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Letter from a Minnesota Highway



Some seventy lights of the liberal intelligentsia–some my long-time friends and political associates–recently signed a petition calling upon voters in contested states to vote for John Kerry, despite their “strong disagreement with Kerry on Iraq and other issues.” These distinguished academics, artists, and writers together are at the core of America’s liberal intelligentsia. We share much the same political analysis. Together we have shared podiums, rallies, and dreams, though they deigned any mention of the Nader-Camejo candidacy even in the “safe states.” Yet I must conclude that they have lost their nerve.

Their petition is simply the latest chapter in the operational and political collapse of an intellectual elite paralyzed by the specter of a second term for George Bush. This rush to unconditional surrender began in February of this year when the liberal flagship, The Nation, proclaimed in an editorial, “Ralph, Don’t Run,” meaning don’t speak inside the electoral arena. We had worked together for forty-five years. As I discussed in my letter to The Nation, “Whither The Nation?” (Mar. 8, 2004), the new mantra of progressives is “anybody but Bush, leave Kerry alone, make no demands on Kerry.” At the very moment their voices are most needed, these good people fear that trumpeting their demands on Kerry-Edwards will only make November 2 riskier. Not pulling Kerry in the direction of a peoples’ agenda allows the corporate oil, drug, food, munitions, auto, financial and other commercial interests to pull him in their direction. He abandons his party’s traditional base and loses votes that way.

The American people know the truth about Iraq, that occupation creates resistance. The resistance will only end when we announce that an exit deadline with internationally supervised elections, after which we will leave Iraq to the Iraqis. On Iraq, as on so many issues, those who should be pressuring Kerry–especially the recent anti-war groups–choose instead to apologize for him.

In blunting the justice edge which has always been its greatest asset, the intelligentsia has abandoned John Kerry to the tender mercies of his close corporate advisors and financiers, assuring that his message will continue to be muddled, and possibly helping to seal his loss in November. By delineating bright lines between his positions and those of Bush, Kerry can win, yet by insisting that Kerry take their support for granted rather than earn it, the intelligentsia has enhanced Kerry’s move to the corporate right. This rush to surrender to Kerry under the “Anyone But Bush” banner has also included the traditional Democratic core groups supporting civil liberties, the environment, union, consumer, and minority rights. Should he somehow win, Kerry would not be obliged to recognize any mandates vis-à-vis the always mandating power structure.

The result is a national election in which the issues of poverty, corporate domination, corporate welfare, the swollen, wasteful military budget, global warming, race, civil liberties, healthcare for all Americans, and support for dictatorships abroad have all been taken off the Democratic Party electioneering table.

Our campaign serves the traditional third-party role of pressing political regeneration by promoting needed reforms that the major parties ignore unless pressure builds. The Nader/Camejo campaign has also provided a road map for Kerry to defeat George Bush, if only he would recognize and seriously embrace such majoritarian issues as opposing corporate welfare that drains public revenues meant for public works; ensuring a living wage and safe workplace, workers’ freedom to form unions; providing efficient healthcare for all; and confronting corporate crimes against consumers, pension holders, investors, and the environment. (See

Yet instead of using even conditional support for our campaign to draw Kerry away from the relentless pull of corporate power in the wrong directions, progressives have let Kerry go, and the result is as pathetic as it was predictable ­ Bush has to win it for Kerry.

The liberal intellectual and political leadership has shown itself un-willing to fight for its beliefs, hiding behind the claim that George Bush is such a unique threat that courage, reason, and studied belief all must be abandoned this year. Is Bush really more sinister than Nixon? More frightening than Reagan with his missiles and unworkable missile defense? Think of those times when the missile-loaded US and the USSR were less than an hour from mutually assured destruction. Will the intellectual leaders of the left feel more comfortable with the next GOP nominee in 2008 or 2012? If not, is it too soon for them to prepare for their next surrender? Is there any end-point logic to the “least worst” candidate?

Ours is a long-term struggle to restore the human future to human control of the corporate/government complex. The great lesson to be learned from Kerry’s wobbly and fearful campaign to date is that we will not prevail in the historic struggle against imperial corporate power by yielding to it. Unconditional surrender to the “least worst” candidate is an intellectual dead-end, an endless retreat. One need look no further than Kerry’s recent endorsement of Bush’s plans to reconquer the southern cities and towns of Iraq to recognize that failure to resist is complicity. Remember the immortal words of Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Those who have influence over others have a special obligation to consider–and reconsider–their role in terms of the old labor ballad: “Which side are you on?” Are you on the side of the citizens, the workers, the families of America, or the global corporations that have no loyalty to our country? Those who consider themselves on the side of the people, justice and democracy must stop cowering in fear. They need to call the anemic Democratic Party to account for its ten years of losses–local, state and federal –to the worst of the Republicans. If they do not exert open pressure on their Party, progressives can surely expect more of the same.


Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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