Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/557/6626
USA: Challenging the two parties of big business
LAST WEEK, The Socialist carried an analysis of the US presidential election and the political awakening among the American working class which propelled Barack Obama into the White House and routed the Republicans. A second article dealt with the inability of a Democratic party-led presidency and congress to challenge capitalism - the root cause of the current economic crisis and the US's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the following articles, members of Socialist Alternative - the Socialist Party's US counterpart - explain why and how they supported the presidential campaign of Ralph Nader as an alternative to the two parties of big business. More background material can be read on www.socialistworld.net
BLACKED OUT of the corporate media, barred from the debates, and facing an electoral system rigged to favour the two big business parties, Ralph Nader's campaign for president persevered to reach millions of voters with a genuine pro-worker, anti-war alternative.
Teddy Shibabaw and Dan DiMaggio
Despite the difficulties, Nader achieved ballot status in 45 states, more than in 2000 or 2004, overcoming arcane and undemocratic ballot access restrictions. He raised over $4 million, opened campaign offices in 22 states, hired 40 paid field organisers, and built an impressive web presence, demonstrating the potential for building a national left electoral challenge in the years ahead.
Nader's poll numbers reached as high as 10% in several states and 3%-6% nationally in the run-up to the election, even though the corporate media never afforded him a similar percentage of coverage. This shows that an important minority of workers and youth were not contented with the Democrats' hollow rhetoric, and wanted a left-wing, pro-worker alternative.
By election day, however, fears of ballot fraud [which occurred in 2000] and illusions in Obama squeezed Nader's vote. His final tally was 678,544 or 0.54% of the vote. Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, running on the Green Party ticket, received 146,000 votes (0.1%). So in total over 800,000 votes were cast for the two main left-wing, independent candidates.
Illusions in Obama
Nader's campaign faced a particularly difficult climate. The massive tidal wave of support for Obama and his message of "hope" and "change" swept up most of the left vote. Together with the voters' desire to punish the Republicans after eight years of corrupt rule by the Bush administration, these factors shrank the space available for an independent, left-wing alternative.
As an anti-corporate candidate refusing any big business donations, Nader was able to raise $4 million. But these days it costs at least half a billion to run a "credible" campaign for president, something only a corporate-sponsored politician can achieve. Americans were bombarded with coverage of Obama's and McCain's every move, while most voters were kept in the dark that Nader was even running!
Nader's results this year are less than the 2.8 million votes he received in 2000, when he was able to capture the mantle of change and build up tremendous grassroots support from the rising anti-globalisation movement after eight years of Clinton/Gore betrayals.
Nevertheless, he won more votes than his 2004 total of 465,000, when his vote was squeezed by the enormous "Anybody but Bush" pressure from the Democrats.
The two-party system
The significance of Nader's campaign cannot be measured mainly by the number of votes he received. Nader again helped to popularise radical, anti-corporate demands among the several million he reached, and to expose the subservience of the Democratic and Republican parties to corporate interests, along with promoting the idea of a left-wing break from the two-party system.
Nader opposed the bipartisan Wall Street bailout, even organising a rally on Wall Street in opposition. He also proposed a massive public works programme to put millions to work with green, living wage jobs.
While both Obama and McCain supported an expansion of the military by nearly 100,000 troops and an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, Nader called for slashing the military budget and spoke out in favour of complete US corporate and military withdrawal from Iraq, for an end to military aid to Israel, and in opposition to the surge in Afghanistan.
Greens and McKinney
Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party's candidate, also ran an anti-war, anti-corporate campaign. Unfortunately, McKinney relied too heavily on the Green Party leadership, which failed to mobilise any serious resources for the campaign. Tensions developed when they failed to raise federal matching funds, which require just $5,000 each in at least 20 states.
As in 2004, when they refused to support Nader, many Green Party leaders did not want a serious candidacy in order to avoid ruffling Democratic feathers. Ultimately, McKinney finished with just over 146,000 votes, around one-fifth of Nader's total, and only slightly more than the 120,000 votes the Green's David Cobb won in 2004.
After the elections
While setting an important and positive historical marker, Nader's campaigns have fallen short in a number of ways. Most importantly, Nader has failed to use his campaigns as a serious launching pad for a new mass political party that will be an enduring political voice for workers, young people, and people of colour beyond the elections.
By failing to build a party, his campaigns for president every four years lack continuity. The only way to defeat the corporate media blackout is to build ongoing mass organisations with a powerful army of activists to go door-to-door to organise support in the community.
Since 2000 Nader's campaigns, alongside McKinney and others, have helped plant the seeds of political independence among several million workers and youth, including many who didn't vote for him, which will blossom into future bold challenges to the two-party corporate prison.
Socialists build Nader's anti-corporate campaign
WHILE CONTINUING to organise against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and on community issues, Socialist Alternative energetically campaigned for a vote for Ralph Nader in the presidential elections. We argued that building mass movements independent of the Democrats and Republicans is the surest way to win the change we need.
Nader, while not a socialist, has offered the strongest left-wing challenges to the two-party system in recent years.
We were the first socialist group to recognise the importance of his presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and the only one to support his campaign in 2008 - while most of the left bent to the pressure to support Obama.
Across the country, we played a key role in building Nader rallies. In May, we helped organise a Nader rally of 400 people in Seattle, which had a prominent speaker from Socialist Alternative alongside Nader. We also organised a Nader rally of 130 people in Tacoma.
We also mobilised for a rally of 150 with Nader in Boston, and when our representative spoke to fire up the crowd before Nader came on, he was praised as "a tough act to follow" by the chair.
In Minneapolis we helped build a rally of 1,500 for Nader during the Republican National Convention (RNC), as well as a rally of 350 on Halloween where our speaker gave welcoming remarks, making the case for a new party for working people.
We collected signatures for ballot access, distributed yard signs, stickers, buttons, and campaigned on the internet to raise the campaign's visibility and help it break through the corporate media blackout.
We advocated our support for Nader at anti-war demos on 11 October and at the RNC protests. Our members campaigned in their workplaces and unions.
In Minneapolis, 60 people attended a debate we organised with two Democratic City Councillors, Elizabeth Glidden and Gary Schiff, on who to support for president. In Seattle, 75 people came to our lively debate with Seattle City councillor Nick Licata. The Seattle debate was covered by Real Change, a local community newspaper.
When Obama was facing accusations of being a "socialist" a columnist with the Seattle Times called us about it. An interview with the editor of Justice (our newspaper) was published on the front page of the local section explaining how Obama was a corporate candidate and how genuine socialists were supporting Nader.
In The Socialist 19 November 2008:
No Job Cuts
Post office closures
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis