Ralph Nader and the Greens

Against the Current, No. 64, September/October 1996

Walt Contreras Sheasby

“STEALTH CANDIDATE POSES a Threat,” the New York Times announced on July 11. For many others, however, it poses a promise of hope.

Ralph Nader’s presidential candidacy has now officially qualified for the ballot in 12 states (concentrated in the West) with a total of 127 electoral votes: Hawaii (4), Alaska (3), Washington (11), Oregon (7), California (54), Nevada (4), Utah (5), Colorado (8), New Mexico (5), Iowa (7), Maine (4), and New Jersey (15).

He is a Green Party candidate in all but Oregon, where the Pacific Party is planning to change its name to Green, and in Washington, where he is listed as an Independent and is backed by Rainbow supporters and other progressives, as well as the Green Party.

Ballot drives were unsuccessful in a number of states, but the Nader campaign is expecting to be on the ballot in 17 other states by midSeptember, including  Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (11), Tennessee (11), Louisiana (9), Alabama (9), Kentucky (8), Connecticut (8), Mississippi (7), Arkansas (6), Nebraska (5), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), North Dakota (3), and Delaware (3).

Ohio (21) is likely to qualify with 5,000 valid signatures on August 22 and District of Columbia (3) with 3,500 by August 20. New York (33), which needs 15,000 valid signatures by August 20, is the trump card, because with it Nader would have a potential electoral college vote of 285.

Since there are 538 electoral college votes, a presidential candidate must garner a minimum of 270 to win the election. By the official start of the Fall campaign Nader will have sufficient states to justify his inclusion in the debates and the demand for free air time.

This in turn gives him a greater chance to poll more than 5% of the popular vote, or roughly 5,230,000 votes, based on the 1992 turnout. This is the goal the Greens and their allies have to achieve, if they are to qualify for about $3.8 million in Federal matching funds to organize their convention in 2000. Since Nader is not on the ballot in all states, he would have to receive an average of 9% in the states where he is qualified, with a slight boost from write-in votes.

That is a big step to take, but a June California Field poll shows that he is viewed favorably by 53% of voters, with only 26% taking an unfavorable view. Nader is contributing that high favorability to the attempt to form a nationwide Green Party allied to other progressive forces.

“Do Third Parties Have A Chance?”

The harsh obstacles to ballot access faced by third parties today are the result of the efforts of state legislatures sixty years ago to prevent the growth of  radical political parties. This issue was taken up by the young Ralph Nader in an article titled “Do Third Parties Have a Chance?” in the October 9, 1958 Harvard Law Record:

“…periods of minor party activity have been paralleled by a rash of restrictive enactments from the two party dominated legislatures. In 1932 the Socialist Party made the North Carolina ballot with a petition of 10,000 signatures. Immediately thereafter the legislature enacted more stringent requirements. Only the Democratic and Republican Parties appeared on the election ticket in 1936.”

Nader has been concerned about breaking through the two-party duopoly since he was a law student. As he wrote then, “Opening the ballot to more than two alternatives encourages citizen participation in the political process.”

In 1996, almost thirty-eight years later, that is still the goal as he campaigns for the formation of a new party based on the Green initiative. His focus is his Toolbox for Democracy political reforms and his program to End Corporate Welfare by putting people before profits. He now says, “I think a lot of what they [the Greens] are saying about democracy…about corporate accountabilityI’ve been saying for years (McLaughlin Interview, “One on One,” PBS, July 6, 1996).

Always a gadfly on the liberal Democrats, Nader has never been one of thema point he seems to stress these days. “I’m an independent. I’ve never registered as a Democrat.” In 1992 he ran as writein rather than take a line on the ballot. As he says, “I ran as a noncandidatenone of the above.”

In 1994, when Nader was asked if he would support formation of a third party, he replied, “Absolutely essential, and I would like to do anything I can to stimulate its formation.” He hoped that the various progressive parties would begin “…to lay the basis in ’96 at the local level and state level for a national unity drive in the year 2000 (David Frost Interview, PBS, Oct. 21, 1994).”

As a standardbearer this year, he still supports the idea of parties coalescing in the year 2000: “The problem with emerging parties is that they keep really shortterm calendars. If you want to have a large third party by  the year 2000, a party that the Democrats cannot ignore, then it makes sense to start building now (Washington Post, May 21, 1996).”

In a July 8, 1996 article he again emphasized his broad democracy agenda as the basis for such a formation:

“In the near term there is a need for a modestsized 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 (The Nation, July 8, 1996).”

“Revolution in An Age of Oligarchy”

Nader has set forth a platform and  priorities that some liberals are reluctant to accept. That is because “…there is such a low expectation among liberal democrats,” Nader said recently. “The liberal Democrat mindset is so pathetic now (Boston Globe, June 23, 1996).”

A younger Nader once said, “I’m an activist. If you’re an activist you orchestrate, you do things that play back to strengthen one another (Charles McCarry, Citizen Nader, NY: Sat. Rev. Press, 1972).” Both as a “public citizen” and as the “stealthorganizer” of a vast network of advocacy and research groups, Nader has been responsible for a great many of the reforms enacted by the corporate state in the high-water decades of social policy formation under Johnson, Nixon and Carter.

But he is critical of his own defensive stance during the Reagan/Bush terms, and he is calling on progressives to break with the usual politics of grudging reforms. He wants a “civic rebellion, Jefferson style.”

As Nader sees it,

“Without a reconstruction of our democracy in order to ensure facilities for informed civic participation to all citizens, no ambitious program of political and economic change will succeed. Nor can worries about poverty, discrimination, joblessness, the troubled conditions of education, environment, street and suite crime, budget deficits, costly and inadequate health care, and energy boondoggles be addressed in a constructive and enduring way.”

For several years he has been advocating a movement to foster a new “fifth estate” independent of the ruling corporate state and its political “duopoly.”

“Pursuing new forms of joint action, we can reclaim our government from the oligarchy that has made it a caricature of the Jeffersonian vision and overcome the sense of powerlessness, alienation, and fatalism that threatens to erode the commitment to democracy itself (Boston Review, Mar./Apr. 1993).”

As to his key issues, Nader says “This is not only to build the progressive political force, but also to emphasize the power of global corporations over our political and economic institutions, cultural institutions, which the two candidates won’t discuss.”

He says, “Dole is not going to criticize corporate welfare. Clinton is not going to criticize corporate welfare. The terrible assault on civil liberties in the recent crime bills, habeas corpus, other civil liberties. Clinton wanted to even make it worse than the bill that came from the Republicans, which he signed. You want more prisons? Okay, Clinton will build more prisons (McLaughlin Interview, One on One, PBS, July 6, 1996).”

Nader supports the limited remedy of Affirmative Action, which he calls “a mild response” to injustice, but he is insistent that little headway will be made until universal higher education and the right to meaningful work are achieved. He says, “Whether it’s race relations, affirmative action, crime, drugs or family breakdown, what we have to do is try to figure out how to put America to work.”

In the meantime, “If the governing classes leave the masses of the people without a sense of being needed and wanted and cared for, without employment opportunity, without decent and safe schools, we’re not going to be surprised when we read about the tortured results (Speech to Appleseed Foundation, Feb. 1995).”

Nader points out that, “We have 25% child poverty in this country, declining standards of living for 80% of the workers, at the same time we’re seeing record corporate profits and corporate executive compensation (Diane Rehm Interview, WAMU, April 3, 1996).”

The purpose of a populist crusade, he said in 1992, is “not just to feed the hungry — who’ll be needing another meal in six hours — or to shelter the homeless — who’ll be out on the street tomorrow — but to provide opportunities for education, employment and low-cost housing that will free these people from the cycle of poverty. The key is to go for systemic change (Playboy Interview, June 1992).”

Nader’s campaign has received renewed attention as a result of President Clinton’s announcement that he will sign the welfare legislation passed by the Republican-dominated Congress.

In his July 31 letter to Clinton, Nader argued that, “Rather than signing legislation that will punish poor women and children by cutting off their benefits when they fail to obtain employment, we need legislation to create decent paying jobs for all those able to work.”

As an alternative to the welfare bill, Nader called for increasing the amount of earnings from work that welfare participants can keep, providing universal access to health and child care, and a significant raise in the minimum wage. He told Clinton that, “Public opinion polls show strong support for increase investment in job creation, job training and education.”

Nader also said recently that he has a number of proposals for “reducing the barriers to higher education,” and so on, but “I’m not going to start focusing on them. Because you can focus on these desired substantive issues but then you don’t have a foundation to sustain them and elaborate, because you don’t have the tools of democracy, because people don’t grasp for themselves the civic duties that are required to get these efforts underway (Pacifica Interview, Mar. 27, 1996).”

“St. Ralph’s Secrets”

Nader’s opposition does not come simply from liberals reluctant to break with the Democratic party. On the right rich, powerful corporate Republicans see the opportunity to attract the entire network of Nader-inspired organizations.

It is a bit like “the Mouse that Roared” when you have the mighty Wall Street Journal attacking the tiny Green Party for engaging in campaign financing that “Sounds suspicious to us.”

The editor of the house organ of unbridled corporate political spending, Robert L. Bartley, in an Aug. 12, 1996 editorial, finds it highly irregular that Nader is escaping financial scrutiny, “Through elaborate sleight of hand. Turns out,” Bartley says, “that under federal election law a candidate only has to disclose financial information if he spends more than $5,000. Mr. Nader, therefore, pledges to spend under that amount.”

This is undoubtedly the dirtiest sneak attack imaginable in U.S. politics, evading campaign contribution disclosure laws by not accepting contributions! If Nader and the Green Party can get away with this, Bartley seems to say, why should those in the twoparty duopoly, who manage hundreds of millions in corporation donations, have to play on an uneven field?

At the beginning of this year, the Wall Street Journal fired off a spectacular warning burst in a blunt editorial warning of investigations, “Should Mr. Nader be a candidate….”

Bartley, the editor, wrote that, “According to Forbes magazine, Mr. Nader has control to varying digress of more than 20 nonprofit organizations with combined revenues of more than $100 million a year.” Comparing this with the gargantuan thievery of Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC taxexempts, Bartley said, “No doubt the Nader apparatus would indirectly benefit a Nader political agenda or candidacy in some ways.”

The Journal editor objected that Nader “claims not to be `responsible’ for their actions, but he founded many of them and most work in close alliance with one another. Despite their 501(c)3 status, many engage in overtly ideological work (WSJ, Jan. 3, 1996).” Here was a warning from the boom boxes of corporate capitalism that Nader’s receipts and his list of contributors would be studied in “microscopic” detail if he filed with the FEC.

Apparently last year Nader and his public-interest attorneys realized that he was in a very vulnerable position if he ran a campaign with ordinary fund-raising. If any volunteer or staff person in any of the 28 or so non-profit tax-exempt organizations associated with Nader was found to have contributed time or money to the presidential campaign, the tax-exempt status of these groups could be challenged. These groups, dubbed “Nader’s Raider” by the Washington post in 1968, are at the center of a network of taxexempt progressive advocacy groups.

Not much has changed in the quarter-century since a Senate aide told a journalist, “There are a lot of people around town who’d just love to pull Nader’s tax exemptions (Charles McCarry, Citizen Nader).”

The difficulties faced by the Greens and the Nader campaign, its progressive allies, and Naderaffiliated groups are enormous. Sails of hope unfurled last November have had to be trimmed back. Potential crewmates remain on the dock, at least for this voyage. But the age of political exploration has finally been launched, and the goal of a national progressive alternative to the twoparty system is in sight<./p>

ATC 64, September-October 1996