As someone who voted for Ralph Nader twice for president, the second time in 2000 against the advice of friends and comrades, I am saddened and angered by his decision to run for president in 2004. I believe that this is true of most of his former supporters.
To run when you have no base of support of any kind is an act of arrogance and egotism, saying in effect what religious and secular sectarians always say, ”Follow my way or be damned.” For Ralph Nader to be oblivious to what the Bush administration has done over the last three years is simply incredible.
His point that both parties represent corporate power is true, but all that it means is that both parties represent the capitalist system, whose most powerful modern institutions are corporations. The long-term answer to capitalism is socialism, an answer that Communists and socialists put forward and that Ralph Nader, an anti-monopoly progressive, has never accepted.
Communists and socialists see the need to elect some capitalist politicians and defeat others to protect working- class interests, while at the same time they see the need to change the system as a whole. Ralph Nader, who seems to dream of a system of free competitive capitalism that never really existed, acts indignant about capitalist politicians who make concessions to corporate interests, and seeks to punish them and the Democratic Party, even if it means punishing the American people and the people of the world.
The Democrat whom Nader and many others, myself included, identify with most positively – Franklin Roosevelt – was as much for capitalism as John Kerry or John Edwards. It was mass struggle, especially in the labor movement, not narrow third-party candidacies, that produced the New Deal.
Bill Clinton, by the standards of Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson or (if his Senate record is any guide) John Kerry for that matter, was a conservative Democrat, one who preferred to appease Republicans and seek a middle ground on everything rather than fight for a progressive program. But, who in his or her right mind can say honestly that the differences between Clinton and Bush on domestic and especially foreign policy have not been enormous?
Who believes that Clinton or Al Gore would have sought to fight recession by tax giveaways, directly attacked unions, crusaded to put ultra-right judges on the federal bench, and struck down important environmental protections? These aren’t policies of a broad corporate elite, to be enacted by any president as merely the puppet of that elite. They were implemented by an administration committed to acting as a “bag man” for the most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class.
Although one doesn’t know what Clinton or Gore would have done after Sept. 11, the Bush administration was already pushing for unilateral U.S. military actions before the Sept. 11 attacks. The wholesale attack on civil liberties, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the creation of “terror alerts” to institute a climate of fear, weren’t developed abstractly in corporate board rooms and Wall Street brokerage houses. They were and are part of a policy that serves the interests of the most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class, one that returns to the naked imperialist interventions of the past and seeks world hegemony by the application of U.S. military power.
Whatever their substantial failings, it is unlikely that either Clinton or Gore would have pursued anything like the Bush foreign policy, or put the Defense Department and the Attorney General’s office in the hands of the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft.
In the 1960s, activists liked to say, “You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.” For a long time Ralph Nader was “part of the solution” on environmental and consumer issues. John Kerry has already said that he will appeal to Nader’s nearly 3 million 2000 voters in the coming election. If Nader does not withdraw his candidacy now, he will become “part of the solution” for Bush and “part of the problem” for all people threatened by the Bush administration policies in the U.S. and the world.
Norman Markowitz is a history professor at Rutgers University. He can be reached at email@example.com.