Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sanders Is No Nader

Josh Fielder, my good friend and fellow writer (see “Facebook Friends Like Fielder”), touched on something in a recent essay that I want to write about as well: the inaccurate labeling of Bernie Sanders as a Ralph Nader-esque spoiler whose candidacy is going to give us President Trump just as Nader’s helped to give us Dubya the Dense back in 2000. This is just plain wrong and I’ll tell you why.

Nader’s participation in the 2000 presidential campaign was never taken seriously by anyone other than Green Party members who supported him (and others who considered themselves mavericks but were in actuality just neophytes and naysayers desperate to break the lock that our two parties have on politics in America). He was an oddity, an activist with great name ID and lousy interpersonal skills who based his campaign almost solely on fixing this country’s broken political machine rather than on anything that most voters cared about. His persona was underwhelming; he was like the crabby uncle who was newly sober and who showed up for Thanksgiving bitching about the traffic.

Ralph Nader
On the other hand (and to the surprise of the pundits, the parties and the press), while Sanders is touching on the same theme, he’s successfully expanded the criticism to include specific attacks on Wall Street and the Big Banks, corporate cash and a complicit media. His campaign is more clearly and sharply bemoaning inequality and economic unfairness. He’s relentlessly threatening to do something about the spoiled status quo. (No one can accuse the guy of not staying on message.) And while not blessed with movie star looks or JFK’s style, Sanders has a noteworthy presence and demeanor, a rumpled attractiveness that contributes to the impression that he’s clearly not in this to advance his career or advance up the political ladder. This guy’s for real. He’s a Jew from Brooklyn. He's one of us.

Nader wasn’t leading a revolution; he had already made his mark as the most prominent of consumer advocates, the guy who killed Chevy’s Corvair by labeling it “Unsafe at Any Speed” and who, together with “Nader’s Raiders,” helped bring about the Clean Water Act and other milestones of the time. Young people didn’t know who he was and old people thought he was a fool to throw his hat into the ring and tarnish his formerly-stellar reputation as the King of Consumer Protection.

Sanders is leading a genuine revolution, bringing young and old into his unconventional tent with his promise to really clean up the system and make life better for all of us, not just the one percent. His rallies pack stadiums and his fundraising success impresses even the most seasoned political moochers. Unlike Ralph Nader, Bernie Sanders has become a real threat to the Powers that Be and a stark difference from his Democratic opponent with her flip-flopping messages and corporate ties.

You Know Who
Nader – who was the Green Party’s nominee in 1996 and 2000 and ran as an independent in 2004 and 2008 – hurt Al Gore, the Democratic candidate in 2000, by snagging an admittedly impressive 2.8 million votes, thereby making the Florida debacle and eventual Supreme Court appointment of Dubya possible. (Google it if you don’t know what I mean.) I don’t know if he knew that he was a spoiler but almost everybody else did.

In fairness to the guy, he did found Public Citizen, a respected NGO that focuses on consumer rights in Washington, D.C. He did fight nuclear power and promote environmental protection before it was cool. He was anti-war and pro-Civil Rights. He did step out on a limb again and again to advocate for the voiceless. If only he hadn’t run again and again for a job that he had no real shot at getting.

Sanders, conversely, does have a shot. A real one, to the chagrin of many. He’s not trying to spoil Hillary Clinton’s chances. He’s trying to win and he might.

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