[sixties-l] Lessons from the Nader Campaign...

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed Feb 21 2001 - 17:42:48 EST

  • Next message: Stonewall McMurray: "Re: [sixties-l] The Other Dr. King"

    Lessons from the Nader Campaign and the Future of U.S. Left Electoral Politics


    (by the editors of Monthly Review - lead article
    in the current issue (Feb. 2001) of the magazine,

    The unlikely postelection contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush,
    which ultimately led to the anointing of Bush as president by the
    Republican majority on the US Supreme Court (despite the fact that
    Bush received fewer popular votes than Gore both in the United States
    as a whole and most likely in Florida as well^the state that gave
    Bush his electoral college win), has tended to erase all other
    developments associated with the election. But all of this should not
    cause us to forget that the Ralph Nader Green Party campaign for the
    presidency was arguably the most extraordinary phenomenon in US left
    politics in many years. On election day he drew nearly three million
    votes, representing about 3 percent of the vote. Even former Vice-
    President Henry Wallace did not fare so well in his third-party run
    for the presidency in 1948, the last progressive third-party
    presidential campaign of this nature and magnitude. Although exit
    polls show that Nader received few racial minority votes (a major
    weakness of his campaign), he nonetheless drew his strongest support
    from those without a college education, those with incomes less than
    thirty thousand dollars a year, and those without full-time
    employment. Until the intense scare campaign instigated by the
    Democrats in the final two weeks before the election, Nader was
    getting as much as 7 percent in some tracking polls.

    Nader ran quite far to the left on issue after issue; this was no
    warmed-over version of mainstream liberal Democratic politics. The
    Green platform was an anti-neo-liberal progressive platform that any
    socialist could support openly. At the same time, Nader enjoyed
    tremendous and enthusiastic crowds on the campaign trail, often
    appearing before paying crowds that ranged from ten to fifteen
    thousand with hardly any advance work. Were there no public opinion
    polls, one who merely watched the size and nature of crowd responses
    to the candidates on the campaign trail might have thought Nader the
    likely winner or at least a strong contender for victory. Moreover,
    these crowds were dominated by young people. Such a response would
    have been unthinkable one or two decades ago.

    Nader was the best-suited and arguably the only feasible candidate to
    make a progressive third-party run in 2000. He came of age in the
    1960s when progressive political figures had some opportunity to gain
    exposure in the media culture; he has long been a household name. (As
    Nader notes, with the rightward shift of our political landscape and
    the hyper commercialism of our media culture, serious progressive
    critics of the status quo have had far less opportunity to gain
    national exposure in the past two decades, unless they are political
    humorists like Michael Moore or people who become celebrities for
    other reasons and then discuss politics, like Susan Sarandon.) He is
    also highly regarded for a list of accomplishments in the public
    interest that is nothing short of stunning. Nader turned to electoral
    politics only when it became clear that the degree of corporate
    domination over both parties made the sort of public interest work he
    did nearly impossible to pursue with any hope of success. Nader is
    not a socialist, but he is a principled democrat who has the courage
    to call for sweeping reforms in the political economy when it is
    apparent that corporate domination and class inequality are
    undermining democracy. Nader spoke brilliantly in plain language to
    everyday Americans from a range of backgrounds about the need for
    sweeping structural reform, a lost art among many on the left.

    The issue that was the foundation of the Nader campaign was his
    opposition to the World Trade Organization (WTO), North American Free
    Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the entirety of the global procapitalist
    trade, investment, and regulatory system. Unlike nationalist
    opponents of the WTO like Pat Buchanan, Nader's opposition was on
    democratic grounds: these agencies were not subject to popular
    control in the United States or elsewhere and were therefore
    illegitimate. Moreover, Nader was and is arguably the world's
    foremost expert on exactly how these institutions of global
    capitalism are generating disastrous results across the planet for
    workers, consumers, and the environment. Nader and the Greens also
    favored deep cuts in the US military budget and apparatus and opposed
    US material support for reactionary regimes and policies around the
    world. Nader, who drew 19 percent of the total Muslim vote (72
    percent of which went to Bush), declared that there will be no peace
    in the Middle East "without justice for the Palestinians." In sum,
    Nader and the Greens offered a progressive and non imperialist foreign
    policy that was decidedly outside the "bipartisan consensus" that is
    almost never debated in the US electoral arena.

    This is a point that merits consideration because the discussion of
    the Nader campaign, even on the left, has focused almost entirely on
    his critique of the domestic imbalance of power, giving very slight
    attention the international aspects. The United States is the
    dominant imperial power in the world and this is the central unspoken
    truth of our times. In the global capitalist order, the US state has
    a number of responsibilities: to keep the system functioning; to
    control the underlying populations; to safeguard the United States as
    the center of the international financial system; to maintain the
    United States (and, specifically, US capitalists/corporations) in the
    top perch in the imperialist pecking order; and to prevent countries
    from breaking away from the system of global controls. For these
    reasons, in addition to domestic pressure from the military-
    industrial complex, the United States maintains, by a very wide
    margin, the world's largest military, though it has no rival
    whatsoever in any traditional sense. Although the wider foreign
    policy implications of Nader's campaign were almost never reported in
    the media, they clearly represented a threat to the global status

    Indeed, Nader the candidate never got the opportunity to communicate
    these or any other positions to the great mass of Americans because
    his campaign was absolutely butchered in the news media. Nader's
    coverage in the New York Times resembled, in some respects, the
    coverage Andrei Sakharov got from Pravda and Izvestia back in the
    1970s. This should be no surprise but it was sobering nonetheless.
    Without gobs of money to purchase TV advertising^the lingua franca of
    US politics^or, better yet, without the sort of massive grassroots
    operation that could overcome the media blackout, many citizens never
    had any idea that Nader was running vigorously or what his positions
    were on the issues he was addressing. (If the winner of the election
    were determined by who spent the least for each of their votes or who
    received the least amount of news coverage per vote, Nader would have
    won in a landslide.) Most of the media attention Nader did receive
    was obsessed with how his candidacy would affect the fortunes of
    Democrat Al Gore. This was true even on the left and among
    progressives. Numerous leftists who supported Nader on the issues
    opposed his candidacy, often with startling bitterness, because it
    would take votes away from Gore, the "lesser of two evils"^which
    became a mantra to a greater extent than any time since 1968. The
    2000 race highlighted again how the US electoral laws have a deeply
    conservative and undemocratic bias that increases dramatically the
    degree of difficulty for both third parties and progressives.

    In our view, the Nader campaign was the electoral side of the mass
    organizing that produced the extraordinary demonstrations in Seattle
    in 1999 and in Washington, DC, and at the two national political
    conventions in 2000. As with those demonstrations, there is no
    guarantee that this upsurge in activism will produce a sustained
    movement capable of fundamentally changing the existing order. But we
    believe the evidence suggests that there are new openings for popular
    left organizing in the United States, and that the chance to organize
    for progressive electoral candidates is better than at any time in
    memory. It is possible that a left electoral movement can, within a
    generation, become a dominant political force in the nation. It may
    not be an explicitly socialist movement that will invoke the icons of
    the left that MR readers cut their teeth on but it will be a
    progressive anti corporate movement by any measure. There is an
    important and necessary role for the socialist left in this movement.
    The implications of these developments go well beyond the United
    States, in view of the US role as the dominant global capitalist
    power. If a viable pro democracy, anti-imperialist movement can emerge
    here, it will improve the possibilities dramatically for socialists
    and progressives worldwide.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Feb 21 2001 - 18:49:49 EST