Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Citizen Ralph

Chris Hedges wrote recently: Ralph Nader "understands that American democracy has become a consumer fraud and that if we do not do battle with the corporations that, in the name of globalization, are cannibalizing the country for profit, our democratic state is doomed." (Hedges is the author of the wonderfully insightful book, War is a Force that Gives Life Meaning, and in this essential article he makes a strong case that Nader is a prophet rather than a pariah)

I agree with him.

Last night I saw the new documentary film about Nader, "An Unreasonable Man," and despite the shrill criticism in it of lefties who continue to blame Nader for Gore's defeat in the 2000 election, I came away convinced that Nader is right. The American political system is broken, and voting for the lesser of two evil candidates -- what Nader calls "the folly of the least worst" -- will not fix it.

"An Unreasonable Man" comes on the heels of "An Inconvenient Truth" in which a hypocritical Al Gore, who wastes jet fuel in his travels and electric power in his Tennessee mansion, trumpets a concern for the environment that was nowhere in evidence during his eight years in the White House with Bill Clinton, a corporate mouthpiece no less than his Republican kin. Who can fail to see now that the enfeebled Democratic Party is Tweedledum to the Republican Party's Tweedledee? Nader supporters have argued consistently for twenty years that there is not a dime's worth of difference between them, .

However, the documentary featuring Gore won an Academy Award, while the theater last night was mostly empty for the Nader film. After Bush was selected by the Supreme Court over Gore in 2000, Nader's supporters left him in droves. He was called a "spoiler" and prominent Nader voters like Michael Moore and Bill Maher got down on their knees on TV and begged him not to run again. Nader, in response, claims in his film that "Al Gore cost me the election." He says he is considering another run at the presidency in 2008, particularly if Hilary gets the Democratic nod.

Few would dispute Nader's dignosis of the American political system. As a lawyer and consumer advocate, his work was largely responsible for legislation in the 1960s and 1970s that gave us the Clean Air Act, the Mine and Health Safety Act and the Freedom of Information Act. He argued that automobiles were unsafe by design, and his revelations led to development of seat belts and air bags which have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. By attacking corporate crimes and misdemeanors, Nader was himself attacked, and a failed attempt by GM to dig up dirt on his private life resulted in a $425,000 fine which was used to fund citizen action groups, most notably Public Citizen. According to Hedges, Lewis Powell, who was general counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before becoming a Supreme Court justice, wrote a memo in 1971 which said:
The single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader, a legend in his own time and an idol to millions of Americans...There should be no hesitation to attack [Nader and others].
For his relentless criticism of U.S. and global corporate business practices, and for his campaigns to make America live up to her ideals, Nader should be cannonized. But what about his so far unsuccessful attempts to form a third party?

There is ample evidence in the film and from published research, that a poorly run campaign by the Democrats and a wishy-washy candidate lost the election to Bush in 2000, as well as in 2004. Gore and Kerry did not offer a clear alternative to the Republicans. If the Democrats really represented the people and had put forth a leader willing to speak truth to power (someone like Ralph Nader perhaps), then Bush and his conservative minions would have been a push-over. Maybe. There is still the problem of election campaign funding (The Republicans as the party of business have an edge there) and the hoardes of right-wing Christians willing to turn America into a theocratic state, on the order of Israel or Iran. It will be an uphill battle.

I voted for Nader, the Green Party candidate, in 2000, so this isn't the confession of a convert. But I have always been willing to listen to the pragmatic argument, the lesser of two evils line, that if we don't vote for the Democrat, whomever he or she may be, then the Republicans will stay in power forever. But I'm not marching there any more. This country is going down the tubes fast, and our highly touted political process is sick, perhaps terminal. I'm not even sure if voting has a point any more. But I'm damned sure I am not going to vote for Hilary.

No comments: