I’ve been reading Norman Solomon’s columns in periodicals and, more recently on the Internet, for years. I used to cheer him on when I’d catch him on CNN’s “Crossfire,” admirably upholding progressive viewpoints against the sinuous Robert Novak. Solomon is articulate, fast, witty, and—caviare to the general!—I share many of his professed political values: disgust over media monopolization and manipulation; advocacy for fairness in the distribution of wealth, power and information. Solomon writes the “Media Beat” column for F.A.I.R., the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting group, and it is with regret that I note the tenor of some of his recent postings (replicated at various websites around the world), viz., “Presidential Campaigns and Media Charades” (his most recent); “Nader and the Green Party’s Presidential Choice”; “Nader’s Tin Ear”; “An Odd Accusation from Ralph Nader”; and, “Running on Empty: Ralph Nader Shouldn’t Run in 2004.”
Now here’s my problem: I’ve been a fan of Ralph Nader’s since I heard him speak about P.I.R.G.’s to a large assembly at the University of Florida in the early 70s. Thanks to one book, Unsafe at Any Speed -- his indictment of the American auto industry’s turning a blind eye to minimal safety standards like seat belts and safety cages -- I hold Nader personally responsible for saving the lives of more Americans than any president in our history!
That’s a mouthful, so let me quickly add that I’m not carrying water for anyone, I have no special brief. The first time I voted for president was 1972, when I proudly voted for McGovern, with the hope that he would end another one of our empire’s interminable, illegal wars. In 1992, I voted for Clinton, believing the Bill and Hillary team might actually bring the long-suffering American public the health care that every other advanced society and many less-advanced societies offer their publics as a basic human right. After eight years of the Clinton team, eight long years of no health care; NAFTA; WTO; “welfare reform”; downsizing; out-sourcing; the 1996 Telecommunications Act (which Amy and David Goodman call “the single largest giveaway of public assets in history”); sanctions against Iraq that squandered 500,000 Iraqi children’s lives (and somehow failed to end Saddam’s pernicious regime, in spite of Secretary Albright’s pronouncement that it was “worth it”); continuing sanctions against Cuba (in spite of all sensible contrary evidence that they will undermine anti-imperialism in Cuba or elsewhere); failure to achieve peace in the Middle East, including lukewarm support for the Oslo Accords; bombing an innocuous drug-making plant in Sudan; not to mention Monica (about which and whom I do not care)—well, after all that, I said good riddance to the Democrats: the New Democrats, the Democratic Leadership Council and all the hooey that had effectively helped to hollow out the middle class while turning high tail against the cultural predations of the Right. Old-line conservative Pat Buchanan called for kulturkampf (I forget if he used the German; but the stakes were surely dire enough to elicit the plosives) while new-line Neo-con Samuel Huntington tilled the intellectual soil for a “clash of civilizations.”
And where was hapless Ralph during all of this?
Making a ton of money? Joining the rape of our resources -- the world’s resources -- a la Bush and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice?
I caught up with him again in 2000, at an event called “Democracy Rising,” held in cities across the U.S. I had begun to attend some meetings of the Green Party in Atlanta (I’m no longer affiliated). Before he spoke to the large “Democracy Rising” audience, Nader met with a couple of dozen people in a small house nearby. He shook hands and gave a short speech with a simple message: it’s not easy to make a revolution; there are reversals, there are hardships; non-violent revolutions are often the most difficult; but it can be done; each of us can make a difference. (Not particularly special, perhaps, but warmly delivered, clearly punctuated.)
When he addressed the “Democracy Rising” audience (revved up after the rousing music of Patti Smith and others), Nader began with a simple, Socratic question: “Who are you?”
He let it ride a while, let it sink in, then went through a litany of possible responses: American; human; person; a father; a mother; a man; a woman; a white man; a Black woman; an Hispanic; a teacher; unemployed; an artist; a police officer; and so on. When we thought he had covered every possible base, he paused and asked, How many of us had thought to describe ourselves as citizens?
In Norman Solomon’s article, “Presidential Campaigns and Media Charades,” he sets up his straw men with a fusillade of rhetoric: “Political myth-making goes into overdrive every four years,” he begins. “With presidential campaigns fixated mostly on media, an array of nonstop spin takes its toll while illogic often takes hold: When heroes are absent, they’re invented … Fast talk substitutes for straight talk….”
Solomon has no truck for the Bush administration’s “mendacious exercises in deadly propaganda.” He seems equally upset with Kerry: “The man in line to become the Democratic presidential nominee is supporting the current war in Iraq following an invasion based on distortions that he helped to propagate.” But here’s the kicker: “In the case of the 2004 presidential race, all military hawks are not alike. The Progressive Unity Voter Fund aptly quotes comedian Dan Kaufman: “The only thing worse than the lesser of two evils … is the greater of two evils.”
It’s a deft hand-off. Suddenly we’re in the realm of the punch-line. Our quadrennial exercise in citizenship has been fodderized for someone’s stand-up routine.
Pay at the door. Valet parking only.
In case we missed the hand-off, Solomon adduces good old Noam Chomsky for the instant replay: of the Bush-cons, Chomsky writes, “They happen to be an extremely arrogant, dangerous group of reactionary statists. They’re not conservatives.”
In the interest of “fairness and accuracy in reporting,” I’d like to watch from another camera angle and note a few missing hand signals.
For one thing, as the comedian and Mr. Solomon have failed to observe, it’s not a two-person horse race. No need talking about the lesser of two evils here. (A linguist might speak of the least of three evils, but that’s not right, either.) Several million of us, caught in the quadrennial circus, no longer wish to choose between evils. We are disgusted by such a choice. We think such a choice insults us and undermines democracy. (In 1968 I heard Noam Chomsky deliver the same lesser-of-two-evils argument to a class of graduate students at a prestigious university. Chomsky’s startling conclusion back then: Nixon had more options available to him than Vice-President Humphrey! With the hindsight of history, one wonders if Professor Chomsky would mind repeating that to millions of Cambodians and Vietnamese, and tens of thousands of Americans.)
How we frame it is how we explain it. Put a lousy frame around a work of art, and you diminish the art. Adorn a mediocrity with something highly crafted, you may discover “more than meets the eye.”
In his eagerness to discredit Nader, Solomon pumps up Kerry, committing the same sort of “dissembling,” “illogic,” and “enabling” he so regrets at the beginning of his article. In spite of the debacles of the Democratic Leadership Council, Solomon wants us to swallow hard, throw the Bush bums out, then hope for the best from Kerry.
Hope against hope.
But why should I trust these clowns again?
Why should I vote for Empire again—the nicely articulated sort of Kerry and company or the rough-hewn messianic macerations that emanate from Crawford, Texas?
Thirty-odd years ago, after his own marauding spree along the Mekong, a seemingly contrite, wondering Kerry asked the right question: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
I’ve been wondering for a long time why no one has vocalized the question left hanging in the air: “How do you ask a man or woman, to be the first man or woman to die for a mistake?”
Since Kerry has never repudiated his past marauding ways, since he proposes to out-Bush Bush when it comes to military spending, the “War on Terror,” support for the Likud, pre-emptive wars, and the continued, relentless dismantling of the social and economic safety net, we can be fairly certain that mistakes (in the passive-aggressive parlance of Nixon) will be made!
But not in my name!
Politics may be theater, but I’ve no intention of suspending my disbelief. Votes are for earning. I’m sick of the duopoly’s promises to reform and the inevitable blame game when promises go unfulfilled. If this is the best the two-party system can deliver, then hoary George Washington was prescient indeed and factionalism has destroyed us.
We can do better. We define our humanity by the judgments we make. Choices can be excruciating, but they are also ineluctable, life-affirming, even mythic in dimension.
Consider the Biblical Solomon. He was renowned for wisdom and fairness. When two women presented their claims for the same baby, Solomon offered to divide the child in two. The false mother assented; the real mother recoiled in horror and surrendered her claim. Solomon awarded the child to the woman who would rather keep it whole and lose it, than see it sundered.
The American Republic is similarly threatened: our two imperial parties would rather sever it and split the spoils than see it whole and wholesome. We have become a nation of competing, avaricious interests in which only a dwindling number of fortissimo voices speak out for the commonweal. The true patriot is not deluded by the mesmerizing banners under which the swordsmen eviscerate the child. The true patriot does not follow his/her leaders into the maelstrom, but stands steadfast in challenging the leaders, even questioning, like Job, the Maelstrom itself.
According to the F.A.I.R. website: “We work to invigorate the First Amendment, by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest … As a progressive group, F.A.I.R. believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates…and promote strong, non-profit sources of information … F.A.I.R. works with both activists and journalists…providing constructive critiques ... We also encourage the public to contact the media with their concerns, to become media activists….”
Gary Corseri’s dramas have been performed on Atlanta-PBS and in five states. His articles have appeared at/in Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, Common Dreams, Axis of Logic, the New York Times, Village Voice and elsewhere. His novel, Holy Grail, Holy Grail is the only Arthurian legends-based novel set it medieval Japan and modern Atlanta.
Other Articles by Gary Corseri
Kicked Out of Hell!