|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
The Nader challenge
BLACKED OUT OF the corporate media, barred from the debates, and facing an electoral system rigged to favour the two big-business parties, Ralph Nader’s campaign for president persevered to reach millions of voters with a genuine pro-worker, anti-war alternative. Despite the difficulties, Nader achieved ballot status in 45 states, more than in 2000 or 2004, overcoming arcane and undemocratic ballot access restrictions. He raised over $4 million, opened campaign offices in 22 states, hired 40 paid field organisers, and built up an impressive web presence, demonstrating the potential for building a national left electoral challenge in the years ahead.
Nader’s poll numbers reached as high as 10% in several states and 3-6% nationally in the run-up to the election, even though the corporate media never afforded him a similar percentage of coverage. This shows that an important minority of workers and youth were not contented with the Democrats’ hollow rhetoric, and wanted a left-wing, pro-worker alternative.
By election day, however, fears of fraud, and illusions in Obama, squeezed Nader’s vote. His tally [to November 17, with counting still not completed – see box] had reached 678,544 (0.54%). Former Georgia congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, running on the Green Party ticket, received 146,000 votes (0.1%). So, in total, over 800,000 votes were cast for the two main left-wing, independent candidates.
Nader’s campaign this year faced a particularly difficult climate. The massive tidal wave of support for Obama and his message of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ swept up most of the left. Together with voters’ desire to punish the Republicans after eight years of corrupt rule by the Bush administration, these factors shrank the space for a left-wing alternative.
As an anti-corporate candidate refusing any big business donations, Nader was able to raise $4 million. But these days it costs at least half a billion to run a ‘credible’ campaign for president, something only a corporate-sponsored politician can achieve. Americans were bombarded with coverage of Obama's and McCain’s every move, while most voters were kept in the dark that Nader was even running!
Nader’s results this year are less than the 2.8 million votes he received in 2000, when he was able to capture the mantle of change and build up tremendous grassroots’ support from the rising anti-globalisation movement after eight years of Clinton/Gore betrayals.
Nevertheless, he won more votes than his 2004 total of 465,000, when his vote was squeezed by the enormous ‘anybody but Bush’ pressure. This was coupled with a coordinated, multi-million dollar campaign by the Democratic Party and its allies to challenge Nader’s ballot access and blame him for Gore’s defeat in 2000.
Fighting the two-party system
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF Nader’s campaign cannot be measured mainly by the number of votes he received. He again helped to popularise radical, anti-corporate demands among the several million he reached, and to expose the subservience of the Democratic and Republican parties to corporate interests, along with promoting the idea of a left-wing break from the two-party system.
The Ralph Nader/Matt Gonzalez ticket provided a sharp contrast to that of Obama and McCain. Nader opposed the bipartisan Wall Street bailout, even organising a rally on Wall Street in opposition. He also proposed a massive public works programme to put millions to work with green, living-wage jobs.
While both Obama and McCain supported an expansion of the military by nearly 100,000 troops and an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, Nader called for slashing the military budget and spoke out in favour of complete US corporate and military withdrawal from Iraq, for an end to military aid to Israel, and in opposition to the surge in Afghanistan.
All of these policies put forward by Nader are supported by tens of millions of Americans. He could have received millions more votes had the corporate media given him even 4-6% percent coverage (equivalent to his early support in the polls) or had he been allowed into the debates.
Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party candidate, also ran an anti-war, anti-corporate campaign that helped popularise the need to break from the Democrats, particularly among a section of left-wing African Americans activated by the Katrina disaster and racist voter suppression issues.
Unfortunately, McKinney relied too heavily on the Green Party leadership, which failed to mobilise any serious resources for the campaign. Tensions developed when it failed to raise federal matching funds, which requires just $5,000 each in at least 20 states.
As in 2004, when they refused to support Nader, many Green Party leaders did not want a serious candidacy in order to avoid ruffling Democratic feathers. Ultimately, McKinney finished with around a fifth of Nader’s total, and only slightly more than the 120,000 votes the Green’s David Cobb won in 2004.
While setting an important and positive historical marker, Nader’s campaigns have fallen short in a number of ways. Most importantly, Nader has failed to use them as a serious launching pad for a new mass political party that will be an enduring political voice for workers, young people, and people of color beyond the elections.
By failing to build a party, his campaigns for president every four years lack continuity. The only way to defeat the corporate media blackout is to build ongoing mass organisations with a powerful army of activists to go door-to-door to organise support in the community.
After the elections, Nader is urging the formation of watchdog groups of 1,000 citizens in each congressional district to push for policies like single-payer national healthcare, a national living wage, and an end to the war in Iraq. It is imperative that this effort is linked with the goal of directly challenging big-business politicians in elections. Only when they fear a loss of power will the major parties give concessions.
Most importantly, Nader’s campaign gave a sharp warning about the pro-corporate character of Obama and his party: As he told The Nation: "The working class, most of whom do not vote, watch Democratic candidate after Democratic candidate run for office promising to support labor and protect jobs and then, once elected, trot off to Washington to pass the corporate-friendly legislation drawn up by the 35,000 lobbyists who work for our shadow government". (25 October)
Since 2000, Nader’s campaigns, alongside McKinney and others, have helped plant the seeds of political independence among several million workers and youth, including many who did not vote for him, which will blossom into future bold challenges to the two-party corporate prison.
Teddy Shibabaw and Dan DiMaggio