Sunday, February 24, 2008

Catechisms



So, apparently terrified at the thought of a Democrat winning the White House, Ralph Nader has decided to throw his hat in the ring and run for President again. In 2000, Eric Alterman made this Cassandra-like observation while so many lefty lemmings were happily voting for Nader: "How odd it is to note, therefore, that this nascent leftist movement has virtually no support among African-Americans, Latinos or Asian-Americans. It has no support among organized feminist groups, organized gay rights groups or mainstream environmental groups. To top it all off, it has no support in the national union movement. So Nader and company are building a nonblack, non-Latino, non-Asian, nonfeminist, nonenvironmentalist, nongay, non-working people's left: Now that really would be quite an achievement." Indeed, now that eight years of Bush have passed, and now that the Democratic party has two candidates who are highly motivating their various demographics, Nader's motivation seems even more suspect: like REO Speedwagon at the county fair, he seems intent on giving the people what they don't want, if only to prolong his sad moment in the spotlight a bit further. In doing so, he reminds us of how truly narrow his vision of progressivism was and is.

According to the article, on today's Meet The Press: "Nader, 73, said most people are disenchanted with the Democratic and Republican parties due to a prolonged Iraq war and a shaky economy." That's actually not true: they are disenchanted with the Republican Party, to be sure, but there is record turnout in the Democratic primaries, record voter registration drives, and a recent survey that suggested 84% of Democrats are enthusiastic about their choices. While there is frustration with the Congress's inability to block Republican fillibusters (count me among the frustrated), recent stands against telecom immunity and calls for contempt citations in the U.S. Attorneys scandal suggest that might be changing, and I think many progressive activists realize the best way to function is to work within the primary system (witness the recent win by progressive activist Donna Edwards in the Maryland Dem primary, unseating Bush dog Al Wynn), rather than outside of it. I am not a Kucinich supporter, for instance, but I give him credit for jumping in at the primary level and trying to make his concerns a part of the discussion-- that seems a lot more productive than making a run as a quixotic "outsider," even if it's not as glamorous or romantic.

And that desire for martyred glamour is really the issue, isn't it? "The issue is do they have the moral courage, do they have the fortitude to stand up to corporate powers and get things done for the American people," Nader said. "We have to shift the power from the few to the many." And yet, Nader himself seems to lack the moral courage to really get involved in the nitty-gritty of daily politics, preferring to drop in every four years as a moral scold, but spending the time in-between on the sidelines, as the poltical landscape his disastrous 2000 run shaped only makes things worse for the people he claims to represent.

Nader's remarks today-- their cliched, memorized, moth-worn qualities-- suggest a man less interested in real change than in catechisms, easily memorizable shibboleths that he can whip out as a rhetorical pose (it doesn't matter if they are as stuck-in-2000 as a Ricky Martin song: if anything, that air of nostalgia helps Nader's comeback cause). "What happens when the stereotype moves left?," Roland Barthes wrote in 1975, predicting the rise of cultural studies mechanisms and repetitions that would soon make the Hollywood assembly line system (ironically, one of the mechanism's targets) seem fresh and creative in comparison.That leaning on the familiar trope suggests the tricky line between style and hackwork-- and I would suggest Nader, as another critical fetish object, crossed that line many moons ago. At this point, he's less the daring outsider than the Fat Elvis-- a once-vital cultural force who now squeezes into a gaudy rhinestone suit, and burps out his hits for the bluehairs.

10 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

So you're voting for Nader right?

Since you said everything that needs to be said I will simply that Nader is a putz. His campaigns are unsafe at any speed.

boolise said...

Nader--for whom I voted in 2000--has become an Onion article in and of himself. And, like Dubya, he has a propensity (a rage, really) for foolish consistency. Yes, more of that please.

Anonymous said...

Why would any intelligent human being (and Democrats are so much more) vote for a Karl Rove controlled parasite likr Nader, he did not exist before Rove, he will not exist after, he is a Republican whore!

Brian Doan said...

His campaigns are unsafe at any speed.

Yes! Do you think that will be his campaign bumper sticker?

Brian Doan said...

And, like Dubya, he has a propensity (a rage, really) for foolish consistency.

Ralph Nader=hobgoblin of little minds. Discuss. (:

And anonymous-- whew! How do you really feel? (: No, just kidding-- I share your deep distrust and distaste of Nader. Thanks for stopping by!

pc said...

Well said, Bri.

Honestly I don't think he'll be a spoiler. Sure, he hurt Gore in Fl, but I don't recall him doing much to draw from Kerry and I suspect he won't draw much from Obama either. Clinton he'd likely hurt a little, but even there not much. McCain might lose 3 votes because of him.

Bob Westal said...

I can't remember, but I think I wrote an apologia (but not an apology) for voting for Nader in 2000 in Gore-safe California here before here -- and I think it's pretty silly to say that Karl Rove manufactured him, which is different than taking advantage of his existence once he was doing it. I certainly agree with your opinion of Kucinich, vis a vis the Dem party.

But, you know, part of my reason for voting for Nader a million years ago BC was that there was Barack Obama, no John Edwards...there wasn't even an Al Gore, appearances notwithstanding.

Now, we've got all three making their presence felt in different ways, plus an increasingly well developed network of Democratic-party based online-driven activism which is (slowly, I admit) changing the face of the Democratic party -- so that for the last three years I've been proudly calling myself a Democrat, as opposed to a center-left liberal who registered Dem so I could vote in the primaries, which is how I described myself for years between 1988 and 2003 or so.

I'm not too concerned that Nader might swing the election again, since his once small, now ultra-miniscule appeal is, I think, only going to attract the tiniest part of the extreme-left, "Free Mumia" fringe who would otherwise have voted Peace & Freedom or for some other Green candidate anyway -- assuming, of course that Obama is the candidate. An ugly Hillary win could change the dynamics a lot.

In any case, we so manifestly do not need Ralph Nader. How sad he hasn't concentrated on doing the good work he was once famous for.

Bob Westal said...

The clarify my statement above, I should have probably said "an ugly win for Hillary", just to avoid, er, ugliness.

Brian Doan said...

Hi All!
Pat, I agree that Nader probably won't play as big a role as he did in 2000-- I think disgust with him, even on the left, is rising, and I would be surprised if he even duplicated 2004's .38% of the vote. Still, it's worth mocking him, just to be on the safe side.

Bob, I agree that's it's probably an exaggeration to call Nader a "creation" of Rove, but Rove certainly knew how to exploit Nader's shenanigans, and Nader certainly received considerable financial support from Repubs in 2004. And I, too, am much more excited about the Dem candidates this year, and hope it will be a good November.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Bob - Re: the Hillary remark.

When I was in college a friend of mine, Patrick, had a disagreement with the Chairman of the Drama Department, Dr. William Graham, over a critique the Chairman (also a great professor) had given him on a paper. Patrick spoke his mind, made his case and Dr. Graham disagreed. Patrick said "Okay" and then as he left the office, of which I was sitting outside, his sleeve caught the door knob and as he yanked his hand away the door slammed, and I mean slammed! He panicked and thought, "Oh my god, he'll think I did that because I'm mad about the critique" and on and on until he opened the door back up and apologized profusely saying it was all an accident.

There was silence for a moment.

Then Dr. Graham said, "You should have left it with the slammed door. It made more of a statement."