I went to a campaign rally for Ralph Nader in San Francisco the other night, an act tantamount to heresy these days in the progressive community. The SF Bay Guardian, the City’s leftist weekly protector, did not print the event in its political event listing “Alerts”. The paper did run an ad for the event, however; presumably the editors could hardly justify running Larry Flynt’s ads for governor in last year’s recall election while turning down Nader. Ralph’s cash is green, at least.
It was a strange kind of rally, full of the kind of social retards and mysanthropes I have become accustomed to seeing at such events. Held in the auditorium of Mission High School, the rally attracted about 700 people. It took Nader two hours to show up, as he was at his book signing across town. In the meantime, we were treated to speeches from activists and politicians emanating from the Green Party and International Socialist Union. There were the usual delicacies for liberal left audiences; speeches delivered in Spanish for no discernible reason, a spoken word performance by a young black woman (the only African-American who spoke that evening), an authentic Palestinian, etc. People were encouraged to hiss and applaud at their leisure (note to progressives: the hissing thing’s a little scary).
Despite the customary pandering, there were several speakers who hit the nail on the head concerning anti-Nader hysteria and the hypocrisy of those who insist everyone vote for Kerry or be considered dispicable Nazis. Nader’s appearance was, however, a little anti-climactic. He seemed rushed, unprepared, stumbling over his speech, spreading his index cards out haphazardly and even plagiarizing bits from the documentary The Corporation. The Nader ’04 platform, as finally explained by Ralph himself, was hardly the 100 proof progressive manifesto that the night’s speakers had implied. Nader veered strangley into some ‘good ol’ days’ brand politics, praising the US military’s ability to produce anti-malarial drugs for soldiers in Vietnam when corporate pharmaceutical companies would not. At one point, he sounded eerily conservative when decrying the ‘pornography’ that ‘our children’ are fed by media companies. I understood his point, and it is rare to hear a politician actually deem current American corporate-cultural trends as worthy of political action. Still, what a loaded and unfortunate word to use. On the other hand, to his credit, Nader did not blindly refer to the litany from the progressive play-book; he offered concrete solutions to every problem he mentioned, which was at least, given the content of other speeches that evening, refreshing.
I suspect that like Kerry, who is negotiating with Israeli Labor party representatives via his brother even as he vocally praises Ariel Sharon, Nader is trying to get the most bang for his buck. It’s somewhat disappointing, as I have had admired Nader for actually being the only person running for president with some measure of integrity; he is, however, in his current incarnation, a politician. Politicking aside, there were rays of hope. Nader’s Vice Presidential running mate, Peter Camejo, who was a bit of a milquetoast during his run for governor last year, came off as a left wing fire brand, indicating that perhaps the more radical elements of Nader’s platform will be transmitted through intermediaries. Also, the ISO’s representative that evening actually made socialists sound like they live on earth and not some alternate string-theory universe where the rules of physics and human nature do not apply. All in all, as far as integrity goes, Nader and his supporters, are the only ones discussing anything of substance.
This is a far cry from the most vocal of John Kerry supporters, whose antics lately tend to border on the psychotic. Incredibly, there were Kerry supporters protesting against Nader outside the building; their opposition is seemingly based on nothing but Nader choosing to run for President. In fact, there has been no criticism from Democrats of Nader’s campaign platform. This is likely the most honesty we’ll see emerge from the Kerry campaign. Attacking Nader would force Kerry and Democrats to defend their own platform to progressives. Thus, the only criticism Democrats can make of Nader is that people might be tempted to vote for him; a not especially moving argument in favor of Kerry. It is therefore not surprising that, as has lately been revealed, Democrat party officials and volunteers are carrying out legal, but ethically questionable, behind-the-scenes machinations to keep Nader off the ballot in several states. In a low point for two-party democracy, Democrats find themselves trying to head off the democratic process before it can work against them.
But what is really disturbing is the ease with which many liberals and progressives have gone from supporting candidates like Howard Dean, the closest thing to a viable anti-Kerry in the Democratic party, to the very man and apparatus that helped destroy the political viability of progressive Democrat fringe elements (creating the buzz around the overhyped and exaggerated “I have a Scream” speech among other back-stabbing tactics.). If Dean, a man with ideals, had recieved the kind of support Kerry did from the Democratic National establishment at the outset, Democrats wouldn’t need to sabotage Nader’s presidential bid today. All those Naderites would be voting for Dean, as I suspect, would Nader.
There are two messages being sent during this election. One, from those who support Nader, is that voters are tired of blindly aligning themselves with political machines that seem to have no interest in their needs; there are no longer only two games in town. On the other hand, those who vote for Kerry are confirming that whatever the Democrats do– smash down real progressives like Dean, Nader and Kucinich, vote pro-war, pro-corporation, pro-patriot act, pro-corruption and roll over on any ideal when the going gets tough– liberals will still vote for them, and do so with relish, beating down any substantive alternative.