Public Comment

Commentary: Blame Bipartisan Collusion, Not Nader, for Hard Times Ahead

By Harry S. Pariser
Tuesday March 18, 2008

Becky O’Malley’s savaging of Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez (Editorial, March 10) is singularly unfair. Pollit’s editorial hit piece, which O’Malley cites, explicitly states that “Ralph Nader has a perfect right to run for president.”  

Then Pollit trots out the silly old canard about Nader costing Gore the election (in Florida) while neglecting to note that the Democrats have done absolutely nothing legislatively about abolishing the Electoral College, an anti-democratic instutution which reflects the most profound contempt for the American voter. This is probably because they believe that it may work in their favor in some future election. Gore lost in 2000 because he stood for little or nothing and ran a lousy campaign. He could not even carry his home state of Tennessee, and plenty of Dems voted for Bush. I might point out that Joe Lieberman, whom O’Malley accurately describes as both “smarmy and odious,” was Gore’s running mate. The Kerry campaign put out feelers to get McCain to join them as his 2004 running mate, and Lieberman is currently shortlisted for the McCain ticket’s VP spot. “Smarmy and odious” Lieberman is a former Democrat and his voting overall record is not that different from Clinton’s or Obama’s. Clinton voted for NAFTA and pushed her husband to support the socially disastrous “Welfare to Work” program; Obama supports a unilateral strike on Pakistan’s Taliban; and all three presidential contenders parrot unconditional support for the military budget, Israel, and the continuation of the military quagmire in Afghanistan. None of them will be pulling all troops, including the private mercenaries, out of Iraq. All support the death penalty while claiming, at the same time, to be devout Christians. 

While it is true that Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, and other heinous acts were Republican initiatives, plenty of Democrats both voted for them and actively support these endeavors as well as other violations of civil liberties. The Dems are too cowardly to impeach Bush, and both Clintons and Kerry have acted to give the president the power to send troops to an (undeclared) war, which is a subversion of the powers of Congress and hardly a democratic stand. While many Democrats may be pro choice, a significant number are not, and Democrats allowed John Roberts and other anti choice ideologues to ascend to the Supreme Court. Diane Feinstein, our own Republican in Democratic clothing, was instrumental in allowing the nomination of the ultraconservative Mukasey for Attorney General to go forward. Kucinich called for the impeachment of both Bush and Cheney, but it went nowhere. Left unchallenged, the Bush precedent will be undoubtedly have a rerun in a future administration, complete with signing statements that unilaterally alter the meaning of legislation and another set of undeclared invasions. 

Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez are performing a public service by running. Despite that Pollit believes that they are “Green Party candidates,” they are actually running as Independents. (Pollit should get off her ideological high horse and get her facts correct). If they were to be included in any debates, which they will almost assuredly will not be, they would be able to raise issues and problems that the Tweedledee and Tweedledum will fail to mention, such as the Dark Horseman of fiscal collapse hanging over the United States (and the world). While O’Malley maintains Gonzalez’s points about Obama are “thin at best,” she fails to substantiate this claim. Why is it that people can’t understand that having an African father and holding rather conservative positions does not somehow make you a “liberal” in the classic sense of someone who is antiwar, for reducing the military budget, and supporting social justice. Gonzalez intends to tour college campuses and educate the younger generation about ranked choice voting. As anyone who has seen the superb documentary “An Unreasonable Man” knows, Ralph has plenty to do to say that is relevant. And this is a great way for his voice (and that of Gonzalez) to be heard. 

A late entrant to the race who quickly gained momentum, Gonzalez lost the 2003 race to Gavin because the Democrats pulled out all the stops to defeat him. They poured money into Newsom’s campaign and brought in Gore and Slick Willie Clinton to stump, and Gavin was able to tap his anti-homeless PACs for funds and logistical support. For reasons unfathomable to many San Franciscans, the ineffective Gavin Newsom, a recovering alcoholic who slept with his campaign manager’s wife, remains quite popular with those who bother to go to the voting booth. None of the probable candidates believed they could defeat him in 2007. We had a good alternative, Quintin Miecke, but voters failed to rally behind him. 

As long as the United States is a society of inactive couch potatoes, so accurately described in Thomas Frank’s What’s The Matter With Kansas?, nothing will change. We all need to get on the phone more to our legislators, show up at demonstrations, write letters, and send e-mails. In Electoral College-insulated states like California, a vote for candidates such as Nader indicates that there is a constituency for change. Otherwise, nothing will happen. The “liberal” branch of the Democrats have nowhere else to go, and the party establishment will continue to target the more conservative voters. Budget deficits and Wall Street corruption and ineptitude mean that hard times are ahead, but we have to lay the blame for our current situation on bipartisan collusion. 

Most people do not vote because the candidates do not appeal. For all his emphasis on poverty, John Edwards is a multimillionaire trial lawyer who only recently discovered what it means to be poverty stricken in America. His way to “learn” more about it was to work for a hedge fund. Matt, on the other hand, is a guy you might run into in Adobe Books on 16th Street; he recently had an art opening of his collages made from found materials. He’s a genuine person, a logical thinker, and possibly the best debater ever to be a supervisor. That’s why he attracted such support and enthusiasm for his candidacy the last time around. Let’s hope Matt can bring some of this to the national arena. It is sorely needed. 


Harry S. Pariser is a Berkeley resident.