A Response to Naomi Jaffe

(This piece was written in 2000.)

By Ted Glick

Someone who I work with sent me Naomi Jaffe’s article about the elections and “whom should progressives support for President?” In her article I was criticized by name for doing “a serious disservice by minimizing Nader’s abominable record on issues that one would think have become the core of progressive politics in this country over the past forty years: racism, sexism, homophobia, imperialism, the criminal justice system.” She goes on to say that “Nader is not anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-sexist or anti-homophobic.”

I’d like to set the record straight and make a few additional comments about the Left and its approach toward elections.

Here’s what I said about Nader in a column I wrote about four months ago:

“Many pro-justice activists are concerned about whether Nader will be up-front and forthright in support of issues such as a woman’s right to choose, affirmative action, opposition to police brutality, the rights of lesbians and gay men and the need to reduce the military budget. These are issues that the broad progressive movement is in agreement on, but in 1996 Nader either didn’t address them or, in the case of lesbian/gay rights, made at least one statement which indicated a fairly serious lack of appreciation for the oppression faced by those with non-heterosexual emotional/sexual orientations.

“There’s a much deeper issue here. Some progressive activists believe that we need to build a ‘class-based’ movement which de-emphasizes the ‘social issues’ and instead focuses on issues like living wage jobs, the environment, tax reform and health care, because these are issues that cut across lines of race, nationality, culture, gender, sexuality, etc., and therefore can bring together the broadest range of people. There is truth to this position, but the fact is that a movement that calls itself progressive, that is about the transformation of society in fundamental ways, has to ‘do the right thing’ even if it risks temporarily losing support from those who are with us on the broader, class issues. We have to be consistent in our opposition to injustice, oppression and discrimination. If not, we are building a movement on sand, and it will eventually break apart as the storms of corporate opposition look for any weakness they can exploit to undercut and destroy our threat to their continued misrule.”

Then, just two weeks ago in another column, I referred to the problems that some leftists have “with Nader because he has a poor track record when it comes to speaking out in the past on certain issues; e.g., police brutality, affirmative action, reproductive rights, lesbian/gay rights and peace issues. Although he is now speaking to them during his Green Party Presidential campaign, some activists still question the depth of his commitment to ‘doing the right thing’ on these issues.”

In fact, I’m one of those activists who has questions about Nader. I don’t have any illusions about what he’s been doing and saying and not doing and saying for the last 35 or so years. His strengths are consumer, labor and environmental issues. His weaknesses are the issues Naomi, and myself, listed.

What is significant, however, is that Nader is speaking up now in a way he didn’t in 1996. He is doing so because he has been under pressure both from within the Greens and from outside the Greens. Nader is responding to that criticism in a good way, in a way that is hopeful

From what I have seen in my observations of Nader, I think Naomi is wrong to say, that “Nader is not anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-sexist or anti-homophobic.” I think it is wrong, very wrong, to look upon Nader as “evil.” Nader is a white man with weaknesses, and as I wrote about in my column four months ago, he has hued very closely to a “class line” for just about his entire political career. However, he has shown signs of changing for, yes, the better.

Nader, the Nader/LaDuke campaign and the Greens are not static, locked in, walled off from the broader movement. There are more than a few indications that these political forces are moving in the right direction, are very much on the right side, as far as the issues Naomi has identified. To not recognize this, to have a completely negative approach towards Nader because of past failures, is an approach that will consign us to political irrelevance and powerlessness.

One of the major arguments I have made in what I have written and said about why this is such an important campaign is the fact that if Nader/LaDuke get 5% or more of the vote, the Greens and their allies in 2004 will have at least $12 million in federal matching funds for an independent Presidential campaign then. Think about that! With those resources we could actually have a chance of running a candidate and talk seriously about actually winning, particularly if, over the next four years, our pro-justice movement becomes increasingly unified, reaches out more broadly, runs an increasing number of independent candidacies on local levels, etc. This will especially be true if/when “the chickens come home to roost” with the capitalist economy and the inevitable recession, or worse, sets in. Instead of protesting, disrupting, agitating, organizing and speaking truth to power *from a position of powerlessness,* we can be out there actually contending for control of the government.

I suspect that this may be a disagreement Naomi and I have. I think that if we are ever going to have a completely different type of society, we need, absolutely need, a mass, independent political party that is primarily electoral. It can’t be solely electoral; part of the struggle is to build a broad-based party that is also activist and about grassroots organizing on issues. But I am convinced that the path to political power for working-class people, for women, for people of color, for l/g/b/t people, for farmers, for young people, for seniors, for all the oppressed and exploited, is through the building of an independent political party as one key part of an overall strategy.

The Nader/LaDuke campaign, despite its weaknesses, is, right now, a critical front in the struggle for such a political weapon.

(I’ve written much, much more about my views on revolutionary strategy in this country in a book that has just been published, Future Hope: A Winning Strategy for a Just Society. Information on it can be obtained by going to http://www.radicalbooks.com, or by contacting me at futurehopeTG@aol.com.)