I have it on good authority that Ralph Nader has changed his name to Larry, glued on a false moustache and joined the French Foreign Legion… not out of fear that pissed-off African-American voters will find his skinny carcass and thump him for planting the Evil Shrub in the White House; Ralph just wants to get away from the absurd he-should-have-he-shouldn’t-have shouting match among Americas activists.
I voted Nader. So shoot me. Mea culpa. But it’s not snuffing Al Gores torch that’s given me this ill sensation in the pit of my stomach though let’s admit forthrightly that we did lubricate the election of Bush fils. My concern is that Ralph Nader lied to us.
Like every vote-hungry politician, Ralph made some very seductive campaign promises. Nader promised us that his was not a campaign to elect a President but to build a movement. The November 7 march to the polls would be just the first stop for a mass organization that would take on Corporate America and their indistinguishable vassals, the Democans and Republicrats.
But, even before the alligators ate the last ballot box in Florida, it was clear that Ralph had simply strolled away from his promise. The day after the meltdown of our democracy, I waited for Nader’s call to fill the streets of Miami to prevent the disenfranchisement of Black voters. Instead, Ralph shot off a couple nifty one-liners about Gore’s inability to beat a brain-cracked cowboy. Hey, Ralph, what’s so funny?
What did I expect? I was hoping for just a little Pat Robertson. Reverend Pat transformed his losing 1988 Presidential campaign into the Christian Coalition, a scary brown-shirt army of God’s enforcers. The Coalition can rally 10 million dues-paying zealots in 39 state chapters, a television network and the power to demand Republican candidates drink their own urine or perform any other tricks Pat may command. It was Robertson’s storm troopers who gave Baby George the Republican nomination by maligning his primary opponent, Senator John McCain, as the Anti-Christ in a pinstripe suit.
Nader could learn a great deal from the venomous cleric. Robertson once told me that God asked him to run for President just so he could build the mailing list (though why the Lord needed Pat’s help in locating his flock, the reverend could not say). Ralph, where’s our mailing list?
Unless Nader’s keeping it all a secret, there seems no plan for turning the protest vote into an active organization. Indeed, the campaign seemed to have no objective beyond the goofy goal of taking 5% of the vote to qualify Greens for future government funding. Now, with our sad little 3%, the Revolution won’t be subsidized.
Nader packed Madison Square Garden for his pre-election rally. So what? The real test is, will the Naderistas pack the Garden again for a post-election mobilization against the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services. Is such action even on the table?
What makes this all so sickeningly frustrating is that the only person in the USA with more street-fighting organizing skills than Pat Robertson is one Ralph Nader… Not the joker who ran for President, but the guy who, over 4 decades without a day off built 100 organizations, including, to take one, the California Citizens Utility Board. With its 46,000 members in San Diego alone, the CUB led a bill-payers boycott this year against the local electricity company, forcing the Governor of California to roll back de-regulation of the electricity system. Now that’s political power, the real thing, from the grass roots. If progressives ever tied these local actions to a national movement after all, Nader’s groups have more members than he had voters craven Third Way Democrats wouldn’t know whether to shit or go blind.
Well, I can dream, can’t I? In the meantime, I’m stuck in the Florida swamps with Thomas Jefferson’s appraisal, I fear for my country when I consider that God is just.
Gregory Palast writes the award-winning column, “Inside Corporate America” fortnightly in Britain’s Sunday newspaper, The Observer, part of the Guardian Media Group. For comments or request to reprint, contact www.gregpalast.com