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

From: William M. Mandel (
Date: Wed Feb 21 2001 - 22:09:12 EST

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

    I read the Monthly Review editorial with constantly rising enthusiasm until I got
    to that publication's eternal "we ain't Reds" apologia. To say that the New York
    Times' treatment of Nader was like Pravda's and Izvestia's treatment of Sakharov
    is to be unkind to the New York Times. But for a "socialist" magazine to seek its
    comparison in the press of the country that did, in fact, abolish capitalism and
    maintain that for the longest period of any such attempt in history, rather than
    comparing it to Der Stuermer or other Nazi sheets, is persistence in the "better
    dead than Red" approach that kept Monthly Review alive during the McCarthy years.

    William Mandel

    radman wrote:

    > 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
    > quo.
    > 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.


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