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Socialism Today 117 - April 2008

Nader’s anti-war, anti-corporate campaign

ON 24 FEBRUARY, Ralph Nader declared he was running for president to challenge the corporate stranglehold over US politics. Ordinary Americans have been "shut out of their government by two major parties that, in varying degrees, have turned Washington into corporate-occupied territory", Nader said (USA Today, 5 March). Socialist Alternative (CWI US) is supporting Nader’s anti-war, pro-worker campaign, as we did in 2000 and 2004.

The 2008 election campaign has revealed the huge anger among workers and young people at eight years of George W Bush’s big-business, pro-war, right-wing policies, as well as the Bush-lite Democrats who have been complicit in Bush’s crimes. Polls show over 70% of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction.

While Corporate America has made record profits, living standards are falling for working people. Our planet is hurtling toward an environmental catastrophe, yet the political establishment is twiddling its thumbs. The majority of the country wants to see an end to the disastrous war in Iraq but, despite a voter rebellion in the 2006 elections, the new Democratic Congress continues to fund the war. Bush will leave office as one of the most hated presidents in US history. Yet the new Congress has managed to end up even more unpopular with only a 19% approval rating. (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 7-10 March)

Against this background, 58% think a third party is needed and that both Republicans and Democrats do an inadequate job representing the American people. (USA Today/Gallup, 20 July 2007) Democratic candidate Barack Obama has tapped into this yearning for change, presenting himself as a challenger to the establishment. Obama’s campaign has politicised millions of youth and workers, and generated a wave of enthusiasm. He has attracted the support of African Americans and many others who are understandably enthused by the prospect of electing the first black president.

But the unfortunate reality is that Obama will deeply disappoint and betray his supporters’ hopes. Despite his anti-war rhetoric, Obama has repeatedly voted in the Senate to fund Bush’s war in Iraq. And while Obama talks about lifting up the poor and working people, a closer look reveals that he is a thorough-going big-business candidate.

Not long ago, Democratic candidate John Edwards pointed out: "We can say, ‘As long as we get Democrats in, everything’s going to be OK’. It’s a lie. It’s not the truth. Do you really believe if we replace a crowd of corporate Republicans with a crowd of corporate Democrats that anything meaningful is going to change?" However, Edwards’ short-lived campaign showed yet again the futility of challenging big business within the confines of the Democratic Party.

As socialists, we have political disagreements with Nader, who mistakenly looks to reform capitalism. We aim to overturn this whole rotten capitalist system that breeds war, poverty, racism, sexism and environmental destruction. Nonetheless, Nader’s campaign will give a voice to an important minority of workers and youth who are searching for a left-wing alternative to the rotten right-wing consensus of corporate politics.

An indication of this was shown in a March 13-14 Zogby poll, which has Nader on 5-6% in a race between McCain and either Clinton or Obama. Among voters under 30 and among independents, Nader polls between 12-15%. While it is likely that, as the election gets closer, Nader’s support will be squeezed, particularly if the race is close, these polls show the significant dissatisfaction with both parties and the openness to Nader that exists.

To build the most effective campaign and appeal to workers, youth and the oppressed, Nader should use his campaign to support and actively build movements like the labour, anti-war, and immigrant rights movements. For example, we think Nader should publicly support the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s call for a strike on 1 May against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and use his campaign to actively help spread this marvelous initiative. It is also important for Nader to clearly call for bringing the troops home now, papers for all undocumented immigrants, and more boldly campaign against racism and sexism.


The case against lesser-evilism

RALPH NADER’S declaration to stand has raised a number of questions. For instance, since he isn’t going to win, is it a wasted vote? The best way to gain the maximum concessions from the political establishment is to build the strongest challenge to them. A strong vote for Nader could bring real pressure on an Obama or Clinton presidency to deliver concessions or else risk further erosion of the Democrats’ base to left-wing challengers. A vote for the Democrats or Republicans is a mistake. If the anti-war and labour movements support Obama or Clinton despite their opposition to our key demands, such as full withdrawal from Iraq or universal single-payer healthcare, that says they can take our support for granted.

No matter how many attacks they carry out on workers, or how long they continue the Iraq war, as long as they can point to the Republicans as a ‘greater evil’ they will have our support. Every Nader vote registers a protest and strikes a blow against the establishment and its two parties. A vote for Nader is not a vote for McCain and the Republicans – it’s a vote for radical change. Nader is not a ‘spoiler’ – it is the Republicans and Democrats who have spoiled too many lives.

Didn’t Nader throw the 2000 election to Bush? Contrary to the Democrats’ mantra, Al Gore won the popular vote by over 540,000 votes. More concerned with protecting the legitimacy of the ruling class’s political system, Gore and the Democratic Party refused to challenge the undemocratic Electoral College and actively stopped attempts to organise mass protests against the Republicans’ racist theft of Florida’s election.

It was Clinton and Gore’s policies that paved the way for Bush, not Nader. During their eight years in power, they ruthlessly attacked the living conditions and rights of groups they claimed to represent. This undermined Gore’s appeal to workers, people of colour and young people, many of whom did not vote, feeling no candidate represented their interests.

Clinton and Gore rammed through NAFTA and the WTO, destroyed welfare, and broke promises on universal healthcare, striker replacement laws, abortion, gays in the military, and more. Under Clinton, the prison population exploded from 1.2 million to two million. Clinton was the main enforcer of the murderous sanctions on Iraq, which killed more than one million Iraqis. Nader’s anti-corporate stand in 2000 won 2.9 million votes – the first credible left-wing US presidential candidate in over 50 years.

Many on the left argue that this election is too important for Nader to run in. However, most of them also opposed Nader in 2000 and 2004. These same lesser-evil arguments have been made for decades. When should we break from the Democratic Party? If Obama or Clinton is elected in 2008, we will be told to vote Democrat in 2012 to keep the ‘greater evil’ Republicans out. If we back the Democrats in 2012, what about 2016? As long as we stay locked into the endless cycle of lesser-evilism, we will never get anywhere. Big business will continue to control politics and set the terms of debate, while workers’ interests will be ignored.

It is true that Obama is gaining a lot of support. Many workers and youth are attracted to his campaign for progressive reasons. We agree with their desire for change and to see the Republicans kicked out. Because of the strong mood to defeat the Republicans, if the election is close, Nader could face a difficult political climate and his vote could be squeezed. However, it would be a profound mistake to bend to the immediate mood of support for Obama.

The Nader campaign needs to reach out and try to open up a dialogue with Obama supporters, while honestly and clearly explaining that there is no way forward via the Democrats. We need to patiently warn that Obama will bitterly disappoint his supporters. Under the impact of the growing economic crisis, Obama’s allegiance to big business will force him to attack workers’ living standards. Further, he will likely try to keep a major US presence in Iraq because the ruling class will oppose a humiliating withdrawal.

While only a minority of workers and youth will be willing to break with the Democrats and vote for Nader in 2008, many more will be sympathetic but will feel compelled to vote for the ‘lesser evil’ to stop the Republicans. Under the painful experience of a Democratic presidency, much wider layers of workers will break from the Democrats and support a working-class political alternative. The more we can build support for Nader in 2008 and plant seeds of doubt about the Democratic Party, the faster this process will unfold under a Democratic administration.

The political authority of those who argued against supporting Obama in 2008 will be strengthened, while those who provided a left-wing cover for Obama’s pro-capitalist agenda will be discredited.

Philip Locker

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