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Bush's Useful Idiot | The Nation

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Bush's Useful Idiot

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Four years ago, Ralph Nader justified his third-party campaign on the grounds that the two parties represented nothing more than "Tweedledum and Tweedledee." As Americans die by the thousand in Iraq, the budget deficit explodes thanks to a tax cut targeting the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, the Justice Department demands women's private medical records from abortion clinics, and polluters are given carte blanche to despoil the earth and poison our children, the devastating evidence of Nader's myopia is everywhere around us.

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Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Recall also that four years ago, Nader professed to want to help build the Green Party into a genuinely progressive alternative to what he termed the corporate-dominated "duopoly." But Nader was no more truthful about his commitment to party-building than George W. Bush was when he decried "nation-building." Today, Nader's party allies consist mainly of the motley far-right collection of Republicans who fund his campaign and collect his signatures, and the remains of the nativist Reform Party, late of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign.

It's true that Nader once represented an important progressive voice in American politics; then again, so did Norman Podhoretz, David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens. While Nader continues to employ the same rhetoric as before, this speaks merely to his personal self-delusion and shameless demagoguery. He also appears to be a rather brazen liar. "We have not been accepting signatures obtained through organized Republican Party efforts in the three or four states where we have learned of such activity," he insisted in a September Washington Post op-ed. In fact, as the Detroit Free Press reported a day earlier, 45,000 of the 50,500 petition signatures submitted on Nader's behalf in Michigan were indeed submitted by Republicans. (Meanwhile, in Florida, Nader's ballot access lawyer is one Kenneth Sukhia, who just happened to represent Bush in that state's 2000 recount.)

While Nader, with characteristic obliviousness, refuses to accept any responsibility for the horrors of the Bush Administration, Ronnie Dugger, who presented Nader four years ago at the Green Party convention, admits, "We, the Nader people, certainly put Bush close enough electorally for the Supreme Court to seize the presidency for him." Giving up on talking sense to Nader personally, many of his big-name 2000 supporters have joined together to oppose his current candidacy. Among the seventy-four members of the "113-person Nader 2000 Citizens Committee" who've signed a statement urging support for Kerry/Edwards in all swing states this year are: Phil Donahue, Jim Hightower, Susan Sarandon, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Howard Zinn and Cornel West. Indeed, Nader is without a single high-profile supporter anywhere this time around. And he has added to his list of enemies what he terms the "liberal intelligentsia": those he defines as concerned with his issues but willing to accept "the least worst option."

Four years ago, writing in these pages about Nader's "nascent leftist movement," I pointed out that it enjoyed "virtually no support among African-Americans, Latinos or Asian-Americans. It has no support among organized feminist groups, organized gay rights groups or mainstream environmental groups. To top it all off, it has no support in the national union movement. So Nader and company are building a nonblack, non-Latino, non-Asian, nonfeminist, nonenvironmentalist, nongay, non-working people's left: Now that really would be quite an achievement." I could have added Jews, too.

Today Nader has managed to top even that accomplishment. This time he is actively hated by the leaders of the dispossessed to whom he professes his allegiance. On June 22, for instance, Nader met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in a session that ended with shouting, cursing and several members walking out in a state of fury. When it was over, Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee told CNN, "This is the most historic election of our lifetime, and it is a life-or-death matter for the vulnerable people we represent. For that reason, we can't sacrifice their vulnerability for the efforts being made by Mr. Nader."

Pragmatic concerns carried no weight in what was essentially a Leninist campaign in 2000, based as it was on Nader's belief that things needed to get much worse before they could begin to get better. When Nader claimed a Bush victory would help energize groups like the Sierra Club, its leader, Carl Pope, loudly told him, No thanks. When I debated Cornel West and Frances Fox Piven before a large audience at NYU, our introductions were preceded by a plea from graduate student union organizers to support their efforts to elicit decent pay and conditions. I tried to point out that those students who supported both Nader and the union might wish to concern themselves with the makeup of the presidentially appointed National Labor Relations Board. Well, in July of this year, the graduate students who stuck with Nader got what they apparently wanted. The Bush-controlled NLRB voted to reverse an earlier decision and deny all American graduate students the right to bargain collectively.

Despite all of this, as I write, Nader is actually polling higher than the 2.74 percent of Americans who provided the votes for his 2000 kamikaze mission--high enough to tip key swing states toward the single worst President in American history. What in God's name will convince Nader's remaining supporters to abandon his lemminglike march? It's hard to imagine what kind of logic will resonate with people who define themselves as leftists and yet remain unmoved by the sight of George Bush and Dick Cheney lying us into war, John Ashcroft attempting to criminalize dissent and Donald Rumsfeld rationalizing rape and torture.

If anyone has any ideas, let's hear them, please, and fast. In the meantime, can the media please stop assuming that this Republican-funded, nativist-supported and Bush/Cheney-enabling campaign is somehow deserving of the label "liberal"? Are our problems not large enough that we must also be saddled with the sins of our enemies?

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