The Roman Republic, which lasted many hundreds of years longer than ours has so far, had two presidents at the same time. They were called “consuls” and they served on alternate months. Given the similarity of the four glum men who comprise the major-party tickets, it would make sense to elect Bush/Lieberman and Gore/Cheney to the job and let each serve once every four months. On occasions of great pith and moment when public speaking would be called for, all four of them could dolorously chant the message in unison. The big question in this campaign is how come Al Gore went to Harvard and not Yale with the other three?
God, oh God, it tells me how much I’m going to miss Bill Clinton. These three sons of Eli and the lone Cantabrigian, pledged as they are to “restoring dignity to the Presidency,” aren’t going to get caught getting blowjobs from yummy-tummy not-so-nymphets. They’re not going to do much else, either. None of the four can give a decent speech, certainly not the way the Arkansas traveler can. When he was younger, George Dubya got drunk a lot, but, hell man, Bill Clinton went off to Moscow, he did this or that wild thing, and he had the advantage of a miserable childhood and a mother he loved and was ashamed of at the same time. Will you ever forget him and Boris Yeltsin doubled up, laughing their guts out? Oh, Billy, he has charm, he has sparkle, that’s what he has. He misled the people because he has the power to inspire high hopes. Well, whichever pair of glumpsters leadfoots into office next January, they will not take their oaths in front of a hope-filled, pumped-up nation.
Which brings us to Ralph Nader, a Princeton man, who took a different road than the careerist one followed by the Four Who Bore. It is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Nader has accomplished more in public life than the slab-faced quadrumvirate has together. In fact, I cannot recall a single piece of important law to have passed Congress thanks to Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman or Al Gore, who have racked up a total of 40 years in the national legislature. Not a single noteworthy law bears their names. Where is the Gore Electoral Reform Act or the Cheney Transportation Act? Mr. Nader’s impact on Congress needs no retelling. These guys make speeches about citizenship and volunteerism, but it’s Mr. Nader who founded, organized and brought to life Public Interest Research Groups all over the country. Give Mr. Nader all or much of the credit for the PIRG’s, Public Citizen, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, the Center for Auto Safety, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, as well as magazines such as Multinational Monitor . He played major roles in the passage of such legislation as the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966 and the Freedom of Information Act, and also in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Though Mr. Nader was never a journalist, it was “Nader’s Raiders,” as they were called, who released report after report exposing government and corporate skullduggery of every sort. It’s quite astonishing: four drab men with no particular accomplishments save years of office holding (or what they call “public service”), and then Ralph Nader, the man with the record, the man who gets things done. The man has done so much, who can remember half of it? I’d forgotten about the Critical Mass Journal , one of the pioneer publications to document nuclear hazards 25 years ago, in an era when the country was being told that nuclear energy was safe and would produce electricity “too cheap to meter.”
The yaller liberals are having a tizzy fit over Mr. Nader’s running for the Presidency. He will take away votes from Al Gore, they complain. Mr. Bush also will take away votes from Al Gore, so, by their reasoning, the only honorable thing is for nobody to run against the human thunderbolt from Tennessee. The withdrawal of the other candidates may be the only way to get him elected, but it does take the fun out of voting. The yallers are worried that, if too many people vote for Mr. Nader, Mr. Bush will get in and appoint Supreme Court judges who will abolish abortion, to which Mr. Nader responds: “I don’t think that Roe v. Wade will ever be overturned. I think the Republicans will destroy their party if they push this to the limit. They’re already very, very cautious about not taking a hard stand the way Pat Buchanan has, for example. The reason why they’re doing that is because they know they’re going to lose a lot of votes if they do.”
The Court does read the election returns, as Mr. Dooley once remarked. Overturning Roe v. Wade would produce the kind of counter stroke delivered by Franklin Roosevelt when, faced with an aged and obdurate Supreme Court that was shooting down one New Deal law after another, he asked Congress to pass a law empowering him to appoint one new judge for every old judge over the age of 70. Congress declined to pass the “court-packing bill,” but the threat was sufficiently real for several of the old judicial farts to retire and clear the way for judges of a different stripe. Undoubtedly, something similar would happen if a Court loaded with Bush-appointed reactionaries were to reverse Roe v. Wade-not that they ever would.
A yaller friend of mine who works on one of the nation’s leading publications recently took me to task for supporting Mr. Nader because, she said, he had sold out to the trial lawyers who were giving him money. I gulped. I don’t agree with Mr. Nader in his reliance on class-action suits and such as a way to resolve some of our deepest contentions, but when I heard this accusation, I realized how angry and indignant the yallers are at Mr. Nader for daring to run. It is little short of ludicrous for the Democrats to say that of Mr. Nader, who takes no PAC money, no soft money, none of the dirty money the Democratic Party has come to live off of. The trial lawyers ain’t giving money to Ralph Nader. You can be sure of it when you see his threadbare campaign, but you know who they are giving it to-the politicians who like to dine well in the company of yaller journalists.
The Republicans, as Mr. Nader has pointed out, have apparently learned that they will be punished if they get serious about ending free choice. Now the Democrats need punishing. They must be spanked when they take the huge amounts of corporate money they’ve been pocketing ever since Al Gore’s former campaign chairman, Tony Coehlo, sold the party to big business-if you’ll pardon an old-fashioned term-in the 1980′s. Evidently, the scandal of having Mr. Coehlo around was too much for the Gore campaign, but who has replaced him? William M. Daley, the Secretary of Commerce and the Clinton administration’s ambassador plenipotentiary to Global Corporatism. If the Democrats are to find out by experience that they’ll get punished for taking money from people they should be ashamed to be seen with, they must lose an election, even if it means George W. Bush wins.
There’s no sense in trying to ameliorate who Mr. Bush is. Other than the humongously moneyed, the only people in their right minds who will support this guy are the editorial cartoonists. It’s only once in a lifetime you get a public figure whose eyes are planted so close together and whose mouth is such a grim upside-down scimitar. For us others, George W. is the candidate who, if elected, would turn the White House into a Bush family fortress. It will be the tightest, least approachable White House since Nixon. The only consolation is that he is certain to be a one-termer, just like dear old dad.
This will be a campaign of furious quibbles, of imbecilic accusations that this or the other one isn’t “diverse” enough or that so-and-so once had an impure thought. It will be a campaign in which the smallest disagreements are magnified into high-sounding disputes. It will be a campaign run by men and women who don’t know how things are, but know they can win by blowing up how things aren’t.
This is, as Ralph Nader says, “a campaign marinated in money.” Nevertheless, Mr. Nader will raise his voice, unamplified by the hundreds of millions it takes to be heard. “The question of this campaign is, to every citizen, do you want to be more powerful?” he will say, as he has been saying. “Are you tired of being pushed around? Are you tired of being entertained into trivial pursuits? Are you tired of having your children exploited by corporate hucksters? Are you tired of having the promise of America being held back by the greed and power of a few dominating the many? It’s not going to be ‘Support me and I will do this and that.’ It’s ‘Do you really want to be more powerful in your role as taxpayers against corporate welfare, as workers to organize trade unions, as consumers to advance the health, safety and economic rights of ordinary people, and as voter-citizens to be able to build the most important instrument for justice ever devised-a strong democracy?’ Do you want to be stronger? That’s the question. If you do, you’ll join this campaign.’”
A few will hear him and take heed. If it’s 7 or 8 percent who do, that’s enough to punish the Democrats, and then, perhaps next time…. Well, “next time” is a long way away, and who can say how hot the globe will be, how arid, how storm-filled, how strange the world may have become?