[Marxism] An editorial worth repeating

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 7 12:44:02 MDT 2004


Monthly Review, Feb. 2001

The Nader Campaign and the Future
of U.S. Left Electoral Politics
by The Editors

The unlikely postelection contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush, 
which ultimately led to the anointing of Bush as president by the 
Republican majority on the US Supreme Court (despite the fact that Bush 
received fewer popular votes than Gore both in the United States as a 
whole and most likely in Florida as well—the state that gave Bush his 
electoral college win), has tended to erase all other developments 
associated with the election. But all of this should not cause us to 
forget that the Ralph Nader Green Party campaign for the presidency was 
arguably the most extraordinary phenomenon in US left politics in many 
years. On election day he drew nearly three million votes, representing 
about 3 percent of the vote. Even former Vice-President Henry Wallace 
did not fare so well in his third-party run for the presidency in 1948, 
the last progressive third-party presidential campaign of this nature 
and magnitude. Although exit polls show that Nader received few racial 
minority votes (a major weakness of his campaign), he nonetheless drew 
his strongest support from those without a college education, those with 
incomes less than thirty thousand dollars a year, and those without 
full-time employment. Until the intense scare campaign instigated by the 
Democrats in the final two weeks before the election, Nader was getting 
as much as 7 percent in some tracking polls.

Nader ran quite far to the left on issue after issue; this was no 
warmed-over version of mainstream liberal Democratic politics. The Green 
platform was an antineoliberal progressive platform that any socialist 
could support openly. At the same time, Nader enjoyed tremendous and 
enthusiastic crowds on the campaign trail, often appearing before paying 
crowds that ranged from ten to fifteen thousand with hardly any advance 
work. Were there no public opinion polls, one who merely watched the 
size and nature of crowd responses to the candidates on the campaign 
trail might have thought Nader the likely winner or at least a strong 
contender for victory. Moreover, these crowds were dominated by young 
people. Such a response would have been unthinkable one or two decades ago.

Nader was the best-suited and arguably the only feasible candidate to 
make a progressive third-party run in 2000. He came of age in the 1960s 
when progressive political figures had some opportunity to gain exposure 
in the media culture; he has long been a household name. (As Nader 
notes, with the rightward shift of our political landscape and the 
hypercommercialism of our media culture, serious progressive critics of 
the status quo have had far less opportunity to gain national exposure 
in the past two decades, unless they are political humorists like 
Michael Moore or people who become celebrities for other reasons and 
then discuss politics, like Susan Sarandon.) He is also highly regarded 
for a list of accomplishments in the public interest that is nothing 
short of stunning. Nader turned to electoral politics only when it 
became clear that the degree of corporate domination over both parties 
made the sort of public interest work he did nearly impossible to pursue 
with any hope of success. Nader is not a socialist, but he is a 
principled democrat who has the courage to call for sweeping reforms in 
the political economy when it is apparent that corporate domination and 
class inequality are undermining democracy. Nader spoke brilliantly in 
plain language to everyday Americans from a range of backgrounds about 
the need for sweeping structural reform, a lost art among many on the left.

The issue that was the foundation of the Nader campaign was his 
opposition to the World Trade Organization (WTO), North American Free 
Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the entirety of the global procapitalist 
trade, investment, and regulatory system. Unlike nationalist opponents 
of the WTO like Pat Buchanan, Nader’s opposition was on democratic 
grounds: these agencies were not subject to popular control in the 
United States or elsewhere and were therefore illegitimate. Moreover, 
Nader was and is arguably the world’s foremost expert on exactly how 
these institutions of global capitalism are generating disastrous 
results across the planet for workers, consumers, and the environment. 
Nader and the Greens also favored deep cuts in the US military budget 
and apparatus and opposed US material support for reactionary regimes 
and policies around the world. Nader, who drew 19 percent of the total 
Muslim vote (72 percent of which went to Bush), declared that there will 
be no peace in the Middle East “without justice for the Palestinians.” 
In sum, Nader and the Greens offered a progressive and nonimperialist 
foreign policy that was decidedly outside the “bipartisan consensus” 
that is almost never debated in the US electoral arena.

This is a point that merits consideration because the discussion of the 
Nader campaign, even on the left, has focused almost entirely on his 
critique of the domestic imbalance of power, giving very slight 
attention the international aspects. The United States is the dominant 
imperial power in the world and this is the central unspoken truth of 
our times. In the global capitalist order, the US state has a number of 
responsibilities: to keep the system functioning; to control the 
underlying populations; to safeguard the United States as the center of 
the international financial system; to maintain the United States (and, 
specifically, US capitalists/corporations) in the top perch in the 
imperialist pecking order; and to prevent countries from breaking away 
from the system of global controls. For these reasons, in addition to 
domestic pressure from the military-industrial complex, the United 
States maintains, by a very wide margin, the world’s largest military, 
though it has no rival whatsoever in any traditional sense. Although the 
wider foreign policy implications of Nader’s campaign were almost never 
reported in the media, they clearly represented a threat to the global 
status quo.

Indeed, Nader the candidate never got the opportunity to communicate 
these or any other positions to the great mass of Americans because his 
campaign was absolutely butchered in the news media. Nader’s coverage in 
the New York Times resembled, in some respects, the coverage Andrei 
Sakharov got from Pravda and Izvestia back in the 1970s. This should be 
no surprise but it was sobering nonetheless. Without gobs of money to 
purchase TV advertising—the lingua franca of US politics—or, better yet, 
without the sort of massive grassroots operation that could overcome the 
media blackout, many citizens never had any idea that Nader was running 
vigorously or what his positions were on the issues he was addressing. 
(If the winner of the election were determined by who spent the least 
for each of their votes or who received the least amount of news 
coverage per vote, Nader would have won in a landslide.) Most of the 
media attention Nader did receive was obsessed with how his candidacy 
would affect the fortunes of Democrat Al Gore. This was true even on the 
left and among progressives. Numerous leftists who supported Nader on 
the issues opposed his candidacy, often with startling bitterness, 
because it would take votes away from Gore, the “lesser of two 
evils”—which became a mantra to a greater extent than any time since 
1968. The 2000 race highlighted again how the US electoral laws have a 
deeply conservative and undemocratic bias that increases dramatically 
the degree of difficulty for both third parties and progressives.

In our view, the Nader campaign was the electoral side of the mass 
organizing that produced the extraordinary demonstrations in Seattle in 
1999 and in Washington, DC, and at the two national political 
conventions in 2000. As with those demonstrations, there is no guarantee 
that this upsurge in activism will produce a sustained movement capable 
of fundamentally changing the existing order. But we believe the 
evidence suggests that there are new openings for popular left 
organizing in the United States, and that the chance to organize for 
progressive electoral candidates is better than at any time in memory. 
It is possible that a left electoral movement can, within a generation, 
become a dominant political force in the nation. It may not be an 
explicitly socialist movement that will invoke the icons of the left 
that MR readers cut their teeth on but it will be a progressive 
anticorporate movement by any measure. There is an important and 
necessary role for the socialist left in this movement. The implications 
of these developments go well beyond the United States, in view of the 
US role as the dominant global capitalist power. If a viable 
prodemocracy, anti-imperialist movement can emerge here, it will improve 
the possibilities dramatically for socialists and progressives worldwide.

full: http://www.monthlyreview.org/201editr.htm

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