Before progressives and other readers of Dissident Voice spend the next few weeks attacking one another over the Ralph Nader candidacy for President, I hope they will pause and consider some historical points that have not heretofore been made on these pages.
First, the assumption that this will be a close race and therefore progressives better line up behind any Democratic is tenuous. Polls show that if the election were held today, Kerry would win because of his lead in the swing states. History suggests this will not be a close race. Close Presidential races come along once or twice a century and it is unlikely that we will have two in a row based on historical patterns.
If the economy doesn’t start producing more jobs, Kerry could win in a landslide. If Osama Bin Laden is captured, Bush will win in a landslide. Either of these scenarios is more likely than another photo finish like the 2000 election.
If one accepts that the race might not be close, then progressives might want to rethink their stance on the Nader candidacy and elevate their sense of their own importance in the political history of the country.
Progressives are missing the enormous energy -- particularly generated by young people and political newcomers -- that was poured into the Democratic primaries. The corporate-dominated Democratic party -- predictably -- did everything possible to snuff out the Dean led insurgency. The same corporate-dominated Party is now asking all progressives to come hat in hand, on their knees, to support the corporate-financed Kerry who simply regurgitated Dean’s message during the primaries but is running like a Republican in the general.
Progressives should not squander the energy mobilized in the Democratic primary. A Nader candidacy can resurrect this energy and direct it so that Kerry is held to account. Facing a progressive Nader campaign, Kerry, in the swing states, will have to abandon his textbook centrist campaign that has not worked for any Democrat in the last fifty years, with the exception of Bill Clinton. Instead, he might actually have to run on progressive issues like keeping jobs in the United States, cracking down on corporate crime that is plundering retiree savings and opposing unlimited defense spending. Kerry would run a more dynamic campaign and progressives would have a seat at the table rather than a muzzle in the backseat.
Progressives must not underestimate their own political importance in this country. It is progressives who led the fight against slavery, against child labor, against exploitation of women and for union rights. All these gains are being eroded by the complete corporate domination of both parties. The American people sense this and this explains the beginning of a populist surge that progressives -- relegated to years of frustration -- do not seem to grasp. The Nader campaign is an opportunity for progressives and others to reject the parties of Wall Street and build a Main Street movement.
Historically, dating back to Jefferson, one or another of the major parties has advocated for Main Street against Wall Street. Until the last thirty years. Without a third party challenge by Nader, corporations will continue to dominate and the two parties will continue to allow corporations to erode America’s standard of living and civic culture.
And historically is has been third parties who have challenged the two major parties to improve and adopt the platforms of the minor parties. If the following description -- taken from the Populist Party platform of 1892 -- doesn’t describe American politics today, nothing does:
Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress and touches even the ermine of the bench. The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty.
Democrats stole the ideas of the Populist Party at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the country is better off that they did. Democrats today are badly in need of the redefinition that Nader could give them (and which they flirted with and then abandoned in the primary.) Consider Adam Clymer’s New York Times article of April 26, 2003:
Al From and Bruce Reed of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group that was once the showcase for so-called New Democrats and rising stars like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, recently wrote, ‘No party ever needed definition, or redefinition, more than the Democratic Party today.’? Robert S. Strauss, the former Democratic national chairman who says Democrats seem to win the White House only on Republican mistakes like Watergate or that of the elder Bush in ignoring the faltering economy, calls last fall's performance on issues disgraceful. "We didn't stand for anything," Mr. Strauss said. "We got what we deserved - nothing."
I would therefore urge progressives to think more broadly about their role in this election. Vote your beliefs and for the candidate who is most qualified and most courageous. If you must engage in tactical voting, there are 34 states in the nation where it is “safe” to vote Nader. In the others, wait to see what the polls look like in October. In the meantime, it is long past time for progressives to speak up for their own values and decry the attacks against Ralph Nader and the effort to exclude him from the debates and keep him off the ballot. If progressives in this country are not going to defend democracy, who will?
Nader’s candidacy is based on the urgent need to press for issues that progressives have championed for over a century in this country and that will never get a hearing in the increasingly negative and bitter intramural scrum that the two Skull and Bones candidates have embarked upon.
Carl Mayer served on the Township Committee of Princeton, New Jersey and ran on the Green Party ticket for Congress. He is the author of Shakedown: The Fleecing of the Garden State. He can be reached at: Carlmayer@aol.com.
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