Monday, February 05, 2007

Ralph Nader says, "meet the new me, same as the old me"

There are some things in this life that one can reliably depend on: A winter spending spree by the New York Yankees, an eye-rolling plot twist on 24, an act of narcissism by Tom Cruise, a pose of nothingness by Paris Hilton….

And a new declaration by Ralph Nader that the Democrats are not performing up to his high standards.

Nader showed up on CNN yesterday, and it was pure déjà vu. Much the way he used to complain that Al Gore was no different from George W. Bush, and, four years later, that John Kerry wasn’t much different from George W. Bush, he is now updating his ire and aiming it at Hillary Clinton. The message: She’s not much different from whichever Republican seeks to succeed George W. Bush.

Nader was asked about his dismissive assessment of Clinton, which he posted recently on his website (“She is a corporate Democrat who opposes us on the war in Iraq, on real universal health insurance, on the swollen, wasteful military and corporate welfare budget, on a national living wage…”). He was asked whether he would vote for her if she wins the nomination.

He replied: “No. I don't think she has the fortitude. Actually, she's really a panderer and a flatterer as she goes around the country. You'll see more of that.”

Most importantly, he was asked whether Clinton’s nomination would tempt him to run for president again. His reply: “It would make it more important that that be the case.” Which is a somewhat inelegant way of saying that he is leaving the door wide open.

I’ve had two long conversations with Nader since the 2000 election, and several exchanges stand out in my memory. The first occurred in late February 2001, when he soft-pedaled any suggestion that he had inadvertently helped to elect Bush. I pointed out the math: in Florida, where Bush was certified as the winner by a margin of 537 votes, third-party candidate Nader had drawn 97,488 votes. I argued that it strained credulity to believe that Nader hadn’t played a key role in Gore’s loss. In response, Nader said: “OK, but that was only one banana peel, out of 20 banana peels that Gore slipped on.”

But there’s little point in refighting the 2000 results (although it happens a lot in this new Nader documentary). More noteworthy is that, four years later, Nader was still equating Gore with Bush. I met him in a Washington restaurant in early April 2004, when he was mapping another presidential bid, and we jousted about his contention that both guys (and their parties) were still pretty much the same. I then asked, would Al Gore have launched a neoconservative war of choice in Iraq?

He replied: “Nostradamus, I am not.” Then he gave a little ground, saying that Gore would have differed with Bush “on a fraction of the issues,” and that Gore probably would have foregone the invasion option in Iraq, settling instead for regime change via covert action.

So now here he is, contemplating another bid in 2008. And let us review his logic: He opposes Hillary Clinton, on the grounds that she is insufficiently opposed to the war in Iraq - a war which was launched by the person who Nader helped propel to power in the first place.

In recent years, Nader has voiced amazement that the Democrats have ostracized him, that liberal conference organizers routinely ignore him when they send out speaking invitations. I am not endorsing the Democrats’ behavior; it’s just a fact of life that politicos typically find ways to retaliate when they get ticked off – and, in this particular case, Democrats are ticked off at someone who, in their view, has changed history for the worse. What’s really amazing is that Ralph Nader is amazed.


Yesterday, while awaiting the clash between Bush and the Democratic Congress over Iraq – starting with the debate this week over a resolution condemning his troop escalation – I thought it was worthwhile to bring the Founding Fathers into the mix. In a Sunday newspaper column, I cited evidence which makes it abundantly clear that the original Americans saw Congress as a vital check on executive war-making. (I invoked Chief Justice John Marshall, but erroneously referred to him as the first to hold that post. Actually, he was the fourth. My apologies).

But just in case Bush’s defenders dismiss those Founding Father statements as the obsolete ruminations of dead white guys – indeed, they seem to view any congressional actions as “micromanaging” by “535 commanders in chief” – here’s some additional evidence from the twentieth century, as compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. It turns out that, over the past four decades, Congress has repeatedly imposed conditions and restraints on the executive, in accordance with their Article I constitutional power to “make rules for the government and regulation of land and naval forces.”

Examples: Congress cut off Vietnam funds in 1973; cut off funds for military action in Angola three years later; banned assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras in 1984, and again in 1986; authorized President George H. W. Bush to repel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, but did not authorize a U.S. occupation of Iraq; and set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia in 1993.

In testimony last week, Louis Fisher, a constitutional law specialist from the Library of Congress, essentially told the lawmakers that it’s time to step up and perform their intended role as Deciders:

“Is a military operation in the nation’s interest? If not, placing more U.S. soldiers in harm’s way is not a proper response. Members of the House and the Senate cannot avoid the question or defer to the President. Lawmakers always decide the scope of military operations, either by accepting the commitment as it is, or by altering its direction and purpose. In a democratic republic, that decision legitimately and constitutionally resides in Congress.”


The latest winner of the Now He Tell Us award is Dick Armey.

Here is Armey (who was the House Republican leader back in 2002, when Bush was seeking authorization for his war), 'fessing up in a new interview:

I'm not sure that (voting for the war resolution) was the right thing to do. You might say removing Saddam from power was a right thing to do. Maybe it was, but was that necessarily then our responsibility to do that? And was it our responsibility to do that by invading a country that had in no way declared any war on us?...I did (vote Yes), and I'm not happy about it. The resolution was a resolution that authorized the president to take that action if he deemed it necessary. Had I been more true to myself and the principles I believed in at the time, I would have openly opposed the whole adventure vocally and aggressively. I had a tough time reconciling doing that against the duties of majority leader in the House. I would have served myself and my party and my country better, though, had I done so.

Just wondering: Why is it that so many politicians reconnect with their consciences only after it's too late?