July 19, 2004
Greg Bates, Ralph's Revolt: The Case for Joining Nader's Rebellion, Common Courage Press, ISBN 1-56751-316-6
(Swans - July 19, 2004) Although liberal attacks on Ralph Nader have been marked by a level of vituperation usually reserved for such as Slobodan Milosevic, Greg Bates's Ralph's Revolt is completely rancor-free by contrast. It is a calm, dispassionate "case for joining Nader's rebellion," as the subtitle puts it.
As founder and publisher of Common Courage Press, Greg Bates selects works that go against the grain of conventional thinking. They include Jeffrey St. Clair's "Been Brown So Long" (reviewed on Swans in March 2004) and numerous titles by Paul Farmer, the Harvard physician who has dedicated his life to helping AIDS patients in Haiti. On the Common Courage website, the mission statement refers to Farmer, who had invited Bates to a ceremony in Boston where Jean Bertrand Aristide was to give a speech. In explaining to Farmer why he publishes his books and those of other progressives, Bates says, "Some ask why we do this work. We ask a different question: How can we not?"
Throughout Ralph's Revolt, Bates likens Nader to Don Quixote, a somewhat unflattering comparison if you think solely in terms of tilting at windmills, etc. However, one must remember that Cervantes chose Quixote as a vehicle for his own unhappiness with the bourgeois transformation of Spain. If Don Quixote was a fool to romanticize Spain's feudal past, at least he had the wisdom to assert "There are only two families in the world, the Haves and the Have-nots," a phrase used by Bates as the epigraph for chapter nine of his book.
In that chapter, titled Appease the Bond Market: the Kerry Plan to Make the Rich Richer, Bates lays out in convincing detail how Kerry would reinstitute Clintonomics. As a "deficit hawk," Kerry promised to abandon earlier plans to expand college tuition subsidies and aid to state government in order to "help the higher priority of halving the federal deficit in four years." These announcements worried liberal supporters such as Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect who shrewdly observed that Kerry was running an election campaign on the basis of how Clinton governed, rather than the way that he ran for office. He worried that "No president ever got elected by promising to appease the bond market." Of course, it makes things a lot easier if you don't have a gadfly like Ralph Nader calling attention to this in televised debates.
While Paul Krugman advised his readers in the New York Times on July 9 that "John Kerry has proposed an ambitious health care plan that would extend coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, while reducing premiums for the insured," Bates reminds us that this does not include a provision for single payer insurance, the most cost efficient and effective means for insuring access to health care for all. Instead, tax-payer money will be showered on corporations to ease the cost of private insurance plans. The May 3rd Wall Street Journal quotes Kerry: "I would think American business would jump up and down and welcome what I am offering."
By contrast, votenader.org says: "The Nader Campaign supports a single-payer health care plan that replaces for-profit, investor-owned health care and removes the private health insurance industry (full Medicare for all)."
If Nader's campaign suggests elements of Don Quixote, then Bates sees George W. Bush in terms of another familiar literary figure from the same period. "The year 1605, or possibly 1606, saw the creation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. There are some parallels between this assassin and George W. Bush. The one murdered to become king, while the other stabbed democracy in the back by convincing his allies on the Supreme Court to anoint him. But, as with the Ralph Nader/Don Quixote comparison, it is the differences, not the similarities, that illustrate."
As tempting as it is to understand everything that's gone wrong with the USA in the past four years as the plot of an evil King (a trope that was also found in Barbara Garson's Macbird, a send-up of LBJ during the Vietnam war), the real problem is the lack of a hero to come to the rescue in the final act. While so many liberals (including Michael Moore) hope that the Democrats arrive on a white horse to rescue the American people, the truth is that the Democrats have been complicit in the right wing drive to make war abroad, deprive us of decent jobs and curtail civil liberties.
With respect to his ambitions, Bush is not qualitatively different from previous scary Republican Party presidents, from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan. What he has and what they lacked is control over the Congress and Judiciary, something that has not occurred since the 1950s. Furthermore, Bush benefits from having a supine Democratic legislative opposition that has voted for the Patriot Act, "No Child Left Behind," the invasion of Afghanistan, and many other Bush initiatives. If Bush represents some sort of fascist threat, it is remarkable that none of the leading Democrats, including Kerry, have seen fit to filibuster against his proposals.
Although Bates is not arguing in favor of backing Democratic Party candidates, he does put forward a convincing case for breaking Bush's stranglehold by backing Nader's presidential bid. Since Nader has a proven capacity for rousing left-leaning voters to go to the ballot box, it is entirely likely that they will vote for Democratic Party progressives on the Congressional line while simultaneously casting a vote for Nader. He writes, "Exit polls from 2000 show that Nader brought over one million voters to the ballot box who otherwise would have stayed home, and helped elect Democrats Maria Cantwell from Washington and Debbie Stabenow from Michigan to the Senate, as well as Bill Luther in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District." As convincing as this argument appears, we should not harbor any illusions that the liberal enemies of Ralph Nader would be swayed. Unfortunately, they would prefer that he just disappear.
Bates freely admits that his book does not discuss Nader's program in any depth and concentrates more on the debate among progressives about the merit of a third party strategy. He invites us to check out votenader.org for details on what Nader stands for. In addition, it would be important for Nader supporters to familiarize themselves with his newly published The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap.
(Although this article aspires to make the case for Nader rather than combating the ABB crowd, we would be remiss if we did not mention the amalgam made between Nader and Rupert Murdoch by salon.com which asks "why Nader's new book, which arrived in stores this week and kicks off his presidential campaign, is being published by Rupert Murdoch." In an age of increasing media monopolization, it seems virtually impossible to reach a mass audience unless you deal with a conglomerate such as HarperCollins. However, we should also keep in mind that Murdoch has no qualms about publishing a leftist as long as he or she can generate revenue. In 1977 Murdoch bought the liberal Village Voice, one of the leading ABB voices today. Back then Joe Conason, one of the leading Nader-bashers at salon.com, wrote for the Voice. Nobody would have questioned his integrity, would they? One supposes that as in so many instances involving Ralph Nader, the double standard is at play.)
In The Good Fight, Nader puts forward a profound analysis of how progressive change takes place. It is not based on enlightened leaders, but on the power of an aroused citizenry. It is too often forgotten that despite his reactionary character, more substantive reforms took place during Richard Nixon's presidency than under any Democrat succeeding him. Nader writes:
"Why did Richard Nixon sign all those historic bills in the late 1960s and early 1970s? Because he wanted to? Probably not. It was because he took notice of marches, rallies, teach-ins, confrontations with power, and agitation. Justice-seekers were on the offensive. That is a key lesson of history: Once those strivings for justice are thrown on the defensive, reacting to the agendas of the corporatists and reactionaries, expectation levels fall, self-confidence declines, and the whole balance of power shifts. That is what started to happen in the mid-1970s. When the organized oligarchs counterattacked, the rumble faded away. This was facilitated by Nixon ending the draft, the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of sheriffs hosing down and handcuffing nonviolent civil rights demonstrators. Those successes reflect the dilemma of liberalism. The more it succeeds, the more it takes the steam out of itself. This necessitates the emergence of new leaders and agendas to revive the rumble of democracy."
Although Nader has generally been represented as a populist, a movement that tended to efface class distinctions except between the "people" and "the rich," there are clear signs that he has insights into the problems of working people as a class. In the chapter titled "Increasing Burdens on the Working Class," Nader takes the side of those who Abraham Lincoln once referred to in the following terms: "The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds."
Nader begins by citing a Wall Street analyst who said in March 2004: "We'd thought that the labor share of national income was bottoming out, but whether we're talking outsourcing or just old-style downsizing, the effort by U.S. business to pare costs (and extract productivity gains in services) continues apace." The analyst was describing a process that began thirty years ago, when working people were making about the same wages they are making today -- adjusted for inflation. On average, American workers put in an average of two hundred hours more per year from 1973 to 2000 -- the equivalent of five full-time weeks. Increasingly, both husband and wife are forced to participate in the labor market while borrowing from credit cards or home equity loans just to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, the rich keep getting richer. CEOs at big corporations now make about 300 times more than the average worker they employ. In 1982, they made just 42 times as much; in 1965, 26 times as much. With Kerry's net worth in the billions and John Edwards's in the millions, it is doubtful that they will be in a position to challenge this ever-increasing disparity.
Unlike the DLC-backed candidates of recent years, Nader is not afraid to represent himself as an old-fashioned trade union advocate. He writes:
"Whether workers unionize makes a big difference in their compensation and treatment. The Economics Policy Institute reports that unionization provides a 28 percent wage premium to workers -- meaning the same person in the same job, on average, will earn 11.5 percent more if the job is unionized -- and a much larger edge in the area of benefits (more than 100 percent for insurance, nearly 200 percent for pensions)."
It is such an approach that distinguishes Nader from his rivals in the Democratic and Republican Parties. As companion pieces, Greg Bates's Ralph's Revolt and Nader's The Good Fight make the case for remaining independent of the two party system. Seen in broad historical terms, it is vitally important that the left orient to this campaign and help to get the word out.
Although Nader is not one to see his effort in ideological terms, it is a key element in shaking up the capitalist consensus in the United States which has operated on the basis of an electoral duopoly ever since the end of Reconstruction.
Nader's running-mate Peter Camejo has a good grasp of the historical context for electoral challenges such as Nader's 2000 Green Party run and his effort as an independent today (something forced upon him by Green Party capitulation to the Democratic Party.) In the Avocado Declaration, Camejo writes:
"Since the Civil War a peculiar two-party political system has dominated the United States. Prior to the Civil War a two-party system existed which reflected opposing economic platforms. Since the Civil War a shift occurred. A two-party system remained in place but no longer had differing economic orientation. Since the Civil War the two parties show differences in their image, role, social base and some policies but in the last analysis, they both support essentially similar economic platforms."
Fundamentally, the Nader-Camejo ticket in 2004 is a challenge to this system. Although some may view this effort as Quixotically foolish, others more rightfully understand it as Quixotic in the best sense.
"When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical may be madness. To surrender dreams, this may be madness. To seek treasures where there is only trash. . . Too much sanity may be madness, and maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be."
—Miguel De Cervantes
Greg Bates, Ralph's Revolt: The Case for Joining Nader's Rebellion, Common Courage Press, ISBN 1-56751-316-6
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