People Political

Ralph Nader: Unsafe at any speed

I’ve never been a huge fan of Ralph Nader. Of course, some of this is explained by my long ago engagement with a man who was an ardent member of the Seattle Corvair club. Nader didn’t kill the Corvair – American’s never could handle the unusual styling– but he didn’t help.

I am aware of Nader’s involvement with OSHA, as well as the EPA. I am aware of his battles for the consumers, the little guys like you and me. I know he’s written books about women in the marketplace, and how we’re not paid equally, or treated fairly. Every one of these things should guarantee that I support Ralph Nader, but I just don’t care for him. Never have. Never will.

Of course now with Nader throwing in as an independent Presidential candidate, my lack of enthusiasm for him might be more understandable. After all, some say he threw the race to Bush in 2000 by siphoning off votes from Gore. I don’t know if this is true, but I don’t think his race hurt Bush.

Now, I’m already hearing that some disappointed Dean supporters have switched their support to Nader since Dean semi-dropped out. Why? It’s all in the process. The thing with many of the Dean supporters is that the process is more important than the results. Some really are indifferent if we have four more years of Bush, as long as the process, in this case a fight against a–what does Nader call it? Duopoly– succeeds.

That’s why I just don’t care for Nader. To him, the process was always more important than the result. The general fight was always more important than the specific battles; more important than even the results of those battles.

Nader sees everything in black and white. Corporate bad. Non-Corporate good. Everything he does, is based on this simple premise. The fight for the environment isn’t ‘for’ the environment, as much as it is against those corporate interests that would exploit the environment. A fight for public forests, isn’t necessarily to help the forests, as much as it is to fight the logging companies.

The same extends to issues of civil liberties. According to Nader, the fight for rights for blacks, women, and now gays, isn’t a fight for these groups as much as it is a class fight. In some ways, you might agree with him. In fact, isn’t reframing this into a genderless, sexless, colorless, raceless issue more effective in the long run?

At first glace, it seems the appropriate thing to do, but this breaks down in reality. When you see these struggles as a struggle of ‘class’, you tend to discount the individual differences and cultural clashes that arise with each fight.

The fight for rights for blacks isn’t just a struggle to ensure that blacks are not exploited by corporate or other class interests; it’s also a struggle for acceptance by the poor white folks that live in the trailer flying a confederate flag amidst the hills of Iron County, Missouri. How does one frame this as a ‘class’ dispute, especially one connected in some way with evil corporate intent?

The fight for women’s rights isn’t just a struggle to ensure that we’re treated equally in the marketplace; it’s also a struggle to make sure we’re not raped by college football players because a coach doesn’t see any harm with women treated as objects, as long as his boys aren’t ‘distracted’ from winning.

And now, with gay rights. How does one reframe full rights for gays into a class struggle that ignores issues of personal perceptions and biases? Just saying so isn’t going to make it so.

Nader has said that there is no difference between the Democratic party and the Republican party – both are equally beholden to corporate interests. Bottom line, that’s all Nader sees.

In 2000, before the election, Todd Gitlin took a closer look at the issue of this claim by Nader, and Nader’s politics. He wrote:

At bottom, Nader’s all-or-nothing gambit is not politics, it is moral fundamentalism – as if by venting one’s anger, one were free to remake the world by willing it so, despite all those recalcitrant people who happen to live here.

The arrogance of this “worsism” – the worse, the better – is chillingly expressed by a Nader voter in Portland, Ore., interviewed in Friday’s New York Times: “If Bush gets in, I feel that it might bring things to a head much more quickly. Pollution’s going to increase in the short term, but I think that will bring a lot more people into the environmental movement a lot more quickly. Sometimes you’ve got to hit bottom before you come back up.” Notice how the means – “a lot more people into the environmental movement” -has become the end. Notice the spurious assumption that the masses will rise up if things come “to a head.” It didn’t happen after Reagan’s depredations on the environment. It won’t happen now.

Well, we’ve had four years of Bush. I wonder what that Oregon voter now feels about the issue?

Ralph Nader is a man with a mission, always has been, to better the human condition. However, he does so by discounting the messier elements and focusing only on the bloodless aspects of our struggles. From the article, Nader Confronts Minority Critics:

But behind the political skirmishing there are some very real differences in approach towards race between Nader and his critics on the Left. Where they see a Green Party and presidential campaign made up largely of middle-class whites, he sees “constituency group” critics hooked on “symbolism” instead of progress.

Where some of his critics see a candidate who, in the words of writer Vanessa Daniel, “appears to be tiptoeing around an elephant when he fails to mention … race and racism,” Nader sees a more “systemic” class struggle against corporations, of which racial discrimination is an important but lesser component.

And when potential supporters all but plead for a warmer, more human personal touch, Nader stubbornly remains who he is: a solitary and frequently awkward man who brags that his campaign is “about ideas, not emotion.”

Do I disagree with this? How can I? I can understand what Nader is saying. We do focus too much on symbols and not the underlying causes. We’re distracted by specifics, when we should be working on universal cures.

At the same time, though, we only have to look at history to realize that change isn’t global. Like the pictures in the papers, change is the little dots that seen from a distance, form a solid picture. Change is local. Change happens one event at a time, based on the passionate acts of a people pushing through change regardless of cost to themselves.

Change is both emotion and ideas. Change is messy.

The odd thing is, I think Nader is closer to Bush in outlook than not. Both believe that everything boils down to corporate interests. It’s just that Bush thinks meeting corporate interests would be good for the people, and Nader thinks that not meeting coporate interests would be good for the people.

Take away corporations, and both would fall over.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email