Paleoliberals and the Satanic Nader

by Lorna Salzman

"Hubristic"...."egomaniacal"...."evil"...are we talking here about Adolf Hitler? Josef Stalin? Mao Tse Tung? Rush Limbaugh? Pat Buchanan? Slobodan Milosevic? Genghis Khan? Richard III?

Give up? The high priests of liberalism, in their considered judgment, have reserved their terms of reprobation for someone who is (in their convoluted judgment) TRULY worthy of those descriptions: Ralph Nader.

In 2000, 250,000 enrolled Democrats voted for George Bush. Why aren't these voters "evil"? Why hasn't their treachery been ferreted out? Why haven't they been vilified for their betrayal of their party?

Many people must be puzzling over what Nader did to deserve the wrath of people like Todd Gitlin and Eric Alterman, in full frontal view in An Unreasonable Man, the documentary about Nader. Add on the fatuous movie critics in such disparate publications as the New Yorker and The Onion, and you have a curious clique of would-be tastemakers whose lifetime achievements equal one day's worth of Nader's, by any objective standard.

I don't recall these critics sounding off with such epithets when Al Gore and John Kerry were flubbing their lines in 2000 and 2004, or when Bill Clinton threw the poor and the sick out into the cold or when he ignored the slaughter in Rwanda. Whatever criticism issued from their mouths was tempered, not intemperate, leading one to wonder what goes on in the minds of political pundits who attack this country's leading public citizen/activist not for his political views - certainly a valid locus for debate although they undoubtedly shared most of them -but for exerting his right to run for public office.

What can they possibly be thinking as they curse Pres. Bush for countenancing torture and illegal wiretapping and trampling on our civil liberties on the one hand, and with the other curse Nader for actually putting those liberties into practice? Or when they loudly scream for campaign reform but then, by inference, insist that the Democratic Party owns the votes of anyone who doesn't vote Republican? Why didnt these liberals rant about the campaigns of Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, or John Hagelin? Are these critics merely blind followers and flaks for the Democrats,? If they aren't being paid by the DNC, they should be.

It becomes curiouser and curiouser to realize that the most vicious critics of Ralph Nader and his 2000 presidential campaign are (purportedly) liberals. Of some comfort, though not to them, is the fact that the vast majority of working and middle Americans of both parties still like and support Nader and consider him a national hero. When was the last time we had ANY national hero? George Washington? Charles Lindbergh?

Let us ask ourselves just why we are supposed to take seriously the fatuous outrage of paleoliberals and the Democratic Party over THEIR pre-ordained failure to find a qualified candidate worthy of support for the presidency... and over THEIR failure to prevent 250,000 enrolled Democrats in Florida from voting for George Bush. What accounts for the seething emotional outrage of smarmy, arrogant airheads like The Nation's Eric Alterman, and Todd Gitlin, over the fact that Americans refused to salute the Democratic Fourth Reich as it claimed to OWN the votes of all independents, greens, and Democrats?

Younger Americans have a partial excuse for not knowing what Ralph Nader has accomplished, but they can remedy this by comprehending how the courage and dedication of one tireless individual was able to not just defend the public interest but to activate scores of other activists, who then went out into the world to fight - not for the profit or reputation of Nader but for the issues and changes themselves. Those who condemn Nader for his supposed ego are of course dead wrong - this is one of the most modest and reticent people on earth, someone who has continually deflected attention away from himself and onto the issues and the criminals, where of course such attention is warranted.

As an environmental and anti-nuclear activist throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, I was privileged to see and work alongside some of the activists and countless groups Nader established, including the one called Critical Mass, which embraced the anti-nuclear power issue (studiously ignored by peace groups and the left for their own narrow reasons) and energized local and regional groups across the country through its annual conference, where hundreds of activists came together to network, exchange information and strategies and hear many of the movement's inspirational leaders. Critical Mass was only one of the many projects Nader established, which he wound up and set free to do their work without his intervention.

What provokes these Joe McCarthy-like outbursts, confronting not the godless communists that riddled the American government but the Satanic designs of one citizen candidate? True, some simpletons had no interest in the principled arguments Nader made; they dismissed him out of hand. But the fury of Alterman and Gitlin goes way beyond this. Their hyperbolic hyperventilation has deeper roots. Their posture, and that of those who trashed Nader, arises from something much deeper. Since when have so many self-described liberals felt compelled to compare a political opponent of another party to the devil incarnate, as Hugo Chavez described George Bush? Here are some speculations:

  1. Jealousy. A bit simplistic, but after all, any impartial researcher looking at Ralph Nader's accomplishments would want to just disappear into the woodwork when confronted with the huge list of accomplishments of this individual. As the film, An Unreasonable Man, makes clear, and as the vast majority of citizens well know, literally every aspect of our public lives today has been measurably improved by Ralph Nader's organizations, in one way or another. None of our lives and careers have been unaffected, even though most people under the age of fifty dont have a clue as to why. Take my word for it: no one else besides Nader comes near to accomplishing what he has done. And, arguably, never will...with the possible exception of Nader's colleague and my former boss, the late Dave Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth (to whom Nader pays tribute, briefly, in the film). Anyone can and should be jealous of Nader. But no one can deny what he has achieved.

  2. Cynicism. I suspect that it is extremely difficult for many people to actually believe that Nader's career and life have been based on PRINCIPLES. Only cynics who themselves would never risk putting their principles into practice would rail against someone who did so, thus exposing their moral frailty and inability to match the ethical and political commitment of a Ralph Nader. This is about as degraded an attitude that one can find: that one must destroy an accomplished principled activist because one can't imagine acting out of principle EVER. Since they themselves cannot act out of principle, no one else can, and ipso facto, Nader is spurred by ego alone.

  3. Intellectual competition. When you look at the various public figures who have trashed Nader, such as (but not limited to) Alterman and Gitlin, you realize that these figures play a role in the public liberal dialogue over things like war, racism, good government, etc. Consequently, they consider themselves Liberal Tastemakers; The Nation magazine is of course the prototype of this. These are the people and institutions who declare, year after year, WHAT the important issues are, WHO the important players are, and WHAT should be done about the world.

    They preach from on high to the masses, who desperately need to be told that they are GOOD people because they support these liberal causes.. They need this constant reassurance...not from their neighbors or family but from the LEADERS, those who conduct the political and social discourse, those of prominence, those with connections, those lucky enough to have platforms from which to preach to the masses eager to know what is Right and what to do about it.And, finally, could the paleoliberals be foaming at the mouth over the fact that Nader had the intellectual and political courage to run a campaign articulating ALL the issues that they had preached for decades but were unable (or unwilling) to fight for, thus revealing the empty rhetoric of traditional liberalism?

  4. Professional Democrats. These are the people who are perhaps not the leaders of the Democratic Party but neither are they just the knee jerk Democrats who vote straight party line. These are the ones who aspire to higher roles and status in the party, who want to become respected for their influence, money and blind support of the party. These are the people like Medea Benjamin, (beneficiary of arch-DP supporter George Soros) who had the perspicacity to enroll in the US Green Party, better to undermine the party's autonomy, reduce its threat to Democratic candidates, and aid the anti-Nader conspiracy. She set up the phony Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) which purported to be organizing the left wing of the Democrats In reality, of course, this was a ploy to persuade unhappy Democrats not to vote for Ralph Nader. So many of them voted for Bush instead.

    Most distressing was the fact that few saw fit to even listen to Nader's reasons for running, much less his platform. Far easier it was to brand him as an apostate than be forced to defend the two-party system and the cynicism of the "lesser of two evils', or to defend a mediocre Democrat and his do-nothing party, or actually admit they agreed with Nader on all the issues. Who wants to subject himself to a civics lesson in the meaning of democracy? Perhaps in the end it was this resentment against the superior Nader arguments that galled his critics the most. If so, this was a subliminal way of honoring him; if you curse him enough, voters will ignore the issues he raises and your pronouncements will reign supreme. The cynics win and the country loses.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.