Mainstream Progressive Columnists Disdaining Progressive Candidates?

Gail Collins, the columnist for the New York Times, has a problem. While regularly writing in a satirical or sometimes trivial way about the foibles of the two major Parties’ front-running presidential candidates, she can scarcely hide her disdain for the small starters, the underdogs.

In a recent column about what she saw as the repetitiveness and small-mindedness of Hillary Clinton (and her spokesman), Barack Obama and John Edwards, she took this unexplained swipe at former Senator Mike Gravel’s presence in a debate sponsored by National Public Radio:

“What the heck is Mike Gravel doing back on stage? Didn’t we get rid of him 10 or 20 debates ago?”

This dismissal may be seen by some readers as a laugh or as an impulsive throwaway line. Not so with Ms. Collins. She has little tolerance for filling media debate chairs with candidates pundits, like her believe candidates who are not front runners do not have a chance to overcome their super-low polls.

Nor does she lose any sleep over NBC (a subsidiary of General Electric) keeping the anti-nuclear Mr. Gravel out of its hosted debate in Philadelphia last month because he had not yet raised a million dollars.

Ms. Collins’ treatment of the “second tier” candidates in the Democratic Party, such as Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, is remarkable for at least three reasons.

First, although she is a more sand-papered progressive than in her more radical, younger days as a small starter reporting for the Connecticut State News Bureau, I’ll bet she agrees with much of the two-time Senator Gravel’s record in Congress and his present positions on the war in Iraq, Presidential accountability, corporate power and crime and the mistreatment of workers, consumers and uninsured patients.

Second, for several years ending a few months ago, she presided over the New York Times editorial page, producing some of the finest editorials in the paper’s history. Among many well considered subjects, were included such as: standing up for whistle-blowers, dissenters, the rights of small business and workers and especially, the civil liberties and rights of minority voters afflicted with myriad electoral abuses and obstructions.

Thirdly, she has written a book about the history of women’s rights in America — titled America’s Women (William Morrow, 2003), which must have touched in a sensitive way those lonely self-starters, known as suffragettes, along with those very small parties and even smaller candidates pressing for the female voting franchise. She knows there are many ways to win short of winning an election.

In recent weeks, her paper’s editorial page has delivered brilliant excoriations of the similarities in the converging the Republican and Democratic Parties, taking the latter severely to task on important national issues.

I doubt very much that Gail Collins disagrees with these editorials. In fact, privately she is known to be even more critical of the political status quo in this country. One might surmise that she should therefore welcome more voices and choices to come before the citizenry during election times, including more third party and independent candidates as well.

After all, aren’t we all glad that ballot access was so easy in the nineteenth century, compared to today, that small parties like the anti-slavery, women’s rights, labor and farmer-populist parties got onto the ballots and pioneered hugely important agendas, ignored by the Democratic, Whig and Republican Parties. These small starters never came close to winning the Presidency o, except for the populist parties, winning many Congressional elections.

Put Gail Collins back into the 19th century and she would be whooping it up for those valiant few voters and little candidates who voted and ran against the grain of the business-indentured, often bigoted major Parties. Here in the twenty-first century, Gail Collins writes the predicates of progressive values and then sprawls to the dead-end conclusions — stay with the least-worst major Party candidates.

Just as small seeds need a chance to sprout to regenerate nature and sustain humankind, just as the tiniest of businesses need to have a chance to innovate in the business world, so too, small candidates need to have the chance. For they can often enrich the political dialogue, move the big boys to overdue recognitions, even if they do not have a chance to win on election day in a rigged, monetized, winner-take all system, bereft of both instant run-off voting and proportional representation procedures.

Columnists such as Gail Collins and her humane colleague, Bob Herbert, abhor going into these fields of political fertility. Instead, their rendition of political and corporate abuses flows into the repetitive, narrow ruts of political servility — not just the two party duopoly ruts but its major candidate groovers.

So progressive columnists, such as there are, wring their hands over why the Democratic Party, its incumbents and its major candidates do not heed their findings, their pleas, their hopes for the American people. They keep on wringing their hands until they encase their minds in a cul-de-sac that categorically disallows even a contemplation that political alternatives in person and party should be given visibility.

Open you mind a little, Gail Collins, and you might learn something about the need for frameworks that enable the sovereignty of the people to be expressed in a variety of practical ways, including national initiatives. You may laugh at Mike Gravel having difficulty explaining his studious proposal for a national initiative during sound-bite debates. Instead, try writing a column on why some noted constitutional law professors believe there is a sound constitutional basis for such a proposal.

This would be a good way to spark a serious debate about the myth of government of the people, by the people and for the people. Such an excurses would help deepen a very shallow Presidential campaign and be more becoming to you than wanting to rid Mike Gravel from the so-called debates. And you and your profession, who regularly confess boredom with the major candidates, might actually find some excitement in your daily work.

Ralph Nader is a leading consumer advocate, the author of The Rebellious CEO: 12 Leaders Who Did It Right, among many other books, and a four-time candidate for US President. Read other articles by Ralph, or visit Ralph's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. gerald spezio said on December 11th, 2007 at 11:25am #

    It always make me depressed to see a wonderful and truly decent man still trying to mobilize us by preaching the efficacy of lawyer/priests and law professors.

  2. Sanjay Seth said on December 11th, 2007 at 2:26pm #

    Dear Ralph,

    Thank you for writing this! I will be reading your books so very soon, I hope. (As soon as both book and free-time decide to talk again.) I work on the Dennis Kucinich campaign and share your frustration with Columnist Gail Collins. Now I shall soapbox:

    If you are bored with a Presidential candidate – they aren’t doing their job. Were people bored with Kennedy or Roosevelt? Well, maybe – but I can assure you than Clinton isn’t a Kennedy; Obama isn’t a Roosevelt; and Edwards isn’t even Garfield. (At no offense to Garfield, please.) Garfield was a sustainer of a neglected system as Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Yucca-Mountain-Richardson would be.

    (Look up Richardson’s record on Yucca Mountain and then listen to what he said in Nevada; or watch Edwards talk about getting rid of wiretapping at Iowa’s Heartland Forum after having been responsible for authoring the bill that provided it; Obama really hasn’t done much in the Senate yet – besides missing almost 80% of Senate votes since September; and Clinton supports NAFTA, Iraq, Iran, Assault Weapons, For-Profit Healthcare, LGBTQ Segregation in the Military – which begs the question as to why her title reads “Democrat.”)

    Don’t take my word for it. Elect them. Then deal with four years of falling behind Europe, Canada, India, China, Australia.

    Again. And Again.

    The battle of the opportunists may not come to an end this election. Clinton with her move to New York to run for Senate in her 6 year-plan, Obama as a cheesy stump-speechifier in charge of fixing Illinois’ potholes encouraging people to get behind unspecific “change,” and Edwards as the only populist with a 29,000 sq. ft. house.

    Anyways, Thank you for letting me ramble. I appreciate your style, your substance, and your candidacy.


    Sanjay Seth

  3. Robert B. Winn said on December 12th, 2007 at 7:24am #

    Party front runners will be irrelevant this election. The direction of this election will be determined by the direction the parties have taken with regard to independent voters. Here in Arizona registration of independent voters went from the fastest in the nation to a snail pace with the signing of a Senate bill by the governor to create a new voter registration form. The option to register independent was taken off from the new form leaving only a space designated Specify Party Preference, having the following effect on independent voter registration.

    2000-2002 107,715
    2002-2004 165,771
    2004-2006 26,483

    The fact is that no one was supposed to even notice that this had happened. The legislation in question was the result of an initiative petition circulated by Republican leaders purporting to deal with the problem of illegal voter registration, a problem created by party leadership when they did away with deputy registrars in the state after being caught dismissing all independent deputy registrars by legislation requiring that deputy registrars be recommended by the chairman of a political party in 1988. This made it possible for anyone, including illegal aliens and convicted felons, to go to a County Recorder in Arizona, obtain voter registration forms, and register voters. Having created this problem, party leaders found it necessary to change the voter registration form in 2005, but the only real change on the form was removal of the option to register independent. Illegal aliens are still free to go to County Recorders, obtain voter registration forms, and register voters. Whether any have actually done this is questionable, but it certainly gives party politicians an excuse to make any changes they deem necessary to halt voter registration if citizens are registering as independent voters.
    The problem is that they were caught red-handed once again, and independent voters nationwide are aware of this tactic used by political parties to keep independent Americans from registering to vote outside of political party control because independent voters will continue to publicize this, notwithstanding the news media will not publish these statistics obtained from the Arizona Secretary of State for independent voter registration.
    The American electoral system depends on two factors that political parties continually try to eliminate here in America, candidates for office and voters to elect them. In the end, all it will take this election to defeat political parties and their corrupt candidates will be registration of voters. They have made their base too narrow by exclusion. People will register independent when they are given an opportunity.

  4. hp said on December 13th, 2007 at 3:47pm #

    Only Ron Paul and Kucinich have not pledged their undying loyalty to the shitty little phony baloney parasite democracy.
    End of story.

  5. Lee Hall said on December 16th, 2007 at 4:06pm #

    The case for Ralph Nader: