The Other N-Word

I get it. People are pissed at Ralph Nader. They blame him for "stealing" votes from Gore and consequentially Bush defeating Gore in the 2000 election. They hate Ralph, and his droopy little eye, even though Pat Buchanan also "stole" some votes from Bush in Florida (and Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin) and no one blames him for having the nerve to participate in our democracy.

Asking people to vote for Ralph Nader is sort of like asking them to perform self-flagellation. They want to bet on a horse that's going to win, and I have yet to form a compelling argument for how the good guys can win. So I've accepted that I'll just have to pay tribute to Nader, the great humanitarian and environmentalist, in some sort of last-ditch, meaningless gesture. I'll just request my headstone read: I didn't like any of you, respected few of you, and should have voted for Ralph Nader.... Or something ...

After Obama voted for telecom immunity, my inbox exploded with angry diatribes from my Progressives readers, all of who demanded explanations for the Senator's suspicious behavior. First, I explained that I have no access to Obama's thinking. Second, I explained that, while Obama has said some promising things in the past (something about having gay friends in red states,) he never claimed to be THE Progressive candidate. We assigned all our hopes and dreams to a man who seemed Progressive when contrasted against the fiery train wreck sitting in our White House. We all sort of hoped things would work themselves out.

They didn't. Obama has catered to the middle with gun control, telecom immunity, the death penalty, faith-based initiatives, and troop withdrawal landmarks. The only man who can save us now is Ralph Nader. Before you click that little, red "X" in the corner of your browser, let me explain myself. The Progressives should petition that Ralph Nader be allowed access to national, televised debates in a three-way discussion with John McCain and Barack Obama.

Having Ralph Nader participate in a debate is not only the democratically right thing to do, but it will force Obama to think more progressively in his policies. It's easy to look like a liberal standing next to John "I'm Crazy And Will Bring On The Apocalypse" McCain. All you really have to do is stand up straight, say something about Universal Healthcare, and not become giddy over Iranians developing lung cancer. Even if Obama backpedals on promises, like holding telecom companies accountable for spying on Americans, he STILL looks liberal standing next to McCain.

But if Nader is there, scowling at Obama's sweat-soaked profile, suddenly Americans will see their full spectrum of political choices. Obama and Nader don't get along. At all. Apparently, Obama's charm and pretty smile didn't woo battered hardass Nader, who I imagine nearly took off Obama's head the second Obama said something about wanting to compromise on certain Progressive issues. I guess it's hard to smooth-talk a man who was once tailed by a General Motors-hired private spy. If he could withstand attacks from one of the most powerful corporations in the world, Nader could handle Obama's charm. Obama seemed shocked that Nader didn't lap up his pretty promises like a trained dog.

"My sense is that Mr. Nader is somebody who if you're -- don't listen and adopt all of his policies, thinks you're not substantive. He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work," Obama remarked after meeting with Nader. I'm not sure what that means. Is it the fact that Nader is principled or the fact that he's proud and protective of his decades of work in consumer safety that bothers Obama the most?

Nader's presence would be a welcome change in this election. Millions of voters feel unrepresented by the Democratic and Republican parties. These people would find refuge in voting for Independent candidates. They just don't know it yet because they don't know they have choices. Every four years, they think they must vote for Tweedledee or Tweedledum, which is understandable considering networks refuse to even televise other candidates.

Early this year, Dennis Kucinich was shut out of a televised MSNBC debate, despite the fact that the network originally invited him to participate and America still claims to be a "free society," one with open, fair elections. The debate quickly became homogenized once Kucinich disappeared. Edwards said something...probably about his father working in a mill. Then Edwards fell out and Hillary and Obama became one, indistinguishable blob I call Hillbama as they bickered for months over the trivial differences between their campaigns. Hillary cried. Barack called a reporter "sweetie." Tim Russert died from the strain of it all. The end.

Now, we arrive at another critical juncture in the race toward the White House. Yet again, we find ourselves at the mercy of huge network conglomerates that decide what ideologies the American people will hear. Interestingly, six percent of people polled in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey said they are likely to vote for an alternative candidate. Who is going to represent their voices?

Anyone who shows a reasonable measure of competitiveness should be permitted to debate. And Ralph Nader is definitely competitive. Surely, no one who blames Nader for Gore's defeat in 2000 could argue differently. One can either admit Nader is incredibly influential and cajoled many Democrats to vote for him, or they can argue he's totally insignificant and had no influence in the 2000 election. If they agree that he was influential in 2000, then they must recognize that he's influential enough to participate in the debates.

Or we can be adults and stop casting blame for Gore's mishandled 2000 campaign. We can act like a civilized country and recognize that millions of voters are undecided, unrepresented, and would love to hear what Mr. Nader has to say. One needn't vote for Nader in order to recognize that he has the right to run for president, and as part of that right, he must be heard in debates.

At the moment, Nader needs to bump that 6% up to 10% in order to participate in national debates. Oh, he also needs to jump through thousands of hoops and cut through forests of red tape, and even then, all MSNBC needs to do is say "no," like they did to Dennis Kucinich, in order to silence Nader forever.

If Nader isn't permitted to debate, not only will our democracy suffer, but Obama supporters will suffer as well. Nader's presence will force the dialogue to expand past pointless bickering over lapel pins and ex-wives. Maybe his presence would even force us to examine the big issues differently. Maybe, for once, our nation will discuss issues of peace rather than how long the current war should last. Maybe we'll start to seriously discuss the environment, poverty, human rights...the possibilities are endless.

Only when a man like Ralph Nader can participate in our democracy can we call ourselves -- and our time -- Progressive.