Nader: Crashing the Party

- by Michael Dempsey

Lady Bracknell: What are your politics?

Jack: Well, I'm afraid I really have none. I am a liberal unionist.

Lady Bracknell: Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at any rate.

--Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

The Democratic primary was unusual this year in its tolerance of multiple contenders. Dean and Kucinich occupied the flank of the populist Left, the latter more genuine than the former, while Edwards and Kerry represented the respectable center. Sharpton and Mosley-Braun were more scenery than anything else.

The Democratic Party, once the party of chattel slavery, has, ever since President Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act -- a decision he took hoping that Dr. King would then endorse American policy in Indochina -- been at pains to style itself the modern day electoral equivalent of the Underground Railroad.

But even though Kerry has edged everyone else out, it appears that what transpired up to this point was a genuinely multifarious competition. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes evident, that what really took place was an intra-party putsch, where the candidate who was clearly favored by the rank and file, Dean, was usurped by the candidate favored by the party elite, literally almost overnight.

Enter Ralph Nader.

Although in theory afforded the same right as everyone else to run for the presidency, Nader is being simultaneously denied the privilege in practice. This not simply because his message cannot be condensed into ticker tape sound bites, but also because what he represents constitutes a threat not only to the hegemony of the so-called two-party system in particular, but to the ruling class' monopoly on politics in general.

Imagine CNN leading with the headline, "Candidate for President Calls two party system a duopoly," or, "Nader says system corrupted by big money."

Are you imagining? Good, because that's the only place where such headlines will be written -- in the imagination.

The corporate media wouldn't dare put itself through the discomfort of permitting someone like Ralph Nader, a politician with an intelligent (and intelligible) political program, the wiggle room to share his ideas with the American public.

Such an act of unprecedented benevolence would be the equivalent of social suicide, because if democracy infects the media and trickles down to the masses, and by some flight of fancy helps kindle a yearning for change amongst the depoliticized plebes…It's not that difficult to see how everybody's election night gala plans might be spoiled!

But wait. I'm forgetting -- this year it's imperative that George Bush be unseated at the expense of all else, even, you say, at the expense of participatory democracy.

Assuming you're right, who then shall I choose? Kerry? Kerry voted for the invasion of Iraq, the carpet bombing of Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, and Bush's tax cut for the rich.

It's one thing for him to claim he was duped on Iraq, but could he really have been misled on all of the above?

And are we to really believe that a senator who earned a reputation as one of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's most aggressive sleuths all of a sudden succumbed to credulity? And what does his election-come-lately objection to the Iraq war consist of anyway? That it was an affront to the international community, the same international community which is currently working together so assiduously to subvert democracy in Haiti, and place the island under what C.L.R. James called the fig leaf of liberalism, that is, international trusteeship?

Or am I too to accept the Manichean argument that Bush is evil? But isn't that the same attitude for which the liberal establishment endlessly ridicules Bush, that he subscribes to a world view that is annoyingly simplistic?

To be fair, I'll grant that probably is at least one extant difference between Kerry and Bush that deserves to be acknowledged. But since one doesn't automatically suggest itself, my guess is that whatever it might be it is probably a difference rooted in tone, not substance.

Alright, alright, you say. If not Kerry, what about Kucinich? Isn't he a politician of principle? He is, but to his discredit, he's announced that he will support the Democratic party nominee whomever it may be, thus negating or at least temporarily nullifying his own principles.

And however decent an idea it may be, I somehow cannot see a Department of Peace coexisting side by side with the Pentagon. That, my friends, is a contradiction too salient and sour for this citizen to swallow.

Now, unlike Oscar Wilde's Jack, Ralph Nader is unquestionably a liberal. But unlike many if not most of his liberal colleagues, Nader is no Tory, at least not towards the system. Tory after all means loyalist; Nader has demonstrated that whatever one may think he is -- narrow minded consumerist, zealous gadfly, or uncouth party pooper -- one thing he is not is a loyal adherent to the status quo.

And what the status quo-loving liberal establishment is really demanding, but doesn't posses the temerity to say, is a United States of America that is a first rate power abroad, and a third rate democracy at home.

Having once been a liberal myself, and having had the regrettable misfortune of working as an obsequious intern in the US Congress for a liberal politician, allow me to share with you the one modicum of insight I derived from that politically underdeveloped chapter in my life:

If you're a Democratic Party liberal in America, the key to maintaining your viability within the system, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, is to demonstrate to your opponents how pragmatic and therefore how conservative you can be, thus preemptively deflecting the accusation that you suffer from the bleeding heart syndrome.

If you're a Republican Party conservative, the task is a less taxing one: remember to talk like a conservative and vote like one too, for the consensus is yours to lose.

It is this scandalous truth, as revealing as it is rancid, that provides not just the most conclusive example of the American political system's banality, but is the most compelling affirmation of its bankruptcy.

And that is why when Nader is accused by his critics of crashing the party, one should never think that his accusers are issuing the jibe in jest.

They mean business. And thankfully, so does Nader.

Michael Dempsey 23, staff writer for The Raw Story, contributor to Justice(the newspaper of Socalist Alternative), member of Boston to Palestine, from Boston, can be reached here:

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