Ralph Nader, one of the most frequent and well-received visitors
to Madison over the past 40 years, returns tonight to deliver a
distinguished lecture at the University of Wisconsin.
Nader arrives as the same man who spoke in Madison in the '70s,
'80s, '90s and during the 2000 presidential campaign, and he will
deliver the same message about the need for citizens to organize
at the grass roots in opposition to the threats to democracy and
liberty posed by corporate monopolies and cowering politicians.
But there is no question that Nader is now viewed differently.
As the Bush presidency unfolds, with the new president and his misguided
minions pushing the ideological envelope further and further to
the right, the anger over Naders Green Party candidacy of
last year has, if anything, mounted. Old friends now dismiss him
as "arrogant" and "delusional" because he continues to suggest that
the Democratic and Republican parties are, at least at the upper
levels, bought by the same special interests. Local Democrats who
once hailed Nader as a visionary figure now reject him as a threat
to his own achievements or, worse yet, as a political eccentric
who ought to be consigned to the scrapheap of history.
But heres an amusing twist on the Nader bashing that is so
much in vogue this spring:
Among the most powerful Democrats in Washington, Nader is viewed
in a far friendlier light. Yes, there is a measure of anger at him
for having maintained a candidacy that hurt Al Gore in key states.
But there is, as well, a grudging acknowledgment that Nader drew
progressive voters to the polls, and that those progressive voters
almost certainly provided the narrow margins of victory for Democratic
Senate challengers Maria Cantwell in Washington state and Debbie
Stabenow in Michigan giving the Democrats a 50-50 split in
the Senate and for several Democratic House candidates, including
San Diegos Susan Davis and Madisons own Tammy Baldwin.
Perhaps that is why genuinely progressive Democrats, such as U.S.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga.,
suggested after the election that Naders campaign had at least
some positive impact most particularly when it came to mobilizing
young people. As McKinney said recently, "My ability to get elected
has always relied on nontraditional people bringing new people,
new supporters (into) the process so every new voter the
Green Party attracts is a potential new voter for me. The whole
idea of progressives, I thought, was to have more people participating,
When Nader visited Capitol Hill in February, at the invitation
of Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., the Democratic minority leader
complimented Nader for running "a terrific campaign." They spoke
at length about the success of Naders super rallies, where
thousands of people most of them young packed arenas
and paid as much as $20 to hear Nader talk about "deep democracy."
"Nobody is paying to hear (mainstream Democrats) talk about policy,"
Gephardt admitted. Part of the appeal, Nader told Gephardt, was
that "the Greens actually have a more legitimate platform for the
old Democratic Party than the Democratic Party does."
Gephardt who disagreed with the Clinton-Gore line on trade
policy, welfare reform, farm aid and a host of other key issues
no doubt agreed. As he prepares his own presidential candidacy
in 2004, Gephardt will attempt to avoid the mistakes that Gore made
in 2000 the most significant of which was the assumption
that Ralph Nader would bend to the political winds of the moment.
Nader remains an uncompromising force in American public life.
For Democrats who have bent so far that they would not recognize
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Nader is a threat. For Democrats such
as Gephardt, McKinney and Feingold, however, Nader poses far less
of a threat. Rather, he is a necessary reminder that Democrats can
and should pursue a more progressive politics.
Copyright 2001 The Capital Times