Real Choices. Suppressed Voices
The Progressive magazine, October 2000
There are two candidates running for President this year who
are genuinely dedicated to progressive principles. Neither is
named Al Gore, and neither is receiving the media attention he
But both are carrying on, tirelessly campaigning for a more
just, peaceful, and democratic country. They both take on the
twin evils of corporate power and militarism, and they both demand
universal health care and an end to poverty. In the process, they
are helping to keep in general circulation some of the crucial
ideals for transforming our nation.
We speak of Ralph Nader, Presidential candidate of the Green
Party, and of David McReynolds, Presidential candidate of the
Socialist Party, U.S.A.
Of the two, Nader's campaign shows more promise, as he has
galvanized the grassroots in a way unseen since the days of Henry
Wallace and Norman Thomas and, before them, Robert La Follette
and Eugene Victor Debs.
On August 25, 10,000 people showed up in Portland, Oregon,
for the biggest political rally of the year to date. It was not
for Al Gore, who was coasting down the Mississippi. Nor was it
for George W. Bush, who was floundering. It was for Ralph Nader.
You may not have heard about the Portland event because it was
not mentioned in The New York Times except in passing a week later
in an article that ironically noted Nader's dearth of media coverage.
What made the crowd even more exceptional was that people paid
$7 apiece to attend, and Nader still packed them in.
"People must realize if we never vote for the people
we want, we're never going to elect the people we want,"
Nader told the exuberant crowd, which clamored for him to be allowed
in the Presidential debates.
On military issues, Nader has become increasingly outspoken.
He is for stopping the production of nuclear weapons and for deep
cuts in the Pentagon budget. He is also for ending sanctions on
Iraq and withdrawing military aid from Colombia. On The NewsHour
with Jim Lehrer on June 30, he was asked by Lehrer: "How
would you decide when to use this great military force that we
have in the United States?"
Nader: "Well, first of all, I would set a priority of
waging peace.... If we abhor the use of violence, except as a
last resort of self-defense, we will be seriously focused on how
to deter it and how to prevent it. And, by the way, global infectious
disease is a weapon of mass destruction, malaria, tuberculosis,
mass poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. So let's have different
attentions to different styles of violence that need to be prevented."
Nader, who has won the endorsement of the California Nurses
Association, the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers
of America, and AFSCME Local 1108 in Los Angeles, is also a much
stronger advocate of workers' rights than Gore. America's leading
opponent of NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, the International
Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, Nader has impeccable credentials
in this area. His platform includes giving triple back pay to
workers fired illegally during an organizing drive, expanding
the power of the National Labor Relations Board, repealing the
Taft-Hartley Act, and imposing a ban on the permanent replacement
"Nader's energetic and principled candidacy will bring
us closer to real labor law reform, national health care, and
a challenge to-if not controls on- the power of multinational
corporations," the United Electrical Workers said in its
endorsement. "None of this will be achieved by voting for
the business friendly candidates of the major parties.... We believe
a wasted vote in this election would be for pro-business Democrats
But since winning the nomination, Gore has not sounded so
pro-business. In fact, he's appropriated some of the populist
language that is Nader's mother tongue. The problem is, with Gore
it's just rhetoric confected in a focus group, not a firmly held
conviction. In his speech at the Democratic Convention and during
the next few weeks following it, Gore talked incessantly about
"working families." Here's how he arrived at that phrase,
according to The New York Times: "It came up in the normal
course of the focus groups that most campaigns conduct, and advisers
said it was tested with a so-called people meter, a hand-held
device that test-groups of consumers can use to register their
reaction to products, or in this case, voter reaction to political
Evidently, by mid-September, the meters were telling Gore
something else, as he shelved "working families" for
"middle class families."
Nader addressed Gore's populist talk in a speech he gave in
California on August 21. "Why didn't he and Clinton walk
that talk for eight years? . . . He said he was going to fight
for the people against the gouging oil companies, against the
misbehaving HMOs, against the high prices of drugs by the pharmaceutical
companies, against the corporate polluters. He said he was going
to fight all of them, but his Democratic National Committee and
his own campaign have taken millions and millions of dollars from
these very corporate interests."
Nader challenged Gore "either to back down on his populist
talk and appear as he really is, which is a subservient politician
to corporate power, or to give the money back to the pharmaceutical
industry and the oil industry."
The day before that speech, Nader appeared on Both Sides with
Jesse Jackson, and Jackson repeatedly asked him whether there
was a difference between Gore and Bush.
"Yes, there's a difference," Nader said. "But
. . . on corporate power tying the hands of both parties, funding
both parties, controlling our government, distorting our public
budgets into massive military and corporate welfare allocations
instead of for children's health and education and environment-there
is not that much difference."
Jackson: "Well, of the two, which team . . . is the most
likely to break the cycle of that military-industrial complex
Nader: "I'm sorry to say, Jesse, that apart from the
rhetoric, both parties want to build up the military machine,
reflecting the power of the defense industry rather than our national
defense needs. The military budget is now going to hit over $300
billion, and that's the highest that it was at the height of the
Cold War when there was the Soviet Union. There is no longer any
Soviet Union. We're not demobilizing We're not putting this tax
money back into schools and clinics and public transit systems
and fighting environmental racism and other important issues."
At his California event the next day, Nader was asked about
the ubiquitous Supreme Court question. He said that anyone who
can predict how the Supreme Court will go "has a level of
clairvoyance that has escaped me. I remember Earl Warren and William
Brennan and Stevens and Blackmun and Souter were all considered
fairly good justices of the Supreme Court-all nominated by Republican
Presidents." He added that Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed
by Clinton, "is an arch adversary of health, safety, and
other regulatory activities by the federal government and is cozy
with corporate power."
In that California speech, Nader again took on the lesser
evil question. "We can go about our daily business and say
that really we don't count, and we don't really matter, and that
one party is not quite as bad as the other, and we'll let that
go, even though we think both parties are corrupting the political
system and selling our country for a mess of porridge from corporate
contributions," he said. "And you know what happens
when you vote for the least worst? The least worst says to you,
'You know, we got your vote because you have nowhere to go.' And
the minute the Democratic Party says to its historic constituency
that is its soul, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,
'You have nowhere to go because we're not as bad as the Republicans,'
that's when the progressive agenda of this
He has gotten very little mainstream media play and only a
smattering of articles in the left press. But David McReynolds
is a force to be reckoned with when he gets hold of a microphone.
On August 22, McReynolds appeared on the ABC late-night program
Politically Incorrect with host Bill Maher. Actors Shari Belafonte,
Kari Wuhrer, and Joe Rogan were the other guests, but McReynolds
stole the show.
Maher started by distinguishing McReynolds from other politicians,
saying, "I think he is sincere about his platform. I just
think his platform is whacked."
But as McReynolds and Maher explained that the planks included
a thirty-hour workweek and a $12 minimum wage, the audience cheered.
The rowdiness grew as McReynolds made point after point.
Wuhrer disparaged McReynold's ideas. "Where does the
individual stand on your platform?" she asked. "How
do you uplift yourself and become what is human nature?"
"What has happened to the individual in corporate America?"
asked McReynolds in return. "Where every single wish and
love you have has been put on the marketplace?"
Loud applause from the crowd.
"Wait a minute. Wait a minute," said an agitated
Rogan, turning to the audience. "What are you clapping for?
What are you saying?"
"They're clapping because I'm right," answered McReynolds.
"Something has gone wrong." The audience again broke
The day before, on Wisconsin Public Radio's Conversations
with Tom Clark, McReynolds critiqued the corporate system. "The
problem is, corporations do not have a conscience," he explained.
The push to make a profit leads to the mistreatment of workers,
the befouling of the environment, and a dangerous foreign policy,
he said. He also denounced intolerable social problems that our
society tolerates-like poverty and a racially imbalanced prison
system that now houses a quarter of the world's inmates.
McReynolds and the socialists have a solution.
"Vast corporate structures" should be placed "under
social ownership," he said when he announced that he would
seek the Socialist Party nomination for President.
But McReynolds does not hold that the state should take over
large corporations. Rather, he supports worker control and advocates
putting large corporations, particularly the Fortune 500, into
local, community hands.
As for small businesses, says McReynolds, "That's the
spice of American life. We are not interested in abolishing small
business. The enemy of small business is not the Socialist Party.
The real enemy of small business is, in fact, the corporate structure."
This argument for consumer and worker control of corporations
is where McReynolds goes further than the Green Party platform
and Ralph Nader. Although McReynolds sees Nader as a co-crusader
against the corporate octopus, he argues that the Greens favor
reform through new regulations and lawsuits. But only "a
fundamental reorganization of the economy to make it more fair,
more humane, and more democratic" will do the task, he says.
Other measures in the Socialist Party platform include: campaign
finance reform, a maximum wage of four to ten times the minimum,
socialized health care, free child care and elder care, free college
education, the legalization of marijuana, a 50 percent cut in
military spending, abolition of the CIA and NATO, more extensive
mass transit, support for animal rights and organic farming, strong
environmental protections, and equal rights for all racial and
ethnic minorities, women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender
When it comes to foreign policy, McReynolds, a pacifist who
served as field secretary for the War Resisters League for thirty-five
years, can be downright scathing.
"Our military budget is seven times the total of the
military budgets of all the nations listed by the State Department
as hostile," he wrote in an open letter following his nomination.
"A direct, sustained attack on militarism in the U.S. is
something both major parties avoid."
The coming years, he argues, are a perfect time to build a
strong left-wing movement. "The Cold War is over," says
McReynolds. "The ghost of Communism cannot now be used to
prevent a frank discussion of the need for democratic socialism."
Nader and McReynolds aren't kidding themselves. They know
they are not going to win the White House, but they are running
to change the climate of America. We applaud their efforts, quixotic
as they may appear.
In this day and age of corporate domination and plastic politicians,
it is a huge relief to find two principled progressives who are
willing to bear the whips and scorns of the media and to challenge
the entrenched habits of the electorate.
We need visionary leadership, just as we need a mobilized
Nader and McReynolds are providing that leadership this year.
More power to them.