Replying to Nader

[Nader wrote a response to a letter many, including Chomsky, signed. Noam was asked his reactions to Nader’s criticisms of the letter and its authors.]

The letter [Nader 2000 Leaders Organize To Defeat Bush](http://www.vote2stopbush.com) very briefly repeated the same position that I (and probably other signers) took in 2000: that it’s important to keep the Bush crew from having another four years in power, even more important now than it was 4 years ago. That entails “tactical voting,” meaning against Bush in swing states. But other than that, the statement says nothing about supporting Nader, the Greens, or any other political organization. That wasn’t the point of that very brief and narrow statement, and if it had gone on, participants might have expressed various ideas about safe states and elections other than the presidential election — which are crucial.

ZNet sustainer quotes Ralph Nader’s responce to the letter from his interview on Democracy Now 10/04/04 Noam responds point by point.

Nader: “Well, it’s a total loss of nerve. I mean, first of all, they didn’t ask anything of Kerry.”

Chomsky: Nor of Bush. Kerry and Bush are not my audience. Nor their predecessors. Nor the party leaders.

Activists have quite different concerns. They are engaged with the public, and try to help in the growth and development of popular organizations that will become powerful enough so that they cannot be ignored by centers of power. If Pat Robertson says, as he recently did, that he’ll start a third party unless the Republicans are sufficiently extreme in “support of Israel,” that’s a threat, because he might be able to mobilize tens of millions of evangelical Christians who already form a significant political force, thanks to extensive work over decades from local levels and on, and on numerous issues apart from the political choices from school boards to presidents. If I were to ask something of the Democratic or Republican campaigns, it would be a joke. If we had succeeded in creating mass popular organizations, they would be able to influence campaign rhetoric (and, if powerful enough, decisions) as well. The way we “ask something of Kerry” or Bush is by joining in the work to develop those popular forces.

Nader: “They said to the voters in the close states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, they said, vote for Kerry, quote, even though we strongly disagree with Kerry on the war and other issues, end quote. Well, when you don’t demand anything of Kerry, he gets worse.”

Chomsky: And if the signers were to say “vote against Kerry” unless he does so-and-so, the effect would be at most a few rhetorical flourishes that have no meaning, because the Democratic leadership knows that the voters in these states are not going to try to help re-elect Bush (the consequence of not voting for Kerry), and will therefore ignore the call. That will continue until we escape the traps of the massive campaigns to restrict political action to personalized quadrennial extravaganzas, and engage the real tasks of organizing, including potential electoral alternatives.

Nader: “If you don’t make Kerry better, he gets worse.”

Chomsky: And the way to make the Democrats (not Kerry; this isn’t a gladiatorial contest) better is by developing political forces and popular organizations that they can’t ignore. Actually, during the primaries, before the massive extravaganzas takes off, it is possible for candidates to raise issues and help to organize popular support for them, thereby influencing the campaigns to some extent — even though even that is far too late in the game. But after the primaries, once the extravaganza is underway, the effects of mere statements are minimal — in the absence of significant mass organizations.

Nader: “Because the corporations are demanding 24 hours a day. They’re not squeamish like the left is.”

Chomsky: The “squeamishness” is not about the electoral extravaganza, but about developing mass popular organizations that can — along with other activities — enter into the primary campaigns and the political arena generally, local to national, in some significant way. That’s a day-after-day activity, not every four years. Of course the business classes are constantly fighting a bitter class war, all the time, not for a few months every four years. And so are other forces, like evangelical Christians, at every political level, and on the issues of importance to them. And that’s been true often of other major forces, like the labor movement and civil rights movement, the anti-war movements, the women’s movements, the consumer movements that Nader did so much to energize, and many others. And they do have an effect, as we have often seen and still do. That’s the lesson for the left.

Nader: “More important is that if the left believes that their issues are compelling issues to the majority of the American people,…”

Chomsky: Exactly. That’s what we all try to do all the time, and shouldn’t be diverted from it by these marginal issues.

The rest is just missing the point, for the same reasons, so I’ll stop here.

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