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Only Nader Is Right on the Issues

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Posted on Nov 3, 2008
AP photo / Jose Luis Magana

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader speaks during a news conference outside of the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington.

By Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who has covered many wars around the world. His column appears Mondays on Truthdig.

Tomorrow I will go to a polling station in Princeton, N.J., and vote for Ralph Nader. I know the tired arguments against a Nader vote. He can’t win. A vote for Nader is a vote for McCain. He threw the election to George W. Bush in 2000. He is an egomaniac. 

There is little disagreement among liberals and progressives about the Nader and Obama campaign issues. Nader would win among us in a landslide if this was based on issues. Sen. Barack Obama’s vote to renew the Patriot Act, his votes to continue to fund the Iraq war, his backing of the FISA Reform Act, his craven courting of the Israeli lobby, his support of the death penalty, his refusal to champion universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans, his call to increase troop levels and expand the war in Afghanistan, his failure to call for a reduction in the bloated and wasteful defense spending and his lobbying for the huge taxpayer swindle known as the bailout are repugnant to most of us on the left. Nader stands on the other side of all those issues. 

So if the argument is not about issues what is it about?

Those on the left who back Obama, although they disagree with much of what he promotes, believe they are choosing the practical over the moral. They see themselves as political realists. They fear John McCain and the Republicans. They believe Obama is better for the country. They are right. Obama is better. He is not John McCain. There will be under Obama marginal improvements for some Americans although the corporate state, as Obama knows, will remain our shadow government and the working class will continue to descend into poverty. Democratic administrations have, at least until Bill Clinton, been more receptive to social programs that provide benefits, better working conditions and higher wages. An Obama presidency, however, will make no difference to those in the Middle East.

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I can’t join the practical. I spent two decades of my life witnessing the suffering of those on the receiving end of American power. I have stood over the rows of bodies, including women and children, butchered by Ronald Reagan’s Contra forces in Nicaragua. I have inspected the mutilated corpses dumped in pits outside San Salvador by the death squads. I have crouched in a concrete hovel as American-made F-16 fighter jets, piloted by Israelis, dropped 500- and 1,000-pound iron-fragmentation bombs on Gaza City. 

I can’t join the practical because I do not see myself exclusively as an American.  The narrow, provincial and national lines that divide cultures and races blurred and evaporated during the years I spent in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Balkans. I built friendships around a shared morality, not a common language, religion, history or tradition. I cannot support any candidate who does not call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and an end to Israeli abuse of Palestinians. We have no moral or legal right to debate the terms of the occupation. And we will recover our sanity as a nation only when our troops have left Iraq and our president flies to Baghdad, kneels before a monument to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi war dead and asks for forgiveness. 

We dismiss the suffering of others because it is not our suffering. There are between 600,000 and perhaps a million dead in Iraq. They died because we invaded and occupied their country. At least three Afghan civilians have died at the hands of the occupation forces for every foreign soldier killed this year. The dead Afghans include the 95 people, 60 of them children, killed by an air assault in Azizabad in August and the 47 wedding guests butchered in July during a bombardment in Nangarhar. The Palestinians are forgotten. Obama and McCain, courting the Israeli lobby, do not mention them. The 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza live in a vast open-air prison. Supplies and food dribble through the Israeli blockade. Ninety-five percent of local industries have shut down. Unemployment is rampant. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed. A staggering 80 percent of families in Gaza are dependent on international food aid to survive.

It is bad enough that I pay taxes, although I will stop paying taxes if we go to war with Iran. It is bad enough that I have retreated into a safe, privileged corner of the globe, a product of industrialized wealth and militarism. These are enough moral concessions, indeed moral failings. I will not accept that the unlawful use of American military power be politely debated among us like the subtle pros and cons of tort law. 

George Bush has shredded, violated or absented America from its obligations under international law. He has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, backed out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, tried to kill the International Criminal Court, walked out on negotiations on chemical and biological weapons and defied the Geneva Conventions and human rights law in the treatment of detainees in our offshore penal colonies. Most egregiously, he launched an illegal war in Iraq based on fabricated evidence we now know had been discredited even before it was made public. The president is guilty, in short, of what in legal circles is known as the “crime of aggression.”


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By Amy, November 3, 2008 at 8:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Instant Runoff Voting obviously would eliminate the need to debate about whether you should vote for your favorite candidate.  You can indicate your first, second, third choices, the winner is required to get a majority of the vote and there would be no more so-called spoilers.

The Democratic Party, with some exceptions, has been lukewarm at best to this reform in the many places across the country where activists have been working hard to enact it, and in many places the Democrats have squashed it.  IRV has been successfully enacted in over a dozen cities since 2000.  It would be used in Alaska for this presidential election had a statewide referendum passed in 2002, opposed by the Democratic Party.

So if IRV would solve the spoiler problem, and the Democratic Party is not pushing for IRV, why do they complain about spoilers?  Is it because they like the spoiler problem because they use it to scare us into voting for them every four years?  Should I enable this behavior by voting for Obama because I am scared of McCain?  How many more elections are we supposed to vote from Democrats because we are scared?

This is the argument that never gets answered.  I have been asking Nader haters this question for eight years and all I get is blank stares with the sound of crickets chirping.  Can someone answer this for me please?  Really, I have asked this question hundreds of times.

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By jason hardy, November 3, 2008 at 8:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for reminding me that we are global citizens, and that we have a duty to act to give a voice to the voiceless.

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By CanadianBystander, November 3, 2008 at 8:15 am Link to this comment

A couple interesting interviews with Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn touch on this topic at http://www.realnews.com

ZINN: Well, you’re not going to break the paralysis of the two-party system within the party system. In other words, you’re not going to break it in the electoral system by putting up a third-party candidate whose showing will inevitably be pitiful and will therefore only be a demonstration of the weakness of the movement outside of the electoral arena. If you choose to go into the electoral arena, you’d better go in with strength. If you’re going with weakness, you are not doing a progressive movement any good. To me it is a waste of Ralph Nader’s energy to throw himself into the electoral process, ‘cause his energy is best used by building a movement, by doing what he has done for most of his life very effectively, reaching out to millions and millions of people who will not vote for him but who really believe in his ideas, and help him to organize those people so that whoever is elected as president will then have to face a constituency, a citizenry which demands change.

http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=2606

CHOMSKY: Well, to say it doesn’t make any difference who wins is simply to express your contempt for the general population, ‘cause it does make a difference. A lot of what they say is correct: the two parties are effectively factions of one party, the business party, but the factions are somewhat different. And as I mentioned, over time the differences show up in benefits, working conditions, wages, things that really matter to people. So yes, there’s a difference. It’s a narrow difference, and the spectrum within the political system is well to the right of popular opinion, and certainly the public is well aware of it. So 80 percent of the population say that the government is run by, I’m quoting, “a few big interests looking out for themselves, not the population.” And they can argue about the details, but the picture’s essentially correct, and they don’t like it. Nevertheless, there is some difference and you have to make a choice. If you’re in a swing state, you have to ask: is this difference enough for me to pick the lesser of the two evils? And there’s nothing wrong with picking the lesser of the two evils. The cliché makes it sound like you’re doing something bad, but no, you’re doing something good if you pick the lesser of two evils. So is it worth doing that? Or is it worth trying to act to create a potential alternative? For example, should I vote Green because maybe someday their party will be a real alternative? Should I express my disdain for the right-wing orientation of both parties by not voting, let’s say? Or should I pick the lesser of the two evils, thereby helping people? Okay. That’s a decision people have to make.

http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=2593

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By choirgirl, November 3, 2008 at 8:12 am Link to this comment

i’ve enjoyed your work, and share a level of agreement, and since you are voting in new jersey - well, not too courageous. so take your stand. but it is essential to change the climate, and although imperfect, obama opens the door to such change. i truly doubt that if gore had won in 2000 [clearly won] that we would be fighting in iraq, and our financial system would have melted down.
so take a deep breath. make your point, but know that this time we absolutely cannot afford 4 more years of this, and we cannot take the chance.
perhaps an obama government will open the door to 3rd parties, will expand the debate, will ensure education that truly educates, and will provide for those who cannot themselves. obama’s idea of the common good is far greater than anything of mccain’s.
so go ahead.‘make a stand’, in a state where it doesnt matter anyway. if you lived in Pennsylvania—would you do the same?

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By Charles Wood, November 3, 2008 at 7:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I understand how Nader voters feel, but I will say this: We have to start somewhere.

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By indc, November 3, 2008 at 7:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have admired Mr. Hedges’ work, but his choice is profoundly irresponsible…. Nader was one of three major factors that allowed Bush to get close enough to steal the election in 2000 and then again in 2004.

Perhaps, Mr. Hedges wishes to have more tragedies to write about ... Nader is an unconscionable choice based on all the blood on Nader’s hands and based on what a McCain victory would mean.

It is not enough to write about atrocities in sensitive ways.. one has to vote in realistic, pragmatic ways to do the least harm in the future.  Mr. Hedges acts with callous indifference to the welfare of hundred of millions to vote for someone with the blood of millions on his hand.

Joe Chiara

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By Eric, November 3, 2008 at 7:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nader does have some good position points but…I don’t think he has any idea what he’s doing.

I’ve seen him on many talk shows, and his main debate strategy seems to be to blurt out his position as quickly as possible, and try to get as many not-very-clever bon mots in at his opponents, regardless if the moderator/host/other debater has moved on to a new subject.  Like it or not, a president needs some oratory and debate skills, and he ain’t got ‘em. 

Can you imagine this guy going into delicate negotiations with Russia?  Or, heck, even the republicans?

I’m all for a viable third party, but…c’mon, we need someone more plasuable than Nader.

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By Mothersson, November 3, 2008 at 7:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

But bama ‘s messasge is based on rhetoric not fact.
He is in favor of the death penalty, the patriot act keeping troops in Iraq, ans also he is being touted as a champion of animal rights while at the same time he has voted in favor of FArm act which supports big business: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2008-05-15-farmbill_N.htm

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By Markus, November 3, 2008 at 7:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a Kucinich voter and supporter, I gladly hand my vote to Nader, 3rd times the charm.

Why?

Because I can.

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By Kenneth Libby, November 3, 2008 at 7:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Chris Hedges,
    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your point of view in approaching the Presidential election.  Like it or not, America determines the fate of many other people who are not going to vote in this election - the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, etc.  They do not share the “hope” shouted from every rooftop by Senator Obama.  They will not see the “change” he preaches to his sycophant audiences.  As Americans, we owe it to the rest of the world to vote for the candidate with the best ideas for the world, not just for the United States.  We are an increasingly interconnected world where our actions have such tremendous impact on other human beings - other humans with the same right to “life, liberty, and pursuit of freedom.” 
    I hope you all had a chance to read Bill Moyer’s article called “The Sounds of Voting - and Check Writing” about campaign financing (posted on commondreams.org; as great as it was, where was this piece a few weeks ago, Bill?).  Obama has taken $37 million from lobbyists, $21.6 million from telecommunications companies (thank you for FISA, Senator Obama), and $16 million from health care interests. 
    The duolopy is completely uninterested in making changes.  I harbor a small bit of hope (vastly different from Senator Obama’s “hope”) that maybe things will get better for the people who deserve it: the working poor, the people in countries where Americans are killing, slaughtering, torturing.  I doubt they’ll get better under Senator Obama.  It is difficult to make changes for the people oppressed by American hegemony and domination when special interest groups will line Pennsylvania Ave.
-Kenneth Libby

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By frank rizzo, November 3, 2008 at 7:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Most of what Hedges says is spot on. Except for the red herring about the war in Afghanistan. Hedges never explains why al Qaeda should not be destroyed. They are butchers. They perpetrate the same violent religious extremism that Hedges has warned about growing here at home. Except that they are acting on their beliefs with extreme violence.

To lump the Palestinian struggle together with the fascism of Bin Laden is an insult to Palestinians and mocks their legitimate struggle. Many of us progressives, while we admire and agree with Nader, realize that allowing al Qaeda to regroup and prosper is detrimental to a peaceful world.

Many of us would love it if Hedges were to, say, write an article detailing specifically how he sees peace coming to Afghanistan or how he imagines peace with al Qaeda.

But until then, or until Bin Laden flies to NYC, gets on hands and knees and begs forgiveness for killing my friends, well, then, I do believe we need to continue to destroy al Qaeda. And rightfully so.

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By jmndodge, November 3, 2008 at 7:00 am Link to this comment

Nader would be my choice, if he had a chance of being elected.  His voice has helped to define issues, but while I have voted for him in the past, and would like to again, it is to important to help change the climate.  Obama is like the cloud on the horizon when living in a drought, it will not bring enough rain to end the drought and produce a crop, but it brings hope that there might be bretter days coming.  Nader is like a crop specialist talking about the reasons for drought and need for rain, without bringing any hope.  In this election cycle, even the GOP recognizes that we need change, and are in a drought cycle,  but to do less than to vote for Obama, would help trust the ones who caused the problems to actually bring change. Ralph, keep up the vision,  but work to move the democratic party, and give up your personal agenda. History will give you the vindication you justly deserve, if you step out of the limelight as a personality, and bring your positions forward.

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By Sam, November 3, 2008 at 6:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have no patience for the most common “tired” belief about voting for Nader—that a vote for Nader is a vote for the Republicans. I have never voted Democratic in my life, but now I suspect that I may never again vote for either of the two parties who have been running our country for generations. Hedges’ article covers many of the reasons I have for doing this. I too will vote for Nader tomorrow. If every supposed liberal in this country would vote their conscience instead of marching lockstep with a party that doesn’t give a damn about them, Nader would win handily. But billions of dollars of advertising have convinced Americans that they MUST vote for one or the other party, and most Americans, duped by the media, will unfortunately continue to do what they are told—just as millions have been brainwashed into thinking that they need huge four-wheel drive trucks to go to the supermarket, or that they should get their drinking water out of plastic bottles.
We will surely get the government we deserve unless we tune out corporate-run media sources and start developing the kind of world view that Mr. Hedges has.

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By uncajoe, November 3, 2008 at 6:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your arguments stating that Nader would beat Obama is a totally divisive message worthy of the wingnuts. You neither acknowledge Sen. Obama’s remarkable ability to unite people from all cultures and subcultures of America nor Mr. Nader’s agenda to divide the same by vilifying the everyone with differing viewpoints.

If Mr. Nader could unite the way Sen. Obama does he wouldn’t need to beg for equal time every time a mic is within range. He would receive stronger backing and support from everyday citizens if they were not told by him and all his followers that they are the worst form of scum on earth for disagreeing with his opinions. Mr. Nader doesn’t want the job of POTUS, he’d no longer have someone else to blame for the problems facing our nation in this extremely volatile world in which we all MUST live.

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By Alastair, November 3, 2008 at 6:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I sympathize with Chris on his correct point that Nader is better on the issues, the fact is that he cannot get elected under the current US system. Unfortunately, Chris’s vote therefore is two things: (1) It is a wasted or even negative vote and (2) it takes energy away from what we should be doing, namely building a peoples coalition to force Obama to make the changes we know need making (despite his financial backers). It is an old adage but being right and losing is not enough.

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By DavenportDavidGlover, November 3, 2008 at 6:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Not likely JohannG, so youmay just as well slither under the rock pile from whence you and your Obamaniac ilk arose. You know the one: the rock of laziness. The rock of “herd mentality”. The rock of same ol’ same ol’.
Good luck to you, and your chosen candidate. However, when the real change you crave falls flat and and your hope drowns in the puddle of despair, don’t come crying to the brave ones who voted their consciences. We’ll be the ones holding our heads high as you and your ilk hang your heads, shaking them in disbelief.

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By jackpine savage, November 3, 2008 at 6:07 am Link to this comment

Strange that the “tired” arguments against Nader never get answered, only brushed off. I have still not heard how Nader intends to accomplish the very noble goals he sets out. It is as if the entire Nader argument rests on the assumption of a benevolent dictatorship where there is no Congress populated by diverse opinion, Republicans, and Democrats. If someone could/would answer that question i might be persuaded.

And the argument that “there is no difference between the two parties” is correct to a great degree, but who’s fault is that? Both parties depend on the votes of you, me, and Joe the motherf*n Plumber. So if they are shit, then we are cut from the same cloth.

I’ve come to believe that a great deal of the Nader vote is from people who wish to absolve themselves of their sins, or at least appear absolved, so that they might feel better about themselves. It may be a vote of conscience, but how often is it a just a vote? That is, if you bought the markers and posterboard to make your Nader sign at WalMart, which is more important: your conscience vote for Nader or your action that upholds all the things that your poster fights against?

But in any case, vote as you will…it’s one of the few beauties left of the American way.

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By JohannG, November 3, 2008 at 5:51 am Link to this comment

I suspect that a majority of progressives second the sentiments expressed in this piece and greatly admire the way in which the author has summarized my own thinking. But I am not as brave as Chris Hedges and with some trepidation will vote for Senator Obama tomorrow. The nightmare of a split progressive vote leading to another victory for the throwbacks is too much to contemplate. Here’s to hoping that Senator Obama’s actions as future U.S. president will be more enlightened than his odious vote for the FISA ‘compromise” bill or his calls for increased U.S. military presence in Afghanistan indicate.

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