As the field coordinator of the Nader/Camejo campaign in Wisconsin, my inbox has seen e-mails from excited volunteers, people wanting to sign a petition, desperate pleas telling me that campaign volunteers in Wisconsin represent the “left arm of the Bush campaign” and stubborn claims that Republicans are collecting signatures for Nader in Wisconsin, despite what I, the state coordinator of the campaign had to say in response.
It’s not hard to see why these claims persist. Based on many recent stories in the national press, one would assume that Ralph Nader’s campaign in Wisconsin was being run by right-wing nut jobs and that none of the 4 to 6 percent of the Wisconsin population that supports Nader are organizing to get an anti-war candidate on the ballot. From the meticulous fact-checkers at the New York Times on July 1 we get, “Republicans and some conservative groups in Oregon, Arizona and Wisconsin are feverishly, if not cynically, mobilizing to get him on ballots in those states in a drive to siphon votes from the likely Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry.” From Newsweek on July 19, “Republicans and conservative groups in battleground states including Oregon, Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan are also working to get Nader on the ballot this November.” The disgusting NaderFactor website founded by many former Dean staffers then took this up in a national ad, “Right-wing extremists are even trying to help Nader’s campaign in Oregon, Wisconsin and, yes, Florida again!”.
There must be some concrete proof backing these reports from such reputable news sources. If so, the purported conservative groups were violating Wisconsin state law that says petitioning for an independent candidate cannot begin until August 1. Perhaps Newsweek and New York Times could have done some research to find out when the signature-gathering period actually began in Wisconsin. But then again, we all remember the Times’ excellent fact-checking from the lead-up to the war in Iraq. All these slanders on the Nader campaign are based on one so far unsubstantiated announcement by the conservative group Citizens for a Sound Economy in early July, acting independently of the Nader campaign, promising to collect signatures in Wisconsin.
As the field coordinator of the Nader campaign in Wisconsin, I know a little bit about the drive to get Nader on the ballot. We are not working with the GOP or Citizens for a Sound Economy, nor will we take their signatures. We don’t trust these right-wing hacks with collecting signatures that are going to be challenged by the Democratic party machine. A terrible Wisconsin state law doesn’t allow us to turn in more than 4,000 signatures and 2,000 are required, and our goal is accuracy in the face of a Democratic challenge. The petitioners are taking a principled stand in the face of hostile opposition. They are veterans of third-party politics, antiwar activists, socialists, labor activists, students and those simply fed up with the choice between Bush and (as veep Peter Camejo says) not Bush “lite”, but Bush “smart”.
My point is not that there are no conservative groups that are cynically organizing to put Nader on the ballot, although there is no evidence of this in Wisconsin and we are not seeking or accepting their support. The point is that the Democrats and the mainstream press have successfully made this the issue of the Nader campaign, despite the non-issue that it really is. And that gets magnified ten-fold in a swing state like Wisconsin. So when we talk to well-minded people on the street about signing a petition to get Nader on the ballot, we are first asked if we are Republicans, if we are getting funded by the Republican Party. (The not so well-minded people just tell us to go to hell.) The hypocrisy of these charges from the Democratic Party goes without saying. Just to cite one example, the Democratic Party has taken more than three times as much money from Halliburton this year ($129,449) as Nader has taken from registered Republicans. The Democratic Party happily takes money from criminal corporations who actually expect the Democrats, if elected, to cooperate. Nader isn’t even aware of the support of groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy, much less beholden to their interests.
This slander campaign is meant to censor Nader and avoid a debate on the issues and the necessity of Ralph’s campaign against both parties, because if there were such an honest and open debate, the Democrats would lose. The Democrats’ only resort against Nader is slander and their deep pockets. We already saw this in the debate between Howard Dean and Nader on NPR, where Dean spent most of his time attacking Nader about conservative groups supporting him of their own volition and pretending that the Democrats and Nader were just different shades of gray, downplaying the vast divide that separates Nader from Kerry and Dean himself. The more the Dems can trumpet the idea that Nader’s campaign is being run by conservatives, the more they can marginalize and silence the campaign and the increasingly thick-skinned volunteers working on it. All progressives who want to see a real debate in this country outside the narrow confines of the Democratic and Republican parties need to defend Nader against these attacks. If we don’t do so and we allow this slander to continue because this is not a “convenient” election to actually defend someone we believe in, the next time around we will find it that much tougher to win the argument for independent politics and even more “inconvenient” to defend a progressive third party candidate.
BILL LINVILLE is the Wisconsin Field Coordinator for Nader/Camejo 2004 and a member of the International Socialist Organization in Madison, Wisconsin. He can be reached at email@example.com.