Kevin Zeese served as Press Secretary for the Ralph Nader Presidential Campaign in 2004. He recently spoke with JOSHUA FRANK.
JOSHUA FRANK: Kevin, so the tallies are now in and it looks as though Ralph Nader had nothing to do with George W. Bush’s reelection. At this point, and I know there are some recounts going on, what is the total number of votes the Nader/Camejo ticket received? And is the Nader campaign happy with the results?
Kevin Zeese: We received approximately 500,000 votes and we are not satisfied with that outcome. (Write-in ballots are still being counted.) Of course, half the voters in the United States did not have Nader-Camejo on the ballot due primarily to the Democratic Party efforts to keep us off the ballot. The Democrats, intimidation and harassment of our signature gatherers and the signers of our petitions, their dirty tricks and their phony lawsuits manipulated the ballots to try and force people to vote for John Kerry.
While we think it is good for the public to see the Democrats for what they are: anti-democrats who are willing to go to any length, even undermining democracy in order to win at all costs — and we think it is good the public is more aware of the ballot access hurdles placed in front of third party and independent candidates denying voters more choices. Still, we are not satisfied.
JF: What was left out of the discourse in Election 2004?
Ralph Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo wanted to talk about the issues that confront Americans on a daily basis — 80 million people were without health care over the last two years — yet there was no discussion of any plan to provide health care for all; 47 million full-time workers earn less than $10 per hour — one in three full-time workers — yet there was no discussion of a living wage or how US workers will compete with the cheap labor of the world market.
There was no discussion of how to responsibly get out of Iraq — only how essential it was to “win” the war; no discussion of thinking for ourselves on Israel-Palestine issue — just blind support of Ariel Sharon; no discussion of repealing the Patriot Act and protecting the privacy and civil liberties of Americans — just how we need to give up freedom to fight terrorism and on and on — whether the environment, civil rights, women’s rights, rich-poor divide there was no real discussion. On world affairs Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and Mexico were not discussed — Israel-Palestine was barely discussed; the Abu Gharib prison scandal was not discussed. The American public lost — because their concerns were not addressed.
The election showed more and more Americans that the two party system is a central part of the problem. The parties continue to move toward each other and ignore the peoples, interests.
Then, on top of that we got stuck with Bush for four more years. The liberals laid down, let themselves be stomped on by Kerry, allowed him to ignore and not discuss their issues and what did they get in return we’ve got Bush/Cheney Regime II. Some day they may realize that their failure to push Kerry to be a better candidate. By failed to stand for their issues which mostly have majority support — they allowed Kerry to become a worse candidate.
How can anyone be satisfied with an election like that!?
JF: Even with this sense of frustration at the Democrats, undemocratic tactics to keep Nader/Camejo off the ballot, don’t you feel somewhat vindicated? There were many liberal and progressive thinkers, as well as hordes of Democrats opposing Nader’s run — including former Nader supporters like Norman Solomon, Medea Benjamin, and Barbara Ehrenreich. This year they all worked vigorously to oppose Nader’s bid, out of fear that he would help swing the vote to Bush by taking away votes from Kerry.
These progressive leaders proved to have wasted their efforts, no doubt, as we now know the Democrats can lose all on their own just fine. Do you think the failure of these people on the left to challenge Kerry, like Solomon and company, will have a beneficial effect, as they won’t be able to shut out third-party voices in elections to come? For me, I think the blowback has already occurred. You seem to agree. Did these progressive stalwarts, in fact help Bush win by not forcing Kerry to take on issues that could have attracted the 40% of voters who stayed home on Election Day 2004? Do you blame people like Solomon and Benjamin for Kerry’s loss?
KZ: We were telling the ABB liberal intelligencia for the last two months of the campaign that they were making Kerry a weaker candidate by not demanding him to be a stronger candidate and thereby increasing the likelihood of a Bush victory. The only demands Kerry received were from the corporate Democrats — and he gave them what they wanted. At a fundraiser Kerry told donors “don’t worry I’m not a redistributionist democrat, and he admitted his jobs plan was nothing more than a corporate tax cut.
People like Medea Benjamin did great damage to the peace movement and I’m not sure it can recover. Her misleadership led them down the path of being taken out of the presidential race. How do you recover from that? The direction of the country is set during the presidential debate — especially on issues like war and peace. Half the country wanted our troops home, more than half thought the Iraq invasion was wrong, yet the peace movement, thanks to misleaders like Benjamin, was led into the Valley of Death for all movements, the Democratic Party.
She can keep dropping her anti-war banners and playing her anti-war pranks, they’re entertaining, but people should remember that when it came to elections she urged people to vote for a candidate who said we have to win the war. She supported a candidate who said he would send more troops and could manage the war better Kerry’s mantra was the complete opposite of a peace message. The bottom line is this: when it comes to elections don’t follow Medea Benjamin, follow peace advocates who refuse to support war candidates.
JF: And Solomon?
KZ: As for Norman Solomon, he has never been much of a third party activist — he was part of the New Party, which essentially worked within the Democratic Party to pull the Party to the left. Their fusion state strategy did nothing to challenge the Democrats. So, I don’t expect much from him.
The key issue is this: will progressives recognize that they cannot reform the Democratic Party from within, and begin to build a real third party that pushes a populist-progressive message and refuses to support corporate Democrats and corporate-Republicans? We are now where the abolitionists were in 1840 — drawing a line and saying “no more. Like the abolitionists who wouldn’t vote for either pro-slavery party, we have to say that we will not vote for either pro-corporate government party. Enough is enough! The peoples, needs most come first.
The vindication will only come when people start to recognize the Democratic Party is a dead end. You can already see the Dems rationalizing this horrible defeat, they will not face and stand for populist-progressive values. People who really want to see those values in the political arena better wake up themselves and realize — the Democrats are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
JF: Can you expand on that? How are the Democrats more a part of the problem than the solution?
KZ: They take their base for granted. Look at the African American community who is solidly Democratic. Without them the Dems would have no chance of success — yet their leaders encourage African Americans to give their support to any Democrat that comes along. What have they gotten for it? Over the last thirty years African Americans have been in a downward spiral on every measure; jobs, wages, education, incarceration, health availability and yet they keep supporting the Democratic Party. If African Americans begin to decide to go to a third party you will really see a major shake-up.
Indeed, if African Americans and labor announced they were open to a third party alternative, the death of the Democratic Party would be in sight and a real party of the people could take their place. That is where we must go.
JOSHUA FRANK, a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is putting the finishing touches on Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press in 2005. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.