Mishandling Nader


On Election Day the Democrats beat Ralph Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo. But beating Nader-Camejo very likely contributed to failing to beat Bush-Cheney.

When Ralph Nader met with John Kerry the mishandling of Nader began. At the meeting Ralph Nader offered Kerry a strategy for how the two campaigns could work together to beat Bush-Cheney and advance populist-progressive issues. Kerry refused and made a not-so-veiled threat against our campaign.

It was evident at the meeting that Senator Kerry saw the possibility of winning and rather than making him confident it was making him cautious. This insecure approach made fear of making a mistake more important that seizing political opportunity.

Nader offered a two prong strategy. First, the Nader-Camejo campaign would take aggressive positions on some issues that Kerry-Edwards were not comfortable with. These included a rapid, responsible withdrawal from Iraq with a definite date of withdrawal of our corporate and military interests; a more balanced approach in our handling of the Israeli-Palestinian issue; and the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Second, Nader suggested three major issues on which we could stand together. He selected issues on which Kerry had rhetorically spoken favorably but where increased intensity would advance the issues and move Kerry from being an “Anybody But Bush” to being a “somebody” who clearly distinguished himself from Bush. These issues were:

First, ending corporate welfare to save taxpayers over two hundred billion dollars annually. This would level the playing field between large corporations who receive subsidies, handouts, giveaways and guarantees from their political friends in Washington which are denied small business. It would also reduce the deficit and provide funds for the basic needs of all Americans.

Second, strengthening the rights of 42 million non-unionized workers who wish to join a trade union and advocating for a wage all full-time workers can live on at a time when 47 million American workers ­ one in three full-time workers ­ earned between $5.15 and $10 an hour.

Third, a crackdown on corporate crime, fraud and abuse at a time when a corporate crime wave has looted trillions from innocent 401(k) plan holders, pension holders small investors and workers. Prosecuting corporate crime would put the government on the side of the people against Big Business criminals.

These three issues centered on the foundational issue of the Nader-Camejo campaign, the corporate control of our government and the need to reign in corporate power. These were also three issues that were strong ways for Kerry-Edwards to distinguish themselves from Bush-Cheney. As Nader has said: “George Bush is a giant corporation masquerading as a human being in the White House.” Highlighting issues of corporate abuse of workers, pension and the federal budget would have strongly contrasted with Bush’s no-bid contracts to repeat-offender corporations like Halliburton, the corporate executive appointments to the leadership of government agencies and the ever-expanding taxpayer paid corporate giveaways of his administration. Appearing at joint events with Nader on these issues would have shown Nader supporters that there were some areas of agreement between Nader and Kerry thereby adding legitimacy to Kerry with Nader supporters.

However, with Nader highlighting issues that Kerry would not highlight, Kerry would also differentiate himself from Nader and place himself in the middle of the political spectrum of the presidential debate but able to stand for underpaid workers and their families ­ and give many of them a reason to vote when they don’t usually have one. We urged him to include Nader in the debates so there would be two candidates challenging Bush, the political spectrum would be moved from the conservative end and Kerry would be viewed as the centrist in the campaign.

How many of the 36 percent of union members voted for Bush or the 40 percent of those with union members in their households would have voted for Kerry if they saw high visibility events with Nader urging worker rights and fair wages? How many of those 44% of those earning under $50,000 who voted for Bush would have voted Kerry-Edwards instead? And how many from those categories who did not even vote would have come out for Kerry if he had spoken authentically for their interests?

Instead, at the meeting Kerry warned us of the coming legal threat telling us of the thousands of lawyers they had lined up to ensure a Kerry-Edwards victory. Some of us thought these lawyers were to prepare against Republican harassment, others interpreted it as a threat to the Nader-Camejo campaign’s ballot access. And, when we got back to the office the news was not only covering the Kerry-Nader meeting but the announcement of a new anti-Nader, pro-Kerry 527 organization. Rather than a two fisted battle against Bush the Democrats drew the battle lines between Nader and the Democrats ­ diverting significant attention from Bush-Cheney.

Kerry was in the midst of raising $1 million a day, often from people with commercial interests before the federal government, many of whom were also Republican contributors. Perhaps that explains his unwillingness to challenge corporate power. Or maybe his campaign was too insecure about competing with Nader’s candidacy.

The Democratic ­ or should I say anti-democratic ­ effort to trample on Nader and his supporters began. No doubt it cost the Democratic Party, the Kerry campaign and their allied 527’s millions of dollars. But the bigger harm to Kerry was creating negative media attention in battleground states. While George Bush was talking about bringing democracy to Iraq and the world, John Kerry and the Democrats were trying to deny voters a choice in two-dozen states through publicized intimidation, harassment, dirty tricks and phony litigation.

We received many emails from voters in battleground states saying things like the three below:

– “I believe that if someone wishes to be on a voter’s ballot, they have the right, and dirty politics by the democrats have now persuaded me not to vote for Kerry.” Nevada Voter.

– “The shameless Democrats have suppressed my chance to vote for Ralph Nader through their anti-democratic lawyering in front of a sympathetic Democratic judge! I’m so angry, I’ll vote for Bush.” Florida Voter.

– “I received my new voter registration card! I had been a Democrat all my life – but Kerry’s Machiavellian henchmen have made me nauseous towards the party – and due to YOUR actions – I WILL NO LONGER BE VOTING DEMOCRAT.” Oregon Voter.

The Nader-Camejo campaign did not give up. We continued to try and give Kerry a roadmap to beating Bush. Our staff even donned waiter’s white coats and brought him ten issues on a silver platter to beat Bush. See: http://www.votenader.org/media_press/index.php?cid=230. But, our urgings fell on deaf ears. Rather than running an inspiring, visionary campaign that challenged the elephant in the living room ­ corporate control of our government ­ Kerry remained cautious and silent on the issues that should have differentiated him from Bush. The closeness of the race was not because of the differences between the candidates, but the lack of enough differences.

The Democrats better learn from their mishandling of Nader campaign as another thing that comes out of their trampling on our basic rights is a commitment not to ever support either of the major parties. The Democrats proved themselves to be anti-democracy thugs who do not deserve the support of people who really want a democracy “of, by and for the people.” This fight is not over ­ they do not want to repeat the errors of 2004 in future elections.

Kevin Zeese serves as Press Secretary for the Nader-Camejo campaign. His email is kevin@votenader.org


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Kevin Zeese is an organizer at Popular Resistance.

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