[sixties-l] Looking for Mr. Nader

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed Feb 14 2001 - 01:49:45 EST

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    Looking for Mr. Nader


    Doug Ireland, In These Times
    February 13, 2001

    Where's Ralph? That's what many enthusiastic supporters of Nader's 2000
    presidential campaign have been asking. Even though more people were paying
    attention to politics during the Florida election mess than they were
    during the campaign, Nader chose not to go to the Sunshine State. Nor has
    there been a coordinated effort to mobilize the tens of thousands of active
    Naderites recruited during the campaign to take their energy into the Green
    Party, let alone any serious attempt to enroll rank-and-file Nader voters
    as Greens. Indeed, Nader himself is still not a Green Party member. Nor
    has any organization been formed to give those Nader supporters who are not
    prepared to join the Greens another vehicle for independent, issues-
    oriented political action. So what's going on?
    Ask Nader, and he maintains he has been doing a lot. "It's very hard to get
    press attention, much more so than in the campaign," he says. Undoubtedly
    true, but Nader gave no press conferences of his own in December or
    January, and sent out only two press releases; nor did he stage any media
    events with pizzazz.
    And what about Florida? "Medea Benjamin represented the Greens in Florida,"
    he says, "and she did a great job." But the Green Senate candidate from
    California garnered no national media attention of the kind Nader might
    have, given the thousands of hours of airtime the cable news networks
    devoted to the endless squabbling over the vote count.
    As for the Greens, Nader says he hasn't become a member because, "I don't
    want to get involved in Green Party internal disputes and struggles, if I
    was a member, I'd have to take sides." Besides, adds Nader, who has made it
    evident he almost certainly intends to run another presidential campaign in
    2004 -- "we've got to appeal to the independent vote" that includes "tens
    of millions" whose concerns extend beyond the Greens' agenda "and
    historically, I've never joined any party."
    As to his invisibility during the confirmation hearings for Bush's cabinet,
    Nader says the Democrats shut him out: "I sent letters to [Senate Judiciary
    Committee Chairman Patrick] Leahy, we even had one hand-delivered, asking
    to testify against John Ashcroft, and he didn't even have the courtesy to
    respond." He also tried to testify against Spencer Abraham and Gale Norton,
    but was refused.
    Why, then, didn't Nader hold a press conference denouncing the spineless
    Senate Dems for their token opposition to Ashcroft, who lied repeatedly
    without challenge at his hearing, and their failure to seriously contest
    the anti-environmental appointments of the reactionary Norton and the
    polluter-friendly new EPA head, Christie Todd Whitman? And when the
    Democrats symbolized their moral bankruptcy by choosing notorious bagman
    and fixer Terry McAuliffe as chair of the Democratic National Committee,
    where were the salvos from Nader? "Well," he says weakly, "I've done a lot
    of all this on radio."
    Nader repeatedly emphasizes how preoccupied he has been trying to comply
    with the Federal Election Commission regulations governing campaign
    spending and the transition out of campaign mode, including restrictions on
    how campaign staff can be deployed to other activities. (Nader's Washington
    campaign office is still open, but down to a skeleton staff.) "The
    FEC-dictated process is very strict and very complicated," Nader notes,
    adding, "did you know that it costs $5,000 a month just to rent the
    software for FEC compliance?"
    But as one who publicly supported Nader's candidacy in 2000 and his
    symbolic non-campaign of 1996, I feel compelled to be frank: These excuses
    sound to anyone steeped in politics like "the FEC ate my homework."
    Clearly, there's more to Nader's absence from the public scene than he's
    willing to admit.
    After discussions with a number of Nader's closest advisers, friends and
    staff, a clearer picture emerges. For one thing, Nader has received
    conflicting counsel. Some of the influential staffers from the
    Nader-created skein of nonprofits, particularly Public Citizen, have been
    reluctant to see Nader conduct a frontal assault on the Democrats just
    before a congressional election year.
    But while the conventional wisdom holds that the first off-year election is
    always good for the party out of power in the White House, 2002 is not
    likely to be a banner year for the Democrats. They will likely lose at
    least three Senate incumbents: Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, South Dakota's
    Timothy Johnson and Montana's Max Baucus. Georgia's Max Cleland, Iowa's Tom
    Harkin and even New Jersey's Robert Torricelli could all have tough races
    as well. In contrast, unless the ailing Jesse Helms retires or the senile
    Strom Thurmond drops dead in midterm, most of the Republican senators up
    next year are pretty safe, with the best chance of a Democratic pick-up in
    New Hampshire, where Gov. Jean Shaheen will run for lunatic blowhard Bob
    Smith's seat.
    Things aren't much better in the House, since Republicans control nearly
    two-thirds of the statehouses and dominate the legislatures in half of the
    states, which must draw new district lines in the wake of the 2000 census.
    The National Committee for an Effective Congress (the nation's oldest and
    most effective liberal political action committee) has been working
    flat-out on the state-by-state redistricting process for months. Says the
    group's veteran director Russ Hemenway of the battle for the House: "When
    all the new lines are drawn and depending on how the courts eventually
    decide expected challenges, in the end the Democrats will do no better than
    break even or lose up to 20 seats."
    Even though it ought to be clear to anyone with half a brain that Al Gore
    blew his chances with his smarmy, inconsistent flip-flopping, failing to
    carry either his home state of Tennessee or Clinton's native Arkansas, for
    example, some non-Green Naderites worry that an all-out attack on the
    Democrats now would only magnify Nader's image with some liberals as a
    "spoiler." As one senior Nader strategist puts it: "Most of the enviros are
    mad at Ralph, some people didn't want him to rub salt in their wounds."
    Moreover, Nader habitually has a long gestation period (witness the
    crippling late start to his 2000 campaign, which sent out its first
    direct-mail fundraising letter so tardily that returns didn't start to come
    in until last July). "Ralph always plays his cards close to the vest," says
    one key adviser. "And after a tough, rigorous campaign, he needed
    recuperation time, he is, after all, 66."
    There's also the major problem of how to approach and deal with the Greens,
    with whom Nader has had a sometimes-prickly relationship. Local Green
    parties vary tremendously from state to state. The culture of the Greens is
    still heavily impregnated with what one might call a politically vegan
    disdain for electoral politics. And in some states the leaders from this
    mindset are reluctant to turn over the party apparatus to the scads of
    freshly minted Nader campaign cadres from 2000, regardless of their
    enthusiasm, energy and skills. The Greens need to decide whether they want
    to become a truly alternative electoral force, one that could in many
    places decide the balance of power and help discipline the Democrats into
    abandoning their money-dominated drift into corporate centrism, and thus
    begin the process of realigning American politics to the left.
    Especially with Jesse Jackson's co-optation by the Clinton White House and
    the Gore campaign, his cozying up to Wall Street, and his self-destruction
    by using Rainbow/PUSH funds to pay off his pregnant mistress, Nader is
    still the most visible and valuable asset of the real left (as opposed to
    the "left" in the debased, Crossfire sense of the term). And there's a real
    danger that well-meaning liberals will, in the wake of the Florida debacle,
    skew the national debate to one about process (electronic scanners versus
    chads, weekend and computer voting, and the like) rather than the more
    fundamental one about power, the corrupting influence of wealth and
    corporate control of governance, a systemic critique that Nader is uniquely
    positioned to make and which was the groundbreaking hallmark of his
    national campaign.
    To galvanize an organization, one top Naderite told me, "there either has
    to be an issue or the recruitment of credible and attractive Green
    candidates around whom people can be mobilized." Another Nader adviser
    says, "Ralph really has only two choices: shut up or build the Green Party."
    At this point, it's obvious that Nader has not yet firmly fixed his course.
    "I've been trying to encourage the Green Party to establish a national
    presence, a lobbying office, here in Washington," Nader says, "and to help
    recruit hundreds of candidates in 2002 -- we had over 260 in 2000, and we
    want over 1,000 in 2002." He adds: "The students have prepared an
    initiative to establish 900 campus Green chapters, we had 900 campus
    coordinators last year. I've been on six or seven campuses since the
    campaign, there's lots of energy, it's like the '60s, very alive."
    But while Nader says he will establish a new national organization to do
    lobbying and issue mobilization, this new organization as yet has no name,
    no director, no set agenda, and, rather astonishingly, it will not be a
    membership group. While Nader says he has "been doing local fundraisers for
    the Greens, that's the best way to recruit new members, and it's easier to
    get local press," in fact he has only done two of them (in Providence and
    Hartford). He says his new group will be announced several months hence, as
    will his plans in relation to the Green Party. "Wait for the spring, the
    time of rebirth," he chuckles. He also envisions a series of major rallies,
    but the first one won't be until July.
    In the hard-nosed real world of electoral politics and communications,
    however, timing is everything. Hamlets don't last long in national
    politics, just ask Mario Cuomo. And the attention span of the electorate is
    a notoriously short one. If Nader does not make up his mind soon about what
    he should do, there's a real danger he will have missed his moment, if he
    hasn't already.

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