit on the capitol steps, douse himself with gasoline and exit this world of imperfect humanity in a blaze of protesting glory. He could even wear a monkish robe.”
What has Nader done since 2000, asked Scheer scornfully, albeit stupidly. As Jim Ridgeway points out in the Village Voice, It’s been Nader and his groups, not the Democrats, who’ve spearheaded universal health care ever since Hillary Clinton botched the chance for health reform in the early 90s. It’s been Nader and his troops who’ve kept the searchlight on corporate crime, who raised the hue and cry on Enron, when Democrats were smoothing the counterpane for Lay in the Lincoln Bedroom.
From the point of view of democracy, the American political system is a shambles of corruption, gerrymandered to ensure that it is almost impossible to evict any sitting member of the House of Representatives. The presidential debates are fixed to exclude unwelcome intruders. Nader says that in the whole of his 2000 challenge he got about 3 minutes face-time on the major networks.
You can understand why the two many parties don’t want any outside spoiling the fun. They arranged things that way, as Nader understands, and explain better than anyone.
“I think the mistake the Democrats are making” said Nader at the National Press Club on Monday “ when they use the mantra ‘anybody but Bush’ is, first of all, it closes their mind to any alternative strategies or any creative thinking, which is not good for a political party. And second, it gives their ultimate nominee no mandate, no constituency, no policies, if the ultimate nominee goes into the White House.
“And then they'll be back to us. I guarantee you the Democrats, the liberal groups, the liberal intelligentsia, the civic groups that are now whining and complaining, even though they know they're being shut out increasingly, year after year, from trying to improve their country when they go to work every day. And they'll be saying, ‘Oh, you can't believe — we were betrayed. The Democrats are succumbing to the corporate interests in the environment, consumer protection.’
“How many cycles do we have to go through here? How long is the learning curve before we recognize that political parties are the problem? They're the problem! They're the ones who have turned our government over to the corporations, so they can say no to universal health insurance and no to a living wage and no to environmental sanity and no to renewable energy and no to a whole range of issues that corporations were never allowed to say no to 30, 40, 50 years ago. Things really have changed.”
Nader’s seen it happen time and again. Bold promises from a Democratic candidate, followed by ignominious collapse. And each time the promises are vaguer, more timid. Each time the whole system tilts further in the direction of corporate power. Nader is saying that the Democrats are so hopelessly compromised that they don’t know how to energize people to get them into the polling booths to vote against Bush. So he’s going to lend a hand. Nader can be the candidate denouncing the war that Bush started and Kerry voted for. Nader can denounce the corporate slush that’s given Bush his $100 million war chest and Kerry his $30 million in corporate swag over three senate terms.
With NBK as their war cry (“Nobody But Kerry”) I doubt the Democrats have much of a shot at the White House. Already George Bush has winged Mr. Facing-Both-Ways pretty good. Kerry looks like a beaten man to me. If I was John Edwards I’d have a joint press conference with Nader, welcome him into the race, hail him as a man who knows what’s wrong with America and how to mend it. That would make for an exciting political year, and a pretty good chance of ousting George Bush.