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28 October 2008

The Least Worst Trap: Talking with Ralph Nader, Alison Kilkenny, HuffPo

On Sunday, the War on Terror spilled into Syria, and the only people more surprised than the Syrians are Americans. See, the war has already spilled into Pakistan. It's unclear where the United States will be heading next, but I hear Kazakhstan is hunkered down and braced for an attack at any moment. Sure, they're a member of NATO and the UN, and have nothing to do with any of this, but their funny-sounding name and population of foreigners is working against their innocence. All it will take to gain popular support for an air assault is the presence of American ignorance regarding Kazakhstan's people, policies, and culture. Bad news Kazakhstan: we have no idea who you are. Head for the hills!

Even as the war expands, the definition of victory remains opaque. Though the Bush administration has no long-term vision of what a stable Middle East looks like (Bush has said something about an Iraqi 'Mickey D's being a 'sweet idea') several senior American officials simply expressed hope that the unwise war policies of preemption and perpetual, borderless war would "be embraced by the next president as well." And these policies will be embraced unless the American people demand something different from their leaders.

At home, people are losing their jobs and their homes, while their tax dollars go to bailing out corporate crooks who base their livelihoods on speculative lending, shady mortgages, and outsourcing American jobs overseas. The policies of corporate socialism (where tax dollars go to bailing out huge corporations) will also continue unless the American people stand up and say no more.

In desperate times, the American people have a history of embracing the least worst politician, but it's time they demand more from the next president of the United States. It's time to transcend pretty rhetoric and empty promises. The new president must aggressively embrace a Progressive agenda or it will be impossible to reverse the damage committed over the past few decades.

Ralph Nader, Independent Party presidential candidate, has been pleading with the American people to demand more from their leaders. Unsurprisingly, the corporately sponsored Commission on Presidential Debates did not permit Nader into the debates, even though a majority of the American people supported opening the debates to other party candidates.

Regardless of how one feels about his presence in the 2008 election, Ralph Nader is undeniably the leader of the last real Progressive wave in this country. It was because of his uncompromising vision that Congress passed the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Just during the 5-year period between 2002 and 2006, seat belts have saved over 75,000 lives (PDF). His list of Progressive accomplishments includes the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.

Ralph Nader and his army of conscientious citizens were the last organized, serious movement that demanded accountability from Washington.

The so-called Progressives today are allowing Barack Obama to compromise on everything from FISA to the anti-war movement. But even as he votes for telecom immunity and talks about Afghanistan as the good war, Obama has never lied about being a Progressive. In fact, he seems rather confused that any of his followers think he'll be anything but a centrist in the White House. Progressive groups that score Obama with a 50% approval rating seem confused by this as well.

The Progressives have pinned their hopes and dreams to a man they have asked nothing of, and they're going to be sorely disappointed when he, in turn, does nothing for them.

When I interviewed Ralph Nader, he explained what will happen if Barack Obama is elected president:

You take the 20 leading groups supporting him in the liberal-progressive pantheon: labor, anti-poverty, civil rights, women's rights, gay-lesbian rights, environment, consumer - you name it - not one of them is putting any demands on him. Unconditional voting for the least worst of the two parties means that your vote has no political leverage whatsoever. It allows Obama to take it for granted, and not give the anti-war people anything because he knows he has the anti-war vote. Then they go to the right wing and slice off a few votes there by going more corporate and flip-flopping on offshore drilling. This is the same merry-go-round every four years. The liberal intelligentsia is doomed unless they solve this problem of unconditional voting for the least worst candidate.
Closed debates and apathetic, naïve voters will result in a continuation of Bush's policies, and Americans will be told to wait another four years for single payer health care, a living wage, the end of the Iraq war, cutting the bloated military budget, ending the death penalty, ending the wasteful War on Drugs, investing in solar power, and the end of nuclear power.

When neither party is talking about any of the above issues, the American people are screwed because they're at the mercy of a winner-take-all system. Nader explains:

The people are in a two party prison. There can be something like a Green Party in Germany because if you win 5% of the vote you get 5% of the parliament. Here, you've got to win 51% or a plurality, which is why people don't support small starts to make them build into larger movements because they think: well, they're only 4 or 5% in the polls and I don't want to waste my vote. It's time to break out of the prison.

A 4-5% Progressive voice won't be enough to create real change. And Americans are ready for real change. They don't want to triangulate and compromise. Compromise results in, as Nader puts it, "a macho competition" between Democrats and Republicans, who disagree on if abortion is a matter of killing babies, but agree on bombing foreign babies every chance they get. The 2008 US military cash-burning extravaganza is currently hovering around the $623 billion mark. That's more than the rest of the world's military budgets, combined.

It's time Progressives stop playing defense and start setting the agenda. They can do that by putting real pressure on Barack Obama if he is elected president. They must organize and demand a stop to the wars, and not settle for, as Obama is suggesting, the continued presence of U.S. bases and private mercenaries. They also must demand publicly funded elections, and an open system that allows the American myth that anyone can run for president to become reality.

Currently, the Military-Industrial Complex, which feeds on war and suffering, controls America. Progressives claim to be the blockade between greedy politicians and federal tax dollars, and yet they are continuing to let Obama get away with catering to the middle.

They make this unforgivable compromise because they're certain Obama is a radical Progressive simply spouting some centrist rhetoric until he can get into the White House. And then it's free health care and peace for everybody!

I'm paraphrasing what a California lawyer told me at the Nader-Gonzalez Wall Street bailout rally a few weeks ago. Michelle, the lawyer, and a minority Obama supporter (she came to the rally because she was curious), said she was absolutely 100% certain that Barack Obama was a Progressive, and he is only saying he's pro-death penalty and for the bailout because he needs to get elected.

I asked her what evidence she had of this claim. She had none. She just felt it in her heart.

Progressives need to stop acting on what they feel in their hearts and look at what is happening to their leadership. If they don't collectively demand real, sweeping reform from the next president, then the president will bow to the only real pressure he feels - the pressure from corporations and war hawks.

The full transcript of Ralph Nader's interview can be found here.

For more information on Ralph Nader, visit: Votenader.org.

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