Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Is To Be Done? 

Yes, we know he's partly responsible for getting us into this mess, but try and ignore that for the next couple of minutes. Amy Goodman interviews Ralph Nader (courtesy of Zemblan patriot M.U.):
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. What is your assessment of Election Day and the results?

RALPH NADER: Well, the assessment is that to the extent the Democrats gained the majority in the House, it was on the backs of some very rightwing Democrats who won the election against rightwing Republican incumbents. And so, there was no mandate for any progressive agenda. For example, in 1974, when the Democrats swarmed over the Republicans, it was on the backs of many very progressive Democratic challengers who were elected. And the same is true in the ’60s, when some very progressive senators like Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was elected. But not this time. They're going to have to deal with a lot of Blue Dog Democrats, and that's going to give Pelosi great pause as she tries to maneuver a few things through the Congress.

The other thing that is good, though, is that there's some very good veteran chairmen who are coming in: George Miller, Henry Waxman, Ed Markey and, of course, John Conyers. But to counter that, both John Conyers and Nancy Pelosi have taken the impeachment issue right off the table, before the election, and that means there's going to be no Bush accountability for his war crimes and his inflation of unlawful presidential authority.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Ralph Nader, when asked -- when Nancy Pelosi was asked what would be the difference if the Democrats took over, she said subpoena power.

RALPH NADER: Well, alright, that gets to a real gridlock situation. The Democrats will throw a lot of subpoenas at the White House. The White House will, of course, drag it on and on and on. And the public will get fed up with it. The White House has great reserves in dragging it on and on and on. Because Bush can't rely on Republicans as a majority of the Congress, he's going to inflate his presidential power even more extremely and unlawfully, in the opinion of many legal scholars, to do through the inherent power of the presidency, as Dick Cheney and Bush have talked about, what he can't do through the Congress, which he no longer controls.

But notice that, in all the debates I’ve heard between the Senate candidates and the House candidates over the last few weeks, there was almost no mention of corporate power, the 800-pound gorilla, no mention of corporate crime, no drive for corporate reform. And yet, if you look at the forward issues in the country, who’s saying no to healthcare, universal healthcare? Corporate power. Who’s saying no to a real crackdown on corporate crime against consumers, especially inner-city consumers? Corporate power. Who’s saying no to cleaning up the corrupt tens of billions of dollars in military contracting fraud, like Halliburton? Corporate power. Who’s saying no to reform of hundreds of billions of dollars of diversion of your tax dollars, America, to corporate subsidies, handouts and giveaways? Corporate power. And yet, reporters and candidates hardly mentioned it. Kevin Zeese, the Green Party candidate, did in Maryland for the Senate. Howie Hawkins did in New York, the Green Party candidate for the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about this big money in the big parties, the two big parties, and also third party politics today, and what you saw around the country.

RALPH NADER: Well, first of all, the mess with the voting machinery and the registration situation, this country is a mockery of obstructing people to vote, going back to the post-Civil War era. Now they have new ways to do it through these machines, through not distributing the machines, through challenging people's voting credentials. There's no other Western democracy that requires registration. In Canada, if you are counted as part of the regular census, you vote, period.

And so, what we need in this country, first of all, is a complete reform of electoral laws, including one federal standard for candidates running for federal office, for Congress and for the President, not 50 different state standards and more county standards. There needs to be criminal prosecutions. Notice you can obstruct people's right to vote, you can do what happened in Ohio and Florida, and because both parties want to be able to do it, if they're in power, at the state level, there's no prosecution tradition here, as there is, say, for procurement fraud. So nobody goes to jail. So, every two or four years, it's going to happen, more and more and more. And the number of ways that people can be obstructed from voting -- votes can be miscounted; that people can be falsely designated as ex-felons; the extent to which voting rolls can be shrunken, like in Cleveland, Ohio, by a Republican state government, Blackwell, Secretary of State -- all this is going to happen again and again, unless you have crackdowns, unless you have task forces that will prosecute these violations, and unless you have a national debate about universal voting, Amy.

We've got to ask ourselves -- jury duty is the only civic duty in our Constitution. We have a whole Bill of Rights, but we have very few duties. And if we have to obey thousands of laws passed by lawmakers, it seems to me that having voting be a civic duty, as it is in Australia and Brazil and some other countries, is the way to clear away all these manipulations and obstructions, because if you have a legal duty to vote --

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, mandatory.

RALPH NADER: Yes. If you have the duty to vote, then obstructing it becomes a very serious crime, whereas now it's just, you know, the political game the two parties play against one another.
Topics discussed in the portions of the interview we chose to omit include the ballooning ego of Joe Lieberman (yes, yes: takes one to know one), the lack of a Democratic plan for withdrawal from Iraq, the "eminently resolvable" nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the "monstrous laceration of our Constitutional rights" embodied in the Military Commissions bill, and some handy advice for progressives who want to win elections. We would have excerpted more but we only had two darts.

Streaming audio of the full interview is available here. You may download it as an MP3 file here.

UPDATE: Two visitors who go by the unlikely monikers of "Avedon" and "Susie from Philly" -- oh, come on! What are your real names?? -- have taken us to task, in comments below, for aiding and abetting the right-wing spin machine by quoting Mr. Nader to the effect that the Tuesday victories of certain rightward-leaning "Blue Dog Democrats" do not necessarily represent a triumph of progressivism. While there's no way to argue that Casey, Webb, or even Sherrod Brown (who after all voted for the Military Commissions bill) are flawless progressive candidates, we should nonetheless make our own position clear. We happen to believe that a wised-up electorate just laid a big fat Cleveland steamer on Mr. Bush and his entire program, both domestic and foreign, and we had to stifle the urge to heave on more than one occasion last night when we heard the MSNBC team trying to recast an unprecedented repudiation of the GOP as a cloaked triumph of "conservatism" -- which, of course, it was not; see Ezra Klein and the great Rick Perlstein, among others, for further details.

Then we got to thinking: even if the illiberal spin is dead wrong . . . is it really such a bad meme? If Democrats somehow managed to pull in a hefty chunk of the "conservative" vote, along with the "centrist" vote, not to mention the "liberal" vote and the far-out San Franscisco transsexual "progressive" vote, then what turf can the Republican party still be said to control?

The graft-and-bribery vote? The no-bid-contracts-for-Halliburton vote? The fuck-New-Orleans vote? The habeas-corpus-is-for-pussies vote? The we-hate-queers-but-we-turn-a-blind-eye-to-man-boy-love vote? The Jesus-sure-does-love-him-some-stem-cells vote? Admittedly, the knuckle-dragging retards who genuinely believed that we were making great progress in Iraq right up until the moment earlier today when Rummy's ass first knew the deep, darting kiss of Georgie's boot are, as always, in the GOP's back pocket. But apart from them, who's left?

Jim Derych astutely notes that Rush Limbaugh, to cite one unfortunately prominent example, has been part of a decades-long project to demonize the very words "Democrat" and "liberal":
It's a political philosophy that his at its core the racism of the old Republican Southern Strategy. In my book I talk about how Rush has made 'liberal' the new 'ni**er.' Now I've been around plenty of racists in my time. One of the mantra's of a true, Klan-like racist belief is that the lowliest member of your race is still better than the best member of the race that you hate. Well, here we have Rush saying that basically the worst Republican is better than the best Democrat, and that he's going to endorse accordingly. While I've always thought this to be the case, I'm a little surprised to hear Rush say it so candidly.
If the illiberal media try to spin the electoral tsunami of 2006 by claiming that Democrats deliberately reached out to centrists and responsible conservatives, and that centrists and responsible conservatives therefore decided to embrace the Democrats because the GOP, as presently constituted, is too corrupt, too extremist, too right-wing, too freakazoidal . . .

. . . how can it hurt? If conventional wisdom has it that centrists and responsible conservatives are now voting Democrat, then the Goopers are marginalized by the very fact of their electoral failure, and the bad old "Democrat Party" is effectively mainstreamed by success. A sizable bloc of voters begins to view voting Dem as a realistic option, perhaps for the very first time. And why not? After all, millions of other centrists and responsible conservatives are doing it. Maybe they're right and Rush is wrong.

The danger, of course, is that party hacks like Rahm Emanuel will take the CW seriously and use it as a lever to push the party rightward. The point, however, is to change perceptions, not principles. Whenever Democrats reject their longstanding raisons d'etre and begin to emulate Republicans, assholes like Rahm will have to be muzzled.

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