Jan 05, 2011
In a letter To The New York Times,
Ralph Nader takes issue with the paper's editorial asserting that Tea
Party victories show there is "no progressive champion" for the poor and
"Hello!" writes Nader.
"There are plenty of progressive champions lobbying, rallying,
exposing, suing and organizing at the national, state and local level,"
he says. The problem, he says, is that the mainstream media, including
The New York Times, fails to cover their efforts.
You can understand Nader's frustration, particularly as one whose
efforts to champion the poor against the powerful were systematically
belittled by the Times and other mainstream outlets when he ran for
President from outside the corporate-dominated two-party apparatus.
Certainly the Fox Newsification of the mainstream media has contributed to the current political climate.
But the yawning gap on the left that the Times notes is also undeniable.
How can it be that in such dark economic times, most of the political
energy in the country is focused on dismantling unions, undoing
President Obama's modest effort at health care reform, and giving even
more power and even larger tax breaks to the rich and big business?
In the editorial that stirred Nader's ire,
the Times notes: "In past economic crises, populist fervor has been for
expanding the power of the national government to address America's
pressing needs. Pleas for making good the nation's commitment to
equality and welfare have been as loud as those for liberty. Now the
many who are struggling have no progressive champion. The left have
ceded the field to the Tea Party and, in doing so, allowed it to make
history. It is building political power by selling the promise of a
return to a mythic past."
The right's re-ascendancy this week is a sobering spectacle, as
Republicans take power in the House of Representatives and Tea
Party-affiliated governors and legislatures are sworn in around the
The ideological lines could not be starker. As the 112th Congress
convenes, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has promised to
cut $100 billion in domestic spending from the federal budget. Across
the country, Republican attorneys general are suing the Administration
to stop the extension of health care benefits to citizens of their
states. Governors in Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Ohio
and Wisconsin have declared war on public employees' unions, announcing
that teachers should be fired if they attempt to strike (Ohio), that
government workers should not be allowed to join unions (Wisconsin) and
that union funds, particularly those used for political purposes, should
be cut off (ten states).
This is a war on organized labor, on the poor, on working people and
on the whole notion of a middle class. In Wisconsin, newly elected
Republican governor Scott Walker ran on the assertion that public
employees should not be able to enjoy college savings funds and pensions
when private sector workers are hurting.
In this race-to-the-bottom worldview, the anger and pain felt by
unemployed workers in a recession means no one should have a decent
No one, that is, except the rich "producers" who need bigger tax cuts
to keep generating jobs, to quote the Ayn Rand-loving Senator Ron
Johnson who takes over Russ Feingold's seat this week.
Where are the voices on the other side? In Wisconsin, a state that
has been wholly taken over by rightwing Republicans, the Democrats are
bleating that they favor tax cuts, too.
The me-tooism of Wisconsin Democrats once prompted old-line
progressive Assemblyman Frank Boyle, who represented Wisconsin's 73rd
district in Superior for 22 years until he retired in 2008, to rail,
"I'm telling you, there are no liberal Democrats anymore!"
Nationally, we see the same conflict-avoidance posture among Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration.
Nader is right that there are plenty of activists who are responding more energetically to the rightwing assault.
Some of them, organized by Citizen Action, gathered on the steps of
the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, during governor Scott
Walker's inauguration to protest his anti-union, anti-worker stance--and
his decision to cancel a high-speed rail project that would have
generated 15,000 family-supporting jobs and brought $810 million in
federal funds to the state.
Milwaukee, with one of the highest rates of African American male
unemployment in the industrial Midwest, sent a large delegation of
protesters. They know what is at stake.
But their voices are tiny compared to the howling of the Tea Partiers and their victorious candidates.
Opening up a bound volume of the Progressive Magazine from 1933, you
can feel the energy of opposition to the kinds of rightwing policies
that are back in vogue today:
"The Senate banking committee will resume its probe of the national banking scandal later this month . . . "
(Flip back to today and a press release from the watchdog group Bankster
makes predictions for 2011 that include the demise of Bank of America
after Wikileaks releases damaging internal documents and a new crisis as
rampant mortgage fraud is uncovered in the banking industry. This
fraud, the group says, will create a foreclosure tsunami, and even
bigger behemoth banks--thanks to the federal government's coddling-and
it will also bankrupt cities and states.)
From the May 1933 issue of the Progressive: "Thousands of Chicago
teachers who have not been paid since last June mobbed Chicago's biggest
banks--and closed them, too . . . " (An accompanying photo shows a
large crowd of teachers, many of them women, outside the City National
Bank in Chicago. The teachers succeeded in getting bank president
General Charles Dawes to come out and listen to their complaints, until
he yelled, "To hell with trouble makers!")
(Today, Republican governor of Ohio John Kasich is quoted in The New York Times
saying teachers should be barred from striking. "If they want to strike
they should be fired," Kasich said in a speech. "They've got good jobs,
they've got high pay, they get good benefits, a great retirement. What
are they striking for?")
Finally, from 1933, an editorial cartoon shows a nest of vultures on
top of a crumbling schoolhouse with a caption that describes school
closures and overcrowding, and concludes: "In sum, the whole public
school system of the nation faces imminent breakdown, the disastrous
social and moral effect of which will be felt for generations. No
'economy' is so false as the false economy that breeds ignorance,
poverty and crime in this enlightened republic. America must save the
schools to save herself. What is the federal government going to do
We need that kind of clear, loud voice on the left more than ever almost 8 decades later.
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