For those who
argued last fall that there was no substantial difference between
Republicans and Democrats, life has become a bracing lesson in political realities.
Over the next four years this educational experience will continue unhappily, as
George W. Bush pursues the agenda of his sponsors on the corporate and religious right.
lesson began a few weeks before Mr. Bush took office, when the departing
Bill Clinton signed documents that will protect 58 million acres of federally owned land
from the depredations of the timber, mining and energy industries.
Those historic signatures represented several years of public hearings and bureaucratic
preparation—all of which were being completed even while Ralph Nader denounced
Mr. Clinton as no better and perhaps somewhat worse on environmental issues
than his Republican predecessors.
Not one grudging
word of praise for the Clinton executive orders was heard from
Mr. Nader or his followers. In fact, not much at all has been heard from the Nader
crusaders during the past few months, except for an occasional bleat pleading their
innocence in the Election Day debacle. Considering how fervently they proclaimed their
democratic idealism during the campaign, they had remarkably little to say about the
travesties inflicted on their fellow citizens by the authorities in Florida last November.
Mostly they responded with butt-covering rhetoric about how it was all Al Gore’s fault.
There was some
truth in the Naderite critique of the Gore campaign and the Clinton
administration, but that doesn’t diminish their culpability for what ails the nation now.
And by the way, exactly where are the Naderites now, when Mr. Bush is staffing his
government with the likes of John Ashcroft, Gale Norton and Tommy Thompson?
Nowhere to be seen, and perhaps understandably so.
But just the
other night Phil Donahue, a former television personality who was among
Mr. Nader’s most prominent endorsers, did surface momentarily on a Fox News program.
In that venue Mr. Donahue insisted—to the snickering delight of the show’s conservative
Republican host—that he felt no regrets. He then launched into an impassioned defense of
abortion rights, apparently failing to notice the cognitive dissonance in his own blather.
As an advocate
of feminist freedom, Mr. Donahue must have been outraged when,
on the President’s first full working day in office, Mr. Bush rescinded federal
funding for any organization that provides abortion counseling to women overseas.
On that same day Mr. Thompson, the incoming Secretary of Health and Human
Services, threatened to prevent distribution of RU-486, the abortion drug previously
approved by the Clinton administration. Does Mr. Donahue believe that is how a
President Gore would have commemorated the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade?
Mr. Nader himself
has never pretended to care about women’s right to choose.
There was a time not too long ago, however, when the great consumer pioneer would
have led the fight against cabinet choices like Mr. Ashcroft and Ms. Norton. He would
have warned against their obvious subservience to special interests and their unfitness to
enforce laws they clearly intend to undermine. Yet neither Mr.Nader nor the groups he
controls have joined the broad coalitions that oppose these worst of the Bush nominees.
It seems that the logic (or illogic) of his Presidential campaign has rendered him mute in
the face of events that have since proved him terribly wrong.
Well, not totally
mute. Lately, the erstwhile Green Party candidate has been
formulating helpful advice for the man whom he already has helped far too much.
“Our new President,”
wrote Mr. Nader in an essay published on the inaugural
weekend, “should enable and encourage the formation of voluntary, non-partisan,
self-funded associations that would act as watchdogs and improve government
policies. His first step should be a proclamation endorsing such associations. Then,
he should ask Congress to charter them. Finally, he should order federal agencies to
use their mailing resources and Web sites to encourage citizens to join.”
Mr. Nader, such a Bush-sponsored upwelling of civic activism could
“redress the severe imbalance of power in Washington between corporations and citizens.”
Why, it could even become, in his words, “President Bush’s greatest legacy—the best way
to become, in his own words, ‘the president for all the people.’”
This sounds like
Mr. Nader was trying out a mordant joke, but he wasn’t. He appears to
hope that the President—a well-greased instrument of corporate lobbyists—will somehow
become enamored of the Nader version of mail-order populism. In the meantime, Mr. Nader
has announced a less nebulous plan in which Mr. Bush is definitely interested, that being the
defeat of Congressional Democrats in every district where the Green Party can serve as a spoiler.
So it turns
out that America really does have two parties with no real difference:
the Republicans and the Greens.