In 2000, as an 18-year-old college freshman, I cast my first vote in a presidential electionfor Ralph Nader. Now, don’t think the intervening three years haven’t given me some pause. Many timeswith each bomb dropped or civil liberty dismantled by the Bush cartelI’ve reconsidered my neophytic vote. But I always come to the same conclusion: Al Gore didn’t win my vote, and Ralph Nader did.
Look, I was never impressed by Bill Clinton as a statesman, and he, along with the Joe Liebermans of the world, dramatically moved the party of FDR toward the politically safe center and in the process sold even the moderate left’s agenda down the river. The Democratic Party of my lifetime has offered no coherent vision for America or the world; instead, it’s been all too content to let American politics be driven by those with money. As a result, I’ve grown up in an America and a world marked by rising inequality, where capital comes first and communitywell, no one really cares about that.
So when Al Gore came along in 2000 peddling poll-driven positions in uninspiring speeches, I decided not to support him. My candidate was Nader because I agreed with his platform, because I agreed with his philosophythat we shouldn’t temper our votes based on our perceptions of what the herd might doand, importantly, because I wanted to notify the Democratic Party that it wouldn’t have my blind allegiance. To win my vote it would have to do more than sheepishly claim that it was slightly to the left of the Republican Party. And it would have to stop running on corporate money.
Which brings us to the present. Nader announced Sunday that he’s running again, and the left side of the political spectrum came unglued. “I have nothing nice to say about him,” fumed one Democratic operative in The New York Times. Even the none-too-humble Al Sharpton piled on: “The only reason he’s running is either he’s an egomaniac or as a Bush contract,” he said, confusingly. When Sharpton calls anyone an egomaniac, the apocalypse really is now.
These folks may have a point. The agenda for most American liberals is to get Bush out of office; it’s hard to see how Nader could help that cause as a presidential candidate. But then again, as a quintessential protest candidate, his ideological goal is to challenge entrenched corporate power, not necessarily to boot Bush.
Regardless, I don’t plan to vote for Ralph this time around. But recent events make it easy to see why many Americans remain sympathetic to his cause. Take the Howard Dean phenomenon, for example. A candidate emerges who is refreshingly, if sometimes clumsily, candid. Scores of new (and used) voters gravitate toward his Internet-based campaign. They give it fresh ideas and thousands of small donations. A contender is born.
But in the hands of a sensationalist news media in search of a narrative for the primaries, Dean becomes an “insurgent,” then the “front-runner” (before a single vote is cast, mind you). Next comes the second-guessing: Is Dean “electable,” or is he too angry, too candid and not polished enough? Dean screams directly into a news-feed microphone, it’s replayed hundreds of times, voters drop Dean like a hotheaded potato and no one even notices when the president of CNN admits that they overplayed the Dean Scream because, hey, it was entertaining.
Now, I’m not blaming the ratings-driven news media for Dean’s failurehis campaign made plenty of missteps along the waybut I do want to suggest that the media echo chamber in the age of 24-hour news and infotainment played a significant part in the Dean implosion. And for that matter, it provided the comeback script for the palatably patrician Kerrywhom you’ll recall the echo chamber had all but written out of the race early on. Furthermore, I’ll postulate that many people my age react to the falsity of presidential political theater by supporting a comparatively straightforward, less manufactured Dean or Nader.
That said, don’t look for Ralph to have much of an effect on this election because the aforementioned peoplemy peoplealso tend to think George Bush really, really sucks. And if that means voting for a tree impersonator like John “Lurch” Kerry, we’ll hold our noses and do it.
But at the end of the day, the problem is the debasement of American political life in the era of politics, and more generally news, as entertainment. (Remember embedded reporters, anyone?) It’s a corporate news media (yes, the Scene is a part of it) that finds it more profitable to tell people what to think than to give them the facts and encourage them to think for themselves. It produces lazy, sensational reportingKerry’s out! Dean’s angry! Kerry’s back!and storylines to simplify the world to made-for-TV size.
Already with Nader it’s happening again. News reporters and talking heads are trotting out the Nader-as-spoiler mantra, recalling the way he stole Florida from Gore. The real story, extensively investigated and reported by BBC journalist Greg Palast, is far more outrageous. (Learn more at www.gregpalast.com.) Reporters, editors, commentators and, worst of all, citizens passively acceptconsume?stories without skepticism because, hey, that Anderson Cooper is too cute and well-spoken to get the facts wrong. (Palast is sort of a goofy-looking Brit.)
But the media does get the story wrong, or at least twisted in the direction of sensation. And we buy itliterallywithout questioning it. It’s this sort of lazy journalism for a lazy citizenry that provides the cover for lame politicians and special interests.
But the worst part of all is that there’s no end in sightincluding eight more grueling months of political posturing and punditry. Sometimes it’s enough to make you Ralph.
@Tony Clifton: It only took a week and a half to ring my bell. Funny…
@P. (u) Wilson: I offer information and interesting news, you call me names. Name calling…
You can do it Pete. Feeding the trolls is pointless.
No pics of the thong wedgie? Damn!
Whatever, Gast. I could post stuff that reflects my attitudes all day and you'd never…