Democrats Richly Deserve Nader

By Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications.

Los Angeles Times

July 22, 2004

Always partial to monopolies, the Democrats think they should hold the exclusive concession on any electoral challenge to George W. Bush and the Republicans. The Ralph Nader campaign prompts them to hysterical tirades. Republicans are more relaxed about such things. Ross Perot and his Reform Party actually cost George H.W. Bush his reelection in 1992, yet Perot never drew a tenth of the abuse that Nader does now.

Of course, the Democrats richly deserve the challenge. Through the Clinton years the Democratic Party remained "united" in fealty to corporate corruption and class viciousness, so inevitably and appropriately the Nader-centered independent challenge was born, modestly in 1996, strongly in 2000 and now in 2004. The rationale for his challenges has been as sound as that of Henry Wallace was half a century earlier. I quote from "The Third Party," a pamphlet by Adam Lapin published in 1948 in support of Wallace and his Progressive Party. "The Democratic administration carries the ball for Wall St reet's foreign policy. And the Republican Party carries the ball for Wall Street's domestic policy…. Of course the roles are sometimes interchangeable. It was President Truman who broke the 1946 railroad strike, asked for legislation to conscript strikers and initiated the heavy fines against the miners' union."

There you have it: The laws — including the Taft-Hartley Act, supported by 106 Democrats in the House — that led to the destruction of organized labor were passed by bipartisan vote, something you will never learn from the AFL-CIO or from a thousand hoarse throats at Democratic rallies when the candidate is whoring for the labor vote. During President Clinton's years in office, union membership as a percentage of the workforce dropped because he did nothing to try to change laws or to intervene in disputes.

Clinton presided over passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, insulting labor further with the farce of side agreements on labor rights that would never be enforced. By 1996 nearly half of all private employers were running aggressive anti-union drives, with familiar threats to relocate; less than 20% of private-sector workers trying to win a union contract got one.

And what does John Kerry propose to help workers? Raising the minimum wage to $7 an hour by 2007, which would bring a full-time worker up to two-thirds of the poverty level.

Let us suppose that a Democratic candidate arrives in the White House, at least rhetorically committed to reform, as happened with Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Clinton in 1993. Both had Democratic majorities in Congress. Battered from their first weeks over unorthodox nominees and for any deviation from Wall Street's agenda in their first budgets, both had effectively lost any innovative purchase on the system by the end of their first six months, and there was no pressure from the left to hold them to their pledges. By the end of April 1993, Clinton had sold out the Haitian refugees, put Israel's lobbyis ts in charge of Mideast policy, bolstered the arms industry with a budget in which projected spending for 1993-94 was higher in constant dollars than average spending in the Cold War, put Wall Street in charge of national economic strategy, sold out on grazing and mineral rights on public lands and plunged into the "managed care" disaster.

One useful way of estimating how little separates the parties, and particularly their presidential nominees, is to tote up some of the issues on which there is tacit agreement, either as a matter of principle or with an expedient nod and wink that these are not matters suitable to be discussed in any public forum: the role of the Federal Reserve; trade policy; economic redistribution; the role and budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies; nuclear disarmament; allocation of military procurement; reduction of the military budget; the roles and policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and kindred multilateral agencies; the war on drugs; corporat e welfare; energy policy; the destruction of small farmers and ranchers; Israel.

In the face of this conspiracy of silence, the more independent challenges the better. Nader is doing his duty.