USB: Challenging the Two Parties of Big Business

Nader’s Campaign for President

Blacked out of the corporate media, barred from the debates, and facing an electoral system rigged to favor the two big business parties, Ralph Nader’s campaign for president persevered to reach millions of voters with a genuine pro-worker, antiwar alternative.

Despite the difficulties, Nader achieved ballot status in 45 states, more than in 2000 or 2004, overcoming arcane and undemocratic ballot access restrictions. He raised over $4 million, opened campaign offices in 22 states, hired 40 paid field organizers, and built an impressive web presence, demonstrating the potential for building a national left electoral challenge in the years ahead.

Nader’s poll numbers reached as high as 10% in several states and 3-6% nationally in the run-up to the election, even though the corporate media never afforded him a similar percentage of coverage. This shows that an important minority of workers and youth were not contented with the Democrats’ hollow rhetoric, and wanted a left-wing, pro-worker alternative.

By Election Day, however, fears of fraud and illusions in Obama squeezed Nader’s vote. His final tally was 678,544, or 0.54% of the vote. Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, running on the Green Party ticket, received 146,000 votes (0.1%). So in total over 800,000 votes were cast for the two main left-wing, independent candidates.

Illusions in Obama

Nader’s campaign this year faced a particularly difficult climate. The massive tidal wave of support for Obama and his message of “hope” and “change” swept up most of the left. Together with voters’ desire to punish the Republicans after eight years of corrupt rule by the Bush administration, these factors shrank the space for an independent, left-wing alternative.

As an anti-corporate candidate refusing any big business donations, Nader was able to raise $4 million. But these days it costs at least half a billion to run a “credible” campaign for president, something only a corporate-sponsored politician can achieve. Americans were bombarded with coverage of Obama’s and McCain’s every move, while most voters were kept in the dark that Nader was even running!

Nader’s results this year are less than the 2.8 million votes he received in 2000, when he was able to capture the mantle of change and build up tremendous grassroots support from the rising anti-globalization movement after 8 years of Clinton/Gore betrayals.

Nevertheless, he won more votes than his 2004 total of 465,000, when his vote was squeezed by the enormous “Anybody but Bush” pressure and tight election. This was coupled with a coordinated, multi-million dollar campaign by the Democratic Party and their allies to challenge Nader’s ballot access and blame him for Gore’s defeat in 2000.

Nader vs. the Two-Party System

The significance of Nader’s campaign cannot be measured mainly by the number of votes he received. Nader again helped to popularize radical, anti-corporate demands among the several million he reached, and to expose the subservience of the Democratic and Republican parties to corporate interests, along with promoting the idea of a left-wing break from the two-party system.

The Nader/Gonzalez ticket provided a sharp contrast to that of Obama and McCain. Nader opposed the bipartisan Wall St. bailout, even organizing a rally on Wall St. in opposition. He also proposed a massive public works program to put millions to work with green, living wage jobs.

While both Obama and McCain supported an expansion of the military by nearly 100,000 troops and an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, Nader called for slashing the military budget and spoke out in favor of complete U.S. corporate and military withdrawal from Iraq, for an end to military aid to Israel, and in opposition to the surge in Afghanistan.

All of these policies put forward by Nader are supported by tens of millions of Americans. He could have received millions more votes had the corporate media given him even 4-6% percent coverage (equivalent to his early support in the polls) or had he been allowed into the debates.

The Greens and McKinney

Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party’s candidate, also ran an antiwar, anti-corporate campaign that also helped popularize the need to break from the Democrats, particularly among a section of left-wing African Americans activated by the Katrina disaster and racist voter suppression issues.

Unfortunately, McKinney relied too heavily on the Green Party leadership, which failed to mobilize any serious resources for the campaign. Tensions developed when they failed to raise federal matching funds, which requires just $5,000 each in at least 20 states.

As in 2004, when they refused to support Nader, many Green Party leaders did not want a serious candidacy in order to avoid ruffling Democratic feathers. Ultimately, McKinney finished with just over 146,000 votes, around 1/5 of Nader’s total, and only slightly more than the 120,000 votes the Green’s David Cobb won in 2004.

After the Elections

While setting an important and positive historical marker, Nader’s campaigns have fallen short in a number of ways. Most importantly, Nader has failed to use his campaigns as a serious launching pad for a new mass political party that will be an enduring political voice for workers, young people, and people of color beyond the elections.

By failing to build a party, his campaigns for president every four years lack continuity. The only way to defeat the corporate media blackout is to build ongoing mass organizations with a powerful army of activists to go door-to-door to organize support in the community.

After the elections Nader is urging the formation of watchdog groups of 1,000 citizens in each Congressional district to push for policies like single-payer national healthcare, a national living wage, and an end to the war in Iraq. It’s imperative that this effort be linked with the goal of directly challenging big business politicians in elections. Only when they fear a loss of power will the major parties give concessions.

Most importantly, Nader’s campaign gave a sharp warning about the pro-corporate character of Obama and his party. As he told The Nation, "[T]he working class, most of whom do not vote, watch Democratic candidate after Democratic candidate run for office promising to support labor and protect jobs and then, once elected, trot off to Washington to pass the corporate-friendly legislation drawn up by the 35,000 lobbyists who work for our shadow government" (The Nation, 10/25/08).

Since 2000 Nader’s campaigns, alongside McKinney and others, have helped plant the seeds of political independence among several million workers and youth, including many who didn’t vote for him, which will blossom into future bold challenges the two-party corporate prison.

Socialists Build Nader’s Anti-Corporate Campaign

Patrick Ayers

While continuing to organize against the war and on community issues, Socialist Alternative energetically campaigned for a vote for Ralph Nader in the presidential elections, arguing that building mass movements independent of the two parties is the surest way to win the change we need.

Nader, while not a socialist, has offered the strongest left-wing challenges to the two-party system over the last period.

We were the first socialist group to recognize the importance of his campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and the only one to support his campaign in 2008 while most of the left bent to the pressure to support Obama.

Across the country, we played a key role in building Nader rallies. In May, we helped organize a Nader rally of 400 people in Seattle, which had a prominent speaker from Socialist Alternative alongside Nader. We also organized a Nader rally of 130 people in Tacoma.

We also mobilized for a rally of 150 with Nader in Boston, and when our representative spoke to fire up the crowd before Nader came on, he was praised as “a tough act to follow” by the MC.

In Minneapolis we helped build a rally of 1,500 for Nader during the Republican National Convention, as well as a rally of 350 on Halloween where our speaker gave welcoming remarks, making the case for a new party for working people.

We collected signatures for ballot access, distributed yard signs, stickers, buttons, and campaigned on the Internet to raise the campaign’s visibility and help it break through the corporate media blackout.

We advocated our support for Nader at antiwar demos on October 11th and at the RNC protests. Our members campaigned in their workplaces and unions.

In Minneapolis, 60 people attended a debate we organized with two Democratic City Councilors, Elizabeth Glidden and Gary Schiff, on who to support for president. In Seattle, 75 people came to our lively debate with Seattle City Councilor Nick Licata. The Seattle debate was covered in Real Change, a local community newspaper.

When Obama was facing accusations of being a “socialist” a columnist with the Seattle Times called us about it. An interview with the editor of Justice was published on the front page of the local section explaining how Obama was a corporate candidate and how genuine socialists were supporting Nader.

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November 2008