Ralph Nader’s hard-hitting critique of corporate power and the two-party system is striking a chord with millions of workers and young people. Despite the anti-Bush rally around Kerry, support for Nader’s independent anti-war, pro-worker campaign reveals that an important minority is looking for an alternative to the two parties of big business and war.
The support for Nader reflected in polls is an expression of the depth of alienation that exists from the two party system. This is all the more remarkable given the avalanche of attacks from the Democratic Party, the extremely hostile capitalist media, and the Anybody But Bush syndrome on the liberal left.
Leaders of labor, civil rights, women’s, and environmental organizations linked to the Democratic Party have unleashed character assassinations and vitriolic denunciations of Nader’s presidential bid. The aggressive attacks by the political establishment reveal a fear of the potential mass appeal of Nader’s message should it get a footing in the mainstream political dialogue.
But the support that exists for Nader will not be able to fully express itself in the November 2 election. The enormous number of undemocratic obstacles erected by the rotten two party system to keep third parties off the ballot, combined with the Democratic Party’s dirty war to keep Nader off the ballot (see “The War on Nader“), has meant that Nader will not be on the ballot in a number of key states such as California. This denies millions of voters the democratic right to vote for the candidate of their choice.
Nor will the mandarins of US “democracy” allow Nader to participate in the Presidential “debates,” denying the American people the chance to even hear or consider an anti-war, pro-worker alternative. While they endlessly lecture the rest of the world about “freedom” and “democracy,” they are only willing to grant us the democratic choice of picking between two pro-war candidates of big business.
What are they so afraid of? If Nader was as unpopular and out of touch with mainstream America as the media portrays, couldn’t Kerry and Bush easily demonstrate to voters why they should not vote for Nader and instead for them?
In fact, the need to shut Nader out of the debates and bar him from the ballot reflects the political weakness and desperation of a decaying two party system, especially it’s Democratic wing, which is losing its grip on popular support. Unable to marshal arguments or ideas, they can only survive by denying people the democratic right to hear the ideas of Nader or even the right to vote for him.
With the majority of the country saying they want Nader in the debates, this anti-democratic assault on Nader has acted to further delegitimize and expose the spoiled two parties of the status quo.
War Against Nader
The war against Nader is being waged not just by the Democratic Party leadership and the capitalist media. Unwilling to stand against the pressure of the “Anybody But Bush” hysteria leaders of the liberal, even progressive left, have fallen over themselves to viciously attack and slander Nader.
Many of these figures, such as Michael Moore, Media Benjamin, and some of the more radical trade union leaders such as the California Nurses Association or the International Longshore Workers Union, supported Nader in 2000 but are now backing Kerry in 2004.
While hurling attack after attack on Nader for daring to stand up to the political establishment and calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq, same-sex marriage rights, and national healthcare, they have been largely silent when it comes to John Kerry’s record of supporting the barbaric policies of the US ruling class.
In particular, the Green Party’s leadership refusal to support Nader in 2004 out of fear of enraging their friends in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, has weakened Nader’s ability to get on the ballot and weakened his campaign.
Further, if the race remains close between Bush and Kerry (due to Kerry’s me-too campaign), Nader’s vote is likely to be squeezed, as many who agree with Nader will feel compelled to vote for Kerry to insure Bush’s defeat.
This itself reflects another aspect of the undemocratic U.S. political system – if proportional representation or instant run-off voting were to be established, it would be far easier for voters actual preferences to be recorded. Of course, for that very reason the two parties are completely against such democratic reforms.
However, the ripple effects of the Nader campaign will extend far beyond those who may vote for him. Tens of millions will listen to and sympathize with Nader, but feel compelled to vote for the lesser evil Kerry. Nevertheless, the seeds of radical independent politics will be planted, ready to take root and grow in the minds of millions as major events further expose the Democrats and shake up workers’ consciousness.
Nader’s run has increased public awareness of the corporate character of Kerry, and is reaching millions with radical demands such as a full US withdrawal from Iraq, single-payer universal healthcare, and abolition of the death penalty.
For all these reasons, despite Nader’s limited left-populist political character, the Nader campaign represents a progressive development and a step forward from the point of view of the interests of the working class.
Two-Party System in Crisis
Given the undemocratic and unrepresentative big-business domination of the dysfunctional U.S. electoral system, the real significance and impact of the interest and support for Nader goes far beyond the actual vote tally he will get on November 2.
The support for Nader’s campaign reflects the growing crisis of the corrupt two-party system and the growing radicalization of an important layer of workers and youth. One out of every eight young people (12%) are supporting Nader and 25% of voters are now registered as independents. Nader’s 2000 campaign, which received almost 3% of the vote but had far wider support, was the highest vote for an independent left-wing presidential candidate in over 50 years.
The deep tensions in U.S. society are preparing the conditions for moves towards the creation of a new mass party that could provide political representation and a vehicle for struggle for workers, minorities, women, and all oppressed people fighting the system.
Effective steps in this direction will require movements of significant sections of the working class – movements that will erupt in the next few years. In this context, Nader’s campaign reinforces consciousness of the need for all those who want progressive change to break from the Democratic Party. It is helping to prepare the ground for future independent anti-war, left-wing, and labor campaigns that will pave the way for the formation of a mass party of the left based on working-class forces.
Justice #40, September-October 2004