Politics Of Fear And Politics Of Hope

by Rick Rozoff

October 30, 2000



 What follows was written in the heat of a frantic weekend blitz of well-orchestrated attacks against Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Emanating from the Gore campaign structure (and dutifully passed on by the establishment media), panicked and sensing mainly self-inflicted defeat as it evidently does, this full-court press against Nader as supposed spoiler, rogue reformer, wide-eyed crusader or whatever else he's been labeled has all the earmarks of desperation and misplaced resentment.

But while the lightening rod for this exaggerated animosity has been Nader and his supporters, the true target is both bigger and broader. Implicit in the harsh and bitter denunciations of Nader's audacity in daring to challenge, and possibly putting a spoke in the wheel of the carefully scripted program for how the election was supposed to proceed - basically a gentleman's agreement between the two major parties to conduct an innocuous campaign that glossed over uncomfortable matters of growing income disparity, subordination of citizen's needs to the demands of globalization, and the dangerous resurgence of militarism - is a concerted attempt to stifle all dissent from and opposition to administrative rule from above.

As such, anyone concerned about preserving what's left of direct input into the political process, and certainly anyone committed to expanding it, should, regardless of who they intend to vote for, be alarmed by this assault on the right to free political expression and join Nader's and other third party candidates' efforts to combat the tightening of the electoral and broader political circle.

Concessions to undemocratic exigencies , whether motivated by emotion or calculation, are easier to make than to retract, and have the effect of being both precedent for and enticement to greater sacrifices on questions of principle and procedure. We can't afford further concession; or, to call it by its proper name, capitulation.


Chicago, October 29 -       "Election Hopes Could Turn On Scare Tactics" is the headline of an article on the U.S. presidential election in today's Daily Telegraph from England, where the press is able to view the subject more objectively than it does here.

And in the final ten days of the campaign just that appears to be taking place. To cite a notorious example, yesterday an ad run privately by Aretino Industries evoking the sensationalistic 1964 'daisy ad' of the Lyndon Johnson/Barry Goldwater election was yanked from television.

As substantive issues and meaningful differences between Al Gore and George W. Bush shrink in their respective campaign rhetoric, "An Election That Is Drowning In Dollars" as today's London Times describes it is increasing turning into a low-level mudslinging affair, with hyperbolical accusations and unsubstantiated fear-mongering predominating.

That this handsomely funded slug-fest - "$1b In TV Ads In Next Ten Days" is a headline in today's Guardian - is both an insult and an injury to the American electorate, which wants and needs a candid debate about real issues like economic justice, health care, foreign policy, military spending and other key social and global policies, goes without saying. But what makes this personal feud between Democrats and Republicans, Bush and Gore, far worse is that the Ralph Nader, Green Party candidacy is being caught in the crossfire. A campaign that since its modest inception has charted a successful course of both fighting against and remaining above the very soft money-fueled non-politics of the two major parties is now the main victim of the same.

Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, for example, spent yesterday in Oregon "pleading with voters not to vote for Nader," to quote an AP dispatch. Mind you, not TO vote for himself and Al Gore, but pointedly NOT to vote for Ralph Nader.

Similarly, from the other side, yesterday's newspapers ran the headline "GOP Group To Air Pro-Nader Ads." That this headline is inaccurate, which upon reading the report itself becomes obvious, is almost beside the point. A soft money outfit called the Republican Leadership Council, whose name bears a curious resemblance to its Democratic counterpart, ran the TV ad in question, which features excerpts of Ralph Nader criticizing Al Gore's record on environmental issues - while not including comparable attacks on George W. Bush, naturally.

While the fact that the ad is anti-Gore is evident, to claim that it's in any manner "Pro-Nader" is ludicrous. But both parties are misrepresenting the Nader campaign, each it its own way. Neither for the public good.

Not to be outdone, Gore campaign operatives, official and otherwise, have set up Nader and the broad, vibrant movement he represents as a man of straw they can attack rather than going after their formal opponent, George W. Bush. And presumably as a scapegoat they can blame for their own inability to sway voters.

The intensity, I'm tempted to say ferocity, of these attacks seems without precedent in respect to a third party candidacy. Even Ross Perot, who handed Bill Clinton the White House in two successive elections, never came under this sort of fire from the Bush or Dole campaigns.

Typical of the latest escalation of Nader-bashing is a series of features in Salon, where Joe Conason and company have practically turned their online journal into a house organ for the Democratic National Committee and the Gore election campaign - and the most reactionary, militarist wing of both at that.

For the past two days Salon has focused on purely personal attacks on Nader, dealing with the alleged palatial domicile and questionable stock investments of Wall Street's arch-adversary and preeminent advocate of American workers' and consumers' rights. And this gratuitous, bilious attack occurs against a backdrop of unparalleled corruption of the American electoral system by the two establishment parties and their deep-pocketed donors, and with both the Gore and Bush organizations being bribed with contributions that would make the coffers of Croesus look like a school child's piggy-bank.

Even more disturbing is that the nominally left-leaning periodicals, The Nation and In These Times, are getting into the act - with a vengeance typical of those whose consciences may not be entirely at rest with what they're doing.

A recent piece by Eric Alterman in The Nation, replete with exclamation points and low invective, even dredges up the sad vocabulary of the Red Scare period to demean and discourage Nader supporters. Among the faults and epithets applied to Nader and his voters are "sectarian left," "ideological purity," "political pique," "quixotic" and even, to fire from both sides simultaneously, "old faux revolutionary."

Many of us are old enough for the above language to evoke unpleasant analogies to similar, when not identical, words of reprimand and ridicule. They were leveled at us in the late 1960s and ever since by those whose interest(s) dictated they defend the status quo against what in characteristically stilted language is bemoaned as misguided and counterproductive idealism and youthful excess, etc.

It's lamentable, though, that some who were on the receiving end of these rebukes in their own youth are now casting them at others, especially the new generation of activists and, yes, idealists.

Even here in Chicago, where Gore is almost certain to carry the city and the state, garnering all of Illinois' electoral votes, I'm berated for "stealing votes from Gore" when I pass out Nader literature at El stops and elsewhere. That this is demonstrably untrue has no effect on the opinions of those swept up on the wave of Nader-bashing. The truly terrible thing about fear campaigns is that they often work, and always eliminate the very atmosphere of dialogue and dispassionate exchange that alone can produce informed decisions.

And what is the worst, most nightmarish fear that is used to frighten off potential supporters of Nader's campaign and the expanding movement for political progress and independence it embodies? That, as the by now embarrassingly clichéd mantra has it, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, and that one too many votes for Nader will tip the scales to Bush and issue in a new Dark Age.

The simple truth, distressing for many, but nevertheless irrefutable, is that if Al Gore loses on November 7th he'll have no one but himself to blame. Himself and those who have encouraged him to direct his attacks on the Nader campaign and not on his Republican opponent. For failing to emphasize whatever it is he claims to stand for, while coming off as a bully in relation to the real underdog crusader, Ralph Nader, and the millions of supporters whose enthusiasm he's helped galvanize and whose commitment he's solidified.

Here's the real nightmare we may all wake up to on November 8th: A Gallup/CNN-USA Today poll released today shows the following percentages for the three leading presidential candidates: Bush: 52%. Gore: 39%. Nader: 4%. If these figures are anywhere near the truth, two facts are clear: No arithmetic, however tortured, can justify the claim that votes for Nader will deny Gore the White House. 39 + 4 do not equal 52.

Second, although Nader's numbers are lower than many of us suspect they truly are, there's no doubt that they are lower than they could be because the scare campaign directed at likely supporters has been working in the short run.

Which brings me back to the nightmare. Imagine waking up on Wednesday morning, November 8, and hearing that George W. Bush has won the election by several percentage points, but that Ralph Nader has fallen one vote short of gaining the 5% needed to gain ballot status and push forward the momentum towards a new independent movement in America.

And then to add to the horror, given all the heavy-handed exclusionary maneuvers used by the two corporate-controlled parties against Nader this election season, imagine that this year was the last chance to ever do so.

But enough of fear, nightmares and scare campaigns. On November 7th we all have the chance to do what in good faith we'd urge others to do:
Lead with hope and follow through with courage.


Rick Rozoff is a peace activist from Chicago, IL. He does research for, and dissemination of Swans, as well as contributing his columns.

Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Rick Rozoff 2000. All rights reserved.


Related links

Why Are They Crucifying Ralph Nader? - by Gilles d'Aymery

Nader in the Headlines: October 27 and 28, 2000



Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath


Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath

Published October 30, 2000
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