November 1, 2000


Oh, the exquisite agony of it all! I mean, of course, the agony of the Clintonian Left as it watches, in helpless horror, as the Gore campaign explodes – and all because of a fellow leftie, the indefatigable Ralph Nader, whose presidential candidacy is catching fire as we head into the final week of a long and joyless campaign. This Halloween eve we are experiencing the Nader Moment, as the kept "progressives" of the Clinton administration come out of the woodwork to hold back the rising tide of Nader's support. For the Green Party candidate is the Gore camp's scariest nightmare come alive, as the cynical "triangulation " politics of the Clinton era come back to haunt them. The goblins of the Democratic Party's betrayed populist past are rising like mist out of the ground, the grave, while the the Gucci-ed and Pucci-ed lawyers and fixers, the Tony Coelhos and Roger Tamraz types are in a panic, stampeding as if they'd just seen the ghost of William Jennings Bryan. Or was that Thomas Jefferson? Combining the economic populism of the former with the libertarian spirit of the latter, Nader's "Green" packaging, unwrapped, reveals something altogether unexpected: not some newfangled party, but a return to an earlier partisan tradition, that of the old Jeffersonian Democracy.


Oh yes, this is going to be a fun week, as the countdown to Tuesday proceeds amid much melodrama. Agony is always melodramatic, especially when experienced by aging "radicals" of the sort so aptly represented by Todd Gitlin, chief popularizer of the Sixties Mythos, and the establishment's chief "New Left" apologist for the same old bull*h*t. They wheeled out this marginal figure in the history of the American left during the Kosovo war to explain to yesterday's hippies why dropping bombs on Belgrade from 30,000 feet was a continuation of the civil rights movement. Now, in the pages of Salon – that online guide to yuppie left-liberalism – he conjures moments from his glory days to rationalize the decline of the Left and his own betrayals:

"I'm the sort of voter who ought to be flocking to him. I was the third president of Students for a Democratic Society, active in New Left politics thereafter, frequently critical of Clinton-Gore politics from the left. . . . Oh yes: Along the way, I stayed out of the 1968 vote – and therefore, in the light of unforgiving history, did my tiny bit to help Nixon win, and all for the best of reasons, namely, emotions in revolt, disgust for Humphrey's pro-war position, and willful blindness about the left's marginality and the political payoff that could be expected for going it alone."

Taking aim at the Nader campaign, he avers, with a weary sigh: "Here we go again."


The self-righteousness of repentant New Leftists, whether of the liberal-left or the Republican Right, is invariably, relentlessly self-referential. Notice how, in this Gitlinian capsule history of the sixties, his own abstention from the 1968 election led directly to Nixon's victory – as if Gitlin is somehow emblematic of a whole generation, the Zeitgeist personified. The smug fatuousity of his middle-aged wisdom is so much the product of a disappointed idealism that, like any cliché, it seems inherently untrustworthy. There is, after all, something slightly suspicious about such a cavalier dismissal of Humphrey's pro-war stance – but obviously this is easier for a born-again warmonger such as Gitlin, leading "left-wing" apologist for Clinton's war in the Balkans, than it might be for any ordinary Joe. So this is the end of the road for the "radical" Gitlin and his burnt-out comrades. this is what preoccupies the graybeards of the Not So New Left – nostalgia for Hubert Humphrey! How long before Gitlin confesses in the pages of Commentary, or even the Weekly Standard, that he is having "second thoughts," and joins the ranks of the neo-conservatives – a political faction ideally suited to the temperament and inclinations of a sellout like Gitlin, since its goal is not any ideological principle but simply access to power.


Gitlin openly proclaims that the only role of the left is that of supplicant:

"Of course the parties are corrupt fundraising machines. Of course corporate lobbies run amok. Of course the Democrats need pressure. The question is, Whom do we want to put in a position to press?"


The smooth cynicism, so "postmodern" and self-conscious, is very Nineties: we're all corrupt, rolling in the same muck, and who does "Saint Ralph" think he is, anyway? This is the self-satisfied moral corruption of a graying ex-"radical" who sees all integrity, both ideological and personal, as a personal affront, dismissing it as "moral fundamentalism" with world-weary disdain. But this argument is made only to satisfy Gitlin's narcissistic self-conception as the Wise Old Man of American leftism, and not to persuade. Certainly it won't convince the sort of people who are even thinking of voting for Nader; indeed, it almost seems designed to have the opposite effect.


The same kind of curiously counterintuitive argument is marshaled by Jonathan Alter in the Nation, who writes that Nader's:

"nascent leftist movement has virtually no support among African-Americans, Latinos or Asian-Americans. It has no support among organized feminist groups, organized gay rights groups or mainstream environmental groups. To top it all off, it has no support in the national union movement. So Nader and company are building a nonblack, non-Latino, non-Asian, nonfeminist, nonenvironmentalist, nongay, non-working people's left: Now that really would be quite an achievement."


The same kind of narrow identity politics that has decimated the Left, and reduced it to a virtual appendage of the Democratic Party, is invoked by Alter as a reason to oppose Nader, when the Green Party presidential candidate's refusal to pander to anyone is precisely what makes him attractive. The professional victimologists and their "official" organizations, who see Big Government and the Corporate State as their allies and instruments, have nothing to gain from Nader, since he cannot offer them power. But Alter's argument is not very convincing, either, since it matters only to the leadership of these "official" organizations, and not to their supposed constituencies. Does Alter really believe that of the millions who will vote for Nader this election, none are black, Latino, or Asian? Does he really think that voters who consider themselves feminists, environmentalists, and/or gay will not be voting Green this year? But surely you can't be gay – not really – if you don't vote the way the Human Rights Campaign tells you to; and you have got to be some kind of oreo if you think a real African-American would even consider voting Green! The same goes for feminists, environmentalists, and sandal-wearing vegetarian fruit-juice drinkers – these freethinkers must consult with NOW and the League of Conservation Voters before they cast their votes. It's an absurd argument, and one that, to the extent that it reaches its intended audience, is sure to heighten and not dampen the intensity of Nader's moment in the sun.


I think much of the hostility to Nader from the organizations and pundits of the Left is due to the unconscious certainty on their part that he is not really one of them. As David Brooks has pointed out, Nader has made a determined effort to reach out to conservatives from day one of his campaign: in the third paragraph of his acceptance speech at the Green Party nominating convention in Denver, he made his pitch to the right as well as the left, enumerating his program of people power over corporate power and declaring;

"These goals are also conservative goals. Don't conservatives, in contrast to corporatists, want movement toward a safe environment, toward ending corporate welfare and the commercialization of childhood? Don't they too want a voice in shaping a clean environment rooted in the interests of the people? Don't they too want a fair and responsive marketplace, for their health needs and savings? Let us not in this campaign prejudge any voters, for Green values are majoritarian values, respecting all peoples and striving to give greater voice to all voters, workers, individual taxpayers and consumers. As with the right of free speech, we may not agree with others, but we will defend their right to free speech as strongly as we do for ourselves."


Nader a conservative? His speech to the Green Party national convention, in which he outlines his vision and his strategy, is rife with references to conservative themes. In describing the constituencies he wants to go after, he sees them as those who are

"aghast at how little time your frenzied life leaves you for children, family, friends and community, overcome by the sheer ugliness of commercial strips and sprawls and incessantly saturating advertisements, repelled by the voyeurism of the mass media and the commercialization of childhood, upset at the rejection of the wisdoms of our elders and forebears, anxious over the ways your tax dollars are being misused, feeling that there needs to be more to life than the desperate rat race to make ends meet."


Nader apparently spent a couple of hours trying to convince David Brooks that his campaign ought to appeal to conservatives, and readily confessed that he reads the Weekly Standard: but Nader is reading the wrong conservative magazine. The neocons, with their puffed-up pretensions to being the architects of "national greatness," are not likely candidates for the kind of decentralized and humanized society envisioned by Nader. He should really be courting the paleoconservatives at Chronicles magazine, whose suspicion of managerial mercantilism and appreciation for such reactionary enemies of bigness as Wendell Berry, would seem more compatible with Naderism. For it might have been Russell Kirk, or some paleo-conservative reactionary – perhaps even Pat Buchanan – who was speaking, and not the candidate of the supposedly leftist Green Party, the last bastion of the crunchy granola Left. In his first major speech of the campaign season, Nader denounced the corporate bailouts, the endless subsidies that flow to Wall Street like tributaries merging into a mighty river of expropriated wealth, and pointed out that

"Of course, small businesses don't have such complex shelters to avoid taxes. When small businesses get into trouble, they are free to go bankrupt, unlike speculating, mismanaged or corrupt big businesses that can go to Washington for a complex bailout."


But of course the corporatist neocons would never sit still for any of that "corporation-bashing," not to mention Nader's positively Buchananite foreign policy: he denounces "the munitions makers" in the tone and style of Senator William E. Borah, warning against the seduction of our sovereignty by promiscuous internationalists of dubious morality and even less loyalty to this country. In a speech attended by Brooks, Nader avers that our corporate elite is decadent, out of touch, and no longer fit to rule, as well as being obscenely rich: "The lords of the manor in medieval France would have drooled with envy at such inequality," he opines: These transnational entities are laws unto themselves, manipulating governments and lining their pockets at taxpayers' expense, he says, and then gives his line a Buchananite spin by angrily remarking: "They don't say the pledge of allegiance at corporate shareholder meetings!" Brooks notes, however, with some amusement, that neither did the Nader rally begin with the pledge: would that crowd of nose-ringed kids and graying hippies have stood still for it? I doubt it. Of course, the pledge is a matter of course at Buchanan rallies, where at least the attendees know who and what they are.


"Could there actually be a new populist movement forming that joins left and right populists against both the corporatist media and the corporate donors who now fund both major parties?" – this is the question Brooks asks at the beginning of his fascinating piece, and eventually we find out that the answer is no. According to Brooks. Nader is a typical "left-wing revolutionary" – a "secular monk," whose "faith is in the earthly paradise that will be achieved the day after the triumph of the masses. His answers to the problems of evil and greed and commercialization are all legal and political. Utopia comes with the right laws."

Text-only printable version of this article

An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard
Available NOW!
$10 off!

“Behind the Headlines” appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.


Past Columns

The Nader Moment

The Smearing of Ralph Nader

Nader Sells Out

America's Fifth Column

Bush, the Balkans, and the Bipartisan "Division of Labor"

Hilary, the War Goddess

Vidal's Valediction: The Golden Age

Norman's Narcissim: Podhoretz in Love

The Middle East: War Without End

Classic Raimondo: Isolationism for Beginners

Notes on the Serbian Revolution and Other Matters

Revolt of the Little Guys

The Clinton-
Gore-Milosevic Connection

Szamuely's Folly: Sympathy for the Devil

Slobo's Gambit: Will It Work?

Adventures in Cyber-Politics, Revisted

Curtains for Milosevic

Dubya's Kosovo Deception

The Return of Pat Buchanan


The Vindication of Wen Ho Lee

Against the EU: Danes Resist Assimilation

UN Millennium Summit: Globalist Dream is Your Worst Nightmare

Iraq and the US – Our Fantasy Island Foreign Policy

Classic Raimondo: Allied Vultures Pick at Iraq's Bones

Colombia – The Deja Vu War

Passage to Cargagena: An Inauspicious Visit

Invasion of the Party-Snatchers

Blowback: Read This Book!

Bush on Kosovo – Turning on a Dime

The Kosovo Fraud: Will They Ever Admit It?

The Outing of Ralph Nader, and Other Atrocities

Why Kosovo? Follow the Money!

Additional Justin Raimondo Archives

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

Sign up for our Mailing List



What Brooks and the neocons can't stand, of course, is even a hint of populism: "greatness," national or otherwise, is not achieved by the despised "masses," but by the cultured and all-knowing elites, i.e. the neoconservatives. There was never a chance that Nader would get Bill Kristol's endorsement. But the charge of "leftwing revolutionary" is specious: Nader never promised a "utopia," only an improvement over the status quo – which is apparently enough for anyone to be called a "revolutionary," of whatever wing, by the editors of the Weekly Standard. Invoking everyone from Edmund Burke to Gary Bauer, Brooks differentiates the conservative critique of American decadence as resulting in a call to cultural renewal rather than a political movement. But this kind of quietism has no basis in the history or stance of the present day conservative movement, which is determinedly activist. Brooks complains that "Nader always has a technical solution to moral problems," but is the moral corruption of our bought and paid for rulers really only a moral problem, bereft of any political solution?


What is ironic about the Nader moment is that many of the Green Party activists handing out leaflets and cheering him on at rallies don't have a clue as to what their own candidate is really about. The libertarian aspect of his political orientation, which I pointed out in my last column, is not only unknown to them but also unsuspected. Nader's early encounter with the public housing authority of Winsted, Connecticut, documented in his account of the grassroots struggle against a federal-backed agency by local activists, published in the Freeman in 1962, seems to have had an effect on Nader's outlook. His is basically a Jeffersonian program of civic virtue and egalitarian democracy against the mercantile elitism of the Hamiltonian or Federalist party tradition. Too bad he doesn't understand economics – another trait he has in common with Buchanan – and his vision of a government that is suddenly the instrument of "the people," rather than corporate or other interests, is naïve. As the revisionist historians of the old progressive movement such as Gabriel Kolko have shown, the very government agencies that were supposed to "oversee" big business and somehow make it more "fair" and "competitive" were not only co-opted but created by those same corporate interests. The man has definite limitations, at least from my own perspective, but Nader's foreign policy pronouncements, especially of late, have been right on the mark: and that, in the end, is the largely unspoken reason for the liberal hysteria at his success. Here, at last, is an American populist of the left who remembers his anti-imperialist, anti-war heritage.


What is interesting about the Nader moment is how many people are trying to ride his coattails. The appearance of pro-Nader ads paid for by the Republican Leadership Council – a group of wealthy liberal Republicans who were so horrified by Pat Buchanan's speech to the 1992 Republican national convention that they decided, on the spot, to do something about it – stinks to high heaven. The RLC has spent a lot of money over the years, trying to defeat conservative Republicans in primaries and campaigning against right-wing "extremism" in the GOP: and they have a well-deserved reputation for divisive factionalism. That they are now running ads with edited clips from Nader speeches, in which the Green party candidate denounces Gore but makes no mention of Dubya, is very suspicious. One has to ask: who benefits other than George Bush? Certainly a sudden influx of Nader voters into the voting booths – most of them younger voters, or independents who would not otherwise vote – is not going to be of any benefit to conservative Republican congressional candidates, and that may be the real point here. To the centrists at the RLC, a Bush presidency and a liberal Congress – or at least one purged of conservatives – would be the best of all possible worlds.


The uses Nader is being put to, by Gore activists who want to "trade" votes with Nader voters in key states, by Hollywood phonies who want to appear radical but are really just Clintonian sleazeballs with moral pretensions, by wacko Trotskyist outfits like the International Socialist Organization who have endorsed him in the mistaken belief that he is a socialist, are part of the trials any saint must be put to before we can know what he is really made of. If Nader survives this ordeal – the uncomprehending adulation of his followers, as well as the all-too-knowing hatred of his enemies – he may become a formidable figure in the politics of the future. And that, for some reason, seems like a hopeful sign. Just think of all the perfectly awful people who hate him and are trying to stop him: Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Streisand, Todd Gitlin, Barney Frank, the list of phonies, sellouts, hustlers, and professional whiners is virtually endless. That, alone, elevates him to the status of an icon in my personal pantheon, one of the Good Guys who must be defended. From the far right side of the political spectrum, let's say it loud and say it proud: Go Ralph Go!

Please Support

A contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald Radosh's out-of-print classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send contributions to
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form


Have an e-gold account?
Contribute to via e-gold.
Our account number is 130325

Your Contributions are now Tax-Deductible

Back to Home Page | Contact Us