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Where is Nader's campaign headed?

April 9, 2004 | Page 3

THE DEMOCRATS think that Ralph Nader should abandon his independent campaign for president because electing a Democrat and defeating George W. Bush is the only thing that matters in Election 2004. That's no secret. But has Nader come to agree with them?

Nader announced last week that he plans to meet with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry later this month--to discuss how to open up a "second front" against the Republicans. In an open letter to "Anybody But Bush Liberal Democrats," Nader makes the case that his campaign will help those who "wish to defeat George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in November [and] restore the House and/or the Senate to the Democrats."

How? Nader says his independent campaign will "strengthen the progressive forces inside the Democratic Party by successfully amplifying ways to end [Bush's] regime." At the same time, he issued another letter asking for support from "Conservatives Upset with the Policies of the Bush Administration"--on the grounds that "millions of conservative and libertarian Republicans" have been abandoned by the party.

This approach could squander the possibilities for putting forward a left-wing political alternative in the 2004 election. For one thing, Nader's appeal to the right is aimed at people who oppose the bulk of his liberal platform, both this year and in 2000.

And Nader isn't appealing to just individual right wingers--he has met with leaders of the remnants of Ross Perot's right-wing Reform Party. The only way for Nader to court support from the Reform Party is to claim narrow agreement on "economic" issues, such as opposition to big government budget deficits--even though Nader's support for increased social welfare spending is the opposite of what the right wants.

Meanwhile, he stays quiet about "social" issues, including the dominant question in U.S. politics today--the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Nader's letter to "disgruntled conservatives" doesn't use the word Iraq.

Nader is flirting with political forces that have reactionary positions on immigration, economic nationalism and more. If he wants to contribute to building a left in this country, he should be denouncing the politics of scapegoating and victim-blaming--yet Reform Party members have been made to feel comfortable within the Nader campaign.

Likewise, there is no indication that Nader is helping the Democrats by "pushing" John Kerry to the left, as his campaign claimed to a Seattle Times reporter. On the contrary, Nader offered to open up his "second front" against Bush within a week of Kerry's announcement of his outrageous proposal to further slash corporate taxes.

Kerry can only feel more confident that he won't face any heat from his left as he panders further to big business. To judge from his letter to "Anybody But Bush Democrats," Nader seems to be limiting his criticisms of Kerry to complaints that the Democrats aren't running an effective campaign.

But the point of criticizing the Democrats isn't that they might lose. It's that they might win--and go on to support essentially the same agenda as the Republicans, differing only in form, and sometimes not even that.

Nader's strategy is most likely a response to the tidal wave of abuse heaped on him by Democrats--particularly liberals and radicals who are closer to Nader's own politics, but who denounce him for daring to reject the "Anybody But Bush" chorus and run for president again.

The attacks on Nader are despicable, and no one can doubt the overwhelming pressure on him to retreat. But his argument that he's really helping the Democrats--like his overtures to the right--undermines his own case for running a presidential campaign independent of the two mainstream parties.

The sad thing is that there is a good opportunity to make that case right now. With the Democrats' selection of a pro-war, pro-occupation, pro-business candidate for president, Nader's argument--that the two mainstream parties both serve Corporate America first and differ on the details of their policies--is at least as relevant today as it was in 2000.

Opinion polls show that a significant minority of people--bigger than anyone would have guessed six months ago--is fed up with the Democrats and see Nader as an alternative to the status quo. Nader's talk about helping the Democrats and winning support from the right does a disservice to this audience--and to the cause of building a left-wing political alternative to the two parties of Corporate America.

Nader shouldn't depend on backing from his natural base of support on the left if he continues to make a political appeal tailored to the right. Socialist Worker proudly supported Nader in 2000 because his campaign represented a clear break from the two-party system.

Nader needs to address the same important questions facing working people today--from the war and occupation of Iraq to the continuing attacks on workers--and commit himself to presenting a left-wing alternative.

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