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Joel Kovel's Sad Smear of Ralph Nader

Another Marxist for Kerry

by BILL KAUFFMAN

Life is full of bitter ironies! Behold the spectacle of Joel Kovel, who loudly proclaims his credentials as a Marxist socialist, who ran against Ralph Nader for the Green nomination from the left in 2000, claiming that Nader failed to enunciate a sufficiently radical critique of the capitalist system–this same Kovel is out of the closet as a cheerleader for the prowar, pro-Patriot Act, pro-WTO and NAFTA John Kerry–loyal servant of . . . capitalism!!!! How odd that there is not one word from Kovel about Kerry’s failure even to propose incremental progressive reforms of capitalism–much less a comprehensive critique of it–in Kovel’s festival of political double standards, the ardent anticorporate crusader Nader is found insufficiently radical, yet the craven DLC corporate apologist Kerry merits not even a mild syllable of rebuke!

So now Nader’s insufficient radicality of 2000 becomes transmogrified, in Kovel’s infinitely elastic mind, into Nader’s excessive radicality in 2004! This from the same Kovel who, after his presidential aspirations were rebuffed by the Greens in 2000, disappeared to write a book and thus abstained from the Nader campaign, which was responsible for an explosive growth in the Green Party. And this is the man who professes an ardent concern for the growth and welfare of the Green Party? We are truly through the looking glass now.

Behold further the "substance," such as it is, of the critique that underlies Kovel’s strenuous exercise in posturing and sneering at the "Naderites": that there is some profound difference between the Democrats and Republicans. Throttling the purple prose into overdrive, Kovel breathlessly intones,

The problem is, however, that a very big difference between Democrats and Republicans has evolved over the past generation or so. It has taken root in the Bush administration, who have every intention of making it a permanent feature of the political landscape. Look at Bush, at Rove, and at Ashcroft, and you can see the newly malignant face of big business linked with a massive social base of Christian fundamentalism. Its inner logic points to the demolition of the Constitution and the replacement of the Republic–however compromised this may be_by a theocratic brand of fascism, in which the space for political change will shrink drastically, and the lives of those who do not fit–women, homosexuals, Muslims, anyone in the crosshairs of the police apparatus_will be greatly worsened. Nobody in their right mind can say that the wretched Democrats promise the same.

Note the lack of a SINGLE SPECIFIC POLICY, the utter void of empirical data, by which one might actually get a grip on this gooey gob of fear-mongering. Could this unspecified threat to the Constitution be the Patriot Act–the act so vociferously supported by most mainstream Democrats, including John Kerry, but opposed by Nader? Could the threat to the rights of homosexuals take the form of a ban on gay marriage, shared by both Bush and Kerry but opposed by Nader? Perhaps the threat to the rights of women was signaled by Kerry’s announcement that he is open to appointing antiabortion judges to the federal bench? Could the "fascist" threat to democracy be prefigured in the systematic assault on the rights of third parties, pursued most vigorously not by the Republicans but by the Democrats, who endlessly rant about leftist "spoilers" of their duopoly rights to office and who openly avow their intention to challenge every one of Nader’s petition signatures throughout the country? Or perhaps Kovel is referring to Clinton’s 1996 Anti-Terrorism bill, which prefigured many of the most noxious features of the Patriot Act, especially in its assault on the constitutional right of habeas corpus? Or perhaps Kovel is speaking of WTO and NAFTA, so ardently pushed by Clinton/Gore/Kerry, which threaten to dismantle the very EXISTENCE of civil society throughout the planet by giving private corporations standing to challenge the labor and environmental laws of sovereign nations in private courts whose proceedings are closed to public scrutiny? Now that REALLY IS FASCISM–corporate displacement of the public sphere of civil society–yet Kovel’s newly beloved Democrats have pushed this authentically fascist threat just as hard as the Republicans.

Is it any of these SPEFICIC POLICIES, supported with equal tenacity by Democrats and Republicans alike, that Kovel might be speaking about in his overheated warnings that the sky is falling? Could it be these policies that are propelling Kovel so swiftly into the arms of the Democrats, who endorse all of them? Yet depending on the Democrats to defend us against policies in which they are 100 percent complicit is so transparently absurd and self-contradictory, that "no one in his right mind," as Kovel none too delicately phrases it, could possibly seriously argue in favor of it. All of which leads us to believe that Kovel is either (a) not serious or (b) not in his right mind. Given the fact that Kovel is a psychoanalyst who is professionally responsible for the rightness of mind of his patients, I would much prefer to believe the former–that Kovel is having a good joke on us. Yes, Kovel is having a good laugh at our expense–contending that we should have preferred Kovel to Nader in 2000 because Ralph’s criticisms of capitalism were not radical enough, and now urging us to bypass Nader again because Ralph’s criticisms are . . . too radical! Good one, Dr. Kovel!

And what about all the "fascist" bogeymen Kovel parades before us to scare us witless into supporting the corporate hack John Kerry? Bush, Rove, Ashcroft, Cheney, et. al. The simple fact is that the Democrats–the very same Democrats that Kovel now upholds as our last best line of defense against the fascist onslaught–have had enough votes to filibuster and thus block EVERY ONE OF BUSH’S CABINET APPOINTMENTS, INCLUDING ASHCROFT, AND EVERY ONE OF BUSH’S NOXIOUS POLICY INITIATIVES, INCLUDING THE WAR, THE PATRIOT ACT, THE TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH, NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND, ETC., ETC. Yet these bold "anti-fascist" Democrats somehow managed to roll over and play dead. Yet these are the very people in whom Kovel wants us to invest our hopes for warding off reaction–the Democrats who have PAVED THE WAY for reaction at every turn. This reminds us of the way in which the liberals and social democrats of Germany were equally docile in the advances of Hitler’s fascist initiatives. The lesson of history is clear–it not by laying down our arms of criticism and trusting the agents of the status quo that we can ward off threats to democracy. It iis only through the indefatigable building of a strong, independent people’s movement that we can defend and extend democracy in the United States and the world. And now that means vigorously supporting and building the campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo–NOT by playing dead before the Democrats so that they in turn can continue to play dead before the worst depradations of the bipartisan imperial/corporate agenda of the Bush administration and then, if elected, put a reassuing Clintonesque smiley face on the very same policies.

So Joel–you’re kidding, right?

BILL KAUFMAN can be reached at: kman484@earthlink.net