Populist Base Must Stand for Populist Issues

By Kevin B. Zeese

George Bush threatens my hopes for our country and the planet and should be removed from office. But while doing so we should stand for what we believe and expand the base of support for populist progressive policies.

If we fail to stand for equal rights, peace and justice, elimination of corporate political power, environmental and economic stewardship, and expansion of human rights, then we fail to create the paradigm shift needed in US politics.

The litmus test for 2004 is facing up to US militarism.

We are a nation at war and that war wounds us daily drains our budget, enriches war-corporations, undermines our values and Constitution, makes us less safe by creating enemies around the world.

George Bush gives the militarists as much as they can consume. Sen. John Kerry supported the Afghanistan bombing, the Iraq invasion, the PATRIOT Act, Plan Colombia (war solving addiction) and wants 40,000 additional soldiers. Both walk lock-strep with Israel against Palestinians. Sure, Kerry is better than Bush, but neither shares the values of tens of millions opposed to the war.

Ralph Nader is the only serious peace and justice candidate. Will the peace and justice community stand with him so we can have a debate on the war?

Prior to announcing Nader sent a detailed letter to both Parties raising urgent issues: the below-living-wage of 47 million, 44 million lacking health insurance, roadblocks to trade unions, record deficits, unequal education, jobs and opportunity, and the gluttonous expanding wealth of the wealthiest. Nader highlighted the corporate-government -- corporations dominating our political system, corporate crime largely unprosecuted, widespread corporate welfare and our children being raised corporate. Nader raised the critical need to protect our environment from fossil and nuclear fuels, the need for efficiency in housing, offices and automobiles and protecting the air, water and natural resources. And, he raised the issue of ending the Iraq occupation and converting our military industrial budget to one that focuses on human needs and wages worldwide peace.

The responses: the Republicans supported Bush, the Democrats opposed Bush.

The political duopoly ignores issues needing urgent attention. Bush energizes his base with a faith-based homophobic constitutional amendment; Kerry with Bush fear and both assure their corporate paymasters &endash;- Bush promises permanent tax cuts for the rich, Kerry promises corporate tax cuts for jobs -&endash; both promise to fatten the bloated military industrial complex.

This limited choice highlights the failure to organize beyond a small sliver of left progressives. It highlights the need to build electoral vehicles that cut across the political spectrum and represent populist values -&endash; to elect populist progressives.

If we do not recognize our failures and organize in a deadly serious way there is no reason for African Americans, Latinos, women, Muslims, Arabs and other oppressed minorities to join us. We need to win elections.

When Nader announced that he was going to run as an Independent, as a Green I was disappointed. But I've discovered that the Independent run allows many more people to hear his message.

Activists with the Reform and Libertarian Parties, as well as Independents, have said they agree with much of Nader's agenda but they would not have considered him if he were running Green.

Nader has not broken with the Green Party. He supports their values, helped them grow and supports Green candidates. He welcomes their endorsement.

Many of Nader's positions -- the deficit, loss of jobs, trade agreements, corporate welfare, corporate crime, electoral reform, unfair taxes, the drug war and the environment -&endash; are issues that cut across the electorate.

More are seeing Nader is right on the issues. Americans do not like that 47 million are working Americans do not earn enough to live on &endash;- under $8.25 per hour. They don't like to see businesses close as jobs move overseas. They don't like Americans sent to war on misinformation and falsehoods.

The Nader campaign presents an opportunity to stand for peace and justice; to show people who do not see themselves as progressives that they support progressive issues; to build a bigger movement to change the paradigm -&endash; to create a government responsive to human needs. The electoral challenge of 2004 is an opportunity to grow and become politically effective.

By doing so do we necessarily re-elect the worst president of my life? No, in fact, we increase the chance of beating Bush by making Kerry a better candidate and fracturing Bush's base.

Progressive Democrats were beaten by DLC corporate Democrats. Howard Dean showed he was not the ally we hoped when he criticized Kucinich for urging defense spending cuts. Nader provides a counterbalance to corporate Democrats. Kerry can't take progressives for granted. He will have to work for their vote &endash;- promise them something rather than merely being "anybody but Bush."

Some doubt Nader can pull voters from Bush's base. By garnering the endorsement of the Reform Party, the vast majority of whom voted for Bush last time, he already has. Why? Trade agreements are sending jobs overseas; the Constitution is being undermined, the illegal war and occupation is creating a record deficit. Union members who voted Bush are seeing their jobs go overseas and widespread union busting.

Voting for "anybody" but Bush is a false choice. In 2004 we can stand for what we believe and remove President Bush from office. These are not mutually exclusive goals; in fact if handled properly they are synergistic.

Kevin Zeese is spokesperson for the Ralph Nader Campaign. Visit www.votenader.org for more information.

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