31 October 2007

Democracy, limited

It's easy to forget, if indeed one was even aware if it at all, that before Ralph Nader became Public Enemy Number One among limousine liberals he was, for a time, one of the most admired and respected voices among ordinary Americans. The recent documentary An Unreasonable Man traces Nader's career from the groundbreaking consumer advocate of the 60's and 70's to his controversial presidential run in 2000 which, to hear partisan Democrats tell it, is solely responsible for the disasters unleashed by George W. Bush.

Nader's breakthrough to the public consciousness came in 1965 when, as a young Washington lawyer, he published Unsafe at Any Speed, a landmark expose of the poor safety records of the American automakers, in particular General Motors, which hired goons to try, in vain, to dig up evidence of personal malfeasance to use against him at the Congressional hearing. In the 1970's, he organized a loose collection of recent college graduates the press called "Nader's Raiders" who tirelessly to protect consumer safety from corporate myopia. It came to an end during the Carter Administration, which failed to pass Nader's dream of a federal Consumer Protection Agency and, according to his critics, sent him on his way to being an egomanical malcontent.

During this time, the enormously popular Nader was often considered a potential candidate for national office, and was supposedly even contacted by the McGovern campaign in 1972, but he found it better to remain outside of the partisan fray. But after Reagan rolled back most of his gains in the 1970s, and Clinton proved equally intractable, the nascent Green Party tapped into Nader's disillusionment and, they hoped, his celebrity for their presidential ticket in 2000. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The film does a fine job of knocking around some of the myths that have persisted about that fated 2000 election season; for example, the idea that Nader purposefully tried to throw the election by focusing his campaign in swing states (Nader's former campaign manager says they spent 28 days in California compared to two and a half in Florida). Then there was Nader's battle with the Commission on Presidential Debates, a private entity sponsored by many of America's biggest corporations which refused to allow him or any other third-party candidate into the all-important debates. When Nader acquires a ticket to view the first debate at the University of Massachusetts from an auxiliary theater, the Commission's hired security guards refuse to let him in,

The basic liberal claim against Nader, as you well know by now, is that he stole voters in key areas who would otherwise have voted for Al Gore. This, of course, is fundamentally undemocratic, since no one is obliged to vote for someone when there is someone better aligned to them available. But, in a way, you can't blame Democrats for believing this, as they have long felt a proprietary right to left-wing votes even as they do very little to actively acknowledge them. As they party continues to lurch rightward into the waiting arms of Big Bidness, they have turned to invoking the spectre of Republican Disaster as reason enough to support their latest mushy effort.

They've also successfully turned any serious discussion of third-party candidates onto a personal evaluation of Nader and his most fervent supporters, who are usually dismissed as unserious stoners. And Nader likely made a mistake by attempting to run again in 2004 as an independent, though the Democrats did show their true colors by going to court to keep him off the ballot in many states (Nader is currently counter-suing). Of course, the Democrats went on to lose a race they should have won easily, and with minimal interference from the Devil Nader; their own incompetence just making them hate him all the more. This is unfortunate because, with the Dems again prepared to nominate the most hawkish, corporate-friendly candidate they can find in the party, a discussion of how to wrest back control is badly needed. (And no, Al Gore isn't going to swoop in and save us; his newfound status as a Progressive White Horse is likely a revision of his 2000 campaign to make Nader seem More Evil.)

Nader also made a mistake in claiming that there is "no difference" at all between the two parties--if indeed he ever said such a thing--because this only plays into the Democrats' hand. Their only play at this point is just keeping left enough of the Republicans to be visible. Though there are, of course, many important ways in which they are indistinguishable. Both are equally invested in the continued perpetuation of the restrictive, winner-take-all two-party system, the anachronistic, undemocratic Electoral College, and the exclusive, money-decides-everything primary system.

For the final word today, I'll turn to the much more eloquent Dennis Perrin.

Critique either these fantasies or the corrupt system that make them necessary, and the liberals will vomit all over you. You are insane, in need of professional help, a Naderite, a Bush supporter, a Christo-fascist, or at the very least a very stupid person who doesn't understand the Two Party System. Is it perfect? No, they'll concede. But that's all there is, all there could conceivably be, so shut the fuck up, vote Dem early and often, and focus all of your critical energies on Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz.

James Wolcott once compared liberal bloggers to 18th century pamphleteers, and indeed there are similarities, primarily in the Publish Yourself realm. But many of those early polemicists were radical democrats who saw a world beyond that of Crown and Church. That world had yet to exist, but this didn't stop them from pushing for its realization in the face of tremendous opposition and derision. They were told by the liberals of their day that direct democracy was a boy's dream, that the radicals needed to grow up and get with the existing program. A world beyond Crown and Church? Tosh, pish-posh, and twaddle.

Today's liberals, many of them, anyway, cannot see a world beyond that of Global Corporate Order, which is why they'll continually serve one of the GCO's control mechanisms, the Democrats. The corporate mules know of and count on this acquiescence every election season. And you wonder why Hillary smiles so much.
An Unreasonable Man trailer.