By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
On the same day Bill Bradley was winding down the mainstream liberal presidential candidacy of 2000, Ralph Nader was cranking up its left gadfly counterpart. Three hours after Bradley left Pacific Boulevard, Nader told a sparsely attended press conference in downtown L.A. that he’d carry the Green Party’s banner on the presidential line this year, and more energetically than he had in 1996.
Nader has always been an ascetic workaholic, but even by his self-sacrificing standards, the idea of campaigning for the Greens has to seem an adventure in selflessness. If the party’s inability to promote or advance Nader’s visit last week is any indication, he’s going to have to handle the most minute arrangements of his campaign pretty much by himself.
Nader’s no kid: he’s 66, his hair flecked with gray, his face lined, his indignation unabated. If he had any flair for the dramatic, he’d take on a prophetic air. But Nader remains the most relentlessly undramatic figure on the left. On Wednesday, he spoke forcefully against the Democratic-Republican "duopoly," for public funding of campaigns, for free media access to candidates, for a fair-trade rather than a free-trade global economy. Still, he was ever the careful lawyer sticking to his brief. When a woman asked him about his views on reparations for African-Americans, he didn’t pause, as another speaker might, to acknowledge to specific sins of slavery, or the specific plight of American blacks today, before dismissing the idea as divisive and impracticable. Instead, he told her that he favored bringing corporations to heel in the courts, publicly funding community organizations, making sure that no one’s right to sue was abrogated. Nothing in his answer referred in the slightest to any distinctly African-American concern as such; the woman felt compelled to press on, "But what about African-American reparations?" as if Nader had perhaps not heard her. But heard her he had, since he nodded and continued on in exactly the same vein. A principled universalist who knows a divisive issue when he hears one, Nader stuck to his melody and offered not a single comforting chord to his questioner.
Few speakers can lay out the corrosive effects of money on democracy , or outline the dangers of corporate one-worldism, as well as Nader can. Whether, in his cool righteousness, Nader can also make a crowd warm to him is questionable, but then, so is the ability of the Greens to assemble a crowd in the first place.
John McCain’s strengths and limitations are almost a reverse mirror-image of Nader’s. He may not be much on detail, but his feel for atmospherics is usually pretty deft. On Thursday morning, he traveled to Puente Learning Center in Boyle Heights to talk to a largely Latino crowd, and, without really outlining a single policy, he came away as the champion of racial tolerance and the avenging angel of economic populism.
McCain flayed Boy George not simply for his Bob Jones transgressions, but for his indifference to what McCain called "the growing gap between rich and poor." More than a third of the proposed Bush tax cut, he went on, would go to the richest one-percent. None of that for John McCain, who pledged to use the surplus to pay down the debt. How exactly debt retirement would help Boyle Heights more than universal health insurance was not a topic McCain examined; but, as he did point out, at least he wasn’t suggesting a tax cut for Donald Trump. In the few instances where McCain did go specific – such as proposing legislation to allow teachers to discipline their students without fear of lawsuits – he stuck close to the more familiar terrain of cultural traditionalism.
McCain may be the candidate from Barry Goldwater’s Arizona, but on Tuesday he may find himself the candidate of the Nelson Rockefeller, Northeastern-moderate wing of the Republican Party – a wing so shrunken that it cannot keep McCain aloft. In the Democratic debate on Wednesday night, Al Gore was already making strenuous overtures to the McCain Republicans: like McCain and Bradley, and unlike the governor of Texas, Gore asserted, he was a champion of campaign finance reform. Whether Gore can exert much of a claim over McCain’s legions should he end up running against Bush is anything but clear. But there’s no disputing that Gore is already the beneficiary of the civil war now raging between McCain’s mavericks and Bush’s regulars. Indeed, but for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has seen his opposition party all but collapse in the past few months, Al Gore is suddenly the luckiest pol in the world.