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Ralph Nader is one of America's most passionate and effective social critics. He has been called a muckraker, a consumer crusader, and America's public defender. The cars we drive, the food we eat, the water we drink-their safety has been enhanced largely due to Ralph Nader. His inspiration and example have rallied consumer advocates, citizen activists, public interest lawyers, and government officials into action, and in the 2000 election, nearly three million people voted for ...
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Ralph Nader is one of America's most passionate and effective social critics. He has been called a muckraker, a consumer crusader, and America's public defender. The cars we drive, the food we eat, the water we drink-their safety has been enhanced largely due to Ralph Nader. His inspiration and example have rallied consumer advocates, citizen activists, public interest lawyers, and government officials into action, and in the 2000 election, nearly three million people voted for him.
An inspiring and defiant memoir, Crashing the Party takes us inside Nader's campaign and explains what it took to fight the two-party juggernaut; why Bush and Gore were really afraid to let him in on their debates; why progressive Democrats have been left behind and ignored by their party; how Democrat and Republican interests have been lost to corporate bankrolling; and what needs to happen in the future for people to take back their political system.
"If one political figure looks prophetic these days, it is Ralph Nader...[He is] America's most valuable and uncorrupted public citizen." -The Boston Globe
"[Ralph Nader] has the intensity of a lifelong crusader...Mr. Nader is right about how the major parties handicap competitors, how the media often dismiss them and how voters abandon them if they think they can't win." -The Wall Street Journal
"Crashing the Party couldn't have come at a more appropriate moment...a candid, whirlwind tour of America at a crossroads, seen through the eyes of a man who cares passionately about its future." -San Francisco Chronicle
"[Ralph Nader] makes, again, an excellent case for the need for another party and for a revitalized Democratic Party." -Los Angeles Times
BUSINESS AS USUAL: THE BEST CONVENTIONS MONEY CAN BUY
The seat next to me on the stage was reserved for George W. Bush, but on that afternoon of August 2, 2000, it remained empty.
For months, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Youth in Action tried to have that seat filled in Philadelphia's Drexel University auditorium. The event was part of the National Youth Conventions, which involved thousands of high school students and other young people contributing to a National Youth Platform, and coincided with the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The platform covered ten subjects of concern to youth—political involvement, community involvement, education, human rights, health, drugs, juvenile justice, environment, violence, and poverty—and offered solutions in well-written, concise presentations.
As the presidential candidate for the Green Party, I was asked to listen to each youth panel summarize its points and then respond, which I did in some detail. Our interaction was one of the most stimulating exchanges in the campaign. I was pleased to hear young people in their teens and early twenties articulating a political agenda separate from the tactics, fund-raisers, and fluff and bluff surrounding the major-party candidates.
These Youth convocations were intricately planned and promoted. They were supported by major foundations, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, and major nonprofits, including the League of Women Voters and the YMCA and YWCA. These conventions give young men and women a voice and involvement, when so often they are alienated from presidential campaigns thatignore their existence, except for the occasional scripted photo op.
By demonstrating a serious engagement with the presidential campaign of 2000, as well as their deep stake in America's future, Youth in Action was hoping and desperately believing that it could lay claim to some personal attention by George W. Bush and Al Gore, just as large campaign donors had done throughout the year. Its schedulers made sure that there were no conflicts with the big events at the two conventions. Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore had their platform fights behind them and their nominations cinched, and they were more than capable of bringing their ever-hovering media a few blocks away for an hour to talk with a diverse group of fact-immersed, solution-oriented young people from all over the United States.
It was not to be. Mr. Gore matched Mr. Bush in declining to appear. The two candidates had more important events to attend—lavish parties where politicians shook down corporate lobbyists and fat cats, while the latter in turn were pleased to pay off their political friends for past and future favors.
The day after the gathering at Drexel, there were no stories in the major media, no mention of George W. Bush—the self-described education candidate who pledged to "leave no child behind"—being absent from an event that he could have turned into an advantage over Al Gore. Why? Because Bush and Gore's supposedly savvy staffs had polls showing that young adults do not vote in large numbers and their interests are more universal, unlike elderly voters whose demands are more particular and insistent, such as prescription-drug benefits, preserving Social Security, and patients' rights. Older voters have money. Older voters have influence. Younger voters tend to have neither. Then there are the less inhibited questions young people tend to ask and a risk of being caught off guard or being embarrassingly out of touch. Why should the candidates deviate from the carefully constructed script and emerge from the force field erected by their political consultants and handlers? How sad, empty, and shortsighted, I thought. Later I learned how disappointed the youthful panelists really were.
Leaving the Youth in Action event, I went to find NBC for an invited interview by Maria Shriver on the premises of the Republican National Convention. The area was like a military encampment without the tanks. Security personnel, police cars and vans, high fences, multiple checkpoints, and trailers with security equipment were omnipresent. Demonstrators were not allowed within a Hail Mary pass of the fenced encirclements.
Inside, I was driven in a golf cart to the NBC installation. I asked the driver where the interview was to take place, and he pointed skyward. There before us rose a forty-foot red scaffolding, slightly swaying from a vigorous wind. At the top were perilously perched Ms. Shriver and her camera crew. To reach them, I climbed the stairs of this rickety structure, greeted them, and asked why—why this Tower of Pisa? She pointed to the view of the Convention Center bathed in a spotlight as the one and only reason. A quick three-minute interview on MSNBC followed, allowing only for short answers to complex questions. I climbed down the narrow staircase, wondering how reporters like Shriver can take year after year of what they believe are shallow formats with ever shorter sound bites heading, it seems, for a future of sound barks.
Over at the Convention Center, the delegates were settling down to listen to Dick Cheney's acceptance speech. I walked over to the entrance where crowds of reporters were milling about, jabbering with one another and anticipating nothing much to make their day less routine. The formal sessions of these conventions, with their foregone conclusions, seem simply practices in applause and bore reporters silly (as they've told me countless times). The mind-numbing routines of the campaign trail with a major candidate become a source of cynical jokes and tedious logistical small talk. The convention, however, takes media redundancy to new levels, as every four years the major parties turn out their robo-candidates. I asked one British reporter what could possibly occupy him hour after hour, and he replied, "Well, you try and garnish the dullards a bit as best one can." At the Republican convention, the real action took place outside the main hall in the streets with the demonstrators and in the hospitality suites and parties in Philadelphia's luxury hotels and Main Line mansions.
But for me there was a little excitement during Cheney's monotonal address: I met Amy Goodman, arguably the most tenacious radio interviewer around (ask Bill Clinton, who called Pacifica and sparred with her in a memorable October 2000 exchange for twenty-six minutes). She invited me inside the building for a peripatetic interview. Amy presented our credentials, then we passed the typical bevy of security and were led down the runway to where the Florida delegation was sitting and restlessly listening to the vice presidential nominee. A score of reporters followed us down with mikes, cameras, and pads and began hurling the obvious questions about what I was doing there and what I thought of the goings-on. The Florida delegation was becoming more agitated at the commotion. But I managed to observe that while more than $13 million in taxpayer funding had gone to this convention because an earlier Congress viewed such gatherings as civic affairs, the Republicans had added to that millions of corporate dollars. Elections, I told the reporters, are supposed to be for real people—the voters—not for corporations, artificial entities that cannot vote (at least not yet).
Ultimately the head of the Florida delegation, Al Cardenas, had enough of what he saw as a rapidly expanding embarrassing situation and asked us all to leave. So back up the runway we went, then down another runway to sit with the Michigan delegates, who were astonished to find me—the auto makers' number-one nemesis, in their minds—in their midst. While I was again talking with reporters, a wandering corporate fellow, having overheard my remarks about the convention's corporate omnipresence, blurted, "It's free speech, Ralph." I responded, "Sure, money talks freely, doesn't it?"
And business money donated to the Republican Party and its convention made even more public money gush in its service. While visiting Leaven House, a large homeless shelter and soup kitchen in the severely impoverished city of Camden, New Jersey, I heard a frustrated shelter director refer to the nearly $50 million that the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania spent to spiff up the Camden waterfront and remove retail eyesores, such as by-the-hour motels and topless joints on Admiral Wilson Boulevard, for the welcoming ceremonies of the convention on Camden's waterfront. The shelter director wistfully described what he could do for his beloved shelter with the mere $300,000 he had requested but not received from the state.
As for the waterfront, then-governor Christine Todd Whitman readily approved this expensive window dressing for four miles of dilapidated buildings so that Republican dignitaries would not be offended by scenes that are all too prevalent in many other less visible parts of Camden. "The first impression is important," said this latter-day Marie Antoinette. In the meantime, this city is not even eating cake. A devastated place of eighty thousand people, it is an economic and living disaster. Indicative of the devastation in Camden is the absence of a single supermarket, motel, or movie theater within the city limits. Camden's woes are hard to exaggerate: two thousand debris-filled vacant lots interspersed between thirty-five hundred vacant buildings and block after block of poor families trying to send their children to run-down schools with dropout rates soaring over 50 percent. Property values are so low that Camden's tax receipts can't begin to meet school and city government expenses; the bulk of the dollars come from the state. Street crime and drug addiction surge through much of Camden's 210 miles of roads. The state, which is the largest employer in Camden, has finally taken over the city's finances, while the mayor joined two of his predecessors in being convicted of political corruption.
In 1990 census figures put Camden, now the nation's fifth-poorest city, in destitution land. One-third of its people lived below the poverty level. Ten more years of decay have made the situation worse, with more companies "evacuating" Camden, as one executive put it. The eleven-story RCA building, which goes back to the Victor Talking Machine company when the city had a manufacturing base, is deserted. But the city does have a championship high school basketball team.
Campaigning in Camden, political consultants say, is a waste of time. For me it put human faces behind the government's statistics; it made clear the difference between charity and justice. Speaking at the Rutgers University Camden campus, I learned how local students saw their education as vocational in order to escape the city.
Camden is emblematic of a systemic collapse in our smaller inner cities, with across-the-board unemployment, non-living-wage jobs going nowhere, pulverized lives of addiction, and serious crimes of violence and ghetto exploitation by loan sharks and unscrupulous merchants and landlords. People who can make a difference leave for greener pastures so that they can put hopelessness behind them. Remaining are churches, nonprofit organizations, and dwindling public welfare programs offering stopgap assistance for food, housing, medical care, and counseling. Visiting a church on a low-income residential block, I heard the usual outspoken indignations, dreams of improvements, and the daily ministering to the poor souls who dread each day.
Who did Camden in? It wasn't always this way. Ordinary folks do not work overtime to ruin their lives. What brutish conditions lead to brutish behavior? Racism, top-down class warfare, political betrayals, concentrations of economic power? These questions are rarely asked and especially not during political campaigns. Instead, Camden is described with phrases of conclusions: "a disaster area," "chronic decay," "a basket case."
There are many Camdens in America—the world's richest and mightiest economy. Not just entire cities like East St. Louis and Bridgeport, Connecticut, but large areas of just about all our large cities. People left behind in the tens of millions with only the urban renewal of gentrification available to push them out. Nearly abandoned farm towns and villages, former factory towns with shuttered plants dot the scarred, contaminated landscapes and join with the longtime poor regions of Appalachia, the Ozarks, Indian reservations, the bypassed rural South, former mining and textile towns. These places represent the "other America" so graphically described by Michael Harrington, who helped motivate Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty in the mid-sixties.
"It's a casualty," Rev. Michael Doyle, a priest in South Camden, told the New York Times's Matthew Purdy, "and America is to blame for Camden. They don't see it that way. It's like a drunk on a grate, and people say, 'It's not my problem.' If you can't save Camden in a powerful economy, then when will we be able to make it livable? When?"
Just across the Delaware River, lavish parties were setting spending records for national political conventions. In addition to the sensual pleasure they afford, these events are the "convention behind the convention," as described by Republican functionary Dan Matton. The business discussed, casually or intently, while imbibing, strolling, or backslapping, has very little to do with the other America.
The talk almost always centers around big-business demands—contracts, permits, grants, subsidies, giveaways, tax breaks, bail-outs, and reducing or eliminating regulation. Paying for these concessions with ever-larger campaign donations gives new meaning to what the wry Will Rogers once said about Congress: "the best money could buy." So when the corporate greasers and persuaders finished their work at the Republican convention, they took a few days off and then flew to Los Angeles for the opening of the Democratic convention. For them, it was the same racket, just different coastlines.
Ruth Marcus, an energetic graduate of the Harvard Law School who went to work at the Washington Post in the late eighties covering important but often dry legal subjects, observed both "conventions behind the conventions" for her newspaper. She rose to the occasion:
The nonstop festivities had a certain end of the Roman Empire feel, from cruises on the Amway corporate yacht in Philadelphia to lunches at the Beverly Hills mansions of Hollywood moguls, where contributors chatted with senators as they strolled among the topiary animals and artificial waterfalls.
Democratic National Committee donors who gave $50,000 enjoyed a private reception and shop-op at the Giorgio Armani clothing boutique on Rodeo Drive, receiving $100 gift certificates as they entered.
The biggest donors watched the action from private skyboxes far above the floor, while a sold-out post-convention fundraiser—featuring Barbara Streisand's rendition of the Democratic anthem—"Happy Days Are Here Again"—brought in more than $5 million in valuable "hard money" contributions to the Democratic Party.
It was a fittingly glitzy finale to the two-week orgy of revelry that began at the GOP bash in Philadelphia, paused briefly and resumed in full force as Democrats went Hollywood with a vengeance behind the scenes even as their candidates lashed the industry in their prime-time comments.
Not to be outdone, the Washington Post's Mike Allen, a rising star with a flair that earned him a profile in The New Yorker, delivered his scrutiny of the Republican digs:
By one official estimate, there were 900 separate events at this year's gathering—candidates' fund-raisers, thank-you spreads laid on by the party for its biggest donors, and corporate-financed tributes to lawmakers who hold sway over their businesses.
One senior Republican official called the four-day convention, which ended tonight, "the biggest orgy of hedonism in the history of politics," a marathon of rock and blues concerts, golf and fishing tournaments, yacht cruises and shopping excursions.
Another GOP official said one party cost about $500,000 and three ran around $400,000, all paid for by corporate sponsors with business before the congressional leaders who were honored at the extravaganzas....
One Republican official, after a reporter was physically barred from a lavish hospitality suite, explained that some of the guests might have people "on their arms" who were not their spouses.
Press coverage of conventions delights in pointing out the political styles of the rich and famous with a flair usually reserved for the sports or style pages. One of the themes reporters relish is candidates saying one thing and doing another. John Broder of the New York Times led his story on August 17 from the Democratic convention with this focus: "Barely an hour after Vice President Al Gore issued a call for reforming the ways political campaigns are paid for, he headed back to the fund-raising circuit for a concert that raised $5.2 million for the Democratic Party. In his acceptance speech tonight, Mr. Gore vowed to 'get all the special-interest money—all of it—out of our democracy....'"
Politics, as it is practiced, is the art of having it both ways. One party—the Democrats—regularly says all the right things about campaign finance reform but does nothing. The other party—the Republicans—rarely says the right thing about the corruption of our elections and does nothing. Both use the same ready cliche when asked why one party doesn't lead on reform by example: "We do not believe in unilateral disarmament."
There are two lessons to learn from these political conventions, which Dallas Morning News reporter Richard Whittle called "just a television show for most Americans these days." One is that our nation's political leaders are chosen by one big entertainment extravaganza. Roger Simon called his book on the 1996 presidential race Show Time: The American Political Circus and the Race for the White House, with artwork on the cover reflecting the hoopla. That's the way it really is, and everyone knows it. Voters are left with only limp imagery, hackneyed slogans, and the omnipresent thirty-second propaganda advertisement. Dr. Pavlov soon becomes the patron saint of the political horse race.
The 2000 Democratic and Republican conventions hit the top of the banality curve. They ceased to shock, instead producing amusement or cynicism. Both avoided thinking about what politics should represent and failed to advance a deeper, functional democracy. Much to their chagrin, journalists, in a scramble for a newsworthy morsel, are turned into gossip-mongers, and readers are unable to make informed judgments. Second, even when the press does its job, nothing changes. When House Majoriy Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was subject to a devastating page-one exposé in the Washington Post five years ago, nothing happened. The article cited instances of DeLay bordering on making extortionate demands for money from special interests, and the House Ethics Committee did not even open an investigation. At the August Republican convention, Congressman DeLay became a veritable talent agent reportedly offering lobbyists packages starting at $15,000 and rising to $100,000 in terms of how exclusive one's meetings could be with the elected bigwigs.
Like most congressional districts, DeLay's is one-party dominated, and he wins by large majorities with only nominal opposition. This is typical. In about 90 percent of the 435 congressional districts, there is one-party rule. So choice is effectively denied to a vast majority of voters.
But the major party conventions in 2000 did not occur in a vacuum. At the same time, Ariana Huffington's shadow conventions in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles brought together large audiences of thoughtful people to hear and discuss with prominent speakers the subjects of campaign finance reform, the widening income gap, and the war on drugs. These gatherings received some national media coverage through C-Span and other cable and independent press outlets but little attention over the leading television networks, which all cut back sharply on their convention coverage. Outspoken legislators like Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin) did come over to speak their minds ("The big story at the Democratic convention was the political payoffs and influence-peddling") with a candor that had no scheduled time at the big conventions.
And certainly the most interesting events at these conventions took place in the streets, parks, and parking lots near the convention halls. But the story here incredibly became one not of protest but of crowd control and police preparation. Unlike in the sixties and seventies, peaceful mass demonstrations no longer receive much media coverage. Many a weekend march of fifty thousand to two hundred thousand people for women's and labor rights or for arms control and the environment receives little more than a picture and a caption in the Washington Post or New York Times. A movie premiere or socialite benefit earns many more column inches in the Style section.
Consequently, demonstrators began to figure that nonviolent civil disobedience or, in some frustrated instances, controlled violence against property, would mesh with the television media's mantra, "If it bleeds, it leads." Studious, well-prepared news conferences, absent these demonstrations, don't make the grade with the eyes and ears of the fourth estate. The reaction of course is for the police to organize massive counterforce against what is perceived as a giant safety problem.
The Philadelphia police prepared for thousands of arrests and detentions with so much manpower that the police outnumbered the demonstrators. In addition, they employed helicopters, motorcycles, patrol cars, full-body armor, sprays, tear-gas canisters, rubber bullets, plastic handcuffs, night-seeing cameras, and who knows what else that was not observable. Seeing this land-based armada, the demonstrators countered with their cries of civil rights violations.
And within this mock war, the message is lost. Reporters described the assemblage as a motley crowd with a grab bag of causes having no seeming connection to one another. What, pray tell, were they protesting that the media found so difficult to describe? Here's what: poverty in an era of great concentrated wealth; corporate welfare; globalization through the WTO, NAFTA, and the World Bank; corrupt money in politics; bloated military budgets; global warming and other ecological degradations; genetically engineered foods without labeling; Occidental Petroleum's plans to drill on the sacred homeland of the U'wa tribe in Colombia; the prison-industrial complex; the widening income gap; sweatshops; the need for mass transit; tobacco industry and its lavish $1,000-a-plate event for "Blue Dog Democrats"; and the giant media conglomerates. Simply put, the entire agenda for progressive liberal politics. In a brief aside, William Booth got it right for the Washington Post when he reported that the slogan "Human Need, Not Corporate Greed" served as "a unifying march and rally for the disparate protest movement." The vast majority of the demonstrators were nonviolent, many trained in nonviolent civil disobedience, which has a great American tradition. Some were deliberately provocative of the police, but then press reports pointed to some pretty severe police overreactions and excessive use of force.
In Philadelphia, 420 people were arrested, mostly on misdemeanor charges. During the postconvention hearings and trials, the great majority of cases were dismissed for lack of evidence or other prosecutorial failings. Consolidated mass trials brought forth widespread testimony of violations of civil liberties and discriminatory police actions. Defense lawyers convinced Municipal Court Judge James M. DeLeon that a group of protesters were arrested simply because they were conveying an unpopular message. The judge threw out the misdemeanor charges against five protesters. In an especially egregious abuse, police arrested John Sellers and Terrence McGuckin of the Ruckus Society, singled them out as ringleaders, charged them with a combined total of twenty-one misdemeanors, and set bail at an unheard of $1 million and $500,000, respectively. Later, the prosecution withdrew the case against Sellers, and McGuckin was acquitted of most of his alleged misdemeanors. The arrests of these men constituted, in Sellers's words, "a war on dissent." They were kept in jail until the convention was over, which was the point of these "preventive detention" arrests. Someday there may be a law review article on these mass arrests, the costs imposed on a judiciary that found them baseless, and the suits for damages filed against the city by those arrested for violation of their rights. But in another city, the same thing will happen and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars—all to relearn that we have free speech, the right to assemble, and the right to petition our government.
There is an undeniable pathos associated with these rallies and demonstrations, and the power structures know that these "we protest and demand" rallies are harmless venting of steam. I spoke at one such rally, on July 29 at JFK Park, next to Philadelphia City Hall, that focused on demanding universal health care and an end to the HMO tyrannies over patients, physicians, and nurses.
Rallies and marches were the mode of protests of the nineteenth century, and they still are today. In the meantime, giant corporations have accumulated all kinds of modern technologies, techniques, and manipulations to exercise their influence. There is a huge imbalance between the forces of democracy and the forces of plutocracy, and it is increasing, along with the alienation, withdrawal, and powerlessness of ever-increasing numbers of people. All this results in low voter turnout and more powerful corporate influence.
Ted Hayes, an advocate for the homeless, was proposing a detailed Marshall Plan for the homeless around the country. He invited Mr. Gore to go two blocks from the Staples Center—the Democratic National Convention site—to visit the Dome Village homeless encampment, but with no success. He shouldn't have been surprised. What he wanted to say to Mr. Gore was: "Don't just come into our neighborhood and pretend we aren't here. It would be an incredible gesture for these super-rich to walk over the two blocks and say it is time to take the hand of the homeless with some real solutions, but not give them a handout. Hold a news conference with us. Do something."
What effect does this all have? In a decorous and orderly forum in late July in Cleveland, the Gore campaign resoundingly rejected each and every progressive proposal offered before the Democratic Party's platform committee. The challenge came from a newly constituted Progressive Caucus, led by Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich, California State Senator Tom Hayden, and Los Angeles civil rights attorney and radio commentator Gloria Allred. They were hardly extreme ideas. Platform rules require fifteen concurring members of the same 180-member committee to allow a debate on any amendments. The progressives could not muster more than five votes on any of the following: universal health care for the entire population; fair trade, not slave trade, which included requirements for decent working conditions and minimum pay along with environmental safeguards; narrowing the gap between rich and poor by eliminating tax breaks to corporations that pay "below living wages"; opposing "fast track" authority for trade agreements and democratizing the World Trade Organization tribunals; a moratorium on the death penalty and the unworkable, provocative, costly missile defense system. No discussion was permitted, no dissenting reports issued. The Gore forces were so imperiously dominant that Gloria Allred couldn't obtain the fifteen votes for a discussion. "People wouldn't even look up at me," she recounted. "They talk about a big tent," declared Ohio Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich, "but this tent just got a bit smaller." Tom Hayden tried to appeal to their political antennae, saying that the platform "will send liberal Democrats running to Nader's ticket" and warning that the platform, as approved, could damage Gore's support from labor unions. So whose interests, or monetary contributions, were being served here? After the session ended, Kucinich noted that these proposals by the progressives actually enjoyed majority or near majority support among the people. He called them "mainstream issues." Lila Garrett, president of Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, was more pointed, saying, "When it comes to the people's programs we are dangerously close to sounding like Republicans." Once again, what Jim Clarke, secretary of the California Democratic Party, acidly referred to as the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" got the back of the hand by the DLC-dominated Democrats who knew that progressives had nowhere to go and had to swallow hard and bear it.
Listening to accounts of this platform meeting and the sharply deteriorating vistas of the Democratic Party that it reflected brought back memories of the liberals' arch-reactionary—Richard M. Nixon. Between twenty-seven and thirty-one years ago, President Nixon put forth a national minimum incomes plan as a start in the abolition of poverty in America. Congress rejected it, and the comprehensive national health insurance plan he offered, and the proposal to emphasize rehabilitation of drug addicts instead of such heavy reliance on incarceration. With glowing words, Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, the National Environmental Protection Act, NEPA, and legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nixon sent legislation to Congress that would have given the District voting representation in Congress—a goal verbally supported by the Democrats but never backed by any serious campaign during the past three decades. Would any Democratic politician in 1970 ever have predicted that Richard Nixon would be a favorable standard for comparison with today's party leaders? History allows us to discern the long, deep slide into the political pits that is obscured by daily coverage.
Not surprisingly, the forty-eight-page Democratic platform was a model of avoiding both the spiraling power of big business and the economic disconnect between the rich and the rest of us. This is the party that abjectly surrendered for eight years to the superprofitable auto industry on fuel efficiency, safety, and pollution control—jeopardizing the global environment that Al Gore so feels for—sacrificing lives, limbs, and health. Accordingly, the committee rejected a thoughtful plea by one witness to include a sentence advancing auto safety. Fifty years after Western European nations, coming out of the rubble of World War II, provided universal health care for their people, Al Gore's platform described his vision for the world's richest country as "step by step" toward full coverage with no specific attainment date.
Page after page of the platform became a conceit of self-congratulation about the "prosperity" of the previous eight years. Credit was taken for quantitative economic expansions and their consequent public revenues, as if the coincidental technology boom of the nineties was a result rather than a cause. The document declared the party's intention to move ahead on many fronts. "You ain't seen nothing yet" was the ironic slogan, which Republicans used to their advantage. Efforts that a future Gore administration promised to initiate recalled very similar generalities long ignored in the Clinton platforms.
Omitted from any caressing lip service was a tribute to the Democratic Party's enlarging list of unmentionables—consumer protection, exploitation of the taxpaying poor, the destructive war on drugs, protection of the civil justice system and reform of the criminal justice system, solar and other renewable energy, doing something about corporate crime and corporate welfare, and, above all, supporting ways to encourage the people's participation in government. Without mobilizing the political and civic energies of the citizenry, even with the best of intentions, the Democrats cannot deliver. So long as they continue to reward the very power brokers whose avarice contributed to the destitution and perpetuated social injustice, the Democrats might as well be Republicans.
When it was time for the Democrats to have their convention, the marchers were again trying to get the attention of the media. Logistically they were helped by an ACLU lawsuit that persuaded U.S. District Judge Gary Feess to deter the Los Angeles Police Department from keeping protesters very far from the delegates. This is a common technique used by mayors and city police to render protesters invisible and demoralized. Judge Feess's ruling optimistically stated: "When it's convenience versus the First Amendment, convenience loses every time." Well, at least in his sensitive judgment.
Among the marches and gatherings were the Ministers Against Global Injustice—a new coalition of African-American ministers from around the nation that organizes communities of color to oppose international trade agreements that deplete African economies and weaken domestic inner cities. They aim to represent "those bearing the brunt of the adverse effects of globalization." Their rally was addressed by TransAfrica's Randall Robinson (see Appendix A) and Representative Maxine Waters. Then there was the National Chicano Moratorium Committee's "deport the two-party system" rally and a "beach party" sponsored by Global Exchange and other groups that "want to make the Democrats aware that people they say they represent—workers, immigrants, environmentalists—are locked out of the convention." Students Against Sweatshops, anti-death penalty and prison reform organizations, and Peace Action associations also made their presence known outside the convention.
Hugh Jackson, writing for the Las Vegas weekly City Life, compared what was going on inside and outside: "The ideas forwarded within the party convention's security fences were tired. The enthusiasm, the passion and hell, for that matter, the intellectual fire-power outside those fences were far more intense than anything on display while party hacks and party hack wannabes delivered focus group tested sound bites within." In demonstration after demonstration, Jackson observed, the protesters' message "was completely ignored by the media," except, it seems, "when they're getting the shit beat out of them by baton-wielding helmeted troops." While inside, he added, "Money and inertia have put a stranglehold on the party."
At the Shadow Convention in Philadelphia, I chatted with Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's. There I also met Jonathan Kozol and Jim Wallis. These three gentlemen represent what the party should be all about—Cohen for socially responsible business practices and his activism for a reduced military budget delivering a Peace Dividend, Kozol for his three decades of striving for genuine educational reforms for poor children through stunningly graphic books and articles, and Pastor Wallis for mobilizing the religious community around issues of economic justice, disarmament, racism, and helping inner-city youth. Mr. Wallis, author of The Soul of Politics, earlier that spring joined with other members of the clergy in an appeal to both Gore and Bush and received no response to their broad-based, hands-on program of community revival and reconciliation.
In his acceptance speech at the convention, Al Gore surprised the DLC crowd with his announcement that, besides being his "own man," he would fight "for the people, not the powerful," and then he named the poll-tested industries of least popularity—big oil, big insurance, and big drug companies—that he would counter on becoming president. Immediately, his polls surged and my polls declined. Immediately, the big businesses named started making their calls, especially to running mate Joseph Lieberman, who spent the next few days reassuring these indignant callers that Gore was, of course, pro-business. Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal wrote a remarkable article less than a week after the convention recounting how Senator Lieberman was telling business that Gore didn't really mean what he said. Gore's words, embedded in the solemnity of an acceptance speech before tens of millions of Americans, were just "impassioned rhetoric," said his number two. And on that forked-tongue note, to be sounded again and again, the Gore-Lieberman ticket was formally launched for the drive to Election Day.
Excerpted from Crashing the Party by Ralph Nader. Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Nader. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|1||Business As Usual: The Best Conventions Money Can Buy||1|
|2||The Morphing of the Democrats||17|
|3||Citizen Closeout: The Moral Imperative||36|
|4||Campaign Liftoff: America, We've Got a Problem||54|
|5||Friends, Funds, and Formidable Hurdles||67|
|6||Hitting the Road||77|
|7||Momentum: The Campaign Takes Shape||99|
|8||On the Road to Fifty States||115|
|9||"We, the People"||137|
|10||The Media: An Ongoing Non-Debate||155|
|11||The Super-rallies: Not Your Average Garden Party||186|
|12||The Commission on Presidential Debates||220|
|13||With Cold Feet and Big Hearts||240|
|14||The Election Stretch Drive||272|
|15||Conceit and Confusion||296|
|App. A||Citizens' Committee for Nader-LaDuke||320|
|App. B||Some Organizations Ralph Nader Founded or Helped Start||324|
|App. C||Announcement Speech||326|
|App. D||Wouldn't President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney Have Done the Same?||338|
|App. E||The Naderhood 2000||341|
|App. F||The Greens' Ten Key Values||344|
|App. G||CNA Ad||348|
|App. H||FDR Letter to the Democratic Convention||349|
|App. I||Steve Cobble Memo||351|
|App. J||What I Voted For||355|
|App. K||East Liverpool Meeting||361|