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A Progressive Response to the Nader Campaign

Jeff Cohen

I am ideologically aligned with Ralph Nader, not John Kerry. I agree with Nader on virtually every issue, while agreeing with only about half of Kerry's positions (or what can be deciphered as Kerry's positions). Like other peace and justice activists, I am distressed that Kerry -- who spoke so eloquently decades ago against a war based on racism and lies -- has given support to the current war that is based on racism and lies.

But I'm also distressed by the deception coming from the Nader campaign. We keep being told that Nader will draw votes away from the Evildoer-in-Chief, George W. Bush; yet poll after poll shows the Nader vote depleting Kerry and helping Bush, and tipping swing states and their electoral votes to Bush.

In my view, Kerry vs. Bush is not Coke vs. Pepsi. It's more like Coke vs. Arsenic (quite literally, in the environmental sense). The Bush/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft regime is far more dangerous than the regimes of Nixon/Kissinger/Mitchell or Reagan/Weinberger/Meese.

There can be no greater imperative for progressives this year than to Vote Bush Out. In the 17 or so competitive states, that means building the Kerry vote to defeat Bush.

But our work doesn't end on Nov. 2. After we mobilize to oust Bush in '04, progressives must stay mobilized in '05 to ensure that our agenda is heard by the Kerry White House. If the Iraq war drags on under the Kerry administration, I'll be in the frontlines of peace protests.

Progressives seemed to demobilize in 1993 after Bill Clinton ended 12 years of Republican rule. In the absence of powerful and independent networks of activists, we saw that a Democratic White House was capable of enacting pro-corporate Republican-oriented policies. We won't be fooled again. Thanks to the Internet and the youth-infused antiwar and global justice movements of recent years, it will be easier to sustain progressive activism in '05 and after to hold a Democratic White House accountable.

Progressives need to understand that Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in 1932 on a wishy-washy platform no bolder than the Kerry platform. But powerful social movements, especially militant unions, propelled the New Deal agenda and pushed FDR to being the most progressive president of the last century.

2004 is a crucial juncture in our country's history, with millions of people in our evenly divided country -- especially people of color, labor, feminists, enviros -- yearning for a path to end the national nightmare of George Bush. Progressives need to be a bridge forward, not an obstruction. Noam Chomsky has described the choice we face: "Help elect Bush, or do something to try to prevent it."

Ralph Nader has long set a standard for public integrity: speaking truth to power no matter what the consequences. But in recent months, he's sounding more like a politician, making promises that he must know he can't deliver on -- like his claim that he will help defeat Bush by pulling "more votes away from Bush than the Democrats." And Nader is being ridiculed as just another politician: "Conservatives for Nader," scoffed Comedy Central's Jon Stewart. "Not a large group. About the same size as 'Retarded Death Row Texans for Bush.'"

This election is not about Kerry. Nor Nader. It's about putting Bush out to pasture before he does any more damage.


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Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

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