Did Nader Steal Buchanan's Clothes?

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by Paul Gottfried

Having considered Lew Rockwell’s probing comments on the waning Buchanan campaign, it seems that one further point might be noted. In addition to all the other factors weighing against Buchanan’s candidacy, he is now undergoing cooptation by another protectionist and pro-labor candidate, Ralph Nader.

This observation seems self-evident even if William Safire also made it this week in the New York Times. The groups on the Right that Pat has tried to reach, small businessmen feeling threatened by larger commercial interests, American companies that complain against foreign competition, and scorners of the two-party system, which Nader calls the “duopoly,” are part of Nader’s natural electorate.

If, given their druthers, most of these folks would be happy to vote for a self-identified rightwing advocate, but see that Buchanan is going nowhere, they attach themselves to the Greens.

At the same time, Nader is able to reach beyond his predictable base, composed of Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Sarandon, the editors of the Nation, and the rest of the yuppie Left, and present himself as a credible nationalist alternative to the liberal establishment.

Unlike GW, he mocks Gore-Democrats for believing that the Religious Right has serious influence over American politics. Nader has also observed that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the states would be free to vote on abortion the way they see fit. (Nader-supporter Christopher Hitchens made the same point on the Chris Matthews program.) And Nader, unlike Bush and Gore, has vigorously and persistently advocated tight border controls with Mexico.

Moreover, Nader’s Buchanan-like attacks on the “Demorepublicans” and his call for what the New Republic angrily describes as “deep democracy,” reveal his populist quality. He is also being attacked from the same quarters as Buchanan: the editorial in the latest issue of the New Republic reprises the well-worn invectives that had been turned against Buchanan. And to make sure that the nasty attacks work, they have been dragged out and put on the magazine website at least four times. (The Smearbund, as Murray used to remind us, leaves nothing to chance.)

Like Buchanan, who is inexplicably never mentioned, Nader is charged with having written for the “anti-Semitic”American Mercury, opposed American crusades to spread democracy, and “minimized” the supposedly vast differences between the two parties and their standard bearers.

While it is clear that differences persist between the two candidates, what they represent — protectionism, pro-labor welfare, military isolationism, and reaction against the Washington establishment — is sufficiently similar that one could see frustrated Buchananites moving to another populist candidate who enjoys broader support and some media approval.

On one point, revulsion for global democratic crusades, it might be argued that Nader takes a more clear-headed position. Unlike Buchanan, he does not blame such idiocy on international agencies depriving the US of its freedom of action. Not the UN nor Nato, but the American government and certain favored domestic interests, push us into reconstructing the globe.

Because Nader comes out of the anti-war Left and has never abandoned his resistance to American foreign adventures, he is willing to blame the occupation forces in Washington for such unkind acts as the bombing of Serbia. Without passing over completely his neo-Marxist economics, predilection for class-action lawyers, and egregious Hollywood pals, it is nonetheless possible to see how the feisty Nader could be identified with another maverick populist claiming to represent the common man. At least this year, that identification may be working against the poor Buchanan Brigades.

November 1, 2000

Paul Gottfried is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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