Where’s The Fire in the Belly?

The Real News executive editor and host Paul Jay moderated a productive and informative dialog between Ralph Nader, Tom Morris, and Bill Fletcher on election night. While millions of young activists around the nation cast their ballots for Obama’s convincing rhetoric of change, these four men analyzed the socio-political climate and what a potential Obama victory will bring.

For those readers who admire the relentless tenacity and dedication of Ralph Nader at the grassroots level, you will likely be in approval of what he discusses in this forum, as his words are the focus of this review.

After campaigning with people on local issues in all 50 states, he admits to having never seen such high degrees of “resignation, and apathy, and powerlessness” across the nation. In defense of his observation, nearly a decade of neo-fascist rule will manifest those results.

He goes on to contrast his campaign with that of Obama as not having any hoopla, hope or rhetoric; Ralph continues to campaign on the real issues affecting the people in spite of overwhelming odds – he is a champion despite Obama’s victory.

Along the same line and with applause, his lack of hoopla and rhetoric is still so out-of-sync with the media cartel’s disinformation campaign that he was once again ignored by the mainstream. What we have here is a man who refuses to sell out and complacently surrender to the status quo, he is a man based on strong principle who perceives reality for what it is — a sham directed by the controlling institutions of power, of which Obama is just another cog in their finely-tuned machine.

But what do we really know about Mr. Barack Obama? Here we have a candidate who received hundreds of millions in campaign donations by corporate America and Wall Street. Nader sensibly asks something I’ve pointed out many times, “Why are the corporations investing in Obama?” By looking at his voting record it is obvious who he supports with approbation for illegal surveillance, a permanent presence in Iraq with a potential spread to neighboring countries, offshore drilling which he used to be against, an economic bailout lacking oversight and transparency, and so forth. Where is this great change that he has been spewing forth to the public for the past twenty months? It is likely just more of what the public wants to hear, but it’s apparent by voter turnout that they fail to feel the hot air blowing by them.

Part of the problem with Obama, as Nader points out, is that while Obama is pulled to the right by the corporate establishment, there are no demands being put on him by organized groups such as labor and unions to pull him the other direction and thus “make him better.”

While these aspects are certainly important to consider, Nader goes on further to expose who Obama is and who he really represents by reminding us that, “Corporate dominance is so bad that the first black Presidential candidate ignored the poor [during his campaign] . . . 100 million people.” We heard him mention the dwindling middle-class on many occasions, but the poor were undoubtedly left in the margins, too large a demographic to ignore. Some people say, hope, or believe that the new President Elect will live up to his rhetoric once he takes office and move us in a positive direction as a nation.

That though, is like wishing on a shooting star, as Nader confirms, “If you don’t pay attention while you’re a candidate, the chances of suddenly becoming a populist…are very, very slim.” While Nader is a man of action and experience, not just words, who consistently includes the poor constituents in his focus, he has seen too many candidates not pay attention and subsequently create the same results — a completely marginalized demographic that continues to expand in response.

Statesmen like Ron Paul, and even more so Ralph Nader, are quite cognizant of what it means to not adhere to the systematic rules of play. By now, they are also savvy to the repercussions of their dissidence. So long as the corporations are pulling the political strings by lining the candidates’ pockets with green, the duopolistic Republicats will continue to be the corporate choice, as has been demonstrated for decades. As such, there really is no public choice.

Nader supports this idea by asking, “What is left for the American people to decide…under more restrictive circumstances year after year?” It’s an appropriate question to ask, and something not coming from Obama or McCain, as they already know the answer and aren’t being purchased to assist the nation in facing questions as such. Rhetoric and hoopla are what these two servants are paid to maintain.

Just the same, he goes on to answer this succinctly by stating, “Nothing, because there is no powerful organization that turns the most powerful branch of government around — The Congress. Congress is the most susceptible to change.” Are we being stymied with such a response? This isn’t something that Obama or McCain have pointed out in their campaigns, which is exactly why we can entrust it to be accurate. Ralph identifies precisely that the legislative branch of government has been napping and taking vacations instead of checking and balancing the authority of the executive branch. The record shows that Congress has responded to 9/11 in more of a neurotic delirium than the populace majority; giving away our rights on a silver platter to the worst president in that nation’s history and directing US toward fascism.

There is now a lot of ground to be made up, and it won’t happen unless the people make it up themselves. As is customary, no free handouts this time around. Real change that failed to be identified by either corporate candidate in this election will have to be demanded by the people. With the election in the rear view mirror, Nader is now concentrating his energy on helping to do just that.

November5.org is a website (not yet up and running as of this writing) promoted by Nader and his affiliates which is to provide “technical and organizational assistance for organizing Congress action groups.” He admits that they can’t do it alone, that people will need to organize and dedicate their time in order to build a real momentum. He isn’t talking about something only relatively strong like the Obama phenomena or millions of young participants in an unprecedented election. He is talking about activism on local levels, which is much different than spontaneous participation on a national level.

Nader goes on to list ten major overdue changes needed in this country:

1. a living wage

2. full medicare

3. a crackdown on corporate crime

4. public funding and collections

5. getting out of the war

6. demilitarizing foreign policy

7. redirection of corporate subsidies and a bloated military budget

8. public works

9. job creation

10. changing the global trade agreement monstrosity that subordinates labor, consumer and environmental standards

If it looks and sounds like a Nader, it must be Nader. These are some of the real issues facing citizens today, and none of which were being genuinely addressed by the corporate representatives who were propped up for us again in this election. Anyone who is not a member of the elite is prone to be attracted to Nader’s proposals for change, likely affected by one or more of these issues. All the more reason to work together and collaborate as the Sage suggests, and now there will be a medium which facilitates the ease of this orchestration.

The forum proceeds and all three guests present questions and responses that are imperative at this juncture. While their focus lies on the power of locally organized groups, which is the only way to build a movement and turn things around in order to favor the people, Nader stipulates that the one thing missing homogeneously throughout the populace is “a fire in the belly.” He accurately notes the passion of people like Rosa Parks and her lead in the Montgomery bus boycotts, whose inner desire was so strong for change that she acted — strategically. This is the kind of attitude that he claims must be aroused throughout the populace if we are to see a real movement take place.

This review will be concluded with one of the most paramount statements of the forum. As Nader accurately describes, “This is a civil liberties issue . . . it is an important civil liberties battle to break open these two exclusive, reactionary, dominating, marginalizing two parties. They’re snuffing out dissent. They’re snuffing out the competition which in the 19th century brought us the Liberty Anti-Slavery Party, the Women Suffrage Party . . .” As history illustrates, civil liberties have only been inherited by the action of the people, never were they generously granted by the government.

The civil liberties that the nation has had stolen from it during the Bush Regime, are the same liberties that will need to be taken back once again, by the people, and for the people. The only way to overcome the present powers of control is to ignite that fire in the belly, and organize locally. The power still rests in the hands of the people, at least for the time being.

David A.G. Fischer is a high school English teacher who lives in Colombia. He is also a lifetime student who contributes socially as a free-lance writer, volunteer, and activist. Read other articles by David, or visit David's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 5th, 2008 at 2:03pm #

    i thank devil of my own that nader wld never cry uncle; he cannot be bought. what he says is priceless.
    i was hoping ralph will get 3% of votes. i still don’t know how many voted for him or, rather, for change for better. thnx

  2. Max Shields said on November 5th, 2008 at 7:32pm #

    I support Nader’s desire to build an activist movement and to affect Congress, BUT be very mindful of progressives who joined the Obama rank and file. The PDA is not purely about a progressive agenda, but about a Democratic (capital D) Agenda with progessive influences.

    These folks are Dem loyalists who bring “progressive ideas” into the Party where they can be sprinkled into the talking point lexicon. I don’t think they are intentionally “co-opting” but trying to “rehibilitate” the Party of FDR, to act more like FDR. They believe they’ve more or less found it in Obama – not without reservations – but they were silent under Clinton and many tried to shut up concerns when the 2006 Dems wouldn’t bring an end to the War and Occupation of Iraq. A massive support to mollify “anti-war” progressives was rolled out. So, intentional or not they are dangerous to the kind of sincere movement and activist strategies Ralph is laying out. Some of the writers for The Nation mag. are in the thick of this. Their outreach is through MoveOn.Org and they’re on KOS, Salon and Huffington Post. Not saying all are part of a planned conspiracy, but it is a dynamic that has so far undermined a progressive movement.

    As we know, never underestimate the corporate elite and their minions. The fascism that Ralph notes, is perhaps pitched to a level that Mussilini could only imagine. The internet with it’s “democratization” cuts both ways. The “game is rigged” not just in electing officials but in organizing. Ralph is an enemy of the people – as Isben noted so keenly.

  3. Deadbeat said on November 5th, 2008 at 11:44pm #

    It is astounding the disconnect between Nader’s rhetoric and his concrete examples. It is surprising that the author of this article doesn’t see the disconnect. Nader cites examples of political parties that exerted pressure on the major parties. Unfortunately Nader himself is not a political party and therefore cannot exert any real pressure upon the major parties. Rosa Parks who he cites was am activist member of the NAACP when she engaged in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Flint sit-down strike was orchestrated by the CIO. In other words these were NOT acts of random individual. These were well organized strategies.

    Nader is a quixotic figure and that is the problem and Nader does not possess the resource of a Ross Perot to construct a political party and amass a 16% vote tally. He did better than 2004 but not even as close as 2000. Should that then be considered a repudiation since Obama won the election so handedly with the largest every turnout. Or should is Ralph making an error disparaging voters for not “having fire in the belly”. I disagree with this kind of rhetoric because perhaps Ralph himself is not doing the kind of reflection needed.

    Perhaps Ralph, rather than running as an “independent” should compete in te Green Party primaries and if he doesn’t win he should run. In other words perhaps Ralph should compromise and work WITHIN an institutional framework. On the other hand the Green Party ran poorly in two consecutive campaigns (2004 and 2008). The Green Party should have relax some of the internal rules and got behind Nader. In other words what is not being said in the video is that the Green Party and Nader could have really been a viable alternative to the Democrats had they’d constructed an organized and united front (read: solidarity).

    Or to put it bluntly I see no reflection by Nader and the Green Party of their own mistakes. Clearly IMO it is Bill Fletcher who nails the problem. What is needed is viable organizations that yields results which gives participants hope, confidence and “fire in the belly”.

  4. Deadbeat said on November 6th, 2008 at 12:00am #

    To Bozidar,

    As of November 5, 2008, he received 658,963 votes which represents about 1% of the vote. In 2000 Nader received 2,882,955 votes which represented 2.74% of the popular vote (wikipedia).

    Like I stated Nader running in coalition with the Green Party gave him his best results. Nader’s 2000 run also provided coattails in later election such as the Green Party win in New Paltz, NY and Matt Gonzalez near win in SF. Clearly Nader and the Green Party since 2000 has been heading in the wrong direction and has not presented themselves as viable alternatives which is why Obama was able to landslide on Tuesday.

  5. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 6th, 2008 at 7:36am #

    nader may have always thought but not said, Hey, i came to make mistakes.
    obama may have not thought or said that. having said that, working people also made a mistake, a far serious one: not voting for him and selves in larger numbers.
    i am not hiding my disappointment. but not a bit in nader but in voters.
    don’t give up, nader. get a party next time. thnx

  6. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 6th, 2008 at 7:38am #

    oh, i forgot.
    can we expect honesty also in counting votes in oneparty system? thnx

  7. Ramsefall said on November 6th, 2008 at 8:19am #

    Deadbeat,

    in reference to Rosa Parks, I believe that the use of “strategically” implies that it wasn’t random. Strategy itself can require immense organization.

    On the other hand, simply voting can also be strategic, but doesn’t take much organization and in that sense would be acts of random individual, as you correctly identify.

    Maybe, maybe not, Nader would agree that his strength is not running as a candidate after so many poor finishes, Fletcher certainly does. However, the present activism and organization with November5 runs parallel with what Bill Fletcher supports as viable organization, and he believes is precisely what is needed. Obviously Nader’s strategy to change politics as a political candidate has failed, but his willingness to change roles and move in the direction as an organizer which regular people can easily become a part of is a step in the right direction. You have to at least admire the man’s commitment after so many years as he’s stayed in the trenches, obviously with not as much to show for it as he’d like, but you can’t discredit his dedication and resilience.

    True, Nader has not succeeded in building an effective movement behind his campaign, as such he’s certainly going to fall short of Perot’s 16%. However, Perot also had a shitload of cash to throw around and purchase prime spots in the media and buy his way into debates. That was more of a money effect, not necessarily viable organization whose constituents had a fire in the belly.

    Fletcher, who admits to disagreeing strategically with Nader on a third party run, specifically addresses why it’s so dysfunctional; the two party blocks’ vested interest in keeping out minor parties, as he states. As we’ve seen, the only thing that has so far overcome that vested interest is cash, in the case of Perot. If these third parties were to actually establish a massive movement behind them, they’d likely fare a lot better. But until now, the movement component has been absent and hence the lack of success or threat they pose to the established two party block dominance. Accounting for that is likely the reason for Nader’s sensible and hopefully effective change of course.

    As Nader points out, the lack of motivation is what is holding back effective movements. Until large numbers of the populace possess that fire in the belly, effective movements as such will continue to fail.

    Best to you.

  8. Deadbeat said on November 6th, 2008 at 9:36am #

    Ramesfall writes…

    But until now, the movement component has been absent and hence the lack of success or threat they pose to the established two party block dominance.

    I have nothing but admiration for Nader and supported Nader’s run in 2000 and 2004. However admiration is not relevant to the discussion. What is relevant is understanding why Nader’s quixotic run was impotent this year and how it is being articulated per this article. Fletcher as you correctly point out recognizes the obstacles that third party runs faces. However Flecther departs from Nader when he recognizes the importance of organizations.

    You state that the movement component has been absent. That is true today but four years ago there was a movement against the war in Iraq whereby Nader and the Greens failed to cohere into its electoral arm. The point I’m making is that the Left itself defused and diffused that opportunity. My question is since the Left squandered this rare opportunity how will any of these initiative survive the Left’s own inability to formulate solidarity.

    I did look further into the November 5th initiative and do hope it will work.

    Best wishes to you as well.

  9. Ramsefall said on November 6th, 2008 at 9:56am #

    Deadbeat,

    let’s hope that it will work, because the system that we have now is utterly dysfunctional.

    Would you mind explaining how you see Fletcher departing from Nader? I perceive their views as aligned when it comes to the importance of organization, while Fletcher departs on the importance of third party runs without sufficient backing.

    They certainly missed an opportunity by failing to cohere their electoral aims with the power behind the movement four years ago. As you say, solidarity is essential, and it’s also lacking, as is the motivation or fire in the belly.

    Best to you.

  10. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 6th, 2008 at 10:07am #

    i’m sure that nader and his supporters will rack their brains to find what went wrong.
    questions:
    did all blacks vote for obama?
    was there an honest count of the ballot?
    why polls showed nader at 5-8% an dthe count at ab 1%?

  11. Jason Oberg said on November 6th, 2008 at 11:04pm #

    I fully support Ralph Nader, and consider him to be, without hyperbole, our greatest American, possibly ever. No other man in our history has worked so hard, remained so steadfast, never compromised, and never faltered from the side of Right. As I watched the thousands dancing in the streets upon the announcement of Obama’s victory, I felt a true despair, not to mention a disdain, for the American people. Obama possesses the cult of personality persona that can seduce millions. And that’s what he did. Despite being, at his core, another corporate puppet; another ambitious politician with only success in mind. It is a terrible state of affairs. What is truly frightening is how bad things will have to be for the common American before he wakes up and takes notice of what is actually happening, what actually HAS happened, in the United States. The loss of any real choice for who supposedly will represent us. The blackout of political candidates not favoring the corporate interests. The disregard of the Constitution, and the warping of its tenets to suit the agendas of the powerful.

    People need to start doing their research. They need to turn off the damn football game and read a newspaper (preferably an independent one). They need to see what is at stake here. These injustices that have been perpetrated on us in this dark decade are the first steps down an icy slope. It begins with illegal, unconstitutional wiretapping…It ends with martial law. It begins with unrepresented overtaxation…It ends with near-slavery. It begins with enforcing our imperialist aggression around the world…It ends with us playing the role of the Axis power in the next global war.

    People may say, “Never. This is America.” I’m sure the Romans felt the same way. People in this country, of all levels of education, backgrounds, income, whatever, must realize this is where we are headed. We cannot sit back and hope the red, white, and blue will see us through. We need Ralph Nader. We need millions of him.

  12. John R said on November 8th, 2008 at 4:27am #

    It normally takes a long time to turn a big ship around requiring many hands at the wheel pulling in the same direction.
    -
    I’ve signed up to put my hands on the wheel.
    -
    I urge all of you to join me.
    -
    http://november5.org/index.php?signup=success
    -
    John R. – Waterbury, CT