Thursday, September 30, 2004

St. Ralph comes to town

Tuesday night, I broke curfew to see one of the most inspirational and confrontation figures of the past forty years. Speaking at the Carefree Theater on South Dixie Road was Independent presidential candidate “Saint” Ralph Nader. For starters, I am not a supporter of Nader’s 2004 campaign. Nor was I a supporter in 2000. My allegiances are strongly with the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards. The motive of my visit was to hear what Nader was saying, along with evaluating his band of loyalists.

I have a sordid confession to make. If you run an audit on my checking history, you will find a $5 contribution to “Ralph Nader for President 2004”. I will forever be ashamed of this stain on my finances. I did not realize that a $10 fee, $5 for students, would be assessed at the door. I figured that it was worth paying a couple of bucks, since I was already down there.

Signs of liberalism were all around the Carefree Theater. Outside were trashcans adorned with old “Dennis Kucinich for President” bumper stickers. When I walked in, there were four tables set up. The first was a group handing out a flier reading, “Bush isn’t the problem”. They were self-described anarchists whom are upset with the modern political system. Farther down, they were selling Nader for President t-shirts. For $75, I could have been the proud owner of a personalized copy of Nader’s book, “Crashing the Party”. I declined to purchase one, as it would have signified a higher donation to Nader’s candidacy than I have given to Kerry’s. I approached the door and bought my ticket. I had forgotten my student ID in the car, but the guy let me in with a student discount. I thought he might decline, as I was wearing my Democratic Underground shirt. Democrats have fallen out of favor with Nader and his supporters.

Around 8:00, there was this creepy band playing. The lead singer was wearing a multicolored t-shirt. At first, he wasn’t that bad. But as time went on, the quality went down. He started singing the children’s songs that he had written. The man appeared to possess the qualities of the hippie of the 60s and 70s. He was a nice guy and all. I’d hate to put him down. He was just so stereotypical of what people think of a Nader voter. He went on about 15 minutes longer than he had planned for. Eventually, he forgot all the lyrics and was trying to banter with the audience.

The preliminaries began around 8:40. The local organizer stepped up to the podium and talked about how Nader was her hero. She had been galvanized by a speech Nader gave in Tampa four years ago. She professed Nader to be her hero and political idol. I have no reason to doubt her sincerity. I question her choice of candidate, but not her commitment to progressive ideals. One of Nader’s campaign workers came on and gave a recap of ballot access issues. Basically, the Democrats have orchestrated a coordinated effort to keep Nader off the ballot in as many states as possible. In some cases, it has worked. In many others, Nader is still on the state ballot. This is one issue where Ralph and I agree. I believe he should be allowed ballot access as long as he reaches the requisite signatures. The Democrats should not look to force him off the ballot on technicalities. I don’t care if Republicans are the ones who want him on the ballot. Challenging his access to the ballot does nothing but reinforce the negative opinion of Democrats that Nader supporters have.

The lord and savior himself spoke around 8:50. If nothing else, I was impressed with his command of issues. This was the kind of speech that I wish Kerry would give. He spoke for a little over one hour. Presumably due to time constraints, an average Kerry stump speech lasts less than thirty minutes. I’m not saying that Kerry couldn’t go on for that period of time, but a busy campaign schedule allows only for a brief discussion of issues. Nader’s biggest complaint is about the corporate control of America. He must have used some variation of the word “corporate” or “corporation” at least twenty times throughout the speech. It was bordering on the ridiculous. I believe in a lot of what he was saying, but the repetition was a bit much.

I’ve got five pages of notes and quotes, but I’ll sum up his comments briefly. He began by talking about health care and how the HMOs have destroyed the system. I didn’t know that 640 lobbyists from drug companies gathered on Capitol Hill to help pass the Medicare bill. That’s more lobbyists than there are members of Congress. It’s hard to argue against Nader’s premise that powerful HMOs are running the health insurance industry. However, there were many Democrats, a majority IIRC, that actively opposed the Medicare/Prescription drug bill of 2004. Nader continued to harp on the financial inequities plaguing America. He was very succinct on the state of the poor in America. “If you can’t pay (for health care), you die,” asserted Nader. Ralph is correct when he notes that 61 percent of U.S. corporations paid no federal income taxes between 1996 and 2000. Furthermore, 70 percent of foreign corporations operating within the U.S. paid no taxes in that time period. This was under a Democratic administration, not George W. Bush. The government is out of touch if they consider $18,000, the poverty line, to be enough to support a family. Nader touched on the $2 trillion in tax relief that went predominantly to the top one percent of wage earners. Nothing that Nader said was anything different than I’ve been saying for years.

Nader saved much of his harshest criticisms for the Democratic Party. Of his decision to run, Nader said, “How much of our Democracy do we have to lose to stop settling for the least worst?” Nader obviously believes that while Kerry is better than Bush, he is not an acceptable alternative. Fortunately, most liberals disagree with Nader’s assessment and have decided to support Sen. Kerry. Nader asserted that, “Both parties are more and more controlled by corporate lobbies.” On that statement, it’s hard to argue. Republicans, and to a lesser extend Democrats, are controlled by their corporate daddies. Nader did save some criticism for the Republican incumbent, George W. Bush. He called George W. Bush the worst U.S. president in 100 years. Nader opined, “(Bush) combines various degrees of ignorance and callousness.”

Nader continued to rail about the “liberal intelligencia”. For a moment, I wondered why he used that term. It’s right out of the right-wing playbook. But Nader continued, “They make no demands on Kerry. They are disgracing themselves by blocking the only candidate that advances their agenda (the Nader/Camejo ticket).” Nader was right on another key point, “67 percent of the American people say Bush cares more about corporations than the American people. This is George W. Bush’s Achilles heel, but they aren’t shooting arrows at him.” Ralph was surprisingly making a lot of sense. I wonder to myself why it is that Sen. Kerry is having such a difficult time defeating this very vulnerable incumbent.

Nader put the blame for the election 2002 Congressional results at the foot of the party itself. “Democrats lost the 2002 election by giving Bush a pass. They anointed him a wartime president (with the IWR). He was untouchable because he was a wartime president, beating the drums of Iraq. No WMDs, no Al-Qaeda. He (Hussein) was a dictator with a dilapidated army,” said Nader. Nader pointed out a recent Washington Post article that wrote about chief Kerry strategist Bob Shrum, whose record in presidential elections is 0-7. “Losers hire losers. If Kerry loses, it will be because he let himself lose,” said Nader.

Nader still resents being blamed for Al Gore’s loss in 2000. Nader said Democrats lost because, “a decadent, Democratic Party didn’t properly oversee a super-decadent Republican Party”. Nader continued, “ten times more Democrats deserted for Bush than for me. Decadent parties need a scapegoat.”

Continuing on the humanitarian front, Nader said, “We could be known as a humanitarian superpower, not just a militaristic one. We could show the world how to eradicate TB and AIDS.” Nader put the blame on the pharmaceutical industry, which makes more profits in treatments than by vaccines.

Nader came to a close by rallying his troops. Nader said, “We grew up feeling powerless. If five million of us got together, people could make a difference.” The quote of the night came when he referred to corporations as “electronic child molesters”. He insinuated that corporations want to make us silly so that they can perform their dastardly deeds.

This speech was interesting in how it went back and forth between criticizing Bush and the Democrats. He gave enough anti-Bush barbs to make the experience somewhat satisfying. On Bush, Nader said, “He’s the opposite of a compassionate conservative. Clear Skies Initiative makes the clouds less clear. It’s like 1984, with Orwell.”

Let me add some of my analysis. I realize this isn’t a true news article. I have no plans on submitting it for any newspaper or academic course. I agreed with the majority of what Nader said. But like Bill Maher said, Nader is “correct but not right.” While we admire Nader for his lifetime of benevolence, his decision to run in 2004 is an unfortunate one. His supporters are committed progressives, but many of the financial and signatory backers are anything but. The conservatives are using him in order to assist George Bush in his reelection efforts.

One reason I went was to try and dispel the myths about Nader supporters. Those on websites like Democratic Underground want to portray them in the worst possible light. They did not smell or dress badly, as suggested by some posters. Some were definitely a bit odd, but not that much different than many Democrats I see. I didn’t see any George W. Bush stickers on cars in the parking lot. I didn’t see anybody that looked in any way conservative. These are people who truly believe Nader’s candidacy is advancing progressive causes that they support. I will never use my blog to bash Nader or fans of his. Nader is addressing issues that John Kerry or George Bush either can’t or refuse to talk about. I’ve never heard Kerry talk as eloquently about the “War on Drugs”, as Nader did. Nader was forceful in his opposition to the Israel’s “Security Fence”. Kerry has been known to support the so-called “Apartheid Wall”. I don’t want to put all the blame on Kerry. He’s doing what it takes to win a national presidential election. Nader doesn’t work with the same hindrances. He’s basically unaccountable in an electoral sense. Kerry must win the votes of centrists and conservatives in order to have a realistic shot at the presidency.

I still would hope that Ralph understands the harm his candidacy is doing. The polls show that the majority of Nader voters would be inclined to vote for the Democratic candidate. In some states, even a thousand votes could be enough to swing the race. I don’t think his run truly advance the causes he supports.

I hope that people can get past the Ralph of today and remember all the good that he has done. It’s a shame that even progressives now view Nader in an unfriendly light. He is doing what he feels is best for the country, despite the protests of Democrats. I recommend reading his new book, “The Good Fight”. He really has done a lot of good for America. Unfortunately, his most enduring contribution may be aiding and abetting George Bush’s eight years in the presidency.


Blogger Eric Cioffoletti said...

Good commentary. I'm glad you went down to hear Nader speak. He was a great man once upon a time.

Today he is nothing more than an ego. Sure he has some great ideas but he'd rather get votes and give speeches and push HIS ideas than look at the big picture.

September 30, 2004 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger tsias said...

It's tough for me to write about Nader. I don't want to bring his name through the mud anymore. Nader is sincere in his beliefs. I don't believe that he wants to help the Republicans.

I just wish he'd stop putting down other people. Recently, he insulted Michael Moore by calling him a "balloon ball". He's went after Green candidate David Cobb becuase of his swing state strategy.

There's no need for him to continue this charade. He could safe face if he decided to drop out of the race. Sadly, he won't do so.

His career will be overshadowed by his 2000 and 2004 Presidential runs.

October 1, 2004 at 1:54 AM  

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