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The Nader-Camejo campaign:
Standing up to Anybody But Bush

November 12, 2004 | Page 7

TODD CHRETIEN looks at what Ralph Nader's independent presidential campaign accomplished.

IN EARLY September, Ralph Nader told liberals that their uncritical support for John Kerry would allow the Democrats to move further right, demoralize the party's base of supporters and lose the election to George Bush--just Al Gore had done in 2000. "This is the most vulnerable administration in many years," Nader told a Los Angeles Times reporter. "[The Democrats are] not laying a glove on them."

It's now painfully obvious that Nader was right--and that the Anybody-But-Bush (ABB) left was disastrously wrong in throwing their support behind a candidate who positioned himself as close to George Bush as he could.

Unfortunately, the ABB wave was so powerful that it left Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo's campaign isolated. There was a tremendous opening to build a mass electoral campaign uniting the antiwar left behind Nader-Camejo in a fight against the bipartisan war parties. But the anti-Nader slander offensive--combined with the defection of numerous well-known Nader supporters from 2000 and the Green Party's nomination of the anonymous David Cobb--made it impossible to know how many millions of people we could have gotten to vote against the war.

Nader and Camejo received just over 400,000 votes on November 2 according to the official count. That turnout may have been as much as twice as high if Nader-Camejo had been on the ballot in the 15 states where the ticket was kept off--Camejo's home state of California being one of them.

But even the total that Nader-Camejo did get--in the face of all the abuse that the Democrats dished out--shows that there is a base to work from.

The campaign brought together tens of thousands of people at roughly 100 forums and rallies across the country, and championed the third-party antiwar message to millions through the mainstream media. The meetings won people to the campaign who worked hard for what they believed in.

However, the fact that most organized progressive groups and well-known personalities went over to Kerry meant that the Nader-Camejo campaign's pre-existing political network was very small.

Many on the ABB left are now saying that we need to "rebuild the movements" against Bush. This is perfectly correct. But the central lesson of the Nader-Camejo campaign is that we must do this on a different political basis--one that puts the need for independence from the Democrats at the heart of those movements.

Undoubtedly, some ABBers won't be convinced--and will repeat the same disastrous lesser-evil strategy in 2008, which will become a new "most important election of our lifetime." They will again try to drag movements behind Hillary Clinton or John Edwards or whatever hack the Democrats put up against Bush's successor.

The Nader-Camejo campaign demonstrated that it is possible to avoid this trap--and that millions of people are willing to listen.

Within every movement against Bush's inevitable overreach in the next four years--as well as within the Green Party following the Cobb campaign's fadeout--a political debate will continue about whether to explicitly organize a challenge to the two-party duopoly in 2008.

Hopefully, many people who adopted the ABB approach this year will learn a lesson--and help rebuild not only the resistance to Bush, but the consciousness within movements that the corporations and the Pentagon have two parties, and that social movements must either build one of their own or forever be the tail to the Democratic Party dog. Certainly, all the people who stood with Nader-Camejo this year won't forget this lesson themselves--or allow our movements to forget.

In 1859, the abolitionist John Brown organized a guerrilla raid on the government arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va., with the intention of distributing weapons to slaves and leading an armed rebellion against the slave power. Militarily, Brown's raid was a failure, and his band of activists were killed in battle or executed.

But as Fredrick Douglass put it, "If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the dates, places and men for which this honor is claimed, we shall find that not Carolina, but Virginia, not Fort Sumter, but Harpers Ferry, and the arsenal, not Col. Anderson, but John Brown, began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy and uncertain."

We should look at the Nader-Camejo campaign as an electoral Harper's Ferry--a raid on the two-party system. With all its faults, it highlighted the corruption and rot at the heart of American democracy, and gave the left a yardstick to measure our future progress.

The Nader-Camejo campaign didn't end the war against the corporate duopoly, but hopefully, it will mark the beginning of the war to end it--and the racism, militarism and poverty it defends.

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