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C’mon Ralph, You’ve Got Nothing to Lose

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

 

If I were Ralph Nader, (and given the number of people screaming at me about stabbing Kerry in the back I sometimes think I am) I’d get on the plane to Palestine, and Baghdad and spend less time on ballot access fights with lawyers working for the Democrats.

There’s about six weeks left to run in this campaign, and Nader, the outsider candidate, needs to finish off with a bang, not a whimper. The Democrats have got him stuck in the trenches, running from one courtroom to another. It’s the only campaign they know how to fight. They can’t sell Kerry. Their hearts aren’t really in it anyway, but when it comes to stopping people from being able to vote for Nader, they’re firing on all cylinders.

Organized labor can’t get Kerry to promise working people more than a hike in the minimum wage to $7, but here’s the SEIU putting $65 million of its members’ dues into the Kerry campaign and deploying hundreds of organizers across the country, working 24 hours a day to keep Nader off the ballot. It’s tying Nader down. He’s fighting 21 legal cases in 17 states, and as Nader himself concedes, “The ballot access has drained our time and our resources”.

Next will be battles over Nader’s exclusion from the debates (along with other candidates like the libertarian, Michael Badnarik). At the end of the day Nader will be looking at a vote for him on November 2 in the low single digits and that’ll be that. The way things look in mid-September the Democrats won’t be able to blame him if their man goes down, because the person sabotaging John Kerry is manifestly and unarguably John Kerry, but a more important fact about the way things look in mid-September is that History’s tempo is picking up. If ever there was an opportunity to seize the hour, it’s now.

Even as America’s reach in Iraq contracts to a few acres in downtown Baghdad, George Bush goes to the UN and says of the US occupying force in Iraq “The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat. It is to prevail.” John Kerry visits NYU, says he’d have done it all different and then, by way of constructive ideas, and mumbles absurdly about the need to involve America’s allies in the occupation, which sounds like General Custer wiring the Canadians to come help him turn the tide at the battle of the Little Bighorn.

At home there’s been a sharp escalation in anger and resistance to the war from the people press-ganged to fight it. Soldiers from a Fort Carson combat unit tell reporters angrily they’ve been issued an ultimatum: re-enlist for three more years or get transferred to units scheduled for deployment in Iraq. In Fort Dix, New Jersey, 635 soldiers from the South Carolina National Guard scheduled to depart for a year or more in Iraq were under a disciplinary lockdown in their barracks for two weeks. On September 22 the Army disclosed Only about 60 percent of reservists ordered to report to Fort Jackson have reported so far.

During Laura Bush’s speech in New Jersey last Monday, Susan Niederer was arrested for demanding toknow why her son was killed in Iraq. Niederer interrupted Laura to ask, “If this war is so righteous, why don’t you send your children?” She was escorted out and started talking to reporters –which was when she was handcuffed and led away. Niederer was wearing a shirt with her dead son’s picture and the words, “President Bush, you killed my son”. The official White House transcript of the speech notes applause 39 times, laughter once and four chants of ‘Four more years,’ but not the interruption.

Meanwhile in the Bay Area an Army veteran represented by attorneys Michael S. Sorgen and Joshua Sondheimer, in association with the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild is bringing suit against the “stop loss” retention of 40,000 service members forced to serve beyond the expiration of their enlistment terms since the war in Iraq began.

Here are ripe opportunities for candidate Nader to remind people that on the number one issue on the election agenda–the war in Iraq– between Bush and Kerr the electorate is offered no choice. He should give press conferences with the parents of soldiers killed in Iraq, file suit on behalf of Ms Niederer for wrongful arrest, array himself with those dragooned into the war on Iraq.

Here too are opportunities to break through the iron ceiling maintained by the two parties on discussion of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians, a topic on which Nader has already expressed himself with some force. He should travel to Palestine, stand in front of the illegal apartheid wall and denounce it, speak as a Arab-American on behalf of the Palestinians beleagured by US-subsidized Israeli terror.

From there he could travel on to Baghdad, have parleys with all relevant parties, denounce the needless sacrifice of American and Iraqi blood, the Allawi puppet government, the theft of Iraqi national assets, the enrichment of Halliburton and the rest, and call for immediate US withdrawal and elections.

In other words, across the next few weeks, Nader needs to show just how different he is, just how much is off the agenda in this miserable joke of an election. He needs to go into the South (surrendered by Kerry to the Republicans)and Florida to talk to disenfranchised voters, many of them kicked off the voter rolls because of drug offenses. In Cleveland or Akron he should stand with welfare moms pushed off the rolls by Clinton with Kerry’s vote, (the same Kerry who told women’s leaders he would treat them at arms length because they are a “special interest”).

As Robin Blackburn stressed recently in our CounterPunch newsletter, Nader and Camejo have nothing to lose so they should embrace every radical and progressive cause they can think of. On Robin’s list, the outlawing of factory farming, $30,000 for every American reaching the age of 18, an end to the laws against drug use, amnesty for all those convicted of drug offenses, an end to the death penalty, a contiguous Palestinian state with half the land and a port in the north, evacuation of all US bases abroad, not just those in Iraq. They could come forward with a plan to restore the employers’ contributions to health and retirement programs by requiring companies to finance a network of state trust finds dedicated to this purpose.

At the moment the Nader campaign is mired in legal procedure. The way Nader can counteract his former supporters signing an ad telling him to step aside is to remind the world forcefully of the need to contest the prime function of presidential contests in our age, which is to keep every important issue off the table.

(A slightly shorter version of this column ran in the Nation that went to press last Wednesday.The Nation has expended much ink and passion across the last year denouncing Nader and urging him first not to run, then to drop out.)

 

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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