Enron? Nader Is Glad You Asked
For all of his current Green trappings, Nader still pours enormous energy into the thankless work of "inserting a spine into the Democratic Party." Rare is the conversation in which Nader does not settle into a fierce rant about his disappointment with a party that no longer seems capable of mustering the righteous indignation he remembers coming from its previous generations; his comments are peppered with references to former California Congressman John Moss, former Oregon Senator Wayne Morse and other now-gone legislators. "If Democrats were saying the kinds of things that we are saying about Enron, this scandal would be blowing wide open," he says. "But they are not saying much, are they? That's how bad it's gotten: They cannot even seize an issue like Enron."
Nader's fury with the Democrats can bring out his poetic side: "They have decided to risk losing through cowardliness, rather than to risk winning through valor." But it can also get the best of him. The weakest sections of Crashing the Party recount, often at great length, the slights Nader and his campaign suffered at the hands of Democrats and progressives he once worked with: folks like Representative John Conyers Jr., onetime "Nader Raider" Toby Moffett and Gloria Steinem. In a book that is thick with engaging anecdotes and optimistic outlines for a renewal of citizenship, these pages read bitter. "I wanted to show how totally inflexible most of the Democrats in Washington are, and how they haven't learned a single lesson," says Nader. "There are exceptions, like Dennis Kucinich and Cynthia McKinney and Jesse Jackson Jr. They're saying, 'Look, we're going to lose more voters if we don't change course and adopt a more progressive agenda.' But they're not getting anywhere, nowhere at all." He adds, "The corporate Democratic grip of the Democratic Leadership Council is absolutely ironclad."
Nader criticizes the Democrats for allowing the Bush Administration a free hand not just on military issues but on domestic matters since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Republicans, he says, have treated the war as "manna from Heaven, a perfect excuse for drilling in the Alaskan wilderness, tort deform, fast track, corporate welfare," while Democrats like Senate majority leader Tom Daschle have looked at Bush's high poll numbers and decided to give him whatever he wants. Says Nader, "Bush has used the war to advance a domestic policy that is all about increasing the strength of the commercial militarists, the autocratic ideologues and the corporate greedhounds. He has attacked our civil liberties. For this, he is praised by Democrats? It's amazing."
In Nader's view, if Democrats fail to challenge Bush aggressively, not just on Enron but on a host of issues in coming months, they could destroy the party's prospects for years to come--guaranteeing the loss of the Senate and the House this fall and the presidency in 2004.
The only prominent Democrat who Nader seems to believe offers the party any chance for redemption is Russ Feingold, the maverick senator from Wisconsin who cast a lonely vote against the Bush Administration's antiterrorism legislation. Feingold is a rare Democrat who consistently says things like, "Ralph Nader is talking about issues Democrats should be talking about." But the mutual admiration goes only so far. Nader rejects the idea of backing a Feingold run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. "I'll say a lot of good things about him, but we're not trying to build the same party," he says.
For now, Nader says, he is determined to beef up the Greens. "The failure of the Democrats to fight Bush on most of the major issues has created a vacuum that can be filled by a party that is willing to take a stand. And the Greens have taken a stand in their positions--on civil liberties, on the bombing of Afghanistan," says Nader, the party's 1996 and 2000 presidential nominee. "Greens have been calling on senators who took Enron money to recuse themselves from the investigation. Do you think Democrats would ever do that?"