RECENT MEDIA COVERAGE
ARE YOU UNFAMILIAR WITH FRED NEWMAN AND THE IWP?
By Jill Gardiner
The New York Sun, September 14, 2006
Mayor Bloomberg is defending the city’s decision to approve more than $12 million in tax-free financing for a nonprofit group founded by a political leader who has been accused of making anti-Semitic comments.
Mr. Bloomberg said the approval of the tax-free financing for the All Stars Project, a performing arts group, was based solely on the substance of the group and had nothing to do with its founding member, Lenora Fulani, who is no longer affiliated with the group.
The city’s Industrial Development Agency gave the green light to the arrangement earlier this week over objections from several leading elected officials, who said the organization’s relationship with Ms. Fulani should disqualify it.
“We don’t look at the politics or the personal philosophies or the first amendment rights of what people say who are not involved with a project,” Mr. Bloomberg told reporters.
“If they have a problem with other people they should express it to other people, but we are not going to hurt the kids at the All Star Project,” he added referring to the opponents.
Ms. Fulani, a former leader of the Independence Party, backed Mr. Bloomberg when he was running for mayor in 2001 and then again in 2005, giving him crucial support and an alternative party line for New Yorkers who wanted to vote for him but didn’t want to pull the lever for the Republican Party. He has distanced himself from her positions, but they repeatedly come back to haunt him.
Ms. Fulani’s most divisive words came in 1989, when she wrote: “Jews had to sell their souls to acquire Israel.” This week, the state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, the City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, the public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler wrote to the head of the IDA urging him to block the financing request. Others who hold power on the IDA board directed their proxies to reject it.
But Mr. Bloomberg contended that there was nothing wrong with the deal: “We’re trying to do what’s right for our children and we certainly do not want to run a city where everybody’s got to pass a litmus test of agreeing with those people running for office,” he said.
By Tom Robbins
Village Voice, September 27, 2005
Speaking out: Independence Party chairman Frank MacKay
In the six years that Frank MacKay has been chairman of the state’s Independence Party the influential holder of Row C on New York’s ballot he says he never had a substantive conversation with Lenora Fulani, the party’s most famous and controversial member.
“It’s never been more than ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye,’ “ MacKay told the Voice.
On the other hand, MacKay said that he spent many hours in discussion about tactics and party activities with Fred Newman, the guru style figure hailed by Fulani and others as the inspiration for their various enterprises, including therapy clinics and the All Stars Project, a city subsidized nonprofit organization with a multimillion dollar budget.
MacKay said that when he had important party business to discuss including the initial recommendation that the party’s city chapter endorse Michael Bloomberg for mayor he was told to talk to Newman, and Newman alone. He said that he was often summoned to meetings at Newman’s Greenwich Village townhouse, attended by a coterie of longtime followers.
“There would be this little circle grouped around Newman, hanging on his every word,” MacKay said. The group included Cathy Stewart, the chairwoman of the New York County Independence Party; attorneys Harry Kresky and Gary Sinawski; political consultant Jackie Salit; All Stars president Gabrielle Kurlander; and Fulani. MacKay said that he attended some 20 such sessions, and that Newman did most of the talking.
“The meetings would go on for two hours, and the only two talking are me and Newman,” MacKay said. “The others only chimed in to agree with Fred.”
Newman, 70, has long been a political fringe player, allied at different times with Lyndon LaRouche, Louis Farrakhan, and Pat Buchanan. But he has largely kept in the background, allowing Fulani (whom he once called his “greatest accomplishment”) to take the lead. A playwright, Newman also claims authorship of what he describes as “a new science of human development” called “social therapy.” But therapists using Newman’s teachings have been accused of recruiting patients to their political efforts.
“He’s like a Svengali,” MacKay said. “He is the one and only decision maker.”
MacKay, a former nightclub owner from Suffolk County, was originally elected state party chairman in 2000 with the support of Newman’s group. But MacKay ended the alliance this month when he and upstate party officials concluded that Fulani’s refusal to disavow past anti Semitic statements, and her continued self identification as the party’s leader, were hurting the organization.
Why had he worked so long with Newman’s group? “The party is about building coalitions,” he said. “They seemed cultlike, but not on a Jonestown type level. You could say we used each other.”
The break came September 18 at a crowded meeting near Albany where state committee members voted overwhelmingly to remove Fulani and five allies, including Stewart, Kresky, and Sinawski, from their executive panel. Fulani later dismissed the vote, saying it wouldn’t affect her status as a leader in the “Black community.” She also noted that her group still holds the reins of the party’s autonomous city chapter, which boasts Bloomberg as its mayoral candidate in November. “God bless the mayor,” Fulani said during the debate, “he voiced his disagreement with me, and then kept right on going.”
Indeed, that same day Bloomberg refused to comment on Fulani’s removal, saying he didn’t want to get involved in another party’s affairs. But he had good reason to avoid offending her. The 59,000 votes he received on the Independence line in 2001 was almost double his narrow margin of victory over Democrat Mark Green. This year, Bloomberg originally ducked comment on Fulani’s anti Semitic statements, saying he hadn’t heard them. He later called her views “despicable,” but still agreed to take the party’s nomination in June. So far in this election, he has pumped $270,000 into the party’s city committees.
But when Bloomberg’s name originally surfaced as a potential Independence Party candidate in late 2000, MacKay said he was told to discuss it first with Newman.
MacKay said that in December that year he received a call from “a major Republican leader” whom he declined to name on the record asking about the party’s intentions for the 2001 mayoral election. “He said, ‘What are your crazies down in New York doing next year in the mayoral race?’ “ said MacKay.
The GOP figure went on to say that he had “a bona fide billionaire” who was switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party, MacKay said. The would be candidate “is a long shot, but his only chance is with a second line,” MacKay said he was told.
MacKay, who has no role in the Independence Party’s city committees, said he quickly called Stewart, the city chairwoman. But when he started to tell her the news, Stewart cut him off.
“She said she couldn’t talk to me about it, that I had to talk to Fred. She said someone would reach out to me.” A few minutes later, MacKay said he got a call from Newman’s personal assistant, who put Newman on the phone.
“I asked Fred what their plans were for the race. He said, ‘We are going to see if [Reverend Al] Sharpton grows a pair of balls and starts standing up for himself against the Democrats.’ Otherwise, Newman said, ‘we’re going to run Fulani.’ “ MacKay said Newman told him he wanted to take advantage of matching funds available under the city’s public campaign finance law. “He said, ‘We can raise $200,000 and make $1 million,’ “ according to MacKay.
When MacKay raised Bloomberg’s name, Newman responded immediately. “He knew all about him. He said, ‘We’re very interested.’ So I put them in touch. Obviously, they made beautiful music together,” said MacKay.
Bill Cunningham, a Bloomberg campaign adviser, said several state Republicans originally recommended that Bloomberg should seek the Independence Party nod for the 2001 race, among them state senate majority leader Joe Bruno. “I can’t say Bruno was the first, but many times he has talked about them as a good ally to have in politics,” Cunningham said.
Newman was present both times that Bloomberg met with Independence Party leaders to seek their endorsement, he said, adding that Stewart and Salit appeared to be the “political operatives” for the group.
Cunningham defended Bloomberg’s decision to take the party’s endorsement. “There are some 20 to 30 Democrats who have done so, including Schumer and Spitzer,” he said.
But most Democrats backed away from the party after Fulani, in an appearance on NY1 in April, defended past statements she’d made that Jews “had to sell their soul to acquire Israel,” and “function as mass murderers of people of color.”
“What is anti Semitic about that?” Fulani told host Dominick Carter.
Two days before Fulani’s remarks, Bloomberg spoke at a benefit dinner that Fulani and Newman held at Lincoln Center for the All Stars Project. There, MacKay said Stewart excitedly told him that the event had raised $1 million, and that Fulani had been invited onto the NY1 show.
MacKay said that when he heard about Fulani’s comments and the ensuing media controversy, he sent a critical statement to members. He didn’t make a bigger commotion at the time, he said, because he “didn’t want to interfere with the Bloomberg nomination.”
He called Stewart, however, and insisted on a meeting with Newman. “When I got there, all of them, Salit, Kresky, Sinawski, were laughing. Newman said, ‘Oh, here’s our chairman, you’re just in time. We’ve been strategizing about how to use this wonderful publicity we’re getting.’ “
MacKay said he responded angrily. “I said, ‘You are the only ones laughing. This is serious. This is a disaster.’ “ MacKay said Newman then asked to meet with him alone. “He told me, ‘We could have done better on this.’ “
Despite the admission, MacKay said he believed Newman was delighted with the uproar. “He knows how to create controversy. He believes any press is good press, and that Fulani can only get press if it looks like she has power.”
A spokeswoman for the city’s Independence Party, Sara Lyons, refused comment on behalf of its leaders. “We’re not interested in being interviewed by you,” said Lyons, who heads the party’s Staten Island chapter. “You’re not doing serious journalism.”
By Tom Robbins
The Village Voice, June 21, 2005
Mayor Mike’s independence party friends can put him on the couch
There was a post-stadium dip in the polls for Michael Bloomberg last week. But the Republican mayor still has a potential job-saving ace in the hole, the same one he had in 2001: a jowly, white-bearded fellow named Fred Newman.
Fred who? That would be Dr. Fred Newman, of course, renowned founder of Social Therapy, the psychological practice dedicated to “a new science of human development,” as he modestly proclaims it. Still lost? Well, you must have heard of Fred Newman, author of half a dozen books, and considered by many (OK, by many of his followers) to be the philosophical heir to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Lev Vygotsky (you know, Vygotsky, the great Soviet constructivist psychologist).
Utterly lost? What about Fred Newman the well-known playwright, whose works include Lenin’s Breakdown, Risky Revolutionary, and the hilarious All My Cadre, not to mention The Therapy Plays: Newman’s Postmodern Follies? That one just finished a successful month-long run at the Castillo Theatre (founded by Newman), which is partners with the All Stars Project (co-founded by Newman), which is the nonprofit youth performance organization housed in a glittering new West 42nd Street headquarters purchased and built with $8.35 million in tax-free bonds provided by the administration of, yes, Michael Bloomberg.
Which brings us to that other important hat worn by Dr. Newman, that of state committee member of the Independence Party, the political group that holds Row C on the ballot and which provided Bloomberg 59,000 votes and his 2001 margin of victory. This month, the party announced it would once again be proud to carry the mayor’s name for re-election.
Lenora Fulani, whose past anti-Semitic comments got her in hot water this spring, gets most of the ink and the airtime where the Independence Party is concerned. But she is a longtime and loyal disciple of Fred Newman.
“She is one of my life’s proudest accomplishments,” Newman told an interviewer a few years ago. “This man is someone I love dearly,” Fulani said in turn of her mentor.
After years spent on the political fringes, the two orchestrated a takeover of the Independence Party in the mid 1990s. They promptly found themselves courted by people like Bloomberg, George Pataki, and Charles Schumer in search of a second ballot line.
The party announced its latest Bloomberg endorsement at a reception held on June 5 at City Hall restaurant on Duane Street, attended by some 150 party faithful and a throng of media. Newman, 69, briefly addressed the troops, but his logic and sentence structure are sometimes hard to follow, and the press kept its focus on Fulani, asking her one more time if she regretted saying a few years back that Jews “function as mass murderers of people of color.”
Fulani’s comments were actually a slightly softer echo of Newman’s own words, uttered in 1985, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which has long watchdogged his efforts: “The Jew, the dirty Jew . . . ,” Newman said then, “a self-righteous dehumanizer and murderer of people of color.”
Bloomberg has denounced Fulani’s words as “despicable.” But he’s otherwise stuck by Fulani and Newman, appearing at their fundraising events and donating $250,000 of his own money last year to the Independence Party. The mayor has also had an open-door policy for Fulani et al. at City Hall, and the All Stars Project is now seeking a city contract to provide after-school care (“Fulani’s City Hall Push,” Voice, June 8).
The Anti-Defamation League thinks that’s a bad idea, as do many others who have witnessed Newman’s theories at work. They say that while his neo-Marxist philosophizing and zany plays appear comical from the outside, there’s very little amusing about his rigid orthodoxy when viewed up close, with the occasional anti-Semitic outburst being only part of the problem.
One of those who has recently made her complaints public is a Los Angeles-based theatrical producer named Molly Hardy, who was hired last year by a neighborhood clinic in L.A. run by a longtime Newman associate. Hardy thought she was being hired to produce neighborhood theater but soon discovered that her job was to produce youth talent shows on the West Coast like those currently promoted by Newman and Fulani’s city-subsidized All Stars Project.
The talent shows date back to the early 1980s, when Newman’s political organization, then called the International Workers Party, decided that providing venues for kids to sing and dance could aid its other organizing. The shows are not aimed at developing talent so much as getting kids to “perform”—an all-important buzzword in Newman’s theories.
Last June, Hardy was flown to New York to receive training at the All Stars Project about how to put together a talent show. “It was more like controlling me than training me,” said Hardy.
She received a 12-page “Licensing and Policy Manual.” It spells out, in minute detail, how All Stars talent shows must be conducted. Each licensee must undergo two to three years of training by national All Stars staff, including trips to the New York headquarters. It also lists the minimum number of seats for each show (500), number of volunteers (45-50), clipboards (75), rubber gloves (two boxes), and tubes of Super Glue (two), along with a couple dozen other must-have items.
More troubling to Hardy were the provisions listed under “All Stars Talent Show Network Tenets” that said all participants and audience members were required to pay admission fees. That was Newman’s Social Therapy peeping through—you gotta pay for what you want. Hardy was sent to observe a talent show on June 26, 2004, at Walton High School in the Bronx, where she saw the rules put into practice. There, a mother with three young girls in tow arrived at the school after taking the subway from their home in Queens, eager to participate. The All Stars organizers told the mother that she had to pay $22—a $5 fee for each of her daughters, and $7 for her to sit in the audience. “The mother didn’t have the money, and they wouldn’t let her in,” Hardy told the Voice. She said she watched as an All Stars representative approached the woman and said, “What did you hear the person on the phone tell you to do?”
The mother answered that she heard the figure $5, but that she thought that was the price for the whole family. According to Hardy, the All Stars representative, a white woman with a lengthy association with Newman, responded, “You need to listen so you don’t perform like a poor, uneducated black woman.”
“The woman got real mad,” Hardy said. “She said, ‘I am going to report you.’ The kids were crying. I turned to two of the volunteers with me and said, ‘I could never do that.’ One of the volunteers said, ‘I know. It is really hard at first. You get used to it.’ ”
What made the scene more unreal, Hardy said, was that only 11 kids showed up for the show. “They had 50 volunteers, all with these red vests on, and only 11 kids in a theater that holds 500.”
Back in Los Angeles, Hardy filed complaints with state officials and the FBI, charging that the clinic that employed her had improperly funneled money it received from the government to All Stars. She also relayed her criticisms to the office of New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer. The office, which said it had reviewed past complaints about All Stars without finding violations, said it had yet to receive Hardy’s information.
All Stars officials refused to discuss Hardy’s allegations or any other matters. “We’ll have no comment for your story,” a spokesman for the group said late Friday. He gave his name as Bill O’Reilly. Wait a minute, he was asked, is that your real name? “Honest. We just don’t talk to The Village Voice,” he said.
By Christopher Hitchens
Vanity Fair, May 2004
Democrats are furious that Ralph Nader, whose last presidential bid helped put George W. Bush in office, is running again. Equally dismaying, the author finds, is Nader’s backing from a crackpot group with ties to Pat Buchanan, Lyndon LaRouche, and Louis Farrakhan
For me, it was all over as soon as it began. The day after he announced himself as a candidate for president on Meet the Press, Ralph Nader held a press conference at which he said, “I think this may be the only candidacy in our memory that is opposed overwhelmingly by people who agree with us on the issues.”
Hold it right there, Ralph. First, don’t you realize that politicians who start to refer to themselves in the plural, as in the royal “we,” are often manifesting an alarming symptom? (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher started to employ this distressing locution shortly before the members of her own Cabinet began to stir nervously and finally decided to call for the men in white coats.) Second, if by “we” and “us” you really meant to say yourself and your allies in this enterprise, then you should not complain if it’s pointed out who those allies actually turn out to be. Third, by stating that your campaign is “opposed overwhelmingly by people who agree with us on the issues,” do you mean to imply the corollary, which is that you will appeal to those who don’t agree with you on the issues?
Nader’s answer to that third question, astonishingly enough, does appear to be in the affirmative, since he had told Tim Russert just the day before that he expected to reap votes from “conservatives who are furious with Bush over the deficit,” as well as “liberal Republicans who see their party taken away from them.” The job of reconciling these opposed factions of the G.O.P will be hard enough for Bush himself. But the idea that either group would rally to a Nader banner, this year or any other, is a non sequitur of hallucinatory proportions.
The psychedelic effect is only intensified when one examines the forces that might allow Nader to speak in the plural. A short while before announcing his candidacy, he had been the featured attraction at a conference of third-party “independents” in Bedford, New Hampshire. The word “independent” can conceal more than it reveals, as anyone with any savvy in American “alternative” politics can tell you, but in this case it only barely masked the influence of Fred Newman, Lenora Fulani, and the former New Alliance Party (NAP), whose latest front organized the New Hampshire hootenanny.
Not to mince words, the Newman-Fulani group is a fascistic zombie cult outfit, based on the eternal principle that it is a finer and nobler thing for the members to transfer their liquid assets to the leadership. It’s where you would turn when you had exhausted all the possibilities of a better life with Lyndon LaRouche, or Jim Jones, or any of the other alliterative crackpot or quasi-redemptive formations (K.K.K., A.A.…).
The Newman-Fulani faction is protean and sinister in one way, and pathetically obvious and transparent in another. In New York City, for example, it sometimes calls itself the Independence Party, which also controlled the rump and letterhead of the Reform Party—Ross Perot’s gift to American pluralism. Indeed, Lenora Fulani, a black woman who, like her mentor Fred Newman, professes to be a shrink of some sort, was a prominent co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s Reform Party candidacy in 2000. That must have made a soothing change from being a Louis Farrakhan fan in her two presidential election bids.
“Try anything once” would seem to be the motto here. And now she’s endorsing Ralph Nader. “I think it’s pretty cool,” she breathes. “I think Nader is a distinguished independent and he needs to be supported.” A fabulous detail about Fulani, incidentally, is the hold that she seems to exert on the cast of The Sopranos. Dominic Chianese, who plays Uncle Junior, is a regular at the All Stars Project, co-founded by Fulani and Newman, which puts on Newman’s unwatchable dramas, and has taken along other members of the team, including James Gandolfini, for photo ops. Analyze that, if you dare.
Am I asserting guilt by association here? After all, a candidate needn’t necessarily be judged by his disciples. And at “third party” events in previous campaigns there was certainly a fair sprinkling of people with propeller beanies, the fillings in their teeth wired for instant Martian dial up access. (You get these people at mainstream gatherings, also; be in no doubt of it.) No, the difference in this case is that the Newman-Fulani cult more or less is the Nader campaign. Through its network of shell organizations and front groups, and given its batteries of living dead petition drive robot artists, it has arrived at the point where it can at least guarantee ballot access in many, many states. All you have to do is agree to run on its ballot line.
Even Michael Bloomberg, princeling of opportunists, was willing to take out this Newman-Fulani insurance in his campaign for mayor. This, you may say, is partly the fault of restrictive ballot access laws, riveted into place by the Democratic-Republican duopoly in many jurisdictions—an offense to the spirit and letter of the United States Constitution.
But Nader kept people guessing, in a rather irritating way, about whether he would run at all or whether he might deign again to accept the Green Party nomination (which he has suddenly decided he won’t anymore). So, having come down from his Sinai, he finds it’s the loonies or nothing. Is this politics? And if it is, is it clean politics? Does it “empower” the average voter, who is so often taken for a ride by the party machines, or does it empower clusters of well financed, marginal nut bags with whom, behind closed doors, the party machines can and do frequently make deals?
Nothing is more difficult to write than a “more in sorrow than in anger” letter. Sentimentality swirls around your feet like a swamp, tempting you to become even more moist and runny yourself. But if this were an open letter to Ralph Nader, it would begin by being genuinely soft.
We don’t have enough heroes. (We have replaced them with “role models” and don’t even know what we have lost.) We do not have many candidates of whom it could be said that, if they were caught on video seeming to accept a bribe or kickback, we would automatically assume that the video had been faked. Washington, as a community, and Washington, as a federal city, would be a very much worse place without Ralph Nader.
He stood up against the rotten bureaucracy and mayoralty of the town itself, while unsettling the folks who live on Capitol Hill. Some of the story is known by everyone, including people who have never heard Nader’s name, the exploding car that the manufacturers lied about; the lead in the water; the non-regulation of the meat and mining industries.
It really wouldn’t be too much to say that there are many people now living who would be dead without Ralph. It certainly wouldn’t be too much to say that successive generations of reforming lawyers and legislators got their start and their continuing encouragement from him.
In writing, about him, therefore, one need not declare an interest. “Sea-green incorruptible” was. Carlyle’s sardonic description of Robespierre, but it recurs to my mind as an almost frighteningly apt phrase, in this case.
Why frightening? Well, I first met Nader 22 years ago, when he took me to lunch on my arrival as a columnist in Washington. We had what I thought was a great time, and he later telephoned to say that he was worried, about my smoking. He would, he said with perfect gravity, pay me the oddly exact figure of four and a half thousand dollars, and cover any therapy bills I might incur, if I would quit the habit and thus save myself for the nation (or The Nation, as he may possibly have thought of it).
On every occasion that we have met since, he has renewed this offer, adjusted for inflation and other variables. I once really needed the money, and considered calling him up and claiming to have sworn off, before realizing that the very idea of exploiting his innocence and concern was profane. Of course, there is something paternalistic in such a gesture (if he could be the father I never had, I could be among the many, many children that he never had). Indeed, his whole crusade for greater “safety” and regulation could be described as paternal in character.
And a slight secret about Ralph Nader is the extent of his conservatism. The last time I saw him up close, he was the guest at Grover Norquist’s now famous “Wednesday Morning” gathering, where Washington’s disparate conservative groups meet—by invitation only, and off the record—under one ceiling. He gave them a sincere talking-to, pointing out that their favorite system—free market capitalism—was undermining their professedly favorite values. I remember particularly how he listed the businessmen who make money by piping cable porn into hotel rooms. (He rolled this out again on Meet the Press.)
Nader was the only serious candidate in the last presidential election who had favored the impeachment, on moral and ethical grounds, of Bill Clinton. When asked about his stand on gay and transgender rights and all that, he responds gruffly that he isn’t much interested in “gonadal politics.”
He has often made a united front with conservatives like Norquist, and even more right-wing individuals like Paul Weyrich, on matters such as term limits and congressional pay raises. When I asked Grover about Ralph’s prospects of attracting Republicans, incidentally, he told me that he thought a Nader campaign just might appeal to some of the former Buchanan wing—anti-trade and anti-interventionist (not to forget anti-immigrant). So Nader and Buchanan might as well run for each other’s votes, or skip all that and just take in each other’s washing.
Nader’s puritanism and austerity—he lives in a rooming house with a shared pay phone in the hall and doesn’t own a car—have been his shield since 1966, when the clever people at General Motors admitted to putting private dicks on their most scathing critic.
Nader was followed, and his friends were questioned, on the assumption that an unmarried guy of Lebanese parentage must be up to something. But no: no drinks and no drugs and no carnality and no terrorism. Nader testified, a congressional subcommittee saw Bobby Kennedy trashing G.M.’s president, and an all-American star was born, one who rejected the affluent part of the American Dream.
Ralph could have gone on being an uneasy conscience for Washington, as he was all through the Nixon and Carter and Reagan years (after all, you don’t need to campaign for office to do that), but he seems finally to have found a temptation he cannot resist.
By running for president in 2000 and accidentally changing history, he has at last imbibed a draft of something addictive. Someone should tell him that the next bender will bring diminishing returns. In 2000, no matter how much he claimed to be above such distinctions, Nader clearly ran from the left. He also repudiated one of the center left’s favorite mantras, concerning the “lesser evil,” scornfully pointing out that this meant giving in to evil without a fight.
In most of his speeches he maintained that he didn’t care which of the two main candidates won, because it made no difference. But when pressed, he would sometimes try to have this both ways, saying that his candidacy energized liberal Democrats and even helped get out their vote. His less conspicuously intellectual supporters, such as Michael Moore, assured the faithful crowds that Bush couldn’t get elected anyway, so there was no need to worry.
At that point, a certain intellectual corruption crept in. You must accept the logical and probable consequences of what you propose. Nader could not quite be honest and admit that, given the national arithmetic, he was very much more likely to help Bush than Gore. There are 10 toss-up states, with 106 electoral votes among them (and everybody now knows about the electoral college). They are Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
Once you understand the arithmetic, you cannot really claim that any consequences are unintended. For example, we have it on Gore’s own word that if he had been elected, Saddam Hussein would still be in power.
Nader is currently the only recognizable candidate who wants the United States to withdraw from Iraq. This discrepancy is not exactly a detail. It is, in fact, too big a contradiction to be explained away. But could it explain why Nader this time seems to be running from the right? He is spouting the rhetoric of social and fiscal conservatism, and pitching for allegedly disillusioned Republicans who would have nothing to be disillusioned about if he hadn’t helped squeak their man past the post in the first place.
The NAP could also probably be described as a right-wing force even if, as befitted a party run by a couple of shrinks, it suffered from chronic schizophrenia. It began as a Maoist splinter group and mutated through LaRoucheism to Buchananism. Guru Fred Newman characterizes Jews as “storm troopers,” and Fulani calls them “mass murderers of people of color,” positions which have a nice, demented ring to them.
Nader seems, to his credit, a touch sensitive on the point. When Doug Ireland, one of the country’s toughest and brightest radical columnists (and a two-time Nader endorser), called attention to the unholy alliance he got a call from Ralph, who shouted at him for being “a McCarthyite bully” and repeatedly asked, about Newman, “Has he committed any crime?”
I had better luck when Ralph called me back late one night and nearly persuaded me to argue against myself. It’s a pleasure to debate with him. But he told me, when I asked about the NAP, that “I never saw Fulani at the meeting,” which I suppose could be technically true as long as he was looking away. (She was a prominent member of the platform committee.)
He maintained that the Newmanites were no different, in principle, than, say, the Mountain Party in West Virginia: “They’re recognized as ‘on the ballot’ by the Federal Election Commission, so you can ‘jump on.’” He said that the Green Party wasn’t going to decide until its June convention, and that it still might vote not to campaign in swing states, so there was no purpose in delaying.
In the very rational and seductive tone of voice that he can bring to bear, Ralph insisted that there is no bad time at which to challenge the gerrymandering of one party districts, the fixing and front loading of primaries, the rigging of party conventions, and the exclusion of third-party candidates from the “presidential debates.” The liberal intellectuals who take these deformities for granted and then turn on him are, as he put it, “incarnate autocrats.”
And whose fault is Gore’s defeat? “He slipped on 18 banana peels, of which I was only one. Anyway, he won the election, didn’t he?” This is quite funny and also quite shrewd, as regards Democratic self pity, but it shows again that tendency to have everything both ways. “I’m going to take more votes from Bush this time—no doubt about it.” (By the way, at least one exit poll suggests that this was true in 2000, if only in New Hampshire.)
But on the other hand, and only moments later, he says, “I’ll show Kerry how to take Bush down; we’ll be a free consulting firm for the Democrats; be our guest—take our issues.”
Since one of the main “issues” is the pressing need to demolish the Democratic Party, my head began to swim a little, and I told him as much.
He made a friendly inquiry, renewing his smoke-ending offer. We chatted about a heroic Israeli dissident we had both known. He recommended a good comrade of his who was deeply involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. There are not enough people like Nader running for office, even at the local level, let alone the national one. I hung up with a truly bad case of the blues.
When Nader says “corporate” he really means corporate, and not just Halliburton. When he says that politics should not be a “zero-sum” game, he articulates a truth. When he says that Americans ought to be able to vote “No,” rather than being compelled to say “Yes,” he asserts something morally important.
But when he proposes to help elect a corporate Democrat by outbidding a conservative Republican, he is building a bridge from the middle of the river, and ends up not by combating the many absurdities of our electoral system but rather by illustrating them.