Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Local Media Refuses to Televise the Nader Revolution in Kansas City

*Note - The following is based on Ralph Nader's visit last Thursday (Aug. 27th) to a downtown Kansas City, KS hotel.
Labor rights icon Eugene Debs said of voting: "It is better to vote for what you want, and not get it, than to vote for what you don't want-and get it."
Democrats around Kansas City were banking on potential voters ignoring Debs's message, and therefore ignoring Ralph Nader when the independent presidential candidate visited town this week.
On Thursday, August 26, a handful of media members and almost two dozen supporters gathered inside the conference room of a Kansas City, Kansas hotel to hear the former Green Party superstar candidate speak. Ironically, just three days earlier this same city was responsible for filling up a stadium (approximately 79,000 in paid attendance) to watch an exhibition football game. The population's passion and devotion to their favorite sports teams is something Nader fears will, unfortunately, never translate into the political theatre.
"I always wonder what would happen to the country if people cared about voting as much as they worry about their favorite sports teams," Nader said. "With sports, the people seem very much able to cut through the bullshit rhetoric of players and coaches and demand a certain level of high performance from these people."
"When they see these people performing poorly on the field, they hold them accountable. Why can't we treat politicians the same way? Imagine if they were scrutinized like these players and coaches! What would happen to the country?"
This barely publicized press conference and campaign speech resulted in a near empty room greeting the man who finished third in the popular vote in 2000. The KC Star and the LJ World did small, token write-ups of the event, but that was the only thing people saw or heard reported.
The sight of Nader attempting to rally support in such modest surroundings also served as a reminder of just how far his 2004 campaign is from recapturing the kind of energy and passion he aroused just four short years ago. Then, large venues, like the Madison Square in New York City, were sold out for his appearances. Now, he faces an uphill battle against a multitude of forces that begin and end with a mainstream media that he often chastises for going through the same old motions, a rut that he feels all but ensures the perpetuation of the two party ideology in American politics.
"I always try to challenge reporters to refrain from asking me the same old questions," Nader said. "There is a clear disconnect between the press and the campaigns of third party candidates. Are they of the mind set that the two parties already own the voters? They never seem to be able to make the connections about what's going on."
"If they could just look at the stories they have in front of them they'd see what I'm seeing: that we're losing control of the country. Still, in their finest moments the press is capable of great things."
According to Nader, the country's fall from grace is directly related to the ability of the two major political parties to manipulate every facet of American life, while any opposition is quashed from the debate, much less public office. The multi-party system Nader envisions to remedy the situation, is something that is difficult to make a reality.
The Republicans ("a wholly owned subsidiary of giant corporations") and the Democrats ("a decaying party that will never be accused of having a smart strategy") have ensured what Nader calls the worst kinds of politicians emerging form the pack and heading to Washington. For now, Nader is focusing his attention on the Democrats, whose dirty tricks have forced him to get tough on many of the more progressive, liberal politicians that he shares ideological agreements with.
"There are millions of unregistered African-Americans who historically vote up to 90% of the time with the Democratic ticket," Nader said. "Even Jesse Jackson talked to me about this problem recently."
"If the Democrats really cared about this campaign, why would they not be out registering African-American voters? Instead they're busy harassing me and the people trying to gather signatures to get me on the ballot."
Though largely unreported, Democrats have been quite overt in launching operations across the country to interfere with the Nader/Camejo campaign. Only a handful of news snippets have made their way into the media documenting the Democrats work. Nader speaks candidly about discussions he's had with some of the very Democrats that have interfered with and violated his constitutionally guaranteed right to run for president. A handful of young men in the crowd have their own stories of encounters with these Democratic goons. While volunteering to collect signatures to help Nader gain access to state ballots, some have also managed to collect horror stories of physical threats and various forms of strong-arm intimidation tactics.
"I was expecting to go to Montana and Wyoming to collect the signatures that the laws require for ballot access," 20-year-old Jon Matthew said. "I was harassed and assaulted in some instances. I was fondled as well as choked by police officers. I was jailed. Wherever we went to gather signatures we we're met by security or police who would throw us out and tell us we had to leave areas of public property."
The bloody and bruised lips Matthew bears tells part of the story about his trip north to assist the candidate he stands behind. Michael Bittinger, Kansas Coordinator for Nader/Camejo 2004 and resident of Rush Limbaugh's favorite left-leaning town, noted the lack of KU Campus Greens that would've stormed an event like this four years ago. Bittinger pushed Nader merchandise and memorabilia from the fundraising booth setup outside the conference room. Attendees were offered a chance to purchase one of Nader's books, including his newly released work, "The Good Fight." Despite rumors of rampant Republican donations to his campaign, Nader is using the new book as a vital tool in his fundraising efforts ("When you give to my campaign, you should get something back," Nader said).
The merchandise booth confirmed just how much of a shoe string operation Nader was running these days. Still, supporters wielding their student ID's lined up to buy the autographed books. With no Secret Service in place (Nader is accompanied on the campaign trail with only one other associate), Jameson and Jonathan Piedimonte of Independence lined up with copies of the new book and told stories of their initial experiences as supporters of a third party candidate.
"I try to talk to older people, but they just seem stuck in the rut of supporting everything the two party system does," 18-year-old Jonathan said. "They just respond with the same old arguments against Nader and against Bush. They really seem like they've given up."
Jonathan's older brother, Jameson, echoed the sentiments. After spending time at the Country Club Plaza trying to gather signatures for the Missouri ballot petition, he too had a tough time finding any rebuttals that didn't revolve around the "Anybody But Bush" mind set.
"The Democrats you talk with can be really nasty," 21-year-old Jameson said. "I've already had my share of confrontations with security guards. A lot of areas feel they are private property (when they're not) and you have no rights, meaning I'm breaking the law."
Nader himself has fielded calls and letters from volunteers in the field who have had the misfortune of coming across the forces of the Democratic Party itself. One 58-year-old woman in Arizona volunteering for the campaign reported being monitored from her home. This kind of spying and intimidating threats (in person and over the phone) are what Nader sees as developing into a mini-Watergate scenario for the Democrats unless Kerry takes a stand against the "dirty tricks" being endorsed by the very leadership of the DNC.
"Every time [Democratic National Chairman] Terry McAuliffe sees me he asks me to drop out [of the race]," Nader said. "The next time I see him and he asks that question I'm going to ask him when John Kerry is going to withdraw."
"They really think that their problem is me or that they're not raising enough money to get their guy on TV. The fact of the matter is that [Kerry] is just another 'Me Too! Republican'."
Despite the Democrats' best efforts, Nader's small, grassroots volunteer task force has been successful in gathering enough signatures to get his ticket on the ballot in more than forty states (a figure still fluctuating because the Democrats will be contesting the signatures in court up until the election). In Kansas, the Nader/Carmejo ticket will be representing the Reform Party, a party that has endorsed Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan in years past.
"The Reform party, like Kansas, has deep populist roots." They see what's happening to the environment, and where the WTO and the amount of power corporations are taking this country," Nader said. "We certainly have disagreements with certain social issues, but they're very strong on a number of the big issues that we've identified."
While Buchanan and Perot exhibited more traditional conservative tendencies, the Kansas Reform Party's push for a notoriously left leaning consumer advocate reveals their priorities for the upcoming election. Nader expects other conservatives disenfranchised with the Bush Administration's handling of the economy, Iraq, and other foreign policy issues to support his candidacy despite the disagreements they may have with other elements of his progressive politics. Nader sees a much less united Republican party than what is portrayed by the mainstream media.
Recently, he aligned with Texas U.S. Representative Ron Paul (an elected Republican, but a self-described Libertarian) to help get a bill to Congress that will legalize industrial hemp. Hard-line conservative and Editor of The American Conservative Magazine, Patrick Buchanan even offered Nader praise for his stance on the war and foreign policy during an interview between the two in June.
"Conservatives are furious with Bush's deficits, with their tax dollars going to corporate welfare; all of which undermines the market and wastes their money," Nader said. "Polls conducted with those who voted for me in 2000 indicate that up to 25% of them would have voted for Bush if I hadn't run. Another 40% say they would not have voted at all. I'm looking to appeal to those independents, liberal republicans, and conservatives again."
"Conservatives are upset about the way the WTO and NAFTA are threatening our sovereignty. They see jobs being shipped overseas to a Communist regime in China. This is depressing wages here at home and preventing workers from unionizing."
Nader's solution is an immediate withdrawal from entangling trade alliances like NAFTA and the WTO. Furthermore, he is calling for a repeal of the 1947 Taft/Hartley Act, which he says only leads to reoccurring 'Wal-Mart scenarios', and a lack of strong unions for workers.
Kansas drew his spotlight when discussing the corporate welfare state he sees the major parties refusing to discuss. Farm subsidies that are leveled against farmers here in Kansas were pinpointed as a major aspect of corporate welfare that he aims to eliminate. Again, he expects that the anti-trust laws will be effective in breaking up these companies, which have been redefining the ability of rural farmers to take their goods to market.
"The farm subsidies allow the agri-business community to make farmers into supplicants; selling their products well below market value," Nader said. "It's a state of peonage and the farmers are becoming the serfs."
Nader remains confident that he will speak with voters in all 50 states prior to the election. Kerry and Bush began conceding states to one another years ago, forfeiting the need to make stops in entire sections of the country. Earlier in August, a midnight gathering at the local Amtrak station in Lawrence was all that prevented the Kerry/Edwards campaign train from speeding through Kansas without taking the time to speak with any of the thousands of Jayhawks that had gathered on the Friday night. Edwards returned the next day to say a few words, but Kerry managed to slip through and push on to Colorado where the Democrats saw electoral votes up for grab.
"There are people who will continue to say I shouldn't visit swing states, but I say we have a responsibility to visit the areas of the country where we've seen the most passion for our ticket," Nader said. "I just got back from Hawaii and Alaska. They were furious that the other guys never bother to venture out there and speak with the voters."
In order to eliminate the fears of his candidacy running counter to the 'Anybody but Bush' campaign mounted by Kerry supporters, Nader has proposed support for the instant run-off system. This election system is already in place in cities like San Francisco. Under instant runoff elections, voters would rank their choices among a field of multiple candidates (allowing a voter to assign a '1' to Nader and a '2' to Kerry, or vice versa). If no candidate can secure a majority of the votes, elections officials would then take into account the secondary choices of voters to determine a winner. Nader sees a number of positive and humorous effects resulting from a conversion to this system.
"Under the instant run-off system, we'd be also be able to vote for 'none of the above'," Nader said. "Wouldn't that be great? To be able to vote 'no' to the whole system?"
Under the instant run-off, a majority vote of 'no confidence' in the candidates listed would result in a new election in 30 days, at which time only new, alternate candidates would be allowed on the ballot.
"Imagine how humiliated they would be when they have to tell their family that they were defeated by 'none of the above'," Nader said.
Nader's efforts to create a more direct democracy that would allow people to give the whole system the symbolic middle finger do not end there. He even is strongly considering a push to eliminate the Electoral College. The College, criticized by Democrats four years ago for failing to authenticate Gore's win of the popular vote, would be eliminated in a Nader White House to allow for a more direct democracy and the creation of a true multi-party system in government.
The behind the scenes requests from the Democratic Party leadership have not been the only propositions made to Nader. Earlier this month, he became the target of a humorous (albeit pathetic) plea from Michael Moore in front of a television audience. While appearing on HBO's Real Time with Bill Mahr, Moore went as far as to getting on his knees (along with Mahr, the show's emcee) to beg Nader to reconsider his candidacy. Nader smiled and assured the two men that they were in fact the ones who had been duped into believing in a candidate that offered nothing new from President Bush's agenda. First and foremost on Nader's mind are the hundreds of thousand American troops in Iraq.
"Kerry is taking a 'me too' attitude about Iraq," Nader said. "This is the major issue in this election, and he has said nothing different from what Bush has done."
Despite polls showing close to half of all Americans favoring the return of troops from Iraq, Nader stands alone as the only candidate speaking out on a withdrawal plan. Nader promises to have the troops out of the country and back home within six months. He also vowed to oppose the construction of permanent military bases in the country.
"The plan that I've outlined on my Web site is the only plan to withdraw American military and corporate forces and give the people of Iraq true sovereignty," Nader said. "Then, the Iraqis will have their country back, and they will no longer be the target of international terrorists."
"We have 14 [military] bases going up in Iraq. Kerry and Bush have no plan to achieve an 'end game', meanwhile we're bleeding troops and billions of taxpayer dollars."
The lack of an alternative for the future of Iraq highlights the deficiencies of the Democratic Party for Nader. With the televised Presidential debates approaching (something Nader is still fighting an uphill battle to gain access to), the laundry list of issues that Bush and Kerry are on record as agreeing upon is staggering (and very much reminiscent of what happened in the debates between Gore and Bush). The two have said little to distinguish themselves from one another on questions regarding U.S. foreign policy and the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the bloated military budget (which Nader promises to slash and still position it to maintain an impenetrable domestic defense), healthcare, the environment, fossil fuel dependency, and workers' rights.
"The democrats just don't understand that people want to see contrast when they go to vote," Nader said. "Their real problem isn't raising enough money or whatever happens to my campaign. They just lack a message."
Just a few miles east from where he was speaking in Kansas City, Kansas, is the 'Show Me State' of Missouri, which represents one of Nader's biggest challenges. With Missouri playing a crucial role in deciding the presidency in the last century, the Democrats have invested in a long legal fight to challenge the authenticity of the 12,000 plus signatures gathered for the state ballot (the Democrats are fighting successfully to get close to 3,000 of those signatures voided from the petition). The courts are openly cooperating with efforts to kill off independent candidates.
The opposition forces mount by the day for Nader. The Anti-Defamation League berated him for having the courage to speak out on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a way that did not show undying support for the U.S. position. Hints of anti-Semitism were inevitably charged, but when Nader called the group to task for failing to recognize Palestinians and Israelis working together toward a peaceful solution, they went silent.
The pressure being applied on him to pack up and go home has done little to alter his resolve. He spent the entire morning speaking with a small, but dedicated group of citizens who refuse to turn away on his cause. At seventy-years-old, his stump speech was still coming across by way of a razor sharp delivery. Being continually ignored by the media has clearly kept a chip on his shoulder, a quality that seemingly endears him to the hordes of young voters that make up his audiences. He's made a pact with them that he isn't about to break.
"Thomas Jefferson said that our system may need a revolution every 50 years to keep it updated," Nader said. "If the founding fathers would come back and see what the country looks like now, they'd be amazed at how little we've evolved." "If I were to drop out I would be betraying the support and sweat of all those who've believed in us and believe that there's a place in Washington for progressive politics. I'm not dropping out. That's not going to happen...not now...not on October 30th...never."


Post a Comment

<< Home