Should the left support Nader?
July 23, 2004 | Page 7
WHO SHOULD the left support in Election 2004? This question--and especially the independent presidential campaign of Ralph Nader--has been the subject of intense debate among activists and progressive writers.
Syndicated columnist Norman Solomon--the author, most recently, with Reese Ehrlich of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You--wrote a letter to the editor criticizing Socialist Worker's editorial on the presidential election campaign in our last issue. Here, we print Norman's letter--and our response.
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OMISSIONS IN the Socialist Worker editorial "Millionaire vs. billionaire" (July 9) leave key questions unasked and unanswered. The editorial couldn't bring itself to mention any differences that a Kerry presidency might plausibly make compared to another four years of the George W. Bush administration.
Yes, Kerry would be a bad president, but some bad presidents (and have there been any other kind?) are worse than others. Why pretend there would be no significant contrast between the two--on such matters as civil liberties, reproductive rights, environmental protection, civil rights and judicial appointments?
The Socialist Worker editorial concedes that the election will be won by either Bush or Kerry. Unless a subtext is that "the worse it gets, the better it gets" for true leftists and their organizing prospects, then we might want to ponder a comment by comedian Dan Kaufman: "The only thing worse than the lesser of two evils...is the greater of two evils."
The editorial speaks about the need for "a political alternative" to the two corporate parties. Green Party activists are continuing with efforts to build such a party. On the other hand, Ralph Nader is pursuing an "independent" candidacy that is cozying up to the Reform Party, the same party that ran right-winger Patrick Buchanan for president in 2000.
In Oregon, right-wing groups--including a notorious antigay organization--have worked to get Nader on the ballot. The Oregonian (June 25) reported that the head of the Nader campaign in Oregon "said he saw nothing wrong with the Republican outreach efforts. 'It's a free country,' he said. 'People do things in their own interest.'" Building "a political alternative" while accepting tactical alliances with xenophobic and antigay forces? I'll pass.
The July 9 editorial in Socialist Worker sneers at "rumors and gossip that Nader is taking money from the Republicans." But the July 9 front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as numerous other verified pieces of reporting this month, have documented that tens of thousands of dollars have already poured into the Nader campaign from big pro-Bush donors.
What's more, the Citizens for a Sound Economy group, headed by the former House Republican leader Dick Armey, is mobilizing its members in several "swing states" to collect petition signatures to help get Nader on the ballot. At some point, unless it's willing to lose credibility in a major way, Socialist Worker will need to acknowledge that the Nader campaign is now getting major boosts from Republican groups.
Rest assured that (contrary to the editorial's conclusion) I still recognize the need for political alternatives to the two corporate parties. That doesn't mean I'll wink and nod at priorities that seem likely to increase the already-massive power of right-wing forces in the United States.
SOCIALIST WORKER REPLIES:
WE'RE USED to hearing distortions and insults about Ralph Nader from the Democratic Party's attack dogs, but not from Norman Solomon. But Norman has decided that nothing matters more than John Kerry's victory over George W. Bush in November--so he's joined the anti-Nader chorus.
Which is why he wants us to believe that Nader--after four decades of uncompromising liberal opposition to corporate power and political corruption--is turning his back on everything he's ever stood for to jump in bed with the Republican Party.
Norman says that known Bush supporters have poured "tens of thousands of dollars" into the Nader campaign--as if Nader has been bought. As of the beginning of July, of the $1 million raised by Nader so far, $41,000 came from major Bush contributors, according to Business Week Online.
Does Norman believe that John Kerry hasn't taken in more than 4 percent of his $182 million from corporate interests more accustomed to showering campaign donations on Republicans?
No one, Socialist Worker included, denies that Republican-connected organizations have taken some steps in some states to help Nader get on the ballot. These groups oppose Nader's progressive politics, of course. They want Nader on the ballot for the same reason that Democrats want him off--because they figure he will hurt Kerry's chances.
Norman should say as much--or, if he thinks otherwise, document examples of the Nader campaign collaborating with a Bush-connected organization. Likewise, while Nader can be criticized for seeking the endorsement of the right-wing Reform Party--as Socialist Worker has done--Norman should at least admit that Nader didn't shift his overwhelmingly left-wing platform in doing so.
That's more than Norman can say about Kerry. Every day brings a new article about the Kerry campaign's strategy for appealing to conservatives and corporate interests--while remaining wholly "unconcerned about antagonizing his liberal supporters," as the Los Angeles Times put it.
Norman says that Nader is "accepting tactical alliances with xenophobic and antigay forces." Yet he is willing to make a "tactical alliance" with the Democratic Party to defeat Bush. Does Norman claim that Kerry--an opponent of gay marriage--represents a pro-gay agenda? Or that a senator who voted for the invasion of Iraq and the USA PATRIOT Act is standing up to xenophobia?
The only conclusion we can draw is that some "tactical alliances" bother Norman more than others--depending above all on whether they harm or help Kerry's chances of taking the White House away from Bush. This is the real issue for Norman, and he should stick to it.
Is he right that George Bush has to be beaten in November by any means necessary? Socialist Worker has never denied that there are differences between Kerry and Bush--though we also insist on pointing out the shockingly large areas where the differences are negligible, when they exist at all.
The question today--as in 2000, when Norman supported Nader--is whether the differences justify a commitment to a "lesser evil" candidate who shares so much in common with the greater evil. We say no.
By supporting one pro-corporate political party because it stands slightly to the left of the other, activists give up their political independence and set back efforts to build the kind of struggles and political organization that can win real change.