This is Both an Accurate and a Useful Treatise, But …?, October 25, 2014
… the accurate part is not very useful and the useful part is not very accurate. Allow me to explain by beginning with the accurate part of the book first.
Using his considerable experiences and his legal skills as an activist, the reader will discover here that Mr. Nader is a walking encyclopedia of details on the activist ways of organizing. Here, to our great benefit, he has shared with us his invaluable multi-talented and multilayered experiences, which arguably, as useful as they may be to a properly constructed theory, in practice, were largely failures during his generation (and spectacularly so in the case of his presidential runs).
However, be that as it may, his ability to retell his experiences with great accuracy and then cast his treatise at a rather high abstract level of analysis, attests to both its accuracy and its profundity. Were the objective of this a book about the theory of political activism in America, then surely this exposition would make a valuable contribution to advancing our state of knowledge.
But, accurate theoretical analysis, or acquiring more theoretical knowledge, is not this book’s stated purpose. And while that may indeed be what American activism needs at the moment, it is not what the book is supposed to be about: This book is suppose to be about how, in the context of today’s toxic political environment, “we the people” might “practically” stop the Corporate juggernaut bearing down on our democratic way of life, blocking every access to our freedoms, stifling, and undermining our economy, and inhibiting democratic participation?
And for that particular goal, theoretical abstractions, no matter how accurate and profound their insights may appear to be — especially “motiveless” “feigned morally neutral” and abstract ones — have no place, and thus in my view, renders this book quite useless for the stated objectives.
There is yet another aspect of the author’s proposals that strikes me as rather useless: According to the author’s own analysis, his mostly tactical suggestions, at their very best, would amount to little more than a series of “one time” “ad hoc,” “issue related,” “poorly funded,” and “poorly committed to,” “tactical forays,” unlikely to work except around the margins?
Since together they in no way constitute a strategic threat to the corporate state apparatus, pray tell: How is such a clumsy tactical machine going to go up against the well-oiled well-financed, and well-organized, strategically deployed behemoth called the corporate/national security/prison/drug industrial complex?
Although the author waxes eloquent as he parses the fine points and nuances of Conservatism and Libertarianism, he forgets the competition: Liberalism — that is, until the very last chapter, where, with an obligatory wave of the back of his hand, he pretty much dismisses liberalism as a useless after thought. I have my own thoughts about the deficiencies of liberalism, but that is grist for another mill.
In both cases he fails to descend from his very accurate but nevertheless, lofty Ivy Tower-like abstractions back down to the ground level, where, arguably, “American politics lives.” Mr. Nader finds it unnecessary to speak to the motivations of those who, as he so carefully points out, hide behind the label “conservative and libertarian” to justify their baser instincts, actions and motivations. And even though on this one excursion into motivations, he is “dead on,” he nevertheless quickly “tap dances” away from the darker implications of why one would need to use false labels in the first place — unless they were being used to cover up darker more hidden motives? Sadly, Mr. Nader slides away from this “heavy clue” about what really animates American politics, and he does so without so much as even an acknowledgment of the pivotal value this mislabelling of a key ideological component of the American political process has on the objective he has set before him in this book. The very fact that such concepts so pivotal to a proper understanding of the American political process like racism, greed and corruption, do not appear in either the text or even in the index of this book raises a question about its real purpose and whether it can be trusted or put to any use at all in dealing with the practical issues of American politics?
For be it for me to suggest that one of the reasons the American political system is currently in such a mess, is precisely because too many people — Mr. Nader and Mr. Obama included among them — have decided to finesse this very issue of morality and criminality extant in American politics: They have willfully failed to see the elementary self-evident fact that the contemporary American political process in our modern contemporary era has become first a battle between “good” and “evil”‘ and only afterwards a battle over theory, tactics and strategy.
Yes, of course, it is much easier to pretend that the moral character and quality of American politics has not diminished in recent decades, that it is still the same old morally innocent playground, where all the players and ideologies are equivalent, equally well-meaning, equally moral and entirely motiveless? As Nader puts it here, all sides are well-meaning and have the same goal, but just differ only in the means used to achieve them? (Really? Come again?) The cold-blooded truth is exactly the opposite: It is that one side of the American political spectrum “plays dirty and “for keeps;” while the other side continues to give the “wayward side” a pass, always explaining away the vulgarness and baseness of their ideas — even as they treat them as if they are morally equivalent to their own. Then the meeker side is always bending over backwards to give them the benefit of the doubt and plenty of maneuver room — treating the morally bankrupt, bought-and-paid for conservative movement as if it is the moral equivalent of their own side.
The conservatives then go for the “balls” first, and only afterwards for the “jugular.” But the meeker side then just continues to rationalize for the wayward side’s destructive actions, holding out until hell freezes over (as Mr. Obama did) for more “Congressional bipartisanism;” and in the case of this book, Mr. Nader is calling for holding out for more meaningless Left-Right coalition building? Is it possible to keep yielding to America’s wayward conservative child without doing permanent damage to the continued viability of adult moral political attitudes?
Sad to say, but here too Mr. Nader has spent a lot of time rationalizing for that wayward side, a side that he seems to have a special affinity for. However, he, just like Mr. Obama did, simply fails to face the reality of what that side is doing to help destroy the American polity and its way of life as we have come to know it. He for instance gives them credit for having read F.A. Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises, or even Adam Smith? Yet, he and I both know that these ditto-heads rarely go beyond Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Dr. Laura. A conservative intellectual heavyweight might just admit to having read the offbeat conservative iconoclasts of Tom Sowell and Ayn Rand, and no more. But to suggest that they do anything more than toss Hayek’s and von Mises names around, is giving them too much credit.
After listening to Palin, Cain, Bachmann, and Peary, Mr. Nader can argue that it is just a difference in means not goals if he wants to? But that is not what every Congressmen (to a man and woman) have said as they continue to retire in disgust: Each one has suggested that the Congress is a viper’s nest of corruption and criminality, and nothing less. And at the front of that train are “bought-and-paid for” conservatives. Even here, Mr. Nader himself impeaches his own well-constructed theory by noting in passing, that FDR and Ike, were not the only U.S. Presidents to warns us about where an unbridled over-reaching corporate and national security state would lead. So too did Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter.
Now to the useful part of the book.
Mr. Nader’s generational experiences in the trenches of American political activism has yielded a virtual cornucopia of viable tactical necessities and imperatives. From knowing how to organize well, to knowing precisely how the legislative process “really works,” to how to motivate young people to get involved in projects that may well require a life time of committed actions, is solid advice that is all to the good, and will work in any environment and at any time. This is advice that every potential political activist, or foot-soldier for the next political revolution, must have in his battlefield plan and in his tool kit. Indeed, this is advice that you can take to the bank.
However, in this book, all this accurate advice, is provided minus a socio-political context that intersects with the realities of American politics on the ground. The way Mr. Nader has put it, leaves the reader to think that the Congress somehow “emerges out of the ether” as a neutral chessboard with a fixed set of rules, whereby, if the pieces and players are moved about the board innocently according to these impersonal rules, then success, failure or checkmate following as the night follows day? … Would that it were so?
But Mr. Nader knows as well as anyone that the American political system is exactly as the retired Congressmen have described it: a viper’s pit that no longer works for average Americans, and is no longer an innocent impersonal abstraction. It is the hub of a corrupt hydra-headed monster. Mr. Nader also knows that the American political system, no less than the American economy, does not operate according to Adam Smith’s invisible and benevolent hand. It is not simply that the corporations are ruled by greed, corruption and the mindless pursuit of their own self-interests, but more often than not, so too are lobbyists, politicians, and even political activists. The whole system is one big “pay-to-play” orgy.
How else can foreign governments like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and now even China get a seat at the table of the American political process that trumps the influence of the American voter? How else can “bright-eyed” “bushy tailed” freshly minted college graduates” be coopted by corporations to “come over and fight for their side” (against the graduates’ own interest) just to gain fame and fortune? Or, how else do we get poor conservative white people mouth such inanities as “I want the government’s hands off my medicare and social security?” How else too would the likes of Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman or Sarah Palin, have the gall to stand up in a national debate and embarrass the nation by displaying their 5th Grade level ignorance before the entire world?
Even Mr. Nader himself acknowledges in a lengthy discussion in chapter six, that those able to muster the necessary courage to reject these corporate offers of cooptation, are soon banished to Siberia for the rest of their careers. Indeed, as the reader will discover, most of the book is less about how to stop the corporate behemoth than it is about how the corporate state has successfully outmaneuvered us to defeat our every idea, how it can now defeat every piece of legislation, and how they have proceeded to co-opt, threaten, or marginalize every committed activist or Congressman — and indeed how they have actually succeeded at it beyond even their own wildest dreams!
In relief, it must be said that this book is little more than a backhanded Corporate State’s manifesto of their successful take over of the American political system. It certainly is not a manifesto of how to stop the corporate behemoth from continuing to “huff-and-puff” down the tracks as it continues to pick up speed as it heads to a full collision with an increasingly impatient but impotent electorate.
So, may I ask the author: Why give us an accurate but a highly abstract motiveless, emotionless, highly nuanced amoral treatise on the one hand, and practical advice on the other, that has been neutered and stripped of all its useful moral and emotional content? It is advice standing alone naked before the people, stripped completely of even a semblance of useful political context.
Mr. Nader, the kind of political system you have described here, one that does not take into account the fact that racism, corruption and greed are not just the mother’s milk of American politics, but also consistently throughout U.S. History has been its most salient elements, is a political system alien to the American way of life with which I am familiar? How can we trust a treatise that ignores these pivotal elements?
To conclude, no one has more respect for Mr. Ralph Nader than I do. He was and is America’s last Guru, the last shining light of my generation. He has always been and will die a stalwart for all that is good and sacred about our democratic way of life. I still salute him. However, with the greatest respect, I believe he has directed this high energy, high level treatise to the wrong audience, and to a no longer existing political system? One that has been greatly weakened by the Corporate State.
Unless I am terribly mistaken, the level at which I see the current American political discourse, resides a couple of notches below the level this book has been cast. We are now well below the waterline of mutual respect and decency. Has anyone failed to notice how the presidency has been vulgarized through disrespect by conservatives towards Mr. Obama, and by Mr. Obama’s own desultory performance? I don’t like Mr. Obama either, but I would never disrespect the presidency to voice my dislike of him.
These people, who have openly, unapologetically, unabashedly and gratuitously insulted the presidency in public and on the Congressional floor, are the people Mr. Nader wants us to join hands with and sing Kumbaya? How about first trying to restore a bit of civility into the American political process? Three stars
This particular review has been selected for posting to Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog. While I am reading the book myself, and will post a review within the week, I tend to agree with all that appears in the above review. Ralph Nader is a giant — this book is clearly a love song to the conservatives and has political value in that aspect — it also completely ignores the fact that 60-80% of us hate the left-right partisan split that now sells Member votes as a bloc to 42 specifically identified billionaires. We the People want and Electoral Reform Act that levels the playing field and brings ALL of us back into the process of self-governance, not the filthy system we have now. Pretending that we can combine left-right against corporatism ignores two big facts: 1) it is the the 1%, not the corporations, that have crapped on the 99% that are the golden goose of productivity; and 2) to conceptualize a moral intelligent discussion among the left-right leaders we have now is at best a delusional fantasy.
Having said that, I do agree with those who believe that electoral reform sufficient to put 20-30% of Congress into the hands of Independents and small parties (especially the Greens and Libertarians and perhaps Working Families) will force the left and the right to move closer to fact-based transpartisanship and away from their current ignorant ideological platitudes.