by Ralph Nader
December 8, 2002
Walking down a busy street in downtown Washington recently, I began to hear interesting words coming from an excitable conversation between two gentlemen briskly walking behind me. "Do you have any idea what is emerging?," one said to the other. "We're perfecting the robo-candidate from Washington, DC and making it seem like it's local."
It turned out the latest robo-candidate they were talking about was Republican U.S. Senate candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell who, at this writing, is in a runoff race with Louisiana Democrat, Senator Mary Landrieu."We now can select the candidate from any state to beat the Democrats, frame the issues, convey the slogans, raise the money, buy the tv ads and even provide the robo-rebuttals for the debates." Hah, hah, hah, whopee, said the fast walking fellow who was the younger of the two.
The other fellow was no less exuberant. He added: "And we bring in Bush and Air Force One for the finale with total media coverage totally unchallenged. It's working again and again. The Dems are in a panic, falling all over themselves to agree with the President. Landrieu even has a television ad showing how many times she agrees with Bush." As they turned the corner, they couldn't stop laughing.
The duo was actually understating what the Republicans are doing to the Democrats who years ago forgot who they were. All kinds of national Republicans -- Vice President Cheney, Urban Development Secretary Mel R. Martinez, Senate Minority leader Trent Lott and others -- have gone into Louisiana to campaign for Terrell. Landrieu doesn't want any national Democrats to do the same. Only her fellow Democrat, conservative Senator John Breaux is doing the honors from campaign event to campaign event.
Robo-politics, Republican style, is also quite visible. Terrell's campaign headquarters in the state capitol, Baton Rouge is tiny, reports the Washington Post. She made only one appearance the weekend before Saturday's election day, while relying on huge television buys to get her robo-message (smaller government, less taxes, bigger military and, surprise, she's against terrorism).
Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., the Republican National Committee offices are "Terrell Central." The RNC is running the show right down to the words used in the debates: "You're 100 percent wrong Mary and you are so negative." Where have we heard those words before November 7th around the country? Everywhere!
After losing more seats in the House and losing control of the Senate, the Democratic strategists seemed to have learned nothing. Enron is close to Louisiana; so is WorldCom. Yet, corporate crime, fraud and abuse, looted pensions, laid off workers and depleted 401ks are not made into major issues where the corporate-indentured Republicans are at their weakest. All kinds of corporate crime crackdowns and reforms of Big Business and health care-denying HMOs, could appeal to pollution-drenched Louisiana and its past populist traditions. So could the living wage issue.
Somehow, the Democrats believe that they can beat the opposing Republican Party by never criticizing its leader -- George W. Bush -- America's burgeoning Big Brother whose snooping, liberty-violating and anti-worker ways are getting a free ride on the backs of our crumbling democracy, while giant corporations are laughing all the way to the bank on the backs of the small taxpayers who are forced to subsidize them.
And there is Suzie Terrell sticking to her RNC-inspired lines: "He will know when Suzie Terrell doesn't agree. I'm going to stand firm and strong for Louisiana," she told a smiling George W. Bush at the rally on December3rd. In Republican circles, this is called the "independence streak" line to counter charges that she and other such choreographed candidates by the RNC and the White House's Karl Rove are going to be rubber stamps for the President.
The RNC even knows when to let the robo-candidate twitch back on cue. Will the Democrats ever free themselves of all that corporate money and wake up?
Ralph Nader is Americaís leading consumer advocate. He is the founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, and has twice run for President as a Green Party candidate. His latest book is Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President (St. Martinís Press, 2002)