Two November Chances for Progressives


With the Tea Partiers giving the establishment Republican incumbents much ferment in the primaries (or retirement, as in the case of David Brat defeating powerhouse Congressman Eric Cantor in Virginia), what are progressives doing to their corporate-indentured incumbent Democrats? Not much. There are few electoral challengers or pressures directly pushing progressive redirections for our declining political economy, beset with rising poverty and plutocracy.

Progressive Democrats are almost as addicted to the “least worst” slumber theory of voter abdication as the forlorn liberals dreaming of Hillary and eight more years of corporate Clintonism and its overseas militaristic forays.

The political energy levels between the smaller number of Tea Partiers and the larger number of politically active progressives is stunning. Progressives wallow in a plethora of excuses for not taking on the Democratic Party establishment, pronounced moribund as long as 2001 in a crisp Washington Post opinion article by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

This is not to say that progressives are quiet on the issues. On a daily basis, progressive writers, activists and professors pour out powerful exposés, critiques and suggested reforms of corporate crimes and abuses. They challenge politicians who prostrate themselves before corporate chieftains for campaign cash.

The trouble is that these same vocal citizens do not carry their deep concerns from free speech into the electoral arenas. By not doing so, they consign most of their reforms to a wailing futility. The “wail” is that the Republicans are even worse. The “futility” is that talking on incumbent Democrats who champion crony capitalism and Empire is tilting at windmills.

Well, two authentic progressive candidates are rejecting such destructive despondency, one in the 2nd Congressional District of West Virginia and the other in the 21st Congressional District of New York – both open seats.

Native West Virginian, Ed Rabel, the long-time, award winning war correspondent for CBS television, is running as an Independent for the House of Representatives. Rabel, for thirty-three years, covered raging wars in over 100 countries, including Vietnam, Laos, and South American and African countries. He has come back home to serve his people by challenging abusive corporations and by taking on the politicians who serve their corporate paymasters.

Before he even finished getting the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot, Rabel registered at ten percent in the first poll.

Articulate as ever, Rabel chastises both the Republican candidate, Alex Mooney and the Democrat Nick Casey, as being “in the pockets of coal, chemical and natural gas corporations,” that have polluted, ravaged and exploited West Virginians and turned their natural resource-endowed state into what is called “a rich state with poor people.”

He emphasizes that coal companies “provide less than 6% of incomes and less than 3% of jobs” in West Virginia.

Rabel has diagnosed the state’s economic, political and environmental ills through vivid descriptions rooted in irrefutable facts wrapped with irresistible rhetoric.

He shatters the myths that have kept the state in corporate servitude, saying: “In fact, the policies that would create sustained economic growth in West Virginia would also help families and improve healthcare and the environment. But, driven by the falsehoods, Republicans and Democrats want to slash spending where it hurts West Virginia most and change tax laws in ways that help West Virginia least.”

He means that taxes should be used for the necessities of the citizenry – education, health, safety and public works. Restoring the federal minimum wage to over $10 per hour (catching up with inflation since 1968) would also reduce the burdens on taxpayer-funded social services, he adds.

In upending the state’s political censorship, Ed Rabel is calling for “a moratorium on mountaintop removal and hydraulic fracturing because of the threats they pose to the people of the state.” (For more specifics about Rabel’s practical and humane agenda see his website at rabelforcongress.com.)

Up in the North Country of New York State is “democracy’s baker,” Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, whose progressive civic activism and generosity are legion. Having known him for years, I gave him that description.

There are four reasons why Funiciello has shined in his early debates with Republican Elise Stefanik (a veteran staffer for George W. Bush and Congressman Paul Ryan) and Democratic Aaron Woolf, who until now has lived most of the time in Brooklyn.

Reason one is that he is well-read.

Reason two is that he is an independent thinker.

Reason three is that he listens to people and understands their needs for a just society.

Reason four is that he understands that, while baking millions of loaves of varied breads, “man does not live by bread alone.” He has a sparkling, congenial personality, grounded in serious determination to do something in Washington, DC about the downward drift of our country and neglect of its people – who do the daily work and have to pay all the bills.

The 21st Congressional District, which includes the entire giant Adirondack Park, historically has sent both Democratic and Republican candidates to Congress. It is not a one-party-dominated District. It has a tradition of agreeing to public candidate debates, unlike the 2nd District in West Virginia which shuts out third party participation.

So voters, who take notice, will hear Matt Funiciello press for more efficient single-payer universal health care, restored wages, revival of local agricultural production and family farms. He opposes corporate welfare and hydrofracking and has unfurled the banner of progressive taxation, providing more income tax relief for workers by ending tax escapes for the big corporations and the wealthy.

Being a small businessman himself – Funiciello also owns a popular restaurant – he speaks the language of community-owned economies and self-reliance. He also walks the talk, by buying New York State wheat for most of his breads.

“Democracy’s baker” argues for electoral reforms that will give voters more voices and choices on the ballot beyond the dreary clichés and forked tongue bloviating of the two-party tyranny (see mattfunicielloforcongress.org and follow @MFuniciello2014 on Twitter.)

Now, here is the rub. Will active progressives and their media rally behind and work with Ed Rabel and Matt Funiciello and their grassroots campaigns for these open seats in Congress?

Or will they continue their electoral servitude and not start making a difference?

Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

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

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