[Marxism] Ralph Nader on Iraq: Gag me with a spoon!

Jose G. Perez elgusanorojo at bellsouth.net
Sat Apr 24 23:54:06 MDT 2004


My good friend and comrade Walter Lippmann basically threw up when he
read Ralph Nader's position on Iraq. I think Walter is overreacting. The
*operative* and *important* part of Nader's position is the headline:
Withdraw US Troops.

Nader thus clearly establishes himself as an *antiwar* candidate, as
being opposed to the imperialist war the United States is waging right
now. 

That is so even though Nader has cooked up some complicated thing (like
some of the things the CP and radical pacifists used to push for during
the anti-Vietnam War movement,  such as set the date for negotiations)
about the U.N., neutral and Arab countries playing a peace-keeping role,
elections and so on. 

We should remember that "Out Now!" is a political position not an
operational plan for the movement of military forces. Nader's plan
sucks, so do most of the others, so did the plan under which the U.S.
actually did withdraw from Vietnam, and the Vietnamese even agreed to
that one (and history, lest we forget, proved that they were right). 

If through some combination of circumstances, the U.S. found itself
forced to abandon the Iraq war, the form it would take would undoubtedly
be some sort of plan negotiated with whatever force/coalition stepped
forward as able to speak for the Iraqi resistance, or at least most of
it. And it could very well be something like what Nader espouses, or
just as "rotten."

But Nader isn't campaigning along the lines of, we have to stay in Iraq
until this multinational peace keeping force can step in or whatever.
Ands he specifically excludes any U.S. role in it. Also, Nader being
Nader, he includes throwing out the U.S. corporations from Iraq, which
in *this* case happens to be a very important thing. So this isn't back
handed support to the war, it isn't antiwar-sounding rhetoric being used
as a bridge to get people to support continuing the occupation. It is
totally unlike Dean, for example. On the contrary, I believe Nader
conceived it is a bridge in the opposite direction. 

I say that because he's actually campaigning in opposition to the war
and especially highlighting the issue of the draft. The draft is
important because there is no way for the U.S. to sustain the current
level of operations without it, never mind finding the additional troops
needed to secure and operate the U.S. lines of communication within
Iraq. I think he is doing an important service in raising the draft
issue. I think it has played a role in some of the Democrats and
Republicans who are also seriously addressing it (in support of
re-starting it up). And if I had to choose between Nader having a
perfect, principled antiwar position, but relegating it to
next-to-the-last place in his speeches and so on, as he has been known
to treat such issues in the past, and having a less-than-perfect but
basically antiwar position and making it central to his campaign, as he
seems to be doing this time, I'd choose the latter. 

The *difference*  between a Peace and Freedom or even a Camejo-McKinney
Green Party ticket is that Nader today can get a hearing from tens of
millions of people, he is operating politically on a mass scale not
available to any other figure or force on the left. He's doing so as a
radical critic of corporate power, as an opponent of the war, as someone
speaking out in defense of the interests of regular people, the working
people. 

Frankly, I'm much more concerned about the "independent" character of
Nader's campaign than his flakiness on any specific issue, because it
builds nothing for the future, or makes building for the future much
more difficult, and because it makes it harder to get additional voices
heard that will project a clearer line, not just on the war but on a
whole series of issues, where Nader doesn't say nearly all that needs to
be said. Most of all the message that working people need their own
party becomes much more abstract, not an immediate, practical plan of
action, when divorced from a concrete vehicle, even one as contradictory
as the Greens.

Despite that, my inclination is still to think that Nader is what we
have to work with, including with all the problems and limitations.

If the polls are right, and there have been so many of them I think it
is pretty unquestionable, there are around 10-15 million people in the
United States (6%) willing to say they support his campaign, and
undoubtedly double or triple that who are open to his message. His
support is especially concentrated among young people (12% -- Newsweek),
as one would expect, and very much so among Arab-Americans (20%
according to a Zogby poll). The exit polls from Camejo's last campaign
showed that this sort of message is finding relatively greater support
(although still in single digits) among people with the lowest incomes
and oppressed nationalities.

I know this means next to nothing about *votes* in November, but who
cares about votes in November, especially with Diebold machines counting
them. I think what we should focus on is the 10, 20, or 100 people in
every city of any size who will become Nader activists and campaigners,
for whom it will be an introduction to radical politics and itself a
radicalizing experience, and many of whom, I hope, will be won to
socialist politics over the next 2-3 years. And on using the Nader
campaign to carve out greater space for independent politics in the
electoral arena.

I know from Atlanta that the Nader 2000 campaign is what brought a
number of people around, or back to, radical politics, people who since
then have been trying to build the Green Party or been active in other
ways, and some of whom have now joined one or another socialist
organization. I would be extremely surprised to find that this year
there aren't people like that around Nader, or that his campaign turns
out to be not a good place to meet them. 

And I think the case is very clear that these Nader campaigns are having
a *cumulative* impact. In 2000, he was polling around 4%, this year he
started off a little better than where he got to last time in public
opinion polls, 6%. Again, this isn't a question of votes (especially
because Nader's level of support --this is very striking-- is triple or
quadruple among the 100 million or so who don't usually vote, compared
to his support among the 100 million or so "likely voters," where it is
2%). These polls reflect a growing openness to radical politics and
acting independently of the two-party system in the electoral arena, and
of course it is especially strong among those disaffected and alienated
from U.S. bourgeois politics. 

Of course it would have been a lot simpler and more direct if Nader were
the Green candidate and the Greens the vehicle for this organizing. But
we should remember, this wasn't Nader's choice. Nader's original
proposal last fall was to run a vigorous, nationwide campaign as the
Green candidate. It was the national Green Party leadership that refused
to accept the proposal or even give some sort of less formal guarantee,
expression of commitment, or even recommendation to the party's ranks. 

Instead they said they'd give Nader an answer at the Green Convention at
the end of June, about six months after it would be too late to actually
carry it out, and anyways the answer then might be, "No, thanks, Ralph"
or "Yes, Ralph, but we don't really mean it because we want you to
follow a safe states strategy." 

And instead of signing up with a vigorous Nader campaign, the Green
national leadership set up this playpen primaries and state conventions,
with a "fight" for the Green nomination. And it tells you a lot about
what a bad decision this was that neither one of the front running
candidates in the Green contest really are for their *own* candidacies,
both are stalking horses.

The first is David Cobb, who has been campaigning for nearly a year with
the message that he's the Green presidential candidate who can help the
Democrats win. That's the real, political meaning of his "safe states"
strategy: ABB - Anybody But Bush.

Now Cobb claims to have dropped "safe states" --of course, he did, that
had become too discredited!-- and has adopted the slogan "smart
campaign" instead.  This is straight out of the Madison Avenue
huckster's playbook: "New! Improved! With exclusive X Ray MP*
technology." 

But look closely at the footnote: *  "X Ray MP" is a registered
trademark of the ABB Corporation. 

If you don't believe me, go to the candidate's web site and click on his
very prominent "smart campaign" link. There is nothing there. Just a
gray box that says "click" and when you do, you get an error message
saying the page requires a plug-in, but it doesn't say which one. I
suspect we'll see that "plug-in" late in October. It will be a picture
of John Kerry.

Then consider the candidate's credentials: another balding, paunchy,
middle-aged white guy for President. From Texas. THRILLING. 

If he has had any *real* connection with popular struggles and issues,
he sure doesn't bother to list them on his campaign bio, although he
goes through painful detail about how he, too, used to work for a living
way back when before becoming a lawyer, you know, the old log cabin
humble origins spiel. The guy is John Edwards -- without the looks.

My inclination is to say that even if some machine could be invented
that let us know that Cobb is really sincere about his new line, the
Greens nominating him would still represent a capitulation to the
Democrats. 

This is not an issue about subjective feelings or how nice a guy he is
or his personal commitment. A Cobb campaign will be a campaign with
absolutely zero visibility, impact or interest. Its MAIN effect will be
simply to divert and disperse some of the activists who could have
helped organize a stronger Nader campaign and could have used organizing
around Nader to channel new people towards an ongoing independent
political formation like the Greens, as happened in 2000. Given the
Green-Nader rift this year it would be harder to do, but it is still
do-able.

As for Peter Camejo, he has made it totally clear that he is running as
a stalking horse for backing Nader, that he is not in a position to run
a presidential campaign. (I still have hope that he might be persuaded
to run for vice-president with Nader, if Nader could be persuaded to
pick him as his running mate. It would be a smart move on Nader's part
because it would help heal his rift with the Greens.)

The failure of the Green Party national leadership to chart a course
towards actually *challenging* the two-party system in the 2004
presidential election has cost the party a great deal, I suspect. In my
area it is basically floundering. The Nader-Green train wreck -- for
that is what it really is -- has basically disorganized, confused and
demoralized quite a few of the more consistent supporters of independent
political action in a year which presented big difficulties anyways. 

Whatever the *subjective* intentions of those involved, politically,
what the Green national leadership did was to abdicate on its
responsibility to organize and lead the Greens  in facing up to the
challenge of the 2004 elections. Which, of course --and again, whatever
the intentions-- are a reflection within the Greens of the ABB pressure,
transmitted, I suspect, through middle-class layers and especially the
intelligentsia.

And this represents something of a quandary for conscious socialists
working to build the Greens as a party of working people. Without
rooting itself much more directly and organically in the communities and
organizations of the most oppressed layers of society, the Greens are
much more susceptible to this kind of pressure. But the composition of
the core of activists and their connections make it difficult to
establish those roots, at least in a significant number of places, and
lacking a clear and forceful position on the 2004 elections makes it
very difficult to attract anyone, from any community. 

I wish I had an easy answer for that problem, but I don't. And its not
just the Greens, but the antiwar movement faces a very similar problem,
as does the antiglobalization movement. At any rate, I don't think we're
going to solve it by turning our backs on the thousands of mostly young,
fresh activists who are going to come around the Nader campaign and
basically for all the right reasons -- because he is antiwar,
anticorporate, antiracist, pro-working people and explains that the
two-party system is owned and controlled by the rich.

José





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