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Whither The Nation?
The following letter is a response to "An Open Letter to RALPH NADER," which appeared in the February 16 issue of The Nation.
As I reread slowly your open letter, which kindly started and closed with your demand "Don’t run," memories of past Nation magazine writing, going back to the days of Carey McWilliams and earlier, came to mind. I share them with you. Long ago the The Nation stood steadfastly for more voices and choices inside the electoral arenas which today are more dominated than ever by the two-party duopoly trending toward one-party districts:
The Nation’s pages embrace large areas of agreement with the undersigned on policy matters and political reforms, especially the abusive power of Big Business over elections, the government and the economy:
The Nation has been sharply critical of the Democratic Party’s stagnation, the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council and its domination by Big Money. This is the same Party that has just ganged up on its insurgents and reasserted its established forces:
The Nation has urgently reported on a tawdry electoral system-ridden with fraud and manipulation-that discourages earnest people from running clean campaigns about authentic necessities of the American people and the rest of the world:
The Nation first informed me as a young man about the deliberate barriers-statutory, monetary, media and others-to third parties and independent candidates for a chance to compete, bring out more votes and generate more civic and political energies. This led me to write my first article on these exclusions against smaller candidacies in the late 1950s:
The Nation has often encouraged the longer run effect of small candidacies (civil rights, economic populism, women’s suffrage, labor and farmer parties), which have pushed the agendas of the major parties and sown the seeds for future adoption:
The Nation has dutifully recorded the hapless state of the Democratic Party, which for the past ten years has registered more and more losses at the federal, state and local levels. The Party even managed to "lose" the presidency in 2000, which it actually won, even with all other "what ifs" considered, both before (Katherine Harris’ voter purge), during (the deceptive ballots) and afterward (recount blunders by the Party):
The Nation has editorialized about the spineless Democrats who could have stopped the two giant tax cuts for the wealthy, the unconstitutional war resolution, the Patriot(less) Act and John Ashcroft’s nomination (to mention a few surrenders). Yet you have not pointed any external ways to stiffen the resolve or jolt the passivity of Jefferson’s party, which lately has become very good at electing very bad Republicans all by itself:
The Nation believes this cycle is different and that the Democrats have aroused themselves. This view is not the reality we experience regularly in Washington. Witness the latest collapse of the party’s opposition to the subsidy-ridden wrongheaded energy and Medicare drug-benefit legislation–two core party issues:
The Nation’s venerable reputation has been anything but conceding the practical politics of servility which brings us worse servility and weaker democracy every four years:
The Nation has intensely disliked being held hostage to antiquated electoral rules, from the Electoral College to the winner-take-all system that discounts tens of millions of votes. Such a stand would seem to call for candidates on the inside to highlight and help build the public constituency for change over time:
It doesn’t seem that The Nation would disagree with the conclusions of George Scialabba, who wrote last year in The Boston Review, "Two-party dominance allows disproportionate influence to swing voters, single-issue constituencies, and campaign contributors; it promotes negative, contentless campaigns; it rewards grossly inequitable redistricting schemes, and it penalizes those who disagree with both parties but fear to ‘waste’ their votes (which is why Nader probably lost many more voters to Gore than Gore lost to Nader)":
The Nation’s open letter does not go far enough in predicting where my votes would come from, beyond correctly inferring that there would be few liberal Democratic supporters. The out-of-power party always returns to the fold, while the in-power party sees its edges looking for alternatives. Much more than New Hampshire in 2000, where I received more Republican than Democratic votes, any candidacy would be directed toward Independents, Greens, third-party supporters, true progressives, and conservative and liberal Republicans, who are becoming furious with George W. Bush’s policies, such as massive deficits, publicized corporate crimes, subsidies and pornography, civil liberties encroachments, sovereignty-suppressing trade agreements and outsourcing. And, of course, any candidacy would seek to do what we all must strive for-getting out more nonvoters who are now almost the majority of eligible voters:
The Nation wants badly to defeat the selected President Bush but thinks there is only one pathway to doing so. This approach excludes a second front of voters against the regime, which could raise fresh subjects, motivating language and the vulnerabilities of corporate scandals and blocked reforms that the Democrats are too cautious, too indentured to their paymasters to launch-but are free to adopt if they see these succeed:
The Nation has rarely been a hostage to prevailing dogma and electoral straitjackets. Its pages have articulated many "minorities of one" over its wondrous tenure and has watched many of its viewpoints today become the commonplace of tomorrow.
I have not known The Nation to so walk away from those engaging in a difficult struggle it champions on the merits, in a climate of conventional groupthink-much less with a precipitous prognosis of a distant outcome governed by a multitude of variables. Discussions and critiques from a distance, after all, are a dime a dozen in an election year. O apotheosis for the exercise of dissent inside and outside the electoral commons since 1865:
RALPH NADER can be reached through www.naderexplore04.org.