Attention, All Naderites: Are You Sleeping Well?

For those who argued last fall that there was no substantial

difference between Republicans and Democrats, life has become a bracing lesson

in political realities. Over the next four years this educational experience

will continue unhappily, as George W. Bush pursues the agenda of his sponsors

on the corporate and religious right.

Actually, the lesson began a few weeks before Mr. Bush took

office, when the departing Bill Clinton signed documents that will protect 58

million acres of federally owned land from the depredations of the timber,

mining and energy industries. Those historic signatures represented several

years of public hearings and bureaucratic preparation-all of which were being

completed even while Ralph Nader denounced Mr. Clinton as no better and perhaps

somewhat worse on environmental issues than his Republican predecessors.

Not one grudging word of praise for the Clinton executive

orders was heard from Mr. Nader or his followers. In fact, not much at all has

been heard from the Nader crusaders during the past few months, except for an

occasional bleat pleading their innocence

in the Election Day debacle. Considering how fervently they proclaimed their

democratic idealism during the campaign, they had remarkably little to say

about the travesties inflicted on their fellow citizens by the authorities in

Florida last November. Mostly they responded with butt-covering rhetoric about

how it was all Al Gore’s fault.

There was some truth in the Naderite critique of the Gore

campaign and the Clinton administration, but that doesn’t diminish their

culpability for what ails the nation now. And by the way, exactly where are the

Naderites now, when Mr. Bush is staffing his government with the likes of John

Ashcroft, Gale Norton and Tommy Thompson? Nowhere to be seen, and perhaps

understandably so.

But just the other night Phil Donahue, a former television

personality who was among Mr. Nader’s most prominent endorsers, did surface

momentarily on a Fox News program. In that venue Mr. Donahue insisted-to the

snickering delight of the show’s conservative Republican host-that he felt no

regrets. He then launched into an impassioned defense of abortion rights,

apparently failing to notice the cognitive dissonance in his own blather.

As an advocate of feminist freedom, Mr. Donahue must have

been outraged when, on the President’s first full working day in office, Mr.

Bush rescinded federal funding for any organization that provides abortion

counseling to women overseas. On that same day Mr. Thompson, the incoming

Secretary of Health and Human Services, threatened to prevent distribution of

RU-486, the abortion drug previously approved by the Clinton

administration.  Does Mr. Donahue

believe that is how a President Gore would have commemorated the 28th

anniversary of Roe v. Wade ?

Mr. Nader himself has never pretended to care about women’s

right to choose. There was a time not too long ago, however, when the great

consumer pioneer would have led the fight against cabinet choices like Mr.

Ashcroft and Ms. Norton. He would have warned against their obvious

subservience to special interests and their unfitness to enforce laws they

clearly intend to undermine. Yet neither Mr. Nader nor the groups he controls

have joined the broad coalitions that oppose these worst of the Bush nominees.

It seems that the logic (or illogic) of his Presidential campaign has rendered

him mute in the face of events that have since proved him terribly wrong.

Well, not totally mute. Lately, the erstwhile Green Party

candidate has been formulating helpful advice for the man whom he already has

helped far too much.

“Our new President,” wrote Mr. Nader in an essay published

on the inaugural weekend, “should enable and encourage the formation of

voluntary, non-partisan, self-funded associations that would act as watchdogs

and improve government policies. His first step should be a proclamation

endorsing such associations. Then, he should ask Congress to charter them.

Finally, he should order federal agencies to use their mailing resources and

Web sites to encourage citizens to join.”

According to Mr. Nader, such a Bush-sponsored upwelling of

civic activism could “redress the severe imbalance of power in Washington

between corporations and citizens.” Why, it could even become, in his words,

“President Bush’s greatest legacy-the best way to become, in his own words,

‘the president for all the people.’”

This sounds like Mr. Nader was trying out a mordant joke,

but he wasn’t. He appears to hope that the President-a well-greased instrument

of corporate lobbyists-will somehow become enamored of the Nader version of

mail-order populism. In the meantime, Mr. Nader has announced a less nebulous

plan in which Mr. Bush is definitely interested, that being the defeat of

Congressional Democrats in every district where the Green Party can serve as a

spoiler.

So it turns out that America really does have two parties

with no real difference: the Republicans and the Greens.