It seems every four years Ralph Nader surfaces as a presidential candidate to remind progressives, and even some libertarians, why our system of government is rigged, why we’re getting screwed, and why we should vote for him. There’s nothing wrong with Nader running as a presidential candidate. I’m not one of those who gets all frothy at the mouth and screams “Spoiler! You’re responsible for George W. Bush in 2000! You’re an ego-head who just loves the limelight and doing what you can to destroy the Democratic party!” I don’t resent Ralph for wanting to become President on a far left agenda. In fact, I’m in agreement with him on many issues. And when he talks about democratizing the election process by giving people more choices in terms of candidates, I can only say “You go, Ralph!”
I think people need to hear from individuals who come from political parties that haven’t been part of the duopoly (to use Ralph’s term for the way in which the Republicans and Democrats have basically closed the system so their candidates are the only viable ones running for office). I also think it’s important to end “safe seats” for members of Congress, and to end the dominance of corporate power by changing the way in which campaigns are financed. However, all this presumes that we, as a people, actually find these issues compelling and act to change the way in which business in conducted in Washington D.C. and in state capitals around the country.
It takes more than just a presidential run as a third party candidate to alter The System. It takes a movement that agitates, pressures, and compels The System to do thing differently. It’s not an easy thing. Just look how long it took for the U.S. government to finally pass civil rights legislation, or how long it’s taken right-wing activists to chip away at reproductive rights for women in this country. For the most part, the notion of “change” that’s been part of almost every presidential campaign is an incremental thing. When is it not incremental? Well, that’s easy to answer: war, or some kind of national crisis where people turn to the government to “do something.”
To his credit (and he deserves a lot of it!), Nader has done things that have benefited the larger society. However, as of late, it seems he can only bring issues he’s been supporting in front of Americans during a presidential election, and as a presidential candidate. And what are those issues? Well, from a program I recently heard on my local NPR station, here are some he and his running mate, Matt Gonzalez, listed:
- Single payer/universal health insurance.
- Election reform to do away with the duopoly in the government.
- Environmental protection.
- Consumer protections.
- Abolishing the Patriot Act.
- Strengthening worker’s rights.
- Ending the corporate dominance of the political system.
- Ending nuclear power and putting money into developing alternative energy power that decenters the dominance of fossil fuels.
- Step up the prosecution of corporate crimes.
- Upgrade the country’s infrastructure.
- Stop wasting money on a bloated Pentagon budget.
- A real peace effort between Israel and Palestine.
- End the war in Iraq.
As I listened to Ralph and Matt on the radio, they unfortunately never got beyond sound bites when it came to these issues — even though the show was one hour and they didn’t have any commercial breaks. However, what came through loud and clear from both Nader and Gonzalez were two things: resentment and idealism. Both were resentful of people calling them spoilers and egomaniacs. They were defensive and vague on the issues they did support, and when pressed for more details (e.g., one caller asked why there was so little in terms of content on their website), they pleaded with people to be patient while position papers and the like get loaded onto the site. Later, however, Nader basically said that he was advocating for “the same” issues he’s been working on for years (see above). Okay, if that’s the case, then he ought to have tons of position papers already written and should be able to speak with eloquence on these subjects if he’s going in front of an audience to promote the fact that he’s running for elected office.
But he and Gonzalez kept defaulting to a tone of resentment — peppered with intriguing political positions and critiques of the way The System works. For example, when Nader was asked why he doesn’t spend time lobbying in D.C., he was quick to point out that for the past 20 years the Reps and the Dems have made deals with “corporate power” to shut folks like him out. So, the only recourse he has is to find an opportunity like a national election to raise issues that are not getting heard. Well, in this day and age when someone of Ralph’s stature can get a talk show (either on TV or radio), the notion that the only platform he has to reach a national audience is by running for President rings hollow. Plus, hasn’t this guy heard of blogging or other social networking avenues to get his message out? Can’t he start a “Nader TV” page on YouTube? Can’t he Super Poke his friends on Facebook? Or maybe write on their Fun Wall things like “Corporate Power Sucks The Soul Out of Our Democracy”? Or for shits and giggles, just write “Kuato Lives”on his My Space bulletin space. You get the point.
Perhaps part of the problem for the Nader/Gonzalez ticket is that they dwell outside of The Cave. Their political ideas are painted with broad strokes, and the more they spoke on the program I was listening to, the more I kept thinking of Plato’s Republic and how these two philosopher-kings were trying very hard to speak to us slaves who watch the pantomime of politics on the shadows of a cave. However, they couldn’t quite express The Truth of the Pure Forms with which they have communed, and were frustrated when people who disagreed with them jumped into the conversation. That’s when Nader and Gonzalez’s resentful side surfaced by either swatting at the flies of dissent (which almost always came from a leftie), or launching an attack on The System (with the Democratic Party getting the lion’s share of their ire). With fights like this, is it any wonder why the Right loves Nader?
Okay, now let’s flash forward past the election and say that Nader and Gonzalez won. Their administration goes to Washington and has work with Congress — composed almost entirely of Republicans and Democrats who, according to Nader, are the source of many entrenched problems in our political system. The Nader Administration now has to push through legislation that they campaigned on and work with people they fundamentally detest. What do you think would happen when their idealism clashes with the compromises The System requires?