17 September 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Ralph Nader

I voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 and 2004 elections. In 2000 I was convinced by his argument that there was no meaningful difference between the Democratic and Republican parties on issues meaningful to me. I was also convinced that George W. Bush could not ruin the country in four years, and so I felt no imperative to vote for Al Gore. Also, I lived in a safe Democratic state, so no one could accuse me of throwing the election to the Republican. This third fact remained true in 2004, so I voted for Nader again as a gesture against the entity I had not yet labelled the American Bipolarchy.

This year, Nader is running on a variety of state party lines, as well as the Natural Law and Independent-Ecology Party lines, the Greens having abandoned him for Cynthia McKinney. If age is an issue for you, it must be noted that Nader is older than Senator McCain. He has been a public figure, or as his website biography says, a "public advocate," for more than 40 years, earning early fame for his expose on the auto industry, Unsafe At Any Speed. Since then, he has been a lobbyist and founder of institutions, a long list of which runs down his bio page.

Nader's narrative of achievements runs out in the 1980s. Then, his biographer writes, "with the election of President Reagan, powerful corporate interests gathered momentum and became increasingly assertive in the pursuit of their narrow interests, throwing up roadblocks to Nader’s efforts to advance the well-being of the American people. " These roadblocks were apparently made of money: the campaign contributions that kept Democrats as well as Republicans from seeing the true public interest.

With the two major parties dialing for the same dollars, their differences dwindled on most major issues (single-payer healthcare, living wage, replacing fossil fuels and nuclear with many practical variants of solar power, and a foreign policy that wages peace instead of war).
After working for 40 years on behalf of the health, safety and economic well being of the American people, Nader took stock of the situation: “I don't like citizen groups being shut out by both parties in this city -- corporate occupied territory -- not having a chance to improve their country.”

However, the biography is silent on Nader's previous campaigns, perhaps because his present supporters don't wish to mention the Green Party. Ironically, in that case, Nader's running mate is one of the country's most successful Green politicians. Matt Gonzales is a past president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. His biography credits him with the adoption of Instant Runoff Voting in city elections, one of the nation's highest municipal minimum wages, and the empowerment of neighborhoods to ban big-box chain stores.

The campaign site includes a list of "Political Issues that Matter," including 14 proposals which both Senator McCain and Senator Obama want kept "Off the Table." Both senators might dispute that they want "Aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare" off the table, but in most other instances, the chart seems correct. Nader's priorities include single-payer health insurance, military budget cuts, a reversal of Middle East policy, taxes on carbon pollution and securities speculation, and an end to "corporate personhood" -- the notion that corporations have the same civil rights as individual people. The Nader campaign also wants to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney, but this would be a moot point once Nader or anyone else is elected in Bush's place.

Electoral reform is understandably a high priority for the Nader movement. Their proposals include Instant Runoff Voting, predictably enough, mandating "paper trails" for electronic voting machines, and lowering the voting age to 16. Nader's team opposes initiatives in California and Washington that would institute "blanket" non-partisan primaries on the ground that they would force voters in some areas to choose between two Republicans, and in others two Democrats, in the general election. I'm not as troubled by this prospect as Nader seems to be, since ambition would drive at least one of the candidates in such a scenario to break from party orthodoxy. It matters to Nader that Wal-Mart has financed advertising supporting the initiatives while Jesse Ventura has opposed them. Nader may be right that the proposal might impose greater costs on all candidates, but that would be the media's fault, not the laws'.

Nader rather baldly states that he has had no new ideas on foreign policy since 2004, and posts position papers and letter columns from that campaign in his Foreign Policy section. His point is that nothing has changed since then, but the fact that his only two Foreign Policy subjects are Israel and the Middle East suggests that Nader is losing track of events. The campaign ought to have positions on Russia and China. Nader had this, at least, to say about Russia and Georgia recently:

More bad news: clicking on "Market & Economic Issues," I found more 2004 position papers. This is lazy. It's fine if it's your opinion to say that "nothing has changed except to get worse," but a Presidential candidate ought to give us some idea of where he thinks current developments are pointing. On the economic front as well as in the international realm, conditions seem to be in dramatic flux. In the face of it, Nader's position looks suspiciously like complacency, as if recent developments don't require him to rethink anything.

Nader isn't exactly out of touch. Two months ago, he wrote a letter to Senator Dodd questioning the FDIC's ability to meet its obligations to depositors in the event of multiple major bank failures. Last week, he signed on to Ron Paul's proto-platform and appeared with him to advocate curtailing debt expansion, ending corporate subsidies and bailouts, halting illegal wars, prosecuting corporate malefactors and restoring civil liberties. While noting his differences with Paul on the scope of regulation, Nader declares his agreement that foreign policy, civil liberties, and ending "reckless waste financed by deficit spending" are the top priorities for 2008.

Nader is guaranteed a certain minimum of coverage because of his celebrity and his "historic" role in the 2000 election. He depends on free TV time because his campaign is poor. It's sad to read about Obama raising $66 million in a month, or McCain hauling in $47 million, while Nader is straining to raise $100,000 for media buys. Nevertheless, Nader's is a national campaign, with appearances all over the country scheduled for upcoming weeks. Nader is on the ballot in 45 states as of this writing and is likely to contest Bob Barr for third place in the popular vote. Time may have passed him by, however. The Nader website gives the impression that its candidate rests on his laurels, as if he had all the answers in 2000 and they all still apply today. A lot of them probably do, but there's room to doubt whether the elder statesman is capable of responding knowledgeably to a world order that few might have imagined at the turn of the millennium. An ideal administration might make Nader its Attorney General or Secretary of Commerce, and any administration ought to heed his advice, but the Nader 2008 campaign hasn't really convinced me that he is the man for this moment in history. That doesn't mean he isn't, of course, and it doesn't mean that anyone else I've profiled so far, or anyone yet to come (recall your alphabet and figure out who's next) is more qualified. The best way to close this chapter is to show you Nader at the Ron Paul event from September 10, so you can judge his relevance for yourselves.

1 comment:

ryanshaunkelly said...

Ralph, Ron, & Cynthia:

Now they're planning the crime of the century
Well what will it be?
Read all about their schemes & adventuring
It's well worth the fee

So roll up and see
How they rape the universe
How they've gone from bad to worse

Who are these men* of lust, greed, & glory?
Rip off the masks & let's see

But that's not right, oh no, what's the story?
There's you & there's me

That can't be right