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Why you should join Nader's revolt

Review by Nick Chin | September 10, 2004 | Page 9

Greg Bates, Ralph's Revolt: The Case for Joining Nader's Rebellion, Common Courage Press, 2004, 175 pages, $9.95.

"THROUGHOUT HISTORY the taunt of those who advocate that we should not press too hard has been, 'Do you really think you can win?'" So Greg Bates writes in his new book Ralph's Revolt: The Case for Joining Nader's Rebellion.

"If the slaves had let that question stop them," Bates continues, "if the suffragettes had let that stop them, if the civil-rights movement had let that stop them, if the anti-Vietnam War movement had let that stop them, if the disability movement had let that stop them, if the gay rights movement and the antiwar movement and the anti-globalization movement lets that question stop them today, then we know the answer: The whole world will lose."

In Ralph's Revolt, Common Courage publisher and longtime Nader supporter Bates takes on the argument that progressives have to support John Kerry because "anybody" is better than four more years of George W. Bush.

Clearly, the Bush administration has been disastrous for working people. But as Bates points out, these horrors aren't simply the result of a particularly devilish president, but are the product of the circumstances that Bush found himself in--and were made possible by the very party that is supposed to act as an opposition.

The Bush administration used the September 11 attacks to rationalize sending U.S. troops around the world to fight a "war on terror" and to push austerity at home. "Added to the mix is a compliant opposition in the Democratic Party who backed the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind, the invasion of Afghanistan and many other Bush Projects," writes Bates. "In our rush to prove Bush's exceptional status, we cannot overlook that fact."

In a useful chapter titled "Our Moving Train," Bates explains the consequences of the Democratic Party's shift to the right, using the environmental movement as an example. After raising expectations among environmentalists with his 1992 campaign, once in the White House, Bill Clinton proceeded to co-opt the movement's organizations.

As a result, the Clinton administration was able to carry out its business-friendly environmental agenda, privatizing many of the Department of Energy's projects under Al Gore's initiative and signing an executive order allowing the export of Alaskan oil to Asia.

Moreover, Bates makes the case that a Kerry administration, using a liberal "cloak of morality," might well get away with more than the Bush administration. A good example of this is explained in a short chapter titled "The Democrats' Draft: A Kinder, Gentler Way to Die?"

From promising to add 40,000 more troops to the American military to a Kerry spokesman's assertion that "withdrawal is not even under discussion," Bates concludes correctly that "a closer look at Kerry's positions suggests a draft is at least as likely as it would be under Bush, if not more."

Bates provides excellent arguments for why progressives shouldn't let themselves be coerced into voting for Kerry in 2004, including examples of the Democratic Party's conservative record and its history of co-opting social movements. In a chapter titled "Get Out of Dodge," he makes the case for why progressives can't place their hopes in reforming the Democratic Party from within, but have to begin the project of building an independent third party.

"Without a third party, progressive candidates within the Democratic Party are confined to mounting quixotic campaigns through the primaries," writes Bates. "Then, like June bugs that live a short life and die, their role effectively comes to an end...Voters are left with little more than pleas to mark the ballot for the empty party that remains."

Despite this analysis of the role of "progressive" Democrats, Bates offers other strategies that conflict with this. At a couple points in the book, he advocates Nader's candidacy because it will help more liberal Democrats in Congressional contests by bringing progressive voters to the polls. Nader has made this argument himself.

The problem is that it underestimates the role of "good" Democrats in Congress and local government in pulling progressives into the party, even as the party's presidential candidate and its platform shift to the right. Rep. Dennis Kucinich's liberal campaign for the nomination is a case in point.

Bates' argument also gives ground to the idea that the Democratic Party can somehow be reformed--a position that undercuts otherwise great arguments for why we need to begin now to build an independent electoral alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.

This aside, Ralph's Revolt argues more solidly against the two mainstream parties than almost anything activists will find in the bookstores in the coming months. Until we begin organizing independently of the Democrats--which includes being willing to hurt them in elections--our side will always lose.

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