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WHAT WE THINK
Behind the torrent of abuse
Who's afraid of Ralph Nader?

July 23, 2004 | Page 3

LIBERAL SALON magazine has left no stone unturned in digging up dirt on one particular presidential candidate. No, it's not George W. Bush. It's Ralph Nader who is being put through the wringer by Salon and other liberal publications.

Nader has been subjected to an incredible torrent of abuse and derision for defying the "Anybody But Bush" sentiment among liberals and running for president as an independent candidate.

One of Salon's latest hit jobs actually complains that Nader's new book, The Good Fight, was published by HarperCollins, part of right-wing media baron Rupert Murdoch's empire--and, shockingly, the company is spending money to promote the book! What about the interests of the mega-corporations that put out self-serving drivel by Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton? Salon doesn't even ask. And the fact that the same HarperCollins imprint which published Nader put out Michael Moore's Stupid White Men? Who cares when there's Nader bashing to be done!

Salon's implication is that Nader has abandoned everything he stood for in his many years as a liberal crusader for political reform and consumer rights--to become a willing pawn of Murdoch and the Republican Party. This ridiculous charge is usually paired with claims that Republican-connected political organizations have helped Nader in his efforts to qualify for the ballot in various states.

This is certainly true--though how much help is another question, since both Republicans and Democrats have an interest in exaggerating. The Democrats, of course, need new material for their slander machine. And Republicans clearly realize that all they have to do is put out a press release claiming to be sympathetic to Nader to get Democrats ranting--and exposing how little they care about democracy when it comes to stopping Nader.

The truth is that the Republicans are giving Nader a limited amount of help for the same reason that Democrats are working desperately to stop him--because both parties assume that Nader will win support from people who might otherwise vote for Kerry. The GOP's "support" for Nader wouldn't rate a mention if the Democrats weren't running a scorched-earth war to keep Nader off the ballot.

Socialist Worker has criticized Nader for some of the inconsistencies of his campaign--for example, giving new life to the half-dead Reform Party by accepting its endorsement. But our concern was for running the strongest possible left-wing campaign. The Nader bashers, on the other hand, only care about such questions if they can be twisted to fit their case against an independent presidential campaign.

The flip side of the anti-Nader hysteria is the free ride that John Kerry has gotten from people who consider themselves progressives. "Progressives are so angry and scared of George Bush that if it worked for John Kerry to say, 'I'm appealing to the Martian vote,' that would be just fine," Eric Hauser, a liberal political consultant, told the Los Angeles Times.

Thus, last week, Kerry announced that he would launch "pre-emptive" military strikes in the "war on terror"--the very core of the Bush Doctrine that is supposedly so uniquely dangerous--and not a peep was heard from liberals. Skipping the vote on the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; declaring that he is "in touch" with "conservative values"; admitting that he will appoint anti-abortion judges to the federal courts--Kerry can say and do anything without the slightest worry that the Anybody But Bush crowd will complain.

This is the cost of "lesser evilism"--which reduces the political discussion to the small differences between two candidates from an incredibly narrow spectrum acceptable to Washington's bipartisan establishment. Of course, hatred for George Bush runs so deep that many people who detest Kerry will still vote for him in November. What harm, they ask, could possibly come from pulling the lever for Kerry in order to get rid of Bush?

The anti-Nader hysteria--that is the harm. Accepting the Anybody But Bush case for voting Democratic means accepting a campaign of slander against a candidate who, whatever his flaws, represents a genuine, courageous and desperately needed alternative to the two-party system. Nader-bashing is doing long-term damage to project of building a left-wing political alternative in the U.S.--both at the ballot box and beyond it.

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