Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nader to Dems: Don't 'Scape Me, Bro!

Ralph Nader is pissed that Democrats are still pissed at him.

He said voters have allowed government to become overrun by corporate interests with no competing force to pull it in the other direction.

“If you don’t have a breaking point, you have no moral imperative in your attitude and that’s the one question they hate to be asked,” he said. “They have eternity working for them because forever there will be a least-worst party between the Democrats and the Republicans.”

I'm (partially) with Nader on this. If you take the angry Democratic logic to its extreme, this country will never have more than two dominant political parties. There will always be a "close election" that demands not "splitting" the vote. (Case in point: 2008 will be the third consecutive "close" election demanding party unity.)

And yet...sigh.
Mr. Nader called presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama a "waffler" who has abandoned principle to try to win. He added that the senator from Illinois offers little different from his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Prodded by The Times as to whether things would improve under a Democratic president, Mr. Nader stood firm.
Democrats aren't just angry at Nader for blowing the 2000 election (which is as much Al Gore's fault as anyone's). They're angry over his artless, tactically tone-deaf approach to politics.

Let's be honest: on one level, Nader's dead right. Obama's doled out some heavy panders to the coal industry and AIPAC, among others. But on another level, this is what politicians do. They dissemble. They suppress their real feelings and opinions on an issue if they feel the time isn't right to press for real change.

In reading Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che Guevara, I've been surprised how even Fidel Castro, up until the moment he consolidated power, toed a moderate line to hold together his fragile alliances with other anti-Batista groups. Castro also disavowed any Communist connection for years - even as one of his top comandantes, Che Guevara, was writing Marxist epistles - in order to keep the United States confused and sidelined. (It worked: CIA and State found themselves at odds over whether to support one or more rebel groups, or back Batista until the bitter end.) He only became a fire-breathing demagogue after he'd tightened his military grip on the island and shut out his allies.

My point isn't that Obama is Castro. (Goddess forbid.) My point is that this is what you do in a democracy, where power is shared across legislatures and throughout branches of the government. Demagoguery is the language of dictatorship. In a democracy, you pick your battles. For those of us who dedicate ourselves more to the causes than the candidates, that's painful to watch. There's wisdom behind that old adage about laws and sausages.

The questions isn't whether Obama does or doesn't pander. The question is, what will he do in the long haul? For example, is "clean coal" a serious policy initiative - or a tactical feint to keep the coal industry happy while he presses for real change? What does he really mean by an "undivided Jerusalem"? Will he really fight to strip the FISA bill of the telecom immunity provision, after abandoning his previous promise to filibuster immunity outright? Are these panders enough reason to hand John McCain the privilege of stacking the Supreme Court with conservatives, building permanent bases in Iraq, and presiding over the continued desecration of the environment? Those are serious questions, undeserving of the flip attitude with which Nader bats them aside.

Nader's right about the "least-worst" mentality, and the ossification of our two-party system. It'd be wonderful to have some serious thinkers and politicians spend their credibility on third-party candidacies. Unfortunately for Nader, he's already squandered all of his.