In Praise of Ralph Nader and Obama's Hope

Let me begin by saying that I understand that if Nader had not run in 2000, Bush would not have been made President, there would be no war in Iraq, torture would not be a live issue, the economy would be in better shape,... That being said, Ralph Nader has long been a hero of mine for good reason and his place in American politics is a good and necessary one.

Many of us talk about corporate power and special interests, but Ralph Nader has spent a lifetime on the front lines actually fighting the battle for us. People every single day are alive who would tragically otherwise not be, but for his tireless crusades for us against moneyed interests. And through those battles that he waged for people he likely will never meet or get a thank you from, he learned in stark terms how political access is the root of the problem and you can try to pick them off one by one, but more and more threats to life, limb, and democracy will continue to appear as long as the corporate class has unfettered and unique access to law makers.

Add to that the fact that the Clinton administration and the Democratic Leadership Committee had successfully worked to erase differences between mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans. In an attempt to woo what they saw as the swing demographic of "Reagan Democrats" and to try to bring in some of the corporate funds that had been flowing to the GOP, the intentional plan was to make the Democratic party into Republican light, ignoring the traditional concerns of the party -- pursuit of equality for the oppressed, better standard of living for all especially the most vulnerable, people before corporate profits. In 2000, there wasn't much of a difference between the parties and that was by design and very, very dangerous to the nation. That is why Nader received such a significant portion of the vote.

Yes, Bush/Cheney/Rove swept in as a result and worked very hard to make sure there was once again a difference between the parties. The Clintocrats had moved the Democrats to the right, so the Bushies would take the Republicans to the far right. This is why Nader received three tenths of one percent in 2004. There is a difference between the parties again.

But in this primary, we are once again looking at the possibility that the folks who eliminated the difference will assume control. A lot has happened in the last seven years. Grassroots are much more influential because of small dollar donations and the easy ability to communicate via the web. But there is always the remaining temptation for the party to go back and the Clintocrats are doing everything they can to take us there. We do still need the gadfly.

At the same time, the Naderite approach is deadly. What is fascinating is the criticism I've been seeing from the Nader folks, the Clintocrats, and the Republicans all making fun of, dismissing, and rolling their eyes at the hopefulness coming out of the Obama supporters. As someone who was picked on mercilessly as a young nerd, it is very, very familiar. Anyone who gets excited about something, who is not cool and cynical, gets the "that's so gay" label, and that is what we are seeing from all parts of the political spectrum.

I find it especially disturbing from the far left because it is the lack of hope from them that has been the movement's undoing. There is so much to be angry about in this world, so many affronts to morality and humanity that go on behind the scenes and indeed in broad daylight. The resulting anger ought to fuel a drive to better the world. But you cannot live a life angry, and this is what the left all too often tries to do. I think back to Valentines' Day a few years back when some very well meaning students on campus handed out pink fliers in front of the student union detailing the evils of blood diamonds and child labor harvesting cocoa beans for chocolate. Yes, these are problems that we need to be aware of, but do you think that most people will be sympathetic when you are telling them that the act that they undertook out of care for their beloved is evil? The knee-jerk tsk-tsk-ing of everyone who is not every bit in line, the holier-than-thou attitude will lead us nowhere. The perfect is indeed the enemy of the good.

It is a long slow process and we need to make real progress and that involves sacrifice. To willingly face that, we need to go in with an affirmative picture of a better life, we need to have a positive sense of how the world could be, we need hope. It is hope and not resentment that really will set the stage for making the world a better place. It is not sufficient, but it is necessary. And to hear this necessity ridiculed is beyond sad.

The strawman that gets trotted out is that there is empty rhetoric fooling people into thinking that the Messiah has arrived. It is a strawman. No one thinks that Obama is a savior. But he is someone who holds the promise of changing things to put them on the right track. Stages need to be set before any progress can be made. We can whine and complain about all that needs to be done, but unless the set-up work is done, no change can happen. It will be a long slow process, and what we need is someone who can motivate those of us who have to pitch in and help with the excited desire to do what has to be done. And motivation is not cool, it is passionate and it's ok to be passionate and to have hope. It does not mean your eyes are closed to the real world problems, to the many compromises that will have to be made along the way, to the evils we are opposing, to the hardship that will be encountered, but it means that one is in a better place to deal with them. Without hope, the endeavor will fail. It saddens me to see those who want the change to disparage someone who is doing something that is needed to make that very change.

Driving a car takes hands and feet. The feet push the pedal and that's what revs the engine. That's Obama's hope. But the hands control the steering wheel, and that is where Nader's work keeps us on the straight and narrow. Without either one, the car is in trouble.

Cross-posted at Philosophers' Playground

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