Nader: Is There Life After Crucifixion?
What might make the task even harder is that Nader hopes his Green Party will be more than a political organization obsessed with elections. In his grand scheme, the party would join with citizens' movements across the nation to wage local battles untouched by the Democratic and Republican parties. An example: In Florida popular outrage has been sparked by the state's decision--prompted by agribusiness--to cut down orange and grapefruit trees on the property of private residences to battle a citrus canker that affects only the appearance of the fruit. Neither major party has gotten behind the citizens' uprising that ensued. Nader believes that fights like this one provide openings for a Green Party concerned with activism beyond elections. Nader also wants to establish Green chapters on campuses and Green Party storefronts in poor areas--"advice centers"--that would help people qualify for Medicaid and other federal programs. At the same time, Nader wants the party to develop an "or-else relationship" with Democrats on Capitol Hill. This is how it might work: The party would zero in on twenty or so lawmakers--including Democrats--who it calculates might be vulnerable to electoral pressure from the Greens, and, depending on whether or not these legislators adopt Green-friendly positions, the Greens would decide whether or not to challenge them in 2002. (Such a get-tough strategy will require plenty of planning and commitment, for it will likely prompt further assaults from progressives--environmentalists, union officials, abortion rights activists, civil rights leaders--still working with the Democrats.) Through a People's Debate Commission, Nader will continue his campaign against the corporate-funded Commission on Presidential Debates, which froze out all third-party candidates in this year's debates.
And the money for all this? The 75,000 contributors who helped him raise $7 million in donations of $100 or less will be called upon to finance these new Nader-Green groups. But that won't be enough, he admits. He hopes to continue holding "superrallies," which during the campaign attracted tens of thousands of people willing to pay to hear Nader offer his anticorporate/anti-two-parties critique.
Is it possible that Nader's long-term mission of fostering an anticorporate and progressive party will be overwhelmed by noise about Nader-the-Spoiler and undermined by the attacks from prominent progressives? "No," he declares. He dismisses his left-of-center critics as "low-expectation, frightened liberals. Across the country, in airports and elsewhere, people are saying, 'Great job, thank you.' The citizen-bureaucrats in Washington have been here too long, and they've gotten too cushy with the Democrats. Bush got twelve times the Democrats I did in Florida. That's the problem." Asked about Sweeney, he shows his irritation: "Here's the Democratic Party, which can't win without organized labor, and it gives organized labor none of the programs and principles organized labor needs to grow. Instead, it gives them NAFTA, the China trade legislation and no mention of revising the antilabor Taft-Hartley Act. Yet here's a guy"--he's referring to himself--"who fought for OSHA and is way ahead on other policies for organized labor, and his campaign is 'reprehensible'? This can only fill one with pity. They're on their knees, begging Gore and the DLC for crumbs. It's pathos."
Nader does not seem worried about being perceived as a rogue or enemy by leaders of progressive groups. "Now people are saying we better not come to [public interest] coalition meetings," Nader says. "Well, they"--the Washington establishment--"shut out progressive civil society a long time ago." And Nader says he doesn't give a damn about breaking ties with once-sympathetic Democratic legislators. "The ties haven't been there. They said no to us on NAFTA, WTO, the telecom bill, the merger craze, trade with China, auto safety, stronger food-standard inspections, campaign finance reform, universal healthcare. After a while, you get the idea."
Persuasion-lobbying is out for Nader; blunt electoral realpolitik is what matters. "We still have a long ways to go. But the first step in regaining power is to realize you've lost power." Nader's Green Party run has confirmed his view that resurrection awaits only those progressives who recognize this harsh reality, give up on the Democrats and act accordingly.