Complacency Is Not Democracy

By Ralph Nader

Los Angeles Times

October 9, 2004

I've been receiving lots of drearily similar advice from members of the liberal intelligentsia over the past year, so perhaps this is an appropriate time to graciously give some counsel in return.

Rather than addressing their demands for my withdrawal from exercising my right to speak and assemble -- that is, the core of running for elective office -- I offer these words to advance their more responsible engagement in recovering their beloved, corporate-indentured Democratic Party. I suggest the following steps toward recovery:

• Reject the mantra "Anybody but Bush, leave it to Kerry, and make no demands." Replace it with the slogan, "If we don't make Kerry better, he will get worse." Scan the major constituencies supporting Kerry -- environment, labor, minorities, consumers, civil justice, antiwar, peace groups, civil liberties -- and note the absence of any mandates pushing Kerry to take long-overdue stands and campaign on them. Notice that the corporate lobbies are not behaving in a similar fashion. In fact they pounced on Kerry's early remarks about corporate crime and welfare. Do you now see or hear Kerry or his Web site presenting any concrete platform on tougher law enforcement against corporate abuses of investors, consumers, workers and pension-holders? Or becoming specific on the abolition of vast subsidies, giveaways and bailouts to corporations?

Daily the corporate supremacists pull Kerry -- through money, Wall Street advisers and sheer power -- in their direction. If the liberals do not demand from Kerry commitments in detail that pull him toward the necessities of the people, guess in which direction he will continue to move. If he wins the election without mandates, corporatist dogma will follow him decisively into the Oval Office.

• Help Democratic liberals who are becoming an endangered species in the so-called red states in the Southern, Rocky Mountain and Plains regions. In significant part, this is due to the abandonment of these states every four years by Democratic presidential campaigns. This results in shrinkage of the Democratic vote right down the line, from the races for governor to Congress to state legislators, mayor and city council. Republicans become ever more entrenched. Abandonment, as Texas's Ben Barnes has stated, deprives the Democratic Party of a farm team to nourish attractive candidates in the future. I recently returned from Hawaii and Alaska, where I received an earful from Democrats who are never visited by Democratic presidential nominees. This neglectful behavior feeds on itself, further conceding territory to the Republicans.

• Address increasing reports of serious electronic vulnerabilities and irregularities that could lead to more voter disenfranchisement in several states, including Florida. Also, Jesse Jackson Sr. told me that the Democratic Party is not actively registering 9 million African American voters whose high preference for the Democrats could swing key states. Instead of unleashing hordes of lawyers, operatives and infiltrators to block our access to the ballot and voters' choices in the various states, tell your party to focus on millions of votes that may not be counted or cast because of Republican shenanigans, as well as the 90 million non-voters.

• Press all Democratic candidates at the federal and state level to condemn partisan redistricting. The new, more frequent gerrymandering is carving up our nation's electoral districts so that there is not even a semblance of two-party competition. Liberals have stood idly by and allowed our country to be turned into one in which incumbent-dominated districts account for 95 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Similar patterns attach to many state legislative elections. Where there is no practical choice, there is no real election, just a coronation. I know that a three- or four-party system does not interest the intelligentsia, but surely they should turn their attention to the end of the two-party system, as the Democratic Party is crowded to the edges of both coasts heading out to sea.

• Challenge the Democrats who are dominant in the party's hierarchy, including those in the Democratic Leadership Council who have taken bigger and bigger business campaign contributions in exchange for ceding the major economic issues associated with their corporate benefactors. Pro-labor law reform; a living family wage; single-payer health insurance; a serious reduction of the bloated military budget; authentic crackdowns on corporate crime and abuse of investors, workers and consumers; a programmatic commitment to renewable energy and efficiency; defending the impoverished and moving to end deep poverty -- these are a few directions that come to mind.

Liberals have become increasingly estranged from demands that their party incorporate these subjects as part of what it stands for. They have settled for the Democrats' saying or doing the right things on the social and cultural issues such as choice, gay and lesbian rights, church-state separation and Social Security. When considered against the deterioration of standards of living, access to justice and the dwindling power of the people vs. giant corporations, the party's offerings are grossly insufficient.

Next time you complain to professional party operatives about their losing to the worst of the Republicans at the local, state and national elections for the past 10 years, don't accept the glib response that Republicans have more money. Ask instead about the grass-roots agendas. And demand a strong move toward public financing of elections.

And whenever these professionals answer your complaints with, "But do you know how bad the Republicans are?" ask them, "Why not the best instead of the least worst?"

Ralph Nader is an independent candidate for president.