Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, June 24, 2004  

Ralph Nader is Right

Ralph Nader is an accepted crank, a defamed man lefties no longer even like to acknowledge. The thought that enough marginal cranks may actually vote for him again this year, and again throw the election to Dubya, is too painful for them to even consider. If one issue has the power to unite lefties, it's the fear and loathing they feel for poor Ralph Nader.

Last night, as I listened to a nice piece NPR ran on Ralph, I considered: maybe Ralph is right. He has two central points, and they're hard to refute. Because we're good lefties, we consider even the most irreverant propositions. How about Ralph's?

Proposition 1: Your choices are not limited to Bush and Kerry.

On the surface, this is a self-serving argument--obviously, Nader would like you to consider his candidacy more seriously. But his larger point here is one he's been making for 35 years. For Ralph Nader, the issue has always been one of democracy. In his campaigns against corporate malfeasance, Nader has stood for the good of the many over the profit margins of the wealthy few. His message as a candidate is the same.

Most of the laws passed over the past 24 years were written by two tiny constituencies--conservative fundamentalist Christians and the ultrarich. They have worked tirelessly to advance their fringe ideas, foisting upon a complacent majority higher taxes and regressive social policy. Nader's life has been dedicated to trying to get the listless majority to stand up for itself, to take the barest action--voting, say--that would defeat the money, organization, and hours of the activist minority. All that 75% has to do is put down the remote, hoist themselves out of the Barcalounger, and take a short ride in the SUV to the polling booth. A half hour of effort once every couple years. It's not asking much. With even the tiniest energy and courage, Americans could have a new government tomorrow. Does anyone dispute this?

Proposition 2: A Kerry presidency may not be better than four more years of Bush in the long run.

This is the more obvious point--but it remains strangely controversial. But the key is long run. No doubt the lesser-of-two-evils argument helped elect Clinton in 1992--and he was certainly more liberal than HW Bush. And yet despite the (perhaps marginally) better Clinton administration, what good was it? The Contract with America still came down the pike; the GOP still took both houses of Congress; the judiciary is still packed with conservative activist judges, and of course, Dubya was still elected--precipitating all the concomitant horrors of his presidency.

We are the frogs slowly cooking in the saucepan. Unless the US population is committed to real change, we doom ourselves to a slow death of degrees. Kerry, who might well be a progressive president, will need the support of an outraged public. Clinton, recall, started out progressive and got beaten down while Americans yawned. Kerry, without a popular uprising, will be similarly handcuffed, doomed to play lesser-evil politics against DeLay and company. In fact, a moderate Democratic administration is in many cases the worst case scenario. Right now many Americans are waking to the reality of the near-boiling water they've emersed themselves in. But like a Clinton administration, a moderate Kerry administration will just cool the water enough to allow us to all settle back down.

Maybe Nader's right. If we're so stupid that the choice between Kerry and Bush can be thrown off by Nader's 2%, maybe we deserve four more years of hot water. If even this Bush administration can't motivate the 75% to hoist themselves off the barcalounger and act in their own interests, perhaps they don't yet properly appreciate the value of the republic.

posted by Jeff | 8:47 AM |
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