Ralph Nader: “Tear Down The Wall!”
NEW YORK – WALL STREET, From the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial, and across the street from the well-guarded, all-marble New York Stock Exchange building, speaker after speaker worked the crowd into an anti-corporate fervor while a rag-tag band played and actors parodied Hank Paulson and his cronies. It was all a build-up to the keynote speaker and 2008 presidential candidate, Ralph Nader.
Mr. Nader, in front of a backdrop which included a giant inflatable pig, a fake nuke, and a banner reading “JAILTIME FOR WALL STREET CRIME”, railed against the government’s now 850 billion dollar bailout plan – blaming both parties and their “corporate masters” for its passing and for the current economic crisis. Standing next to a 15-foot statue of George Washington, Nader quoted Marx in saying that “corporations will be the fall of capitalism”, mocked the traders running to nowhere on treadmills at the NY Sporting Club next door, and called for the tearing down of the Exchange, along with the enormous American flag draped across its face.
It was a heady scene, to be sure. On a clear fall day, the crowd was a motley blend of East-Side liberals, aging revolutionaries, and disillusioned young radicals, all of whom seemed to lap up the accusations of corporate cronyism like manna.
There was even a muted sense of vindication among many who had clearly spent many a year singing these same songs to previously deaf ears. Mr. Nader, in a press conference afterward, nearly admitted as much when speaking of the dangers of systemic corporate political influence, saying, “suddenly, these things don’t seem so crazy anymore”.
A consumers-rights legend since his 1965 book, “Unsafe At Any Speed”, Mr. Nader has a lifetime’s worth of experience examining the ever-growing influence large corporations have in American society. Widely blamed for costing Al Gore the 2000 election, he seems to again be finding his legs as political seas have shifted to the very spot where he’s always been anchored-down. Despite his awkward presentation and clear lack of showmanship, Mr. Nader is as comfortable, eloquent, and easy-to-understand on the topics of economics and politics as anyone around.
Add to that the anti-establishment streak he wears so proudly, and Mr. Nader was a refreshing change from the pasteurized, homogenized, canned slogans that have become our daily portion.
During his post-rally conference, Mr. Nader spoke of the burgeoning national debt, and the effects of these bailouts on our future. He talked about the $100 trillion derivatives market, which is untaxed, and suggested that a mere half-percent tax on those transactions would pay for much of the bailout – an option he much prefers to taking the money from the general citizenry. Listening to him speak, one wonders why our other candidates, both of whom claim to be men of the people, are not voicing similar ideas. Then, like the good professor he is, Mr. Nader brings us back to the heart of the problem – corporate influence. These same influences, argues Nader, control the debates and exclude third-party candidates from participating and saying the very types of things he says.
Watching Ralph Nader speak is a highly informative, if somewhat melancholy experience. Unlikely to ever capture the ring, and railing against the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of American Greed, one wonders at the ultimate goal of his campaign.
Does the man who sounded the alarms on Fannie, Freddie, and banking deregulation ten years ago actually think he can one day win? A “third-party” (btw, how can you have more than one “third”?) debate is planned this Sunday at Columbia University, with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” to host, but Nader’s staff was still unsure of his attendance as of Thursday. Many so-called “fringe” candidates don’t want to appear with one another, and perhaps Mr. Nader feels it would somehow de-legitimize his efforts.
Clearly, none of the people there will have a ghost’s chance of winning, but what if we could somehow smash all the Independents into one giant, Mega-Indy?
Just imagine if all the people who ever supported Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, Ron Paul, Jesse Ventura and everyone else who ever thought two parties aren’t quite enough, all got together and formed one united group.
They might not agree on everything, but they could all agree that our current politicians aren’t much good. Perhaps one day we’ll see such a uniting, and instead of endlessly tilting at windmills, Mr. Nader, or at least someone of similar idealism, can finally stand alongside George Washington as our nation’s only Independent Presidents.
K. Steven Zimmerman is a human-rights attorney living and practicing in New York.