INSTEAD OF BLAMING NADER, DEMOCRATS SHOULD HEED HIM
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The first 100 days of the George W. Bushadministratio= n have certainly been no surprise, unless you actuallybelieved all that "co= mpassionate conservative" nonsense that he wasspouting on the campaign trai= l.
Edwin J. Feuher, president of the Heritage Foundation, theright-wing's <= i>uber think tank, has called Bush's administration "moreReaganite than= the Reagan administration." Certainly in the areas of bigtax cuts for the = rich, more money for the military, weakened environmentaland worker safety = regulations and cuts to social welfare spending, Bush hasa lot in common wi= th Ronald Reagan.
And what are the Democrats doing? Blaming Ralph Nader, of course.It's al= l his fault that Bush got elected, they say. But the central thesisof Nader= 's candidacy -- that there is no substantive difference between theGOP and = the Democrats and both are beholden to the same corporate specialinterests = -- hasn't changed any.
The Democrats could have challenged any of Bush's cabinet appointees. In= stead they approved them all. They could've stopped Bush's efforts to repea= l rules aimed at preventing repetitive stress injuries. Six Democratic sena= tors voted for that bill.
They could've stopped the bankruptcy "reform" bill that will force over= -extended credit card holdersto pay back all their debts. Thirty-six Democr= ats in Senate put that billover. And instead of fighting about the wisdom o= f cutting taxes for therich instead creating a national health insurance pr= ogram, fixing ourcrumbling public infrastructure or insuring that Medicare = and SocialSecurity stay solvent, the Democrats have jumped on the tax cut b= andwagon, too.
Bill Clinton approved cutting welfare for the poor, championed theNorth = American Free Trade Agreement, expanded the death penalty andgenerally gove= rned as a moderate Republican. By co-opting the conservativeissues while pa= ying lip service to the left-of-center core of his party, heall but assured= the death of the Democrats.
But it's easier for Democrats to blame Nader than to face thereality tha= t their own ineptitude and spinelessness are to blame forputting Bush in th= e White House.
Yes, the Kyoto protocol on global warming wouldn't have be= enrepudiated if Al Gore was president. But you didn't see the Clintonadmini= stration going all out to meet its standards. Gore might have pickedslightl= y less odious people to the cabinet than John Ashcroft, Gail Nortonand Dona= ld Rumsfeld and he would not be pushing for a big tax cut for therich. But = we still would have gotten another four years of Republicanpolicy, only in = a kinder, gentler form. Clintonism without Bill.
That's why 2.7 million p= eople cast their votes for Nader. Many werepeople who weren't going to vote= for either Gore or Bush, or not vote atall, until Nader provided an outlet= for those who wanted an alternative tocorporate politics as usual.
Gore and the Democrats could have benefited from adopting some of Nader'= s platform. Universal health care, a smaller defense budget, greater enviro= nmental protections, reining in the free market and creating an economy tha= t's less rapacious are all issues that resonate with manyAmericans. But the= y are all issues that have been avoided by the party.Without strong princip= les and ideas, the Democrats will never come backinto power.
Nader has said the Green vote will become to the Democrats what the Chri= stian Coalition and the National Rifle Association is to the Republicans --= the critical part of the party base without whom victory is impossible. De= mocrats have taken the left for granted for years, because they knew they h= ad no other place to go -- until Nader and the Greens came along.
The 2002 elections aren't that far away. The Democrats could easily win = back control of the House and Senate, particularly if the economy goes sour= or if voters get sick of Bush's conservatism without compassion. If the Gr= eens get organized and if the Democrats wise up and see them as allies inst= ead of enemies, the GOP would have its hands full in 2002.
The conservatism of the Democratic Leadership Council -- embodied by Bil= l Clinton, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman -- has resulted in the Democrats going= from majority to minority status in every level of politics in a little mo= re than a decade. As Harry Truman used to like to say, give people a choice= between a Republican and a Republican, and they'll choose the Republican e= very time.
Maybe that's why some of the real progressive Democrats in Congress such= as Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia ha= ve said that Nader ultimately helped the Democratic cause by attracting non= -traditional people to the political process -- folks who saw through the D= LC jive of Clinton and Gore and wouldn't have voted at all in 2000 until Na= der got in the race. The lefties that cast votes for Nader also helped get = Maria Cantwell of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan elected to the= U.S. Senate and give Democrats a 50-50 split. Several other progressive De= mocrats won U.S. House seats thanks to theNader bounce.
That's why House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is still talking to N= ader. Gephardt recognized that no one last year was paying $10 or $20 to he= ar Al Gore speak. But Nader packed arenas around the country with young peo= ple who wanted to hear something rare in American political life -- someone= who told the truth.
The smart people in politics know that Nader was not running for preside= nt to kill the Democratic Party. He was running to help revive democracy in= America. If Democrats want to blame Nader for George W. Bush's presidency = and shun the man who has done more for civil society and any man alive in t= he past 40 years, they do so at their own peril.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 = years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).