>Nader: Is There Life After Crucifixion? > >by David Corn > >After the election came the crucifixion. Before the >Gore-Bush mess was settled--but as soon as it was apparent >that Ralph Nader's vote in Florida was greater than the gap >between Al Gore and George Bush--pundits, editorial boards, >political partisans and liberals pounced. AFL-CIO president >John Sweeney called Nader's campaign "reprehensible." >Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook declared, >"The public-interest community is going to spend tens of >millions of dollars a year for the next four years playing >defense. I don't think [Nader's] going to build a Green >Party any more than O.J.'s out there looking for a >murderer." Larry Marx, co-executive director of Wisconsin >Citizen Action, complained that Nader "got tunnel vision and >lost sight of progressive goals." "I will not speak his >name," hissed Democratic spin man James Carville. "I'm going >to shun him. And any good Democrat, any good progressive, >ought to do the same thing." > >In addition to the demonization of a progressive icon--Nader >himself--Nader's campaign resulted in a sharpening of the >sometimes blurry line between inside-the-duopoly >progressives who try to nudge the Democratic Party to the >left and nonestablishment progressives who eschew the party >as part of the problem, not the potential solution. His >candidacy hardened positions along this divide. It also >diminished whatever opportunity he had to work with >left-leaning Democrats in Washington. "He's totally toast >among Democrats," says a senior Democratic Congressional >aide. "There is deep animosity toward him among high-ranking >Democrats in Congress. For now, the relationship is >completely ruptured." And with 2.7 million votes--3 percent >of the vote--Nader fell far short of the magic mark of 5 >percent, which would have qualified the Green Party for >federal funding in the next presidential election. [JPC: But >who - or what - counted the votes?] > >So was it worth it? "Of course," says an utterly undaunted >Nader, who obviously relished the campaign experience. "Look >what came out of this--the third-largest party. Tens of >thousands of people were energized. It was a great burst. We >can continue on and recruit more candidates in 2002. There >will be a Green Party presence here [in Washington], which >will speak with authority--electoral authority--when it goes >to Capitol Hill, not just say, 'Please, please, do what we >want.'" He expresses no regrets; he is unfazed by the harsh >criticism; he is unrepentant. With the Florida recount under >way, Nader showed no sign of caring much about who will win. > >Instead, he was more excited about a letter he received on >November 8 from Holly Hart of the Iowa Green Party. She >reported that his campaign appearances there prompted >Republican farmers to contact the party and that "the Green >Party and the message of your campaign have come out well >ahead of where they started." Though Nader only scored 2 >percent in Iowa, that was enough for the Iowa Green Party to >qualify for automatic ballot status. "Not only that," Hart >wrote; "we now have around five new Green student >organizations and many new county Green chapters--enough so >that we can now organize a real statewide Green Party." This >is evidence of the "benefits" of his campaign, Nader notes; >he has created a "ripple effect" throughout the nation. > >The 66-year-old Nader won't say whether he's interested in >another crusade for the White house ("one election at a >time"), but he insists that he remains committed to building >the Green Party. The details, though, are hardly set, and >it's not even clear what Nader is working with. On Election >Day, the party was split between two different entities--the >Association of State Green Parties and the more leftist and >smaller Greens/Green Party USA, though the two sides were >close to a merger agreement. Nader says he will be the de >facto party "leader," but without the title ("I don't like >the word") or the day-to-day responsibilities for the party >itself. > >Instead, he sees himself establishing several Green-related >outfits--a nonprofit educational group, a lobbying arm and a >political action committee--that would exist parallel to the >party. As he envisions it, "I'm on the outside expanding the >Green Party, while those on the inside intensify it." But >can Nader control or shape a party from the outside? >Political parties are usually difficult to steer, and the >Greens have their share of bickerers. Moreover, remember >Ross Perot and the Reform Party? Earlier this year, failed >Reform Party contender John Hagelin took a stab at gaining >control of the Seattle Greens. "They"--the Greens--"will >have to be very clever" to avoid would-be highjackers and >internal wrangling, Nader remarks, not using the word "we." >As one Nader adviser says, "Ralph does have a track record >of building things that last. And he'll stick with this. But >he will find it much more complex than building citizens' >groups." > >What might make the task even harder is that Nader hopes his >Green Party will be more than a political organization >obsessed with elections. In his grand scheme, the party >would join with citizens' movements across the nation to >wage local battles untouched by the Democratic and >Republican parties. An example: In Florida popular outrage >has been sparked by the state's decision--prompted by >agribusiness--to cut down orange and grapefruit trees on the >property of private residences to battle a citrus canker >that affects only the appearance of the fruit. Neither major >party has gotten behind the citizens' uprising that ensued. >Nader believes that fights like this one provide openings >for a Green Party concerned with activism beyond elections. > >Nader also wants to establish Green chapters on campuses and >Green Party storefronts in poor areas--"advice >centers"--that would help people qualify for Medicaid and >other federal programs. At the same time, Nader wants the >party to develop an "or-else relationship" with Democrats on >Capitol Hill. This is how it might work: The party would >zero in on twenty or so lawmakers--including Democrats--who >it calculates might be vulnerable to electoral pressure from >the Greens, and, depending on whether or not these >legislators adopt Green-friendly positions, the Greens would >decide whether or not to challenge them in 2002. (Such a >get-tough strategy will require plenty of planning and >commitment, for it will likely prompt further assaults from >progressives--environmentalists, union officials, abortion >rights activists, civil rights leaders--still working with >the Democrats.) Through a People's Debate Commission, Nader >will continue his campaign against the corporate-funded >Commission on Presidential Debates, which froze out all >third-party candidates in this year's debates. > >And the money for all this? The 75,000 contributors who >helped him raise $7 million in donations of $100 or less >will be called upon to finance these new Nader-Green groups. >But that won't be enough, he admits. He hopes to continue >holding "superrallies," which during the campaign attracted >tens of thousands of people willing to pay to hear Nader >offer his anticorporate/anti-two-parties critique. > >Is it possible that Nader's long-term mission of fostering >an anticorporate and progressive party will be overwhelmed >by noise about Nader-the-Spoiler and undermined by the >attacks from prominent progressives? "No," he declares. He >dismisses his left-of-center critics as "low-expectation, >frightened liberals. Across the country, in airports and >elsewhere, people are saying, 'Great job, thank you.' The >citizen-bureaucrats in Washington have been here too long, >and they've gotten too cushy with the Democrats. Bush got >twelve times the Democrats I did in Florida. That's the >problem." > >Asked about Sweeney, he shows his irritation: "Here's the >Democratic Party, which can't win without organized labor, >and it gives organized labor none of the programs and >principles organized labor needs to grow. Instead, it gives >them NAFTA, the China trade legislation and no mention of >revising the antilabor Taft-Hartley Act. Yet here's a >guy"--he's referring to himself--"who fought for OSHA and is >way ahead on other policies for organized labor, and his >campaign is 'reprehensible'? This can only fill one with >pity. They're on their knees, begging Gore and the DLC for >crumbs. It's pathos." > >Nader does not seem worried about being perceived as a rogue >or enemy by leaders of progressive groups. "Now people are >saying we better not come to [public interest] coalition >meetings," Nader says. "Well, they"--the Washington >establishment--"shut out progressive civil society a long >time ago." And Nader says he doesn't give a damn about >breaking ties with once-sympathetic Democratic legislators. >"The ties haven't been there. They said no to us on NAFTA, >WTO, the telecom bill, the merger craze, trade with China, >auto safety, stronger food-standard inspections, campaign >finance reform, universal healthcare. After a while, you get >the idea." > >Persuasion-lobbying is out for Nader; blunt electoral >realpolitik is what matters. "We still have a long ways to >go. But the first step in regaining power is to realize >you've lost power." Nader's Green Party run has confirmed >his view that resurrection awaits only those progressives >who recognize this harsh reality, give up on the Democrats >and act accordingly.
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