Sunday, February 24, 2008
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.