The Nader campaign, part 1

cc136 at cc136 at
Sun Jun 4 19:15:26 MDT 2000

        I considered waiting until Louis had finished posting his
analysis of the Nader campaign, especially since he indicated that he
would be arguing that a Nader campaign might be beneficial for socialism,
but there are several points in this first 'hit piece' to which I'd like
to respond.

        First, I also think that it is a 'low blow' to use Jefferson's
genocidal attitudes/policies towards Native Americans against Nader.
But, more generally, I think the entire tone of Lou's post is sort of a
'low blow'.  It's not that I think that a person's history is irrelevant,
but the attempt to 'disprove' a hagiography which Nader did not create or
perpetuate is really a 'straw man' argument.  Nader never claimed to be a
saint, and I think that (especially for Marxists, who should be sensitive
to these kinds of personal attacks) it is unreasonable to expect
activists to devote precious time/energy to refuting the claims made in
one's behalf or against one's cause by supporters/opponents with their
own various and sundry agendas.  Frankly, I don't care where Nader lives
in DC but I do know from personal experience that the guy works harder
than most people I know.  Nobody can credibly claim that Nader is not
committed to his causes; on the contrary, if anything he is perhaps a
little to single-minded (for his own health and for his various campaigns
and co-workers).  It's a little disappointing to hear Lou (and other
leftists) echo the same kinds of personal attacks against Nader which his
right-wing opponents have been spewing for decades.

        Second, as someone who worked as a PIRG Campaign Manager for
several years, in both DC and SF, I can attest to the fact that Nader has
nothing to do with the various state PIRGs or their parent organization,
the Fund for Public Interest.  Of course, the Executive Director of PIRG
is a close friend and confidant of Nader, but the connection is purely
informal (I imagine the same could be said of the other Nader 'spin-off'
organizations).  It is frankly false to say that PIRG is a 'cash cow' for
Nader.  Now, I would be the first to offer an extended critique of PIRG -
it is far from perfect.  It is true that they offer barely subsistence
wages, and as such recruit primarily upper middle class kids whose
parents can subsidize the $12,000/year salary.  It is true that they work
primarily in white, upper middle-class suburbs and avoid communities of
color like the plague.  In this way, PIRG is like most other large
environmental groups that perpetuate racism and classism.  It is also
true that PIRG is primarily interested in raising lots of money to
perpetuate its own existence.  At the same time, these same criticisms
could be leveled at many socialist organizations and unions, so we should
tread carefully here.  It is also true that the PIRGs (and other Naderite
groups) do a lot of good work.  True, the bottle bills, recycled content
standards for packaging, clean air, clean water, toxics, safe energy,
auto fuel efficiency standards, and campaign finance reform (to name just a
few of the many issues I worked on at PIRG) are not the revolution, but
they do help to push the capitalist system further into crisis, which is
all for the better (even if the PIRGs and other enviro groups don't frame
their work this way, which is a big mistake in my opinion).  But it
troubles me to see Lou and other leftists echoing the same charges
against PIRG that the right-wing student groups here at Cornell and
across the country have been using to kick PIRGs off campuses.  It only
serves to perpetuate the rampant student apathy that we see today.

        Third, and perhaps most important, regarding Nader's political
philosophy, I think there is plenty of room for criticism (and I have
been a big critic on this score among my PIRG and Nader supporters over
the years).  It is true that Nader has an almost obsessively exclusive
focus on domestic policy issues over the years.  As Marxists, we should
criticize him for failing to link international politics (and US foreign
policy) with domestic issues.  But on this score, we could criticize just
about every public figure in the US today.  And, nobody ever claimed that
Nader was a socialist or Marxist (least of all, Nader himself!). I
suspect Lou will be touching on this issue in his upcoming posts, but I
think that as members of a distinct political minority, we should be
willing to hold off on some valid issues for the sake of supporting
someone who might be able to peform the critical task of re-politicizing
the masses (or at least the youth).  I would like to make it clear that I
am not endorsing Nader here, and frankly I have serious doubts about his
ability to energize the electorate.  I also think he is not doing enough
to let Winona speak.  Frankly, she is a much more dynamic and compelling
personality than he ever was or might be.  We'll see how his campaign
progresses, but I'm not very hopeful.  The main point of my response was
to caution us against the dangers of criticizing other 'progressives' in
ways that the right wing demonizes everyone on the left.  One insightful
point I have heard Ralph make both publicly and privately is that
"whenever the left forms a firing squad, they do it in a circle".  Let's
try to avoid that on this list and in our work.  I've seen far too many
people criticize others they haven't read or whose work they haven't
engaged in a serious way (especially those tarred with the 'pomo'
label).  As serious socialists and scholars, I think we can do better.

        Yours in solidarity,

        Chris Carrick
        PhD Candidate
        Department of City and Regional Planning
        Cornell University

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