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Ralph on Remote Nader Plays Pullman

Nader Plays Pullman

by ANTHONY GANCARSKI

People in Florida who voted for Nader still occasionally get "thanked" by Gore supporters for the War in Iraq. Such are the perils of supporting third-party candidates, though many Nader supporters in Florida and elsewhere insist that they chose correctly. That said, one wonders if the once and possibly future Presidential candidate provides much proof for that claim in the present tense.

On April 17, Ralph Nader spoke at the Beasley Coliseum on the campus of Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Turnout was exceptional for what was billed as an address on "Human Energy and Activism in the New Millenium"; the facility as configured had roughly 2000 seats, of which three-fourths were filled with the bodies of young college students. Nader was scheduled to go on at 7:30, but took the stage fashionably late.

What did Nader deliver? Well-worn homilies about Bush and Ashcroft destroying the country via the Patriot Act, "passed by a terrified Congress," according to Nader. The same lines, with the same pauses for applause, about the scripted impromptu banter in newscasts not serving the public interest. All of it said exactly as it was in 2000. Nader spoke to a room of 1500 people, most of whom wanted an alternative to the President and the seemingly interchangeable Democrats that never win political fights with the Administration and its puppets on the Republican side of the aisle. An hour into Nader’s speech, attendance was halved.

Seasoned observers of the political scene undoubtedly know why Nader lost his crowd. He played the space like it was a conference room, keeping his presentation almost militaristically spare. Upon taking the microphone, he asked that the lights be turned down, to minimize the interrogation-room glare. His dry monotone was no match for the sound of infants squalling in the audience. It seemed unthinkable that Nader would have to talk over a child while giving a speech.

What also seemed strange was a grinning man in a parka handing out double-sided photocopies extolling the virtues of Democratic Presidential would-be Howard Dean. Dean is a cynical piece of marketing, a small state governor dressed up as an electable radical. In the modern era, we’ve seen that motif in the guises of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, both better soundbites than Chief Executives. Fittingly, the only memorable thing about the Dean flyer was the already played-out line, "I’m from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

That’s not a line from a politician interested in genuine reform, but one interested in semantics. Like Jimmy Carter’s "I would never lie to you", or "It takes a village", the language is elegant wrapping paper for an inevitable sellout.

Because something’s got to be for sale at this point, with our budget deficit hovering at around $2 billion a day, and our politicians mortgaging our future on a series of aggressive wars against nations with under 30 million people. Our treasury hemorrhages money, our corporate ethics are on a par with those who have looted Baghdad, and no politician is willing to state the obvious.

Our nation is broke and the situation has no hope of improving. Ralph Nader, one of the smartest men in public life, should know this. But as he talked about universal health coverage, it was as if he’d forgotten that the US military has an alarmingly active role in Iraq for at least the next few years. That there is no end in sight in Afghanistan. It was as if he had forgotten that we are far closer to national bankruptcy than we are to ensuring that our national health is cared for.

Nader and some on the left would say that we should bring the troops home now. But anyone familiar with history knows that it’s not that easy to get out of foreign wars. We’ve yet to leave Korea, Japan, or Germany. It took the better part of a decade to get out of Vietnam. The federal government, runaway train that it is, can’t afford a guns and butter policy. We’re stuck with the guns, but Nader’s role right now should be to tell us that we can’t afford either one.

ANTHONY GANCARSKI is a regular CounterPunch columnist. He can be reached at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com