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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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The architects of our foreign-policy disasters would prefer we simply forget the past.

OUR (FORMER) ARAB FRIENDS

Tacoma, Wash.

Charles Glass does a masterful job of refuting Bernard Lewis's prejudices ["Lewis of Arabia," Sept. 13]. Glass tells us, "In 1957 the United States...was more popular in the Arab world than it is today." I know: I was there. We were not only popular; Arabs were crazy about us. At a dinner party someone might quote a line from our Constitution or Declaration of Independence. The boys in my high school knew more US history than the kids I had left behind in California--moreover, they cared about it. In their eyes, America had never been a colonial power, had been a colony itself, had thrown off the master and gone off to prosper like no one in history. They wanted to be like us. Even the little matter of Israel was something the wise Americans would settle to everyone's satisfaction. Some of my classmates were named Woodrow or Wilson in honor of an American President who had argued, in vain, at Versailles for Arab independence. America never had to beg, buy or fight for friendship. We had it--had it, ignored it, abused it and lost it.

I applaud Glass for calling Lewis on his complaint that "only the cities of Israel and Turkey are on the international concert circuit." Doesn't Lewis ever visit Arab nations? In Beirut in the 1950s we enjoyed visits by the New York Philharmonic, La Scala opera and the Bulgarian Folk Ensemble (which we could not have heard in the States). How many Nation readers know that there was an international film festival attended by thousands in Ramallah this past summer, that there was a Jerusalem festival that brought thousands to hear Palestinian and foreign artists in August, that there is a Palestinian National Orchestra? There are problems when string players from Bethlehem or the tympanist from Nablus are held up at checkpoints, but they do their best. Glass mentions the efforts of Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said to establish opportunities for talented young musicians from Palestine and Israel to perform together. A friend in Ramallah attended a concert by young musicians from this group in Amman, and another friend sent a copy of the program of Al Fawanees, a musical with lyrics by the late poet Ghassan Kanafani, music by composer Suhail Khoury, performed by some sixty young Palestinians in Jerusalem in August. Should Lewis make another visit to the Middle East, including Arab lands?

BERNICE L. YOUTZ



NADER: NOBODY'S 'IDIOT'

Eric Alterman hit the proverbial hornet's nest with his October 4 "Liberal Media" column on Ralph Nader, titled "Bush's Useful Idiot." Huge numbers of Nader's supporters--calling the column everything from "spittle-flecked spew" to a "guilt-tripping," "vicious,""seething dismissal of Nader"--wrote to defend him. Some readers called Alterman's column "excellent,""passionate" and a good job. Below, the Nader/Camejo campaign replies to Alterman.   --The Editors

Washington, DC

Eric Alterman's rabid depiction of Ralph Nader, calling him a "brazen liar," stoops to new lows, even for Alterman. If he left Manhattan once in a while, perhaps he would be able to distinguish the facts from the Democratic Party propaganda he dutifully recycles.

Alterman repeats the Democrats' Big Lie that the Nader/Camejo campaign is funded by the Republican Party. The Center for Responsive Politics reviewed our funding and found that only 4 percent of our major donors had also given to any Republican. These fifty-one people, many of whom Ralph knows personally from working on various issues together, gave a total of $53,000 to the Nader/Camejo campaign, but from these same fifty-one donors $66,000 was given to the Democrats!

If the overlap in donors between the Republicans and the Democrats were ever examined, there would be millions in donations from the same sources cross-giving to the political duopoly to hedge their bets and protect their influence. To suggest that because a few identifiable donors are Republican, the Nader campaign is somehow accepting funds from Republicans out of desperation, or that it should be monitoring each contribution with a political litmus test, is laughable. When Democrats and Republicans start rejecting contributions because a donor may have ever given to another party's candidate or political committee, then we will follow suit!

Alterman also points to the Republicans' gathering signatures for Nader's ballot access in Michigan, but he fails to tell the whole story: We seek the Reform Party's line in Michigan, and this requires no signatures. The campaign is still litigating to get that line, and we do not control what the Republicans do. Moreover, if the Republicans were so amenable to putting us on the ballot, why are we not on the ballot in battleground states like Oregon, Missouri and Arizona? We have told both parties repeatedly, publicly and loudly to get out of our way and stop entangling our campaign with their schemes.

Ignoring all this, Alterman desperately tries to shore up his "evidence" by citing the campaign's use of a Republican lawyer in Florida. Gasp! What is his point? What Alterman leaves out is that the Nader/Camejo campaign has been in dozens of legal proceedings in some twenty states, compliments of the dictatorial, desperate tactics of the Democratic Party to deny voters the option of voting for Nader/Camejo. These harassing, phony and antidemocratic lawsuits have resulted in the need for dozens of lawyers of all political stripes. We have had Libertarian, Green, Independent, Republican and even Democrat lawyers. The Republican in Florida was paid, not pro bono. And we tried first, and often, to get the national and Florida ACLU to help us out, to no avail. But how would Alterman know, when he relies on inaccurate 527 group propaganda pieces or news clips rather than calling us or attending (or watching on CSPAN) our press conference, where we cited all this?

In the past four years it has become clear that Republicans will purge the voter rolls but Democrats will just move upstream to purge the ballot. Either way, voters suffer and the two parties, which collectively control the state machinery and the legislative requirements, may subject third parties and Independent candidacies of any strength to abuse because of a winner-take-all, anticompetitive, rigged election system.

Alterman then goes on to ignore, simply because it fits his narrative screed, the many contributions Ralph made to the embryonic Green Party, on whose behalf he did more than forty-five fundraisers in thirty states after the 2000 election. Indeed, many Greens credit Ralph with doing the most to grow the Green Party in the United States.

In the end, Alterman is reduced to begging for ideas to muster support for his distorted logic: "What in God's name," he asks, "will convince Nader's remaining supporters to abandon his lemminglike march?"

Isn't the answer obvious, Eric? How about a candidate who is not on the corporate dole; who wants a rapid, responsible withdrawal from Iraq; who will put forward a plan for healthcare for all now; who will advocate for a wage workers and their families can live on; and who will support the peace movement in Israel and Palestine rather than try to out-Sharon George W. Bush (see votenader.org for much more).

Nader/Camejo supporters know what their vote means. They have not surrendered, like those who have abandoned their progressive agenda to make no demands on a prowar, pro-Patriot Act, pro-WTO candidate. And they are not willing to hold their nose, to give their votes away to a candidate who disagrees with them on the issues they care most about.

THERESA AMATO
Campaign manager, Nader/Camejo 2004


ALTERMAN REPLIES

Seattle

Theresa Amato's screed begins with personal invective and descends from there. I can't imagine that anything she has asserted will change the mind of a single sensible person. Her nasty innuendo to the contrary, all the following points remain unarguable.

§ In 2000, Ralph Nader raised money from progressive supporters with a promise not to campaign in battleground states, and yet he did.

§ In 2000 Ralph Nader campaigned on a platform of opening up American politics through progressive party building, though the combined support he received from African-American organizations, Hispanic organizations, gay and lesbian organizations, women's organizations, environmental organizations, arms-control organizations and progressive Jewish organizations added up to roughly zero. This time, he has lost the excuse of party-building--unless that means building up the nativist Reform Party, previously enamored of Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan--and earned the active enmity of those whose interests he arrogantly professes to represent.

§ In 2000 Nader idiotically insisted that there was not "a dime's worth of difference" between Bush and Gore. I suppose it was possible to be that stupid four years ago, but would he really argue today that Gore would have invaded Iraq for no reason, appointed a radical Christian fundamentalist to oversee the nation's legal system, plundered the Treasury on behalf of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and opened up America's natural resources to ruinous exploitation by the oil and gas industries? If that's a "dime" then the multimillionaire Ralph Nader hasn't seen one for an awfully long time.

I can't say for certain--and neither can Amato--how many of Nader's significant funders are in his camp because they correctly view his nihilistic campaign as a second front for Republican Panzer divisions. Thenaderfactor.com has released a report that documents not only Nader's hiring of Bush supporters to argue its case in Florida and Arizona but also what it terms "a disturbing pattern of Bush supporters providing organized assistance to the struggling campaign of Ralph Nader, almost entirely in key 'battleground' states, including AZ, CO, FL, IA, NV, NH, NM, MI, OH, OR, VA, WV, and WI" (for the full report: www.thenaderfactor.com/press/072304/). Many such Republicans have also been quoted about their intentions in both local and national media.

Common sense, moreover, dictates that Republicans would not pass up the opportunity Nader's campaign offers them. If it were not for his 2000 campaign, Al Gore would have trounced George Bush in Florida and elsewhere, preventing the Supreme Court intervention that threw the election to Bush. Nearly all Nader's high-profile supporters have come to see the error of their ways in helping to doom the nation and the world to suffering the effects of what is arguably the most malignant presidency in US history. And yet Nader not only refuses to recognize his role in this horror, he wants to star in the rerun. Such malevolent megalomania boggles the mind.

And as for Amato's anti-Manhattanite crack, though I do not endorse candidates, I've traveled nearly 20,000 miles in the past two months on a speaking tour to six swing states in the hopes of undoing some of the damage done to our election discourse by lies of Ralph Nader. And unlike Ralph, I haven't taken a dime from Republicans for my troubles.

ERIC ALTERMAN

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