In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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In his essay “Hurricane Ralph” [November 2004] Sy Safransky articulated exactly what I’ve been longing to scream in Ralph Nader’s ear ever since I found out he was going to run for president again. Like Safransky, I have always admired and respected Nader, and I can’t for the life of me understand why he doesn’t see how destructive his actions are. I, too, fantasized that Nader would back out of the race and throw his support to Kerry.
There are so few heroes left in this world. I cannot bear to lose another, but I may never be able to forgive Nader.
With all the pundits on the Left saying that Nader should stay out of elections, I had hoped for something wiser from Sy Safransky. Personally I think Nader lost all respectability when he declared the alleged corruption of NBA referees to be a national tragedy, but I will defend at the top of my lungs his right to run for any elected office.
Every social revolutionary in history has been asked to back down, to be more moderate, to step aside and allow for change within the system. We Americans forget that democracy is not a once-every-four-years event, and that real change comes slowly. Nader the person may be arrogant and single-minded, but Nader the politician stands for true social change.
The issue is not so much that Nader ran a marginally successful campaign as a third-party liberal candidate, but that 50 percent or more of Americans voted conservative. That statistic is the tragedy. Safransky writes, “Minorities and the poor have generally fared better under Democratic than Republican administrations,” but a higher percentage of minorities voted for Bush in 2004 than in 2000, and the poorest states in the nation are all red states.
Many liberals feel that this country has abandoned them. I suspect that most of them are middle-class and white. The poor and minorities have always felt like unwanted guests in this nation, and they understand that great change will not come overnight. Perhaps it is sad that Nader ran for president in 2004, but it would be sadder still if no one thought it worthwhile to champion change.
The hand wringing over Nader’s candidacy has more to do with the Democratic Party’s failure to promote liberal values than it does with Nader himself. Democrats criticize Nader more harshly than they do the Bush administration, and in more personal terms, because he consistently and unabashedly articulates the positions that most liberals support.
Nader says that he doesn’t understand why the Democrats don’t steal more of his positions and his criticisms of Bush. I believe part of the reason lies in the ambivalence many Democrats have about a more liberal vision of the world. Another may be fear of what it would mean actually to become more environmentally sustainable and socially equitable. My question to Nader’s critics is: Why aren’t you eclipsing his impact by proclaiming loudly the liberal values he espouses, rather than spending so much energy and money trying to silence the one voice offering an inspiring vision of the future?
From early on in this race, I knew that I would vote for Kerry for tactical reasons, but I never stopped listening to Nader or believing in his message. I don’t see the point of speculating, as Safransky does, on Nader’s personal reasons for running. (No one questioned the neuroses behind Gore’s or Kerry’s candidacies.) I think it is safe to assume that you have to be a bit abnormal to run for president. What matters is what you stand for.
“Hurricane Ralph” made me realize that a vote for Nader is indeed a vote for the future of this country and not, as Safransky implies, a wasted vote and/or a vote for Bush.
Unfortunately, this country has always been governed by monied interests whose donations will go into either Republican or Democratic pockets. Nader may indeed have $4 million, as Safransky suggests, but it was earned by his own efforts and not through connections or compromises. The mainstream candidates owe their political lives to long-ago debts and special interests that limit their ability to do what’s best for their constituents and their country.
I am not saying that there are no differences between the two major parties, but to say that it is folly or somehow selfish not to adhere to the status quo is arrogant and defeatist.
I have grown tired of the threadbare mantra that Nader “takes votes” from the Democrats, as if the votes belonged to them even before the polls open. Votes are not taken; they are earned.
This is all moot now that King George has won his second term. But it’s important to realize why the Democrats’ losing streak is getting worse: because the party has moved to the right in an attempt to be as “tough” as their opponents, thus becoming a cheap copy of a bad product. The Democrats in Congress showed almost no backbone as Bush claimed all the authority and tax dollars he desired to wage his illegal war. And, of course, the Democrats co-chair the Commission on Presidential Debates, the private corporation that has succeeded in keeping third-party candidates out of view — and even hiring police to intimidate them, as they did with Nader in 2000.
Sure, Kerry was the lesser of two evils, but he’s also a candidate who said that there aren’t enough troops in Iraq and that he would do a better job at winning the war, rather than calling the whole thing off. He voted for the PATRIOT Act, a clear violation of the Bill of Rights. Any outrage he displayed remained safely within the boundaries set by the military-corporate machine that runs this country. That wasn’t good enough for me, nor was it for many other progressives.
Bush’s first term understandably frightened many into voting for the Democratic challenger, but engaged citizenship, which Ralph Nader has always emphasized, is the antidote to fear. Most Americans, sadly, are passive political spectators who expect their elected leaders to solve the world’s problems. America needs citizenship, not scapegoats and excuses. Regardless of who sits in office, it’s up to the people to steer their leaders — not the other way around.
Thank you for publishing Rachel Elliott’s interview with Stan Goff [“Homeland Insecurity,” November 2004]. With all the pressure to support the troops, it’s amazing to read of an American with the guts to say he “desperately wants to see the U.S. suffer a devastating political defeat in the Middle East.” What’s more astounding is that, even with all the wealth we’ve extracted from other countries, we are not happy or satisfied as a nation.
A few years back my wife and I rode our bikes through Laos, where the average income is less than four hundred dollars a year. Did we see despair and resentment, fear and anger? Quite the opposite. We met children full of joy, teens with an eagerness to learn about foreign travelers, and adults who openly invited us into their homes. This from a country that had more bombs per capita dropped on it during the Vietnam War than any other nation in the history of warfare.
As a sixth-grade science teacher, I am still searching in my own students for the radiant glow that I saw in the children of Laos.
I agreed with many of Stan Goff’s positions. He lost me, however, when he indirectly referred to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon as a terrorist. “Bulldozing people’s houses and bombing civilians are terrorism, too,” Goff says, but he says nothing about the Palestinian intifada murder missions to bomb Israeli pizza parlors, grocery stores, and bus stops, where innocent women and children are killed and maimed. I would have hoped for a clear denunciation of these terrorist acts. Instead Goff simply ignores them.
Also, George W. Bush is not my favorite person, but the idea that he has supported state-run terrorism in Israel is not worthy of serious consideration. Sometimes liberals get carried away with their rhetoric, as do others with contrary opinions.
Readers Write is the first section of The Sun I read. I’m always moved by it, even if I am moved to disagree, as I was reading the entry by the anonymous woman who has a lover and does not tell her husband [“Coming Clean,” November 2004]. “When you stop and think about it,” she writes, “who would benefit from such an admission?”
Love would benefit. Love is built on trust, which is built on honesty and respect that the other person can handle the truth.
A secret was kept from me for sixteen years and then hurled at me in anger. The truth always comes out, and misguided secrecy destroys trust in a relationship. I’m grateful for having been told the truth, despite the method of its delivery, and have healed and learned from the experience. The truth hurts, but never as much as the betrayal.
Greg King’s interview with Daniel Ellsberg [“One Patriot Acts,” October 2004] started off well. With his experience, I felt that Ellsberg had something unique to offer to the discussion of the war in Iraq and the war on terror. Unfortunately, he destroyed his credibility when he said, “I don’t think Bush and the rest intend to allow themselves to be voted out of office. That means two things. It means voting fraud, and it means another terrorist attack, whether Osama bin Laden is behind it or not. It could well be a Bush terrorist attack, because it would help him get reelected.”
I don’t like Bush any more than most people on the Left, but I’m not paranoid enough to think that Bush would orchestrate a terrorist attack or attempt to disenfranchise thousands or even millions of people through voting fraud just to hold on to power for four more years.
Ellsberg has some key insights to share with the American public, but you can’t fight extremism with extremism. He needs to dispense with his Orwellian fantasies or risk being dismissed by the swing voters who most need to hear his message.