The Case For Nader

Max Sawicky threatens “to make a case for Nader, for whom I will not be voting.” Restricting myself to foreign policy, I think I can make a pretty good one.

The key issue here is whether or not you object to the Bush administration’s approach on, as Max does and I do not, general “anti-imperialist” grounds. The complaint against the Democrats, from this point of view, is not that Kerry offers the “same” foreign policies as Bush, because he doesn’t. The superficial similarity of their positions on Iraq aside, there are two different worldviews at work here. The Democratic national security establishment regards as as living in a world characterized by the declining importance of the nation-state as an actor. As such, they are more sensitive to things like permanent multinational institutions and alliances, non-state terrorist groups, non-traditional security problems like AIDS and global warming, and to the importance of global public opinion in international relations. The GOP establishment is more wedded to a state-centric worldview, regards deference to international organizations as a kind of zero-sum loss of sovereignty, and is overwhelmingly focused on the question of rogue states and military superiority to the exclusion of other priorities.

This is a real debate, but it’s a debate about how to manage the quasi-imperial machinery that was set up to win the cold war now that the cold war is over. On a different view that machinery, if it ever was useful, is not useful any longer. I take it that this is Nader’s view, and it really isn’t going to be the Kerry administration’s.

What’s more, it’s not as if having any of the other viable candidates win the primary would have made it the Democratic Party’s view. From Lieberman to Dean, all the major candidates were, like Kerry, and like the rest of the Democratic establishment, wedded to the idea that the question is about managing the machinery, not destroying it. Nevertheless, while the anti-imperial point of view is still marginal in the Democratic Party (and, therefore, in the country as a whole for the media rules out-of-bounds anything that neither party will take up) it has been gaining a lot of ground over these past few years. When the machinery of empire was being managed well (or at least with few US casualties) not that many people were upset about its existence. Bush’s mismanagement has brought the broader critics of the whole set-up out of the woodwork, and having been shown the daylight the various strands of anti-imperial thought (left-wing, libertarian, Buchananite) have been meeting each other and growing in strength.

A Kerry administration may well put a stop to that momentum. A second Bush term, however, promises to bring fresh fiascos and additional unnecessary deaths. A “heightening of the contradictions,” in other words, that will build support for the antithesis. For, after all, what makes empire look worse than having the empire be run by a fool and his court? A second Bush term would be far, far worse than a first Kerry term, but that’s the point. If you want to really win, things will have to get worse before they get better. That means a vote for Ralph.