Ralph Nader has announced that he will run for the presidency for a third time. In the past months on Truthdig, the case has been made both for and against such a campaign. Here Chris Hedges says why he should run, while Robert Scheer tells Nader himself it would be better if he didn’t.
Excerpt from “Pariah or Prophet?” By Chris Hedges:
It was an incompetent, corporatized Democratic Party, along with the orchestrated fraud by the Republican Party, that threw the 2000 election to Bush, not Ralph Nader. Nader received only 2.7 percent of the vote in 2000 and got less than one-half of 1 percent in 2004. All of the third-party candidates who ran in 2000 in Florida—there were about half a dozen of them—got more votes than the 537-vote difference between Bush and Gore. Why not go after the other third-party candidates? And what about the 10 million Democrats who voted in 2000 for Bush? What about Gore, whose campaign was so timid and empty—he never mentioned global warming—that he could not carry his home state of Tennessee? And what about the 2004 cartoon-like candidate, John Kerry, who got up like a Boy Scout and told us he was reporting for duty and would bring us “victory” in Iraq?
Nader argues that there are few—he never said no—differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. And during the first four years of the Bush administration the Democrats proved him right. They authorized the war in Iraq. They stood by as Bush stacked the judiciary with “Christian” ideologues. They let Bush, in violation of the Constitution, pump hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into faith-based organizations that discriminate based on belief and sexual orientation and openly proselytize. They stood by as American children got fleeced by No Child Left Behind. Democrats did not protest when federal agencies began to propagate “Christian” pseudo-science about creationism, reproductive rights and homosexuality. And the Democrats let Bush further dismantle regulatory agencies, strip American citizens of constitutional rights under the Patriot Act and other draconian legislation, and thrust impoverished Americans aside through the corporate-sponsored bankruptcy bill. It is a stunning record.
Bush is the worst president in American history. If Gore, or Kerry, had the spine to take him on, to challenge corporate welfare, corporate crime, the hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate bailouts and issues such as labor law reform, if either had actually stood up to these corporate behemoths on behalf of the working and middle class, rather than mutter thought-terminating clichés about American greatness, he could have won with a landslide. But Gore and Kerry did not dare to piss off their corporate paymasters.
There are a few former associates in the film [“An Unreasonable Man, a documentary about Nader] who argue that Nader is tarnishing his legacy, and by extension their own legacy. But Nader’s legacy is undiminished. He fights his wars against corporate greed with a remarkable consistency. He knows our democratic state is being hijacked by the same corporate interests that sold us unsafe automobiles and dangerous and shoddy products. This is a battle not for some unachievable ideal but to save our democracy.
Excerpt from Robert Scheer’s debate with Ralph Nader:
Scheer: I think you’re being a demagogue.
Nader: Why, because some people are clapping?
Scheer: I hesitate to say that, but I really want to say, I really don’t think you’re engaging the argument. So let me state it again. I have no objection, not only no objection, I applaud your role as a social critic, as I do my own. To answer your question specifically, yes, we must criticize the Democrats, we must up the ante, and I do it as a columnist. You do it as a lawyer, public interest lawyer. And that is our obligation, and that’s what The Nation should do. That is not at issue here. I think I was one of Clinton’s harshest critics when he was president about the very issues that you outlined.
Nader: It’s not an issue at all; why do you keep repeating yourself? What do we do? That’s the issue.
Scheer: First of all, we can be civil; this is supposed to be a conversation. And I would suggest that, in terms of our roles, social critics, we’re not talking about giving the Democrats a bye. I never advocated it; I don’t do it. And I’m not asking you to do that. I’m asking you to recognize that running an independent campaign, which I gather you’re still considering, that asking people to support an independent campaign, to suggest that the differences between the Democrats that are in Congress now and the leadership, Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman and others, and the Republicans that the similarities tower over the differences, is just not true. It’s just wrong. It’s inaccurate. And I don’t think that’s educating people. That doesn’t mean you give them a bye.
I’m all for putting pressure on Henry Waxman and Nancy Pelosi. But to not acknowledge the differences of their approach, or forget even their approach, the differences between what used to be moderate Republicans and the true ideologues, the fanatics that are actually running this government now, the Richard Perles, you know. I think it’s to miss this moment in history. I honestly do. And I think, so I will repeat, I think that we’re not talking about Ralph Nader or Robert Scheer or The Nation as social critics. We’re talking about how you organize politically. And you chose to run an independent campaign with no base, you didn’t build a party, you didn’t build an alternative. There is no third party; a third party did not come out of your campaigns. And you’re now considering even another campaign which will not produce a third party. And you, when you suggest that there is not a profound difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, your claims are saying that we shouldn’t, therefore, put emphasis into struggling with these people. I would take the opposite position. I think we got better candidates running. If we find some moderates we should back them. But I do think that getting a progressive Democratic candidate now matters.
I think people should be involved in these primaries. I’m not going to tell them whom to support, but I do think, for instance, if Al Gore would come into the campaign I would be quite enthusiastic in supporting him. I keep getting very enthusiastic about a Gore/[Barack] Obama ticket, for example. [Editor’s note: This debate was held in July 2007.] I think [John] Edwards has indicated a progressive agenda. I think [Dennis] Kucinich would be very strong if not electable. I think that there are good candidates out there. I think the people in this audience should figure out which ones they are going to support, and if they don’t like the ones that are there, encourage others to run. But I think the next election matters a great deal. I think it’s incredibly important to a Democrat—and hopefully a better one. But I don’t think we should be distracted from that.
And I think you can hold these two ideas in your head at the same time. Be the social critic, up the ante, criticize them when they’re wrong. You know? I think that’s important to do. On the other hand, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there is this cabal in this country right now that has enormous power. And they are taking us down a very dangerous road. And let me just raise another question here. I don’t think all the corporations are the same. That’s a great slogan, you know. The fact is there’s a world of difference between a corporation that is willing to do business around the world, willing to observe certain laurels and so forth, and a corporation that wants to get wars in an old imperial matter so they can sell us a lot of equipment and junk that we don’t need. There are splits in what used to be considered the ruling class, OK. And I suggested before, there’s a rather important split between, say, the George Bush Sr. and the Iraq Study Group and their proposals, and why George [H.W.] Bush argued against capturing Baghdad. And the caution that he evidenced. And George W, who has the recklessness of the old imperial model, which we are now following. And I think to fail to understand that difference is to understand, fail to understand, the danger of the current moment. That our civil liberties, and you know it’s not true that things have somehow gotten, there’s all just murky.
The fact is, things are far more dangerous in very specific ways, and you have not addressed that. One is the Supreme Court. We have a Supreme Court now thanks to these Republican appointees that has absolutely no concern of civil liberties, separation of powers, any kind of accountability. It’s out of control and gives the imperial president a blank check. That is not unimportant. And I don’t believe that a Democratic president would have had the same kind of Supreme Court. And I think to insist that that doesn’t matter is to deny reality.