An apology from a former Nader Raider

by Nathan Hall

In the 1941 film “Sergeant York,” Gary Cooper played a Tennessean pacifist-turned-war hero. Based on a true story, GI sniper Alvin York captured a strategic German outpost despite being grossly outnumbered and under-equipped. The winning “turkey shoot” strategy was simple – a daring surprise small rear attack left the illusion that there were dozens more troops coming behind him.

It would do the splintered, disorganized American left a world of good to take heed of York’s aim-for-the-big-guy approach in November’s upcoming elections. Distracted by petty infighting, the “Anyone But Bush” movement might soon derail itself if it does not provide a clear, coherent, unified and concise alternative to majority opinion.

As an extremely vocal, card-carrying backer of Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy in 2000, it is with extreme embarrassment, sadness and shame that I watch my former hero’s distinguished legacy ironically disintegrate into ridiculous, egotistical megalomania on the scale of Hugh Hefner.

Deciding to run independently for president of the United States this late in the game is the type of blindly arrogant behavior I would normally associate with Howard Hughes, not a progressive icon who single-handedly jump-started the consumer rights movement.

Without ever holding public office, Nader fought for the little guy and systematically overhauled a corrupt Federal Trade Commission. He weathered smear campaigns from multinational corporations such as General Motors and still mobilized generations of revolutionary citizen advocacy groups. No one dares question his commitment to fighting monied special interest groups that fought him tooth and nail on seat belts, air bags, food labels, lead poisoning and the Freedom of Information Act.

So why the temporary insanity now?

Technically, Nader has been running since 1992. A gifted public speaker, he first campaigned in the primaries under the “none of the above” write-in banner. Correctly pointing out that Democrats are just Republicans with cheaper suits, he tapped into the same righteous anger over lack of consumer choice that spurred the Three Mile Island protests. He was the Green Party candidate in 1996 and again in 2000, despite increased disagreement with party officials over campaign strategy, fund-raising and advertising decisions.

The death struggle against the Democrats is old news by now. Blocked from the debates, Nader’s vanity, combined with a corrupt Supreme Court and Florida’s highly creative voting procedures, cost an inept, spineless Al Gore the race. Hope for third parties, initially bolstered by Ross Perot’s brief checkbook-barnstorming, lay in shambles. The Green Party quickly tired of the messianic narcissist shtick and eventually cut him loose. Nader’s chances of winning now of course are the same odds as Lyndon LaRouche or the Natural Law Party, but he could siphon a substantial amount of votes from Democrats nonetheless.

A corporate-controlled media still censors third parties; that part is true. But the ideology of pragmatic liberalism, no matter how disenfranchised we really are, still dictates that we unfortunately must vote for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, yet another boring weathervane Democrat who pays minimal lip service to environmental concerns. The true tragedy of the matter is that it did not have to end this way.

In the recently published book “The New Liberalism: The Rising Power of Citizen Groups,” author Jeffrey Berry finds that environmental groups, using Nader’s playbook, have become increasingly sophisticated at persuading Congress to discuss issues they care about, catching the media’s attention and efficiently shaping new laws. Notable conservative Republican insiders such as Russell Train now roundly criticize the GOP’s systematic dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts created under former President Richard Nixon.

I had the opportunity to interview Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, at length in person before he spoke to a capacity crowd at Northrop Auditorium shortly before the Minnesota caucuses. Virtually every answer he gave echoed both the Green Party’s Ten Key Values and, surprisingly, statements made by Nader at a rally in the Metrodome in late 2000. The only difference? He is still a Democrat. Why Nader and his supporters (Socialist Alternative, Greens, etc.) did not get behind Kucinich or even former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at the beginning, I will never understand.

Well, hindsight is always 20-20. Personally, I am putting my Nader T-shirts, buttons, books, pins and other memorabilia in a cardboard box in the back of the closet. Sgt. York had one simple objective to accomplish: to stop a machine gun that was mowing down all his friends. He did not bother to see if anyone was following behind him, he just simply did what needed to be done. So why can’t environmentally conscious liberals do the same?

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]