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Nader believes corporate power is cause; everything else is effect. Related Gully Coverage

Greening the Democrats
Addressing environment, globalization.

U.S. Election 2000
Posturers, panderers, pretenders, and special interests.

ralph nader

Ralph Nader's Vanishing Act

by Ana Simo

OCTOBER 2, 2000. The next President of the United States could be elected by the disaffected, predominantly white, male, highly educated 'progressive' voters casting their ballot for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. With Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore running neck to neck, Nader could siphon-off about 3% of the votes in some crucial battleground states, most of them at Gore's expense.

Helping elect Bush, and hence several conservative Supreme Court lifers, does not bother Nader a bit. In fact, he thinks that a defeat "would probably be the best thing that ever happened to the Democrats because then they'd have to wake up" and either "shape up, liberate [themselves] from the corporate power brokers," or shrink down.

Race Back in the Doghouse
Nader's serenity flows from his belief that there's no essential difference between the two big parties. He does not deny that Democrats and Republicans sharply diverge on issues like race, abortion, queer civil rights, school vouchers, and school prayer, to name a few. He just seems to think these are unimportant, peripheral issues.

Corporate power, which he thinks both major parties equally serve, is Nader's essential, hard-core issue. Corporate power is cause; everything else is effect. Dwelling too much on the effect, Nader seems to be saying with his silence, is distraction, and division. "To Nader, racism is apparently an addendum to 'real' social justice issues," Vanessa Daniel says in a recent article in ColorLines.

"Nader often speaks to problems that have their most devastating effects in communities of color," Daniel writes. "However, he almost never points to the racial dimensions of these items." He is "rendering the topic [of racism] invisible."

Women's rights and, in particular, queer civil rights have been rendered even more invisible by the Nader campaign. In his official website, all Nader can bring himself to say is that he supports civil unions for what he imprudently calls "homosexuals."

Rewriting History
nader blessing the massesClass is Nader's beat. A stripped-down class, simplistically, and conveniently, understood as a strictly economic thing, with no pesky racial, gender, sexual, and other cultural identity issues mixed in. And the Green candidate is not shy about enlightening us about the real meaning of our own history, even if it means rewriting it.

Last July, he petulantly told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention that "it wasn't just some men" who opposed the anti-slavery movement and the women's right-to-vote movement. The real culprits were, you guessed it, big corporations.

Nader seems incapable of grasping that racism and misogyny, like homophobia and ethnic/religious/linguistic hatreds, are more than individual emotions that people indulge in when they are unemployed. That they are as crucial as the economy in defining society. And that society is a complex structure where all of these elements are tightly intertwined. Reality is the main casualty in Nader's ahistorical, economics-centered view of the world.

This failure to see society as what it is—a complex web of equally important social, cultural, and economic forces—is not just an intellectual and political failure: it is, above all, a moral failure.

It denies that racial minorities, women, and gays have been the main engines of social change in the United States for the past 40 years, and are likely to remain so for years to come. It completely ignores the immigration juggernaut looming in the horizon, with its attendant language and cultural issues, as whites cease to be a majority in the United States. And it kicks downstairs all of the above, to the subservient place they occupied in the pre-civil rights movement Left.

Head of the Class
As defined by Nader and his nouveau lefty supporters, class in the abstract is, by default, white, male, straight, non-immigrant.

"Many of the burdens imposed on people of color in the U.S. are those piled on working people, regardless of race," Nader lectured the NAACP convention. Break the concentration of power in the hands of corporations and all other problems will be largely solved, he believes (although in the recently revamped Race segment of his website he acknowledges that some extra help may be needed to erase racism).

cornel westIn spite of all this, Nader has some minority, feminist, and queer supporters, including prominent African-Americans like Harvard luminary Cornel West and Randall Robinson, President of the TransAfrica Forum, the Washington, D.C. think-tank. (Although his official website has the now de rigueur Spanish version, Nader remains largely unknown in the Latino community.)

Most of his supporters are disgusted with the Democrats and see Nader, warts and all, as the best chance for an urgently needed third party. Some dismiss as a Democratic scare tactic the possibility that Bush could ultimately benefit from their vote. Others don't care, agreeing with Nader's crisis-triggers-revolution sentiments.

Many yearn for unity of the underdogs, for a movement of movements, for an end to the parochial insularity of the various liberation movements and their estrangement from the labor movement. They don't just want coalition politics: they want transcendence politics. But, is Nader's white working-class cum Ruckus activist dreamboat the right vehicle for minorities, queers, and women to levitate together into political Nirvana? Or is it deja-vu all over again?

Nader's Nebulous Nirvana
While Nader's ideas, or lack thereof, on race, gender, and sexual identity, have been scrutinized and criticized by the affected parties, the rest of his platform has escaped scrutiny. This has helped create the impression that Nader's OK except for his curious 'cultural' blinders. A cursory look at Nader's official website, however, shows a candidate long on exposition of societal ills but short on solutions, and even shorter on ways to implement them. The road to Utopia is definitely not mapped there.

For example, under Nader, the United States would pick up its marbles and pull out of the World Trade Organization, which would then collapse. The candidate, however, does not say how he would then prevent the global economy from plunging into chaos, what he would have in lieu of WTO, and what a unilaterally imposed U.S. global trade policy, however enlightened, would do to the world. Nader seems to be as tone-deaf to political consequences as he is to race.

The candidate also promises to shift control of U.S. agriculture back to family farmers. Demographically, there are not enough family farmers left to shift it to, and no clamoring mass of aspiring family farmers, as Nader, a statistics junkie, knows full well, but never mind. The tools he proposes are too lame to shift more than a small fraction: stronger enforcement of anti-trust laws, allowing American farmers to grow industrial hemp, and, more interestingly, banning meatpacker ownership of livestock production facilities.

On issue after issue, wishful thinking often replaces logic and details. However, there are some bright spots in Nader's program, like the sections on the environment and on political reform. The latter is particularly impressive: publicly financed campaigns, free media time for all qualified candidates, proportional representation (end of the winner-take-all system), election-day voter registration, and, best of all, a binding none of the above option that would force a new election with new candidates.

Is that enough to vote for Nader, even if you don't give a hoot about helping Bush, or about the vanishing minorities, queers, and women? That will entirely depend on whether you think a third party is a waste of time, or the best way to reform American politics. And on what kind of third party you want to help bring about. With Nader and the Greens at the helm, what you see is what you'll get, and what you'll be stuck with for a long, long time.

Related links:

For the Green Party's official site—beyond Nader.

For Nader 2000.

For all aspiring third parties (Green, labor, Libertarian, Reform, Working Families, etc.) see the slow-loading Third Party Watch.

For Vanessa Daniel's "Ralph Nader's Racial Blindspot" in ColorLines.

How to vote for Nader and not feel like a rat: "Beatification of Ralph."

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