Lay off Ralph Nader
He is the only candidate who has not lined his pockets with tens of millions of dollars of corporate campaign money, talked out of both sides of his mouth about the war in Iraq, NAFTA and health care, and has dedicated his life to battling the corporations who make war on working men and women.
Ralph Nader Photo: Joëlle Pénochet 2008
For all of Barack Obama's flash and charm, his campaign is as slick and empty as a television commercial. For all of Hillary Rodham Clinton's mastery of detail, she and Bill have been a scourge to the working class, from NAFTA to welfare reform to her service on the board of Wal-Mart. So if you want to feel good about yourself and chant slogans such as "Yes we can," go ahead. But leave Nader alone. If honesty, vision and integrity were qualities that mattered in a national election, Nader would be president.
Nader knows he cannot win. This is not the point. He seeks to warn us about the dangers of the corporate state. He knows that the government serves the interests of not citizens, but rather the corporations that own it. And he sees that the Republican and Democratic candidates refuse to acknowledge these facts. We are steadily being stripped of rights, impoverished and disempowered. If Nader does not bring this reality to the public arena, no one else will.
"If you lived in the 19th century, would you have told the Liberty Party not to run on an antislavery platform?" Nader asked when I met with him last week in Washington. "Would you have told the woman's suffrage party, 'Don't run on a woman's right to vote'?"
The Democratic Party is no longer the party of the working class. It has passively accepted defeat in elections it won. It has run candidates with platforms so tepid the best that can be said is that they are not as terrible as Republican candidates. This cycle of lowered expectations, Nader said, "produces a dying dynamic for our dismantled democracy that has no end point because every four years both parties get worse.
"If you don't have a breaking point, you are an intellectual slave to the least-worst option," he said, "while you let the least-worst option get worse because you don't pull in the opposite direction of the corporate interests."
George W. Bush runs the most criminally recidivist White House in U.S. history. His administration routinely violates constitutional statutes and international treaties, whether in its embrace of systemic torture or its illegal occupation of Iraq. It has shredded habeas corpus. It has ruptured constitutional accountability with "signing statements." And the Democrats, in the face of all this, have refused to initiate an impeachment hearing, much less an investigation, to hold the administration accountable.
Nader will tell you: Democrats' timidity in the face of the crimes of the Bush White House is overshadowed by the Dems' slavish devotion to corporate power. This is how Democratic candidates have managed to raise more money than the Republicans. The Democrats have abandoned working men and women to court the health-care industry and pharmaceutical giants.
Clinton and Obama refuse to consider single-payer health insurance, full Medicare for all, which tens of millions of Americans and 59 percent of physicians support. They treat the bloated, wasteful military budget, now draining hundreds of billions from the national budget, as if it were sacrosanct. The defense budget costs taxpayers $1.7 billion a day or $1.2 million a minute, much of it going to build cold-war relics such as the $3 billion Trident submarine. This money could be used to repair and rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure, from schools to transit to sewage systems to purification systems.
Nader will tell you: The Democratic Party has not challenged the corporate abuse that has seen trillions looted from pension holders, investors and workers. It has allowed corporations to absolve themselves from the responsibility for hundreds of thousands of fatal casualties from air pollution and occupational disease. It does not oppose nuclear power. It callously ignores the plight of Palestinians to court the Israeli lobby, and it has never offered a detailed timetable for exiting from Iraq. The Democrats, given whom they work for, have no more interest in public funding of campaigns than the Republicans.
"They have taken off the table the central focus of politics, which is the distribution of power," Nader said. "The concentration of power in too few hands undermines the interests of the majority of people. This is the central function of political discussion - who has too much power, who has too little, who should have more, who should have less. They don't talk about it.
"The majority of the people want Medicare for all. Who says no and makes it stick?" Nader asked. "The HMOs, the hospital chains, the drug companies. They have controlled that for decades. Truman proposed it first in 1950.
The American people want a living wage. They figure if you work full time you ought to be able to sustain yourself and your family with the necessities of life. Who says no? McDonald's, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Burger King - and they have made it stick. We have the lowest real minimum wage since the minimum wage started in purchasing power adjusted for inflation.
Who says no to a change in the grotesque tax system where large global corporations, according to David Cay Johnston, can essentially decide how much taxes they are going to pay, where they are going to pay it, and when they are going to pay it anywhere in the world?"
There are 35,000 full-time corporate lobbyists in Washington who work for the bankers, insurance companies, the oil industry, the drug companies, and a host of other powerful corporate interests. There are about 10,000 political action committees. And when Congress members resign or are defeated, they have high-paying jobs waiting for them as corporate lobbyists.
"We can't solve any problems," Nader said. "The government watches the situation deteriorate because it is a government of big business. The standards of living are falling for 80 percent of the people. The highest real wage in America is still 1973 adjusted for inflation. Household incomes are down as the economy and the GDP keep going up and the 1 percent get richer and richer."
Where, if left unchecked, will it all lead? What happens if we place our hopes in cliches about change and a new tomorrow and the corporate state is allowed to relentlessly pursue its profits unchallenged?
"We will, more and more, look like a third-world country," Nader predicted, "full of disrepair from the streets to the bridges to the sewage systems. The nation will crumble. We will have lower wages, more division among people, especially against immigrants, as people fight for the scraps. There will no longer be an expectation that people can have a defined-benefit pension, that one breadwinner can produce a middle-class standard of living, and that people will have to take their chances with health care."
So next time you get excited by rhetorical brilliance or crafty policy talk, ask yourself who out there is determined to wrest the state from the hands of the corporations and return it to the citizens, because if this does not happen soon, our democracy is doomed.
Chris Hedges is the author of "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America."