Posted tagged ‘politics’

In Defense of Ralph Nader: Ego Tripping

May 12, 2009

Two points about one of the old standby anti-Nader screeds; the one that asserts Ralph Nader runs for office simply to stroke his own ego:

(1) Even if this were true, it fails to respond to the actual civic issues Nader has commonly brought up in his campaigns; issues that are all so often only brought up in his campaigns. Any seasoned debater will tell you an ad hominem attack is an automatic point for the target.

And (2), the accusation also fails to acknowledge that there are 330 million people in this country and only one President. Anyone who thinks that they are the best person for that job—out of more than a quarter-billion—must possess at the least an abundant sense of self.

And let’s be really honest here. If the average American were to achieve so much as one solitary item on Ralph Nader’s resume, do you think he’d ever shut up about it? I bought a slice of pizza from a guy yesterday who had just purchased a (presumably used) 1994 Cutlass and was so proud of it he talked as though he deserved a Nobel Prize (which he might be up for, as they are usually awarded to people like Mother Theresa or Henry Kissinger or Al Gore, or other people who have never saved a life).

But having an ego in politics—or being suspected of having one—makes you unfit, it seems (unless you’ve been a community organizer—and mobilizing 30 years’ worth of talented idealists to change the whole country doesn’t count I suppose). So today’s free history lesson offers up a few Americans who had monumental egos, and yet managed to get over themselves just enough to do something for the country. In their spare time, of course.

George Washington

Maybe you’ve heard of him? Father of the nation, first in the hearts of his countrymen, that sort of thing? Well, see how smug he looks?

Many historians speculate that if the British Army had simply promoted the man, there never would have been a Revolution. When they passed him over he resigned his commission, only to jump at the chance to be the general in charge of a ragtag rumble of a rebellion ten years later. He showed up for the first Continental Congress in full military uniform, just to make sure everybody got the hint. Thousands of men suffered and died at Valley Forge, but somehow Washington made the ordeal all about him. And yes, he turned down the chance to be king, but as President he wanted to be addressed as “Your Mightiness.”

Verdict: Ego


Alexander Hamilton

This bastard son of a Caribbean colonial took to the habit and pretty much remained a bastard throughout his life. A close friend of that egomaniac Washington and our first Treasury Secretary, he fought bitterly with Thomas Jefferson (who was arrogant enough to own his fellow human beings, by the way)… he fought bitterly with James Monroe (threatening to kill the future President)… he fought bitterly with Washington himself (after being caught in a financial scandal)… and he fought bitterly with (onetime VP and fellow egocentric scoundrel) Aaron Burr, who killed him for it. Hamilton had a habit of debating at gunpoint, challenging more than a few public officials to duels. He essentially built New York City, conceiving it as the soulless, opportunistic money making factory it remains today (or, rather, used to be).

Still, he single-handedly turned the country’s financial mess completely around in five years (Obama should be so lucky), and founded the Coast Guard, which effectively protected the nation’s shores while the US evolved into an economic powerhouse based on his principles. Perhaps this is why his picture is on the ten-dollar bill, which is worth twice what Lincoln’s bill is worth, and ten times more than Washington’s (even in this economy).

Verdict: Serious ego issues


Theodore Roosevelt

Hard as it is to criticize America’s first seriously progressive President, TR could not have survived ten minutes without his ego.Born sickly and bedridden throughout childhood, he nonetheless started the environmental conservation movement in this country, anticipated FDR’s New Deal legislation with is own Square Deal initiatives, and took on and defeated the large corporations of the Gilded Age.

Still, he liked to kill things.When charging up San Juan Hill as a Rough Rider, he attended to a dying comrade in the middle of a battle, exclaiming “Isn’t this marvelous!” He was the poster boy for imperialism, and entertained visions of an American Empire. Roosevelt’s greatest regret was that he wasn’t a wartime President. He tried to pick fights with a lot of countries, even sending the US Navy on a big-stick-carrying world tour. Nobody took the bait.

When he’d tired of the Presidency, Roosevelt tapped his good friend, the shy and soft-spoken William Howard Taft to succeed him, while he went to shoot big animals in Africa. Upon his return, TR started saying some very nasty (and public) things about his old friend, reducing Taft to tears. Roosevelt then ran against Taft for the Presidency, and beat him. Woodrow Wilson still got the most votes, though, and the country later entered Word War I—which TR probably would have led us in to sooner. He died peacefully in his sleep.

But if you’d ever called him “Teddy” he’d probably have punched you.

Verdict: Boundless ego


Bill Clinton

Oh, don’t you just love him? Unless he criticizes Barack Obama, at least. This put-upon good ole boy who just wanted to feel your pain.

The first baby-boomer President who would finally get the Whitehouse to embody all the idealism of the counterculture 1960s. Those baby-boomers (not exactly modest types themselves) will defend Clinton against the impeachment hearings as long as I will defend Ralph Nader against the myopic principles of his detractors. But opinions about the legal fallout from his scandal aside, the objective facts make clear that Clinton’s ego saw to it that he would embarrass his wife and daughter on the international stage. His staff covered for him for months, probably because he lied to them as well. He could have stopped the whole train if he’d had courage to simply go on TV and say, “Yeah it happened. But it’s my private business. You Republicans can blow me too.”

Instead, to delay the impeachment vote, Clinton had the arrogance and audacity to bomb a milk and medicine factory in the Sudan, thus making himself a war criminal, even if only morally. Clinton’s ego and legacy certainly cost Al Gore more votes in 2000 than Ralph Nader did. He abandoned the idea of universal health care early in his first term because he cared more about his political future than in fighting for the people. He also enacted some of the most conservative and corporate-friendly Democratic legislation since the Democrats were segregationists. Even though Clinton ignored Rwanda, he now runs a foundation he’s named after himself which raises obscene amounts of money and prints fancy letterhead which get distributed at platinum-level seminars held in the name of Africans dying of AIDS (spending some of that cash on condoms might be a better idea). In reality, the Clinton Global initiative is a vanity project that hopes (in vain) to make the rest of human history forget the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the man’s name.

Well, it’s fitting, I suppose, that Clinton’s ego gorges itself on the blood of African people. After all, in order to become President in the first place all he had to do was kill a black man.

But don’t you just love him?

Verdict: Are you kidding? He’d seduce your dead cat and try to make you feel sorry for him.


Of course, no history would be complete, unless I proffered up a counter-example of a political figure who by all accounts was devoid of ego.

That must be a real American hero.

Who could it be?

George W. Bush

He campaigned in 2000 on a humble foreign policy, suggesting that the US should not go around the world telling other people how to live. He said his favorite philosopher was Jesus Christ, who advised turning the other cheek, and doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you.

Nine years ago Americans said Bush was the candidate “they’d most like to have a beer with,” even though he’d given up drinking (and probably cocaine) long before. He abandoned his vices for the sake of his health and his family. And where did this lack of an ego lead us?

2 expanding yet stagnating wars

A collapsed economy

An election decided by the Supreme Court instead of the voters (I guess Al Gore has no ego for that matter, willing to lose an election he won)

An overextended military

No reliable or affordable health care system to speak of

We torture now

Combination of church and state

He sat there on the morning of 9/11… he…  just…  sat…  there

A complete absence of preparation or adequate response to 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina

Dick Cheney became the most powerful Vice President in history (Aaron Burr would have done less damage)

Record profits for his friends and cronies in big oil and industry… and no movement on alternative energy… at all

Domestic wiretapping (but I guess we had that when they spied on Martin Luther King… and Ralph Nader)

Sarah Palin is considered an important national figure

Political firings of US Attorneys

Harriet Miers for Supreme Court? Really? She had a better chance than Nader?

The criminal outing of an undercover CIA operative

Phony reporters planted as White House correspondents (as well as staged/doctored photo ops)

A crumbling infrastructure, literally

The world thinks of America the way America thinks of Ralph Nader (ironic, isn’t it?)

More impeachable than Nixon and Clinton and Andrew Johnson combined (here, I guess the Democrats lacked enough ego to go after him)

Oh… and he also let Osama bin Laden get away at Tora Bora.

Verdict: Aren’t you glad that at least Bush didn’t have an ego? Thank God for that. Thank him. Every day. Then go drink your beer. Alone. 


Civics Lesson

May 10, 2009

So it should come as no surprise the NY Times has unveiled an interactive feature that allows readers to make their own selections for the Supreme Court. And it will be even less surprising that these selections have been filtered by the editors, and darling-of-the-moment Sonia Sotomayor tops the list with the most “votes.” Time will tell if the media is finally attempting to just inform us, or if this is the first chapter in a narrative they are building about Judge Sotomayor’s ascent and fall. I hope she’s paid her taxes.

You don’t need me to tell you that Ralph Nader is mentioned nowhere on this rainbow of a list, nor does he even get a mention on the “write-in” sub-list of eleven other names put forth by readers. I duly nominated him myself, but he has yet to receive enough support to place. Remember my first post about the uphill battle?

To Nader-hating naysayers who are tired of hearing about The Man from Winsted, let’s see who NY Times readers view as classical jurists. I confess, ‘twas difficult to tell sometimes whether this was supposed to be a list of Supreme Court candidates or the table of contents of a slightly more political version of People Magazine. Enough readers think that Caroline Kennedy, who thought she should of course sweep un(con)tested into a Senate seat, should now be anointed for the Supreme Court, putting her at number 24 out of 25 on the total list. Does anyone really believe that Caroline Kennedy has a better shot at being on the Supreme Court than Ralph Nader? And if she does, should that make us feel better about the minds that govern this nation?

People who would surely have a place in line ahead of Nader include Hillary Clinton at #19 (up two spots since last week) and Janet Napolitano at #10. Apparently Times readers are unaware that both women already have jobs, neither of which are that cushy, and both of which they have held only for a very short while—barely long enough to fulfill the probationary period for new hires at Wal-Mart. Al Gore and Bill Clinton also make the reader’s list (in that order) despite Gore having no legal training and Mr. Clinton being a disbarred attorney and prohibited from even representing you in traffic court.

The Court has been home to Klansmen, anti-Semites, secessionists, and at least one alleged misogynist. Are we to expect that their judicial philosophies somehow excused all of that? One thing that will probably not be asked of any nominee is his or her view of civic freedom. And yet it seems so fundamental. Robert Bork was shot down after aggressively stating and defending his judicial philosophy, and every nominee since has pretty much skirted the issue. Congress rarely even asks anymore.

What does it mean to be an American, and how does the Supreme Court help to define that? Civic freedom is something that Ralph Nader holds many opinions on, and it has indeed fuelled his career.  And if Obama’s nominee hasn’t spent much time thinking about this question, is that good enough for you?

Here’s what Nader thinks of Civic Freedom. I think it’s a strong indication of the sort of Justice he’d be. And if you can find an argument against him, you should probably run for Senate. Otherwise, no one will ask these questions.

Nader for SCOTUS: The Fetal Stage

May 3, 2009

The Supreme  Court of the United States has made some pretty alarming decisions over the last decade, at least two of which can and have adversely impacted the lives of every American. Bush v. Gore installed a man who lost the election into the Presidency. Retiring Justice David Souter was reportedly disillusioned by the decision. Kelo v. The City of New Haven made it legal for the government to confiscate your house, business, or land, and sell it to a private corporation. Sadly, Souter was of the majority opinion that supported the practice.

In case you aren’t aware, Ralph Nader considered both decisions to be appalling and unconstitutional.

But when it comes to the politics of the Supreme Court, one issue above all others seems to get the press: abortion. Pro life v. Pro Choice. A woman’s right to “choose” v. a fetus’ “right” to be born. Both sides want a litmus test for any Supreme Court nominee, and every President claims they will not administer one. Don’t believe them.

I’ll admit that I tend to lean to the pro-choice side of this argument, at least up until the third trimester. But I also have to confess that I have grown extremely bored with the subject as well. This is a debate that has been raging with virtually the same talking points, the same logical constructions, and the same approaches since 1921. And yet, in 88 years, science still hasn’t bothered to answer the question “when does life begin?”

The abortion issue has become such a vapid, brain-dead debate, populated essentially with business people who raise (i.e.,make) money by promoting one view or the other. Legal points about eminent domain, election reform, tax policy, interrogation techniques, separation of powers, media conglomeration, and scores of other issues come before the Supreme Court all the time. There was also an impeachment trial not too long ago and a hearty call for another during the last administration. But when Obama does finally make his nomination, expect the stock price of cable news companies to skyrocket. Because our country is going to be forced once again to listen to well-funded talking heads rabbit on about a subject that will only ever affect the smallest fraction of our population.

Men will never get pregnant. And women can prevent it if they choose to. This news hasn’t received its fair share of coverage in the last 88 years. So neglected is this fact, this miracle that could satisfy both sides, that I feel compelled to donate some free ad space to a little known startup that sells affordable, easy-to-use, and medically sound devices that prevent unwanted pregnancies:




These little wonders are easily available to all sexually active men and women of any age, and in many cases they can even be obtained for free. Okay, this may not completely solve the problem this post is devoted to, but the information should help lower the blood pressure of abortion activists everywhere, on both sides. We talk about abortion in this country as though the British are coming, when in reality we are. And prophylactics can do something to contain that… literally.

Unfortunately, if President Obama went on television and said, “Use condoms. They’re free. Take as many as you want,” we wouldn’t have as much fun this summer as the confirmation hearings would be more boring. Leave it to Americans to take a steady supply of free condoms and still be unable to figure out how that can make life fun. 

So bring on the litmus test. 

One of the benefits of having a Supreme Court nominee who has run for President is that he has probably had to take a public position on most of the issues the Supreme Court will face. Being a Justice is supposed to be apolitical, and many appointees have surprised their Presidents by swinging in directions they didn’t expect. But SCOTUS confirmation hearings are nothing if not a determined hunt to discover the nominee’s ideology. William Howard Taft was not our best President, but by most accounts he proved an excellent Chief Justice (succeeding to the post, ironically, in 1921). Having been President, the country likely knew where he stood on issues of the day, and Taft brought a unique perspective on the interrelation of the branches of government.

So where does Ralph Nader stand on abortion? The best resource I’ve come across is a website called On the Issues, which appears to be an objective compendium of where just about every current politician stands on every issue you’ve seen reported, complete with sources. On Nader’s page, we see that he has been criticized for not treating the abortion issue with the same gravity that he would treat, say, poverty. Or cancer. Or nuclear war. Rep. Barney Frank and activist Gloria Steinem have often faulted Nader for not making abortion the center of his universe. Still, I bet if either of them ever encountered a broken condom, he’d be the first one they’d call.

But what is his actual opinion on the legality of abortion?

Nine years ago this week on NBC’s Meet the Press, Nader said this to Tim Russert:

“I don’t think government has the proper role in forcing a woman to have a child or forcing a woman not to have a child. And we’ve seen that around the world. This is something that should be privately decided with the family, woman, all the other private factors of it, but we should work toward preventing the necessity of abortion.”   

That about sums it up for me. He went on later that year to express support for the so-called “morning after pill,” which was just being introduced to the US market, saying use of the drug was “up to the woman, not the government,” and calling it “preferable to surgical procedure.” I don’t see anything Barney Frank or Gloria Steinem could argue against here. As of 2008, Nader was on record as fully endorsing the National Organization for Women’s Agenda on Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights. 

He did get into some hot water during his campaigns by stating that Roe v. Wade was in no danger of being overturned, even by an ultraconservative President. Nader claims such talk is simply a scare tactic designed to rally the respective bases, and the Republicans would never allow themselves to preside over the first back-alley abortion death. Even conservative Justices like Scalia and Thomas were confirmed by Democrat-controlled congresses. Of course he said this years ago, before conservative Justices like Roberts and Alito were confirmed… with the help of Democrats. Neither Roberts nor Alito took a position on abortion at their hearings, both vowing to keep an open mind on the issue or respecting Roe v. Wade as “settled law.”

Of course, George W. Bush did try to sneak ultra-right-wing-nut Harriet Miers past us in 2005, but was roundly panned… by Republicans (Democrat Harry Reid actually recommended her for the nomination). 

So, it seems that Nader was right. Eight years of Bush and Cheney gave us two stagnating wars, an economy in collapse, torture, domestic wiretapping, several impeachable offenses and transgressions, not to mention a total failure in preparing for or responding to Hurricane Katrina… but abortion is still legal. Oh, and remember RU-486, the debated “morning after pill”? It’s legal too.

So bottom line: If you care about protecting abortion rights for women, Nader is on your side. He would be the least likely person you’ve ever heard of to overturn Roe v. Wade, but would probably spend most of his energy on more fundamental Constitutional issues that affect far more people. Only with the issue of abortion would Ralph Nader support the status quo. Heck, he might even try to make it financially easier for poor women to obtain the procedure, or at least the drug.

It has been nearly four years since John Roberts assumed the office of Chief Justice, and still there has been no assault against the right to choose from the Court. His predecessor, the arch conservative William Rehnquist, served as Chief Justice for 19 of his 33 years on the Court, and abortion never came up. If Roberts and his conservative brethren decided to launch an attack all of a sudden, wouldn’t you rather have them forced to go up against Ralph Nader than anyone else?

The Vacancy: A New Beginning

May 3, 2009

We’ve all heard by now that David Souter will retire from the bench this summer. This gives President Barack Obama his first shot at appointing a new Supreme Court Justice. 

He has said that he will nominate someone with empathy and independence. Most pundits expect him to pick a centrist. Most liberals want a hard-lefter. Activists want a woman or minority. Progressives are expecting a disappointment. Republicans are vowing to fight the choice almost no matter what. 

Uphill battles are seldom fun, but are important by definition. I humbly submit a bachelor of Lebanese stock with a decades-long career of public advocacy. An Ivy-trained lawyer, military veteran, son of immigrants, and just about the most successful activist in American history:  

Ralph Nader.

Yes, let me say it again. Ralph Nader. 

If I’ve caught your eyes before you’ve rolled them, let me explain why, though I shouldn’t have to. If you’re too young to have heard much about Nader before he was derided as a “perennial candidate” for President, do a google search. I plan to push this blog as a campaign, and will flesh out his resume as much as I can. But it will help us all if you come to this site informed. Between seat belts, anti-pollution, occupational safety, the Freedom of Information Act, anti-nuke support, food labels, and dozens of other issues that have certainly impacted the life of someone you love (if not yourself), Ralph Nader has pretty much done everything for this country except breast feed it.  

He has always been a consistent opponent of government avarice and corporate greed, as well as a booster for civic empowerment. Many of his old campaign speeches sound like prophecy today. If you want real change, the kind of change that Obama promised, what would be better than putting Ralph Nader on the Supreme Court? Who else could give Scalia, Roberts, and Alito as much hell? Who else would be as tenacious a defender and enforcer of our ideals as a nation? 

Nader-hating “liberals” wouldn’t have to worry about him “siphoning off” votes in future elections. Pragmatic “progressives” wouldn’t have to worry about how he could possibly push legislation through Congress (though he did it successfully enough for three decades somehow). And conservatives wouldn’t be able to dig up any dirt on the guy.

And like your favorite rock star (and unlike Obama), he once sold out Madison Square Garden. Imagine the confirmation hearings with a guy like this: