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Challenging the Big Buck

by fwd Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2001 at 11:10 AM

Challenging the Big Buck

Published on Monday, April 16, 2001 in the Guardian of London

Challenging the Big Buck

Nader Was Right to Make a Stand Against the Corporate Domination of

Politics, Even if It Did Let Bush Win

by Gary Younge

As George Bush plays chicken with the Chinese and fast and loose

with the environment, it is time for the left to play truth or

consequence with Ralph Nader. The Green party presidential

candidate stood against the two main parties, arguing that there

was no difference between them and that America needed an

alternative. America ended up with what looks like being the most

rightwing president since before the war.

Bush didn't win the election, he won a court case. But, with the

slenderest of endorsements, he promises to inflict severe damage.

In Congress, many Republicans are beginning to think he is beyond

the pale. Even Uncle Sam's faithful poodle, the British

government, is yapping at his heels. Some in the cabinet are

calling on Tony Blair to put the special relationship "into deep

freeze". John Prescott flies to New York today to try to persuade

Bush to change his mind about scrapping the Kyoto agreement on

controlling greenhouse gases.

So first, some truth. There is a difference between Bush and his

Democratic challenger, Al Gore. For Nader to have claimed

otherwise during his campaign was disingenuous and opportunistic.

We do not know what Gore would have done by this stage had he

won, but we can be quite sure it would not have been this. His

first decision as president would not have been to deny aid to

non-governmental organisations that support abortion overseas

through surgery, counselling or lobbying. Nor would Gore have put

forward a budget planning to eliminate 9m in grants to help

public housing authorities get rid of drug dealers or a programme

to preserve wetlands so that he could give trillions to the

wealthy. And least of all would he have turned his back on the

Kyoto accord.

Now, for a consequence. If Nader had not stood, then Gore would

be president. This is as close to a political fact as a statistic

dares to be. True, polls showed that one-third of those who voted

for Nader would otherwise not have voted at all. But it is also

true that more than half of Nader's supporters would have voted

for Gore, delivering him majorities in both Florida and New

Hampshire and winning him the electoral college.

For the left not to acknowledge this is spineless. If it wants to

be taken seriously it must first take itself seriously. Nader

stood to make a difference and he succeeded. In politics, as in

life, a sign of maturity is accepting responsibility for your

actions. Moreover, only once those points have been conceded is

it possible to mount a credible defence of Nader's candidacy.

Because Nader not only had a right to stand but was right to

stand. The problem with George Bush is not that he is a vicious

rightwing ideologue - the man can barely tie his shoelaces - it

is that he is the paid representative of corporate America.

It is no good challenging Bush without challenging the system

that produced him - a system in which big money, not ideas,

selects the candidates and then backs both sides to make sure it

picks the winner. Since Gore and the Democrats were not only

complicit in that system but abused it to their own ends while in

office, they were incapable of taking on that task even if they

had wanted to. It took an outsider. Nader alone provided a

meaningful choice in what is rapidly becoming a

multimillion-dollar, corporate-sponsored charade, masquerading as


Nader was right not because there was no difference between the

two main parties but because there was insufficient difference.

The Democrats' pitch to potential Nader supporters was: "At least

we're not Republicans." The 2.7m people who voted for Nader felt

they wanted more from democracy than that.

Democrats love to blame Nader for Bush. Their logic is sloppy.

Democrats deny a myriad of other far more compelling or equally

tenuous factors that put Bush in the White House. They ignore the

fact that, after two terms in office, they could not win

Clinton's or Gore's home states. They deny that the situation was

so close in Florida that any candidate who stood, including the

Natural Law Party, could reasonably claim to have made the

decisive difference.

One could as well blame Theresa LePore, the election supervisor

who botched the ballot papers, or Katherine Harris, the

Republican secretary of state in Florida who obstructed the

recounts. In such a tight race, Nader was a factor not the

factor. Under such circumstances, to fixate on him as the

principal reason for Gore's defeat is perverse.

The charge also reveals astonishing political arrogance. It

suggests that the Democrats have a right to the left vote

regardless of what they say and do. Clinton can withdraw welfare

benefits from the poor, promote a free-trade agreement (Nafta)

that sells jobs to the lowest wages and weakest unions in the

continent, broker global trade deals that hammer the poor or

starve Iraqi children and still expect liberals to turn out for

his successor.

Democrats scream betrayal without realising that before there is

betrayal there must first be friendship and trust. They demand

loyalty, but show none in return. Having spent a decade

distancing themselves from the left, they express shock that the

left might choose to respect that distance and go it alone.

None the less, the question of whether a principled stand against

big money is best served by the practical outcome of a Bush

presidency remains pertinent. The answer may change as his term

progresses. For the time being, on balance, it was. For evidence

look no further than Kyoto. Bush's decision to renege on the

treaty is a vicious attack on the environment. But Clinton's

record was not much better. He signed up to Kyoto, but he did not

honour it. The US, by far the world's largest polluter, promised

to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 7% from 1990 levels by 2012.

Instead, emissions rose by more than 10% on 1990 levels by 2000.

It was thanks to Clinton's administration that last year's

climate talks in the Hague collapsed. The problem was not only

that he could not get the legislation through a Republican

Congress, it was that he dared not take on the might of the oil

and gas companies. They gave Republican candidates m last

year; but they gave Democrats, including Gore, m. Bush may be

in hock to them, but Clinton was in awe of them.

But much also depends on what Nader does now. The corporate

domination of American politics cannot be undermined once every

four years at election time or on television-panel discussions

and the lecture circuit. The truth is that it will take not just

a party but a movement, joining together the disparate voices of

labour unions, tree huggers and pressure groups that made

themselves heard at Seattle, to make complete sense of his

candidacy. Having made a difference at the polls, he must now

make a difference in civil society. Only then will it be clear

that the consequence of Nader's candidacy was not to derail the

Democrats, but to restore democracy.

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