[Note from Christopher: The presidential campaign of 2004 seems so long ago, like ancient history. So much has happened since. Most especially the Great Financial Meltdown. Speaking of which, I’d like to note this column below was written four years before that event (just claiming a bit of prescience, thank you). I was living in Mexico then and watching the 2004 campaign for afar, though not too far. And the big question was, “Will Ralph run?” Well, he didn’t. Not that it mattered once the votes were in. But for a while there, the question seemed important. This piece appeared in The Progressive Populist: A Journal from the Heartland, a biweekly political journal based in the U.S.]
OR… THE IDEA OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico—2004
It’s a fascinating show, watched from abroad, this “Run, Ralph, Run!” versus “No, Ralph, Don’t Run!” show. Meaning, of course, Ralph Nader and the 2004 presidential race.
The arguments in favor of his running are well known. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats represent ordinary folks, as both parties are corporate shills. Only Ralph is truly progressive and populist and represents intellectual honesty, decency, and the placement of humanitarian and ecological values over money.
The arguments against his running also are well known: George W. Bush is now president only because Ralph threw the election his way (for easy stealing) by cadging Gore votes in 2000. We don’t want, and cannot bear, a repeat in 2004.
Idealists, along with those cynical Republicans, urge Ralph to run. Pragmatists urge him not to. Both sides indulge in debates about the two-party system, its rights and wrongs, and the necessity and efficacy of a (hypothetical) multi-party system.
And that debate, viewed from afar, is what is fascinating to me, even laughable. Folks, electoral politics in the USA is a two-party system. That’s not going to change in the foreseeable future, and there’s a reason for it. That reason concerns the American Empire.
First, a little history regarding “the Idea of America,” meaning democracy, equality, freedom of expression, and so forth, which many Americans tend to believe are all unique to the USA. No kidding, every time I visit the States, folks there start telling me how those things exist in the USA but no where else. “You should get a passport and buy a plane ticket,” I tell them. “Get out a little.”
These same untraveled folks (along with some well-traveled ones) overrate how much “the Idea of America” is what caused the USA to become so powerful a presence on the planet in terms of political, economic and cultural influence, i.e. to become the Empire. It ain’t. It’s part of the equation, but only part.
What created the dominance of the USA on this planet is a coalescence of (1) abundant natural resources, (2) that curious American trait called “hustle,” aka “get-up-and-go,” aka “you, too, can be successful or rich or famous,” and (3) the values promoted by “the Idea of America” (see above).
Also, timing. Which is everything.
This coalescence of several essential factors was not planned; it occurred when it did simply because that’s the way history unfolded, but the consequences have been tremendous.
That the North American continent has enjoyed an abundance of natural resources is self-evident. That European immigrants came along to steal or buy them at a propitious time in the development of an industrial (and commercial) revolution also is self-evident.
It’s further self-evident to anyone who’s traveled much that traditional societies aren’t open and flexible enough to permit the kind of social and economic mobility that allowed the “hustle” trait to officially and legally flourish in the USA. This is true not only in still-developing countries, but also in Western Europe, where the Enlightenment ideas—what became “the Idea of America”—began.
American “hustle” combined with abundant natural resources and the legal freedoms to exploit them created an historic opportunity: the USA was in a prime position to develop wealth and then use it to corner the markets of the world, which it did. And which it still does, very energetically. With muscle. That’s why it is an Empire.
And empires don’t need no steenkin’ three-party electoral system, thank you, because it only gets in the way. Whoever heard of an empire with multiple political parties? Competing factions maybe. But not parties.
Empires really don’t even want a two-party system, which is why the USA essentially has a one-party system with two wings, Democrats and Republicans. On the bottom line, both are married to the idea of America as Empire.
Thinking folks know this, and it creates an almost irresistible impulse to urge Ralph to run. It’s an emotional impulse, and understandable. But in rational terms, it is dumb. After all, Ralph opposes America as Empire, and that is a big no-no across the entire conventional political spectrum.
Destroy the Empire and you destroy the American Way of Life—the freedom to bust ass for a dollar—the relative success of which is fundamentally based on consumer debt and cheap energy (especially gasoline for vehicles). You may not think it’s cheap, but it is compared to fuel costs everywhere else, including even Mexico (about $2.50 a gallon here). And let’s face it, even liberals and progressives and populists, by and large, prefer cheap gasoline. Because, you know, all that debt makes us tight.
No, Ralph cannot be elected. And we know it. All Ralph can do is throw the election to the more conservative wing of the Empire’s double-winged party. Meaning the Republicans.
Despite the upcoming furor of the campaigns, when the Democrats and Republicans will make a big show of exaggerating their differences, be sure to remember: The main difference between the two wings, Democrat and Republican, has to do with domestic social policy, issues like civil rights and abortion rights and gay rights, maybe even environmental rights (within limits). But not foreign policy. Not Empire rights. Not really. Oh, maybe a little here and there, a matter of style. But when nip comes to tuck… when the multinational money’s on the table… a Democrat and a Republican both wave a flag and grab it.
So, my friends, if you want to see a difference in domestic policies in the USA, then urge Ralph not to run. And vote for Kerry.
If the domestic scene isn’t important to you, then urge Ralph to run and vote for him. It simply ain’t gonna make that much difference in the foreign policies of the Empire whether the election goes to Bush or Kerry.
It ain’t pretty, being an Empire. But that’s what we are. At least for now.