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The Greens & the presidency: a voice, not an echo.

As of this writing, Ralph Nader is on the ballot as a candidate for President in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon. Organizers connected with "Third Parties '96" and the Greens say they are circulating petitions in at least thirty other states. We asked Nader to explain why he is running, and then called on an array of activists and commentators for their views. We welcome more contributions to the discussion.

The two-party duopoly--essentially one corporate party with two heads called Republican and Democratic, each wearing different makeup--presents the citizenry every four years with a choice between the Bad and the Worse. And every four years, both the Bad and the Worse get worse because there is no counterpull to the corporate, right-wing pull. And so the Bill Clintons, the Chris Dodds and the A1 Froms (head of the so-called Democratic Leadership Council) are further corporatizing the Democratic Party while signaling to progressives that they have nowhere else to go.

A little over a year ago, at a television studio, Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, told me that the N.A.M. liked Clinton because he fought for their issues (such as NAFTA and GATT) and did not push for organized labor's issues (such as labor-law reform).

What an understatement! Clinton's political philosophy is "protective imitation." He is determined to reduce to a minimum the ability of Dole/Gingrich to turn his right flank. This frustrates Republicans because they know that after Clinton recovered the governorship of Arkansas in 1982, he behaved as if he would never again lose an election because of principles.

On the big economic issues of fiscal policy (including public works), corporate crime, corporate welfare and corporate abuse of consumers and workers, Clinton is a RepDem hybrid. He has no consumer policy; his environmental policy is largely rhetoric and accommodation (note his obeisance to the nuclear power and timber industries, and to the auto industry on fuel economy). The federal regulatory agencies' behavior under Clinton (e.g., banking, the Federal Aviation Administration, auto safety, railroad and job safety) is either indistinguishable from their performance under his Republican predecessors or worse. About the only bright spot is the Food and Drug Administration's anti-tobacco campaign. (The agency is still weak on food safety, however.) Its commissioner, David Kessler, was appointed by George Bush.

Clinton's business-indentured motif went into high gear with his surrender to the Republican-fashioned telecommunications bill that so delighted the oligopolists and autocrats. To make sure that the Federal Communications Commission doesn't reverse its anticonsumer positions, Clinton undermined his own chairman, Reed Hundt, by appointing two other commissioners with pro-industry leanings, thus depriving the frustrated Hundt of a working majority. Other major Clinton nominations--to the Supreme Court, the Treasury Department and the omnipotent Federal Reserve--are all Wall Street-approved.

On foreign affairs, military budgets and policy, record tax-subsidized arms exports and serious global health issues, the President is an unwavering transition from George Bush. Like Bush, Clinton cannot make himself speak out against fast-growing brutalized child labor abroad, which GATT protects. Nor will he confront on human rights grounds global corporations that coddle dictatorships, thus encouraging the contagious corporate criminality that arises from those alliances.

The defiantly deteriorating national Democratic Party, stripped of any grass-roots engagement, obligated to corporate moneys and personnel, and chaired by the Senator from Aetna (Dodd), refuses to recognize the need for a comprehensive prolabor agenda, leaving a supportive A.F.L.-C.I.O. as supplicant with nowhere to go.

The Democratic Party, as Nation readers will no doubt point out, is clinging to a dwindling difference from the Republicans. But the differences in practice are much smaller than the differences in rhetoric. And the choices for voters are exceedingly narrow and getting narrower; on the fundamental power issue of corporate government taking over the political government, the two parties are in a mutual kowtow. The differences are largely lodged in the distribution of social services. But look who is defining the agenda here and who is on the defensive to the degree that he cannot even stand tall for children and other defenseless Americans. Didn't Clinton just endorse Governor Tommy Thompson's welfare plan in Wisconsin, which child-defender and former Clinton ally Marian Wright Edelman finds so cruel to youngsters?

In no area is Clinton's protective imitation strategy more transparently expedient, given his background as a constitutional law teacher, than in his erosions of civil liberties protections. Columnists Anthony Lewis and Nat Hentoff have strongly criticized the President for eagerly supporting and signing Republican bills that weaken the "great writ" of habeas corpus and seriously endanger other civil liberties of Americans and legal residents.

When it comes to strengthening our democracy by providing organizing and other tools for labor, consumers and shareholders, by expanding access to justice, by protecting the health and safety rights of consumers in the marketplace and by applying regular law and order to the rich and powerful [see Nader, "How Clinton Can Build Democracy," November 30, 1992], Clinton has taken a pass. He has never been serious about campaign finance reform, while sending very serious letters to the affluent, offering them a seat at his dinner table for a $100,000 contribution. He did veto, after maddening indecision, a "tort deform" bill and a securities fraud bill that would have restricted the judicial rights of injured and defrauded people. The latter, which consumer groups called the "crooks and swindlers protection act," was vetoed in such a timid context that Clinton enabled his own party chairman, Senator Dodd, to lead the override of his veto.

This aversion to challenging abuses of concentrated power, coupled with the mentality of protective imitation, made Clinton and his party very good at electing very bad Republicans in 1994. About seventy of the cruelest rogues who ever crawled up Capitol Hill took over the House of Representatives for Gingrich because the well-funded Democratic Party had no identity and progressive agenda to defeat even this extreme wing of the opposition party.

It is one thing for progressive Democrats to be shunted aside on issue after issue by the Dodd-Clintonites; it is more deeply disturbing to realize that these corporate Democrats have lost control of Congress and their chief hope in getting it back rests on how extremist their opponents become.

Raising expectation levels to get political parties moving away from a competition between the Bad versus the Worse toward the Good versus the Better requires a civic dynamic that is incompatible with accepting the status quo. External competition is necessary to break up the two-party duopoly, either to produce really different political parties or lead to political realignments toward multiparty evolutions.

Last fall, several leading California environmentalists asked if I would agree to their placing my name on the Green Party ballot for President. Reflecting on how corporatized government is rapidly shutting out civic participation, I agreed, but said I would not accept any campaign contributions or run in a traditional manner. I've been criticized by some for choosing to go about matters in this way, but my goal is to encourage a campaign dependent on self-reliant citizen muscle at the grass roots, not some guy on a horse. This is one test, certainly for people in the Green Party and other progressives, of whether they are going to step up their mobilization. In some states, the Greens are already forming parties as a result, and they are taking a long-range view of their initiatives.

In the near term there is a need for a modest-sized party that is rooted in progressive communities, agendas and energies, and that (1) focuses on new and stronger tools of democracy for voters, workers, consumers and taxpayers; (2) breaks through the DemRep taboos against debating the supremacy of global corporations over our political, economic, educational, media and cultural institutions; and (3) brings into progressive politics a young generation of Americans.

There is no patent on these agendas; they are available to all candidates for their campaigns. Instead of telling progressives they have nowhere to go, Clinton could reduce the numbers who stay home on Election Day and open up a corporate critique of Dole. This he is unlikely to do. It is up to him. Nobody but Clinton can beat Clinton. He is too unprincipled to lose to Dole, who anyway cannot reinvent himself.

Many Americans who call themselves liberals have so lowered their expectations about what politics can mean to this nation's future that they are settling for diminishing returns. Politics has been corrupted not just by money but by being trivialized out of addressing the great, enduring issues of who controls, who decides, who owns, who pays, who has a voice and access, and why solutions available on the shelf are not applied to the existing and looming crises of our society, both local and global.

One thing politicians do understand is rejection. When voters are deciding how they wish to use their vote, they should ask themselves how best to send a clear message. The Greens and other progressives are in the early building stages of a people-first, democratic political movement for future years. They deserve our attention because they are centering on the basis issues of representative government, one of whose purposes is to strengthen the usable tools of democracy; the other, in Thomas Jefferson's prophetic words, is "to curb the excesses of the monied interests."
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Title Annotation:need for a third-party candidacy in 1996 presidential election
Author:Nader, Ralph
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jul 8, 1996
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