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Then to side with truth is noble
when we share her wretched crust
Ere her cause bring fame and profit
and ’tis prosperous to be just
These words of James Russell Lowell (from his poem, The Present Crisis) were repeatedly echoed in recent weeks, if far less poetically, by Howard Dean.
In the days prior to dropping out, Dean was expressing a heartfelt grouse, not unlike that of the unsung inventor who went through life complaining how Alexander Graham Bell had stolen his idea.
Dean’s case is the more tragic, for he was once anointed frontrunner by the wise folk. Senators Kerry and Edwards, hardly notable as significant impediments to Bush’s legislative agenda in the past three years, woke up to Dean’s success, pinched his ideas in full daylight, and yanked him from the front of the queue to the back. In the era where we use television not only to see and hear the candidates, but also rely on it to tell us what to make of them, Dean was roundly criticized for his camera-side manner.
In the age of political correctness, who wants to say Dean looks a lot like Richard Dreyfuss without a neck? Instead of sticking out its own neck, conventional wisdom conveniently coined ‘Electability’, a term that could be straight out of Catch-22. Just imagine this conversation:
"Dean’s not going to get elected".
"Because he doesn’t have electability."
"Why doesn’t he have electability?"
"Because he can’t win."
OK, so it’s not so entirely tautological. The mark against Dean was that even if he won the Democratic nomination, he would not be able to beat George Bush. Basically, then, to beat George Bush, you needed someone a little more like George Bush. Meanwhile the pundits discovered new virtues in the new frontrunner — he had actually had served in combat (in stark distinction from all the recent high-rollers in Washington who had studiously avoided Vietnam — Clinton, George W., Cheney, Gingrich, DeLay, to name just a few)! And Bush’s subsequent National Guard answers, while showing his versatility — that he could dissemble not only about the big things but also about the small — and all in the course of the same interview — left him looking more like a kid playing truant than a War President.
In Wisconsin, Edwards discovered jobs. Now Kerry is all about jobs too. In the software business, they talk of ‘commodification’. The moment a product hits the stands these days, it becomes a commodity item. So it would seem with Democratic talking points. Suddenly Kerry sees everything wrong with NAFTA. Why then did he vote for it? Or for granting MFN status to China? He would like safeguards. Why did he vote for the pacts in the first place if there were no safeguards?
Edwards’ answer to the same questions reminds one of a schoolboy’s triumphant glee when asked why he doesn’t know something — "I was absent that day". Jubilant that he wasn’t a senator then, he tells us how he would have voted on NAFTA. But if he has such consuming hatred for it, surely he could have spoken out against NAFTA once he was in the Senate. Both Edwards and Kerry are senators. Why don’t they sponsor a resolution in the Senate to put in safeguards into NAFTA, and while they’re at it, also produce some legislation about the lopsided balance of trade with China?
In the interrugnum between the Wisconsin primary on Feb 17 (and Dean’s subsequent withdrawal) and the upcoming Super Tuesday primaries of March 2, Ralph Nader threw his hat (or monkey wrench — depending on your view) into the ring. A hush descended on the Democratic camp, while a muffled prayer of thanks rose from the Republican.
Nader hit home with his points — the acquiescence of the Democrats in so many of Bush’s excesses, the corporate raj in Washington, the lack of money for our schools, hospitals and public works while it pours into the war, who could disagree with any of these? And as for his taking away the election from Gore, the Democrats showed that they were perfectly capable of losing even without Nader’s assistance — see my article, Encore-Again! below on the 2002 elections.
The trouble I have with the Nader candidacy is different. Why now, Mr. Nader? These issues have existed all the years of the Bush Administartion (and some of them, per your rationale in 2000, during the Clinton administration too). As with Bush’s National Guard service, is it fair to ask where Nader was, AWOL during these three years? (And please don’t answer that he addressed a couple of meetings here or there). With his name recognition, reputation and powers of organization, he could by now have been a major voice against all the wrongs committed by this administration. Why wasn’t he out building a movement? God knows he had ample time. In three years, he could have built a movement ten times the size of Dean’s. The fact is that Nader has done far, far, less than Howard Dean to articulate the anger of the people against Bush’s rule. Dean serenaded the Democratic Party out of its blue funk, and energized millions of common people. In return, the Democratic Establishment has treated Dean far worse than anything they could mete out to Nader, who didn’t even seek to run as a Democrat. But it is Dean who has displayed enough self-effacement and maturity to see that the first task must be to consign the present administration to the history books.
But back to James Russell Lowell:
Then it is the brave man chooses,
while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit,
till his Lord is crucified.
Were he serious about the presidency, Nader would have campaigned hard all these months. He could have been part of the democratic melee and had all the debates he wished. Instead he stood, doubting, far from the water’s edge. Now, unless he believes he can set the Mississippi on fire with his campaining, a rather remote prospect, he will rightly be viewed as convenient distraction (convenient for Bush).
In some situations, it is standing aside that may require the greater valor (after all, isn’t this exactly what President Bush has been trying to convey to the country regarding his National Guard service?).
*Tamasha is an Indian word, variously translated as tableaux, farce, fun, entertainment, bill of fare.