Dead Men Left

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Nader, very briefly

DoDo, the Manic Net Preacher, has a few words on the Nader candidacy, though noting:

I'm not comfortable with this subject, because it is their Nader-bashing where the Democrats (both party leadership and sympathisants) let me down the most.

A fair point: when "Nader-bashing" has extended so far as an attempt to stifle democratic choice - pushing for Nader's removal from ballot-papers, successfully in Illinois - it is particularly reprehensible. DoDo makes this point, and few others, not least that the drive towards negative campaigning has fostered an inability amongst Democratic candidates to say anything positive about why anybody ought to vote for them. Kerry is a particularly egregious example, attempting to coast through on the revulsion that many voters (rightly) feel for George Bush. But as DoDo says, the key problem for a supposedly "progressive" campaign is that of engaging non-voters:

As [Howard] Dean rightly noticed but Kerry's DNL/DNC pushers still haven't learnt (and had many Democratic acitivists forget again), you should focus on getting non-voters. And if you still want Nader-voters too, the win to win them over is through policy promises, by making Kerry more likeable.

Kerry has, in truth, gone almost out of his way at late to dull those potential voters into submission. Responding to Bush's challenge as to whether "knowing what we know now" Kerry would still have voted for the authority to invade Iraq, Kerry's answer was unambiguous:

Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it is the right authority for a president to have but I would have used that authority effectively.

He is little better on other issues. The Washington Post reports hat Kerry has "rejected sweeping policy changes such as... moving too quickly to provide health coverage to every American."

DoDo' analysis is broadly correct. Where it falls down is in missing out the vital role a non-Democratic progressive left can play in pressuring the Democrats. In lazy fashion, I reproduce what I argued elsewhere (Socialist Review, forthcoming), but it fits here:

What Nader means is that the Democrats cannot take a "left" vote for granted. As Nader put it, "when you're taken for granted, you are taken": by disabling itself politically, and supporting the Democrats come what may, the US left's Lesser Evilism has allowed the Democrats to tail-end the Republicans’ drive to the right. This, in turn, removes any serious pressure on the Republicans from the left, as seen in the Democrats’ craven support for the “war on terror”. It has a created a vicious circle, in which the sort of radical politics that could appeal to millions of US workers – of taxing the rich to fund public services, or of defending the environment – are excluded. But the need to fight for progressive politics becomes more, not less, important when the space to do so becomes constrained, as it has since 9-11. As in 2000,
Nader has been a vociferous critic of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum system of Republicans or Democrats. "We are trying to destroy the two-party corporate system," he said in a recent interview. "Both parties are pro-war, pro-Patriot Act; both parties are pro-WTO."

Nader won't win, as DoDo notes; but what he can do is force open a space in US politics where a variety of taboo subjects can be can be critically discussed and radical (or, hell, just progressive) alternatives voiced and fought for. Not just of Palestinian rights, on which Nader has spoken courageously, earning abuse from predictable quarters, but of the simpler issues noted above, like healthcare, or environmental protection. He provides a means to both pressure the Democrats from the left, and, in doing so, provide an effective opposition to the lunacies of the "war on terror". It is hard to see how aping after a committed supporter of that "war" can help strengthen the left in the US: should Kerry lose, the Democrats will - as DoDo suggests - have only themselves to blame for failing to mobilise potential support. A left unafraid to see this election through will be strengthened in combatting Bush, something that Kerry and the Democrats have wholly failed to do. (Doubtless Nader would be scapegoated; incidentally, 12% of registered Floridian Democrats marked their vote for Bush in 2000. That cannot all be due to confusing ballot papers.) should Kerry win, the disillusion with his rule (already so committed to so much of Bush's) will be immense amongst those who now place some small faith in him. Without a clear left alternative, that disillusionment can turn to despair. The fight for a left-wing politics in the US does not stop at the election: Kerry may wish that it did.