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Once again, Ralph Nader has made a commitment to enter the electoral arena as an "independent." Given Nader’s consistent and courageous positions on the corporate corruption of daily life in the United States, his perspective will always be of critical importance for those seeking transformative change. However, given the Nader’s past electoral performances and the structural and cultural contradictions of the electoral system, one can only sigh in disbelief as Nader attempts to raise his tent as part of the electoral circus.
As someone who was intimately involved in Nader’s Green Party candidacy in the 2000 Presidential election, I must admit that I got caught up in the delusion that there would be a real "breakthrough" for a third party effort. What transpired was another painful lesson in the failure of progressive national third party campaigns. However, instead of critically examining that lesson and determining where and how one could build a grounded oppositional politics, Nader re-entered the electoral arena in 2004 and was even further marginalized in the process and outcome. Now, at a time when both African-Americans and young people, not without their own delusions, clamor to support the Obama candidacy, Nader seems only too willing to neglect what impact, if any, he will have in the 2008 Presidential election.
Although I do not believe that Nader is unaware of continuing racial injustices, his post 2000 election absence from the challenges to the voting irregularities and inequities raised by the black activist voices from the NAACP to Ron Daniels of the Center for Constitutional Rights was a glaring example of what might be called a white blind spot. Moreover, Nader’s lack of emphasis on the disproportionate disfranchisement of minorities and especially African-America men, estimated to be close to 13%, suggests that Nader’s campaign for civic consciousness is not always sensitive to the political realities that the African-American community confronts on this matter and the larger issue of suppression and marginalization of minority voters. While Nader has every right to critique the Obama candidacy, he could at least find a way to do this that would build bridges to the African-American community, especially as they mobilize in record numbers to support Obama.
Beyond racial insensitivities, issues of the structural problems of the electoral system and the culture contradictions of political engagement in the United States persist without adequate attention by Nader. Certainly he has supported electoral reforms from Instant Runoff Voting (as apparently have both Obama and McCain) to direct election of the president. On the other hand, knowing the structural impediments of that electoral system as well as Nader does, why enter the electoral arena without laying the groundwork to reform that arena? Of course, some Nader and Green Party supporters have managed to bring about IRV in cities as large as San Francisco. However, efforts to change the electoral system at the national level languish, even as we could face the prospect of another election fought within the arcane regulations of the Electoral College.
Given Nader’s well-known and powerful indictments of corporate control, where has he been on the corporate invasion of voting from Diebold to Sequoia and how can he believe that those casting a vote for him will even be recorded on the deficient and easily manipulated electronic voting machines? Given the exemplary work done by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman on the voting irregularities in Ohio in 2004 and the recent study in Florida of the failure to record over 100,000 votes in the 2006 election, why wade into this morass of corporate corruption of voting unless you plan to make that a central campaign issue?
Of course, the whole idea that the electoral arena is an accessible and rational site where one can even raise an intelligent alternative perspective, given the exclusion of such perspectives by the corporate media and the duopoly racket, begs credibility. To expect that cogent analysis will enter an arena where fear, platitudes, and infotainment drown out serious and clear-headed thinking is to neglect the pre-cognitive and even irrational environment that envelops national elections and informs our political culture. Since the owning class establishes the rules of the game and co-opts its junior members into ratifying their priorities, one has little hope, however audacious it may be, in "change we can believe in."
While I am not arguing that Nader should fold up his tent, I do believe that his effort will be nothing more than a sideshow to the main crooked arena. Instead of just excoriating Nader for what might be another hapless effort, irrespective of his good intentions, we need to ask ourselves how we engage those who will be part of the electoral circus between now and November. While it is one thing to call for renewed social movements against the Iraq War, it is another matter to realize the difficulties of conjuring up sustainable social movements in the advanced society of the spectacle. And one overwhelming part of that spectacle will be the 2008 Presidential election. Let the debate and determined efforts over our real limitations and possibilities begin anew!
FRAN SHOR teaches in the History Department at Wayne State University. He is an activist with numerous groups for peace and social justice.