The Village Voice 21 November 2000 The Patriot: Ralph Nader Keeps Democracy Alive By Nat Hentoff Jack Newfield, my longtime friend and frequent ally, maintained in the New York Post on November 9, while the election was still in disarray, that "if Gore loses, Nader would have harmed everything he claimed to be running for. His whole candidacy was based on the phony premise that there is no difference between Gore and Bush." This is the kind of quasi-liberal realpolitik that has allowed Clinton--and Gore --to corrupt the Democratic Party, which has become the New Democratic Party. As The New York Times reported on July 30--before its editorial page became a subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee--this is what happened when authentic Democrats (in both the upper- and lowercase sense of the word) tried to remember the poor and the working classes in the Democratic platform: "Proposals supporting universal health care, a moratorium on the death penalty, punishments against corporations that pay low wages, tougher rules for international trade, and better health care for prisoners were withdrawn or overwhelmingly defeated. . . . Also voted down was increased spending for the poor." Gore operatives performed that cleansing of principles. By August 13, Minnesota Democratic senator Paul Wellstone was telling the Washington Post: "I think the Democratic party has become a party without a purpose, except to win elections. The campaign money chase has seriously diluted our policy purpose, and there is a belief that talking about the poor is a losing strategy. We don't inspire people." Yes, Wellstone went on to campaign for Gore, looking sickly on television as he put party loyalty above what I know--from conversations with him--are his deepest convictions. Bush doesn't give a damn about the working poor or about the plain old poor thrown off welfare by the New Democrats in alliance with the Republican Party. Gore celebrates "welfare reform." But, as the Urban Institute reports, about 25 percent of those kicked off welfare "had no one in the family working; one-third had to skip meals or cut back on food." And, as the Children's Defense Fund and the National Coalition for the Homeless disclosed: "Only a small fraction (8 percent) of former welfare recipients' new jobs paid above poverty wages--most paid far below--and extreme child poverty was increasing even at a time of economic expansion." Did you hear Gore or Bush mention the poor during the campaign? Gore is fighting at the top of his lungs for the middle class! And did Gore or Bush ever refer to this September 10 U.S. Agriculture Department report? It said: "More than 21 percent of all black people went hungry or lived on the edge of hunger in 1999, the higest percentage of any racial group." So how come blacks voted overwhelmingly for Gore? Because the press, in all its forms, has done so abominable a job of hard-news reporting and analysis throughout the campaign that--as Kennedy School of Government professor Thomas Patterson, director of the Vanishing Voter Project--wrote on the November 8 New York Times op-ed page: "We tracked citizen knowledge about the candidates' positions on 12 issues. Last weekend, in the campaign's closing days, there was only one position--Al Gore's stand on prescription drugs--on which half or more of the respondents could accurately identify a candidate's stand." Only Ralph Nader spoke directly, again and again, with passion, about poverty and about corporate hegemony over the two parties. And meanwhile the AFL-CIO, agreeing with the intense corporate interest in trade with China, has sold out of many of its members, who are going to lose jobs because of the permanent trade agreement with that nation. To hell with solidarity with workers elsewhere. The leaders of the labor movement betrayed those workers in China who are clapped into prison work camps for even trying to organize a union. Nader did speak about China trade, NAFTA, and the anti-labor World Trade Organization. Bush and Gore, of course, did not. Nader was also the only presidential candidate to speak of the abysmal civil liberties records of the Democrats and the Republicans. There is no evidence in his long public record that Al Gore has any passion for protecting individual constitutional liberties. He went along with the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, supported by both Clinton and the Republicans. It cut the heart out of habeas corpus, so that people sent to death row after 1996 have only one year to try to get a federal judge to review the fairness of their convictions in state courts. Gore trotted right along with the Clinton-Republican use of secret evidence in trials and the evisceration of the Fourth Amendment through roving wiretaps. This year, Gore was silent about the reintroduction of J. Edgar Hoover's "black-bag job" raids, which allow FBI agents to secretly remove information which may later be used as evidence in a trial. The ACLU and Georgia Republican congressman Bob Barr stopped that one--not Al Gore or George W. Bush. But what of the Supreme Court? A history of Supreme Court appointments shows there is no bright line connecting the political affiliations of the presidents who chose the nominees to the subsequent performances of those justices. Dwight Eisenhower, who didn't have the courage to attack Joe McCarthy, nominated Earl Warren and William Brennan. Gerald Ford picked John Paul Stevens, the only unabashed liberal now on the Supreme Court. In the last term, in four of the five key First Amendment decisions, the justices with the best record supporting the First Amendment were Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. And Antonin Scalia, over time, has been quite skeptical of police justifications for attacking the Fourth Amendment. Scalia, by the way, voted for the First Amendment right to burn the flag. Both Scalia and Thomas have indeed written some appalling decisions; but Clinton's appointee, Stephen Breyer, is hardly a champion of either the First or the Fourth Amendments. And as for the other Clinton choice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she is more reliable than Breyer, but hardly a distinguished justice. New Democrat Gore gives no indication of wanting a William Brennan, William O. Douglas, or Earl Warren on the High Court, since he seldom, if ever, mentions the Bill of Rights. As for foreign policy, it was Clinton who could have stopped the genocide in Rwanda, but chose to say nothing about it. He refused to encourage the United Nations to send in its force, even though there was ample advance warning of the holocaust. There was no objection from Gore. Nor does Gore say anything about the increasingly savage state terrorism against dissidents in China, including people whose only crime is advocating democracy. Among other subjects of repression are those who refuse to allow the Chinese government to decide which of the official churches they will be forced to join. And, of course, both Gore and Bush are deadly silent on slavery and genocide in Sudan. Despite the contumely heaped on him by Jack Newfield, Sean Wilentz, Hillary Clinton, Senator Joseph Biden, Gloria Steinem, Todd Gitlin, the utterly predictable Marie Cocco, Joe Conason (who should surely have been awarded an ambassadorship by Clinton in gratitude for his service), and all the other erstwhile believers in the right of choice and conscience in a democratic society, Ralph Nader is keeping on. As John C. Berg, director of graduate studies in the department of government at Suffolk University in Boston, says: "In the years before the Civil War, antislavery voters were told they had to vote for the lesser evil--slave-owning Whigs like Henry Clay. They refused, in small but growing numbers. "The Whigs collapsed, the Republican Party was born, Lincoln became president, and the slaves were freed. Today, anticorporate voters are being handed the same lesser-evil logic. But the sweeping political changes we need will only come when voters refuse this logic, and thereby force the collapse of the two-party monopoly." This is clearly a pivotal time in American history, and Ralph Nader is trying to renew the forces of democracy. He has nothing whatever to be ashamed of. Quite the contrary.
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