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Nader's Right About Online Delusion


With each presidential run, Ralph Nader further marginalizes his message, much of which remains accurate and on point. The problem with saying what he does as a declared candidate is that the candidacy itself becomes the media hook; and since Nader has no real chance to alter November's outcome (based on what I've seen so far, anyway), his perennial running is portrayed as a sad joke. To countless liberals, it's not only a joke, but an affront to their sacred belief that all left-of-center votes are pre-owned by the Democrats. So Nader gets it from all sides, while his critiques are either ignored or haughtily dismissed.

Too bad, and probably just as well, especially in this, Our Year of Obama. Despite his perfectly rational, predictable support for the US war state, which alarmed those liberals high on Hope Hype, Obama knows that he'll receive obedient lib support down the stretch, no matter what dreadful positions he'll inevitably take to prove he's imperial manager material. Criticizing Obama from an anti-imperial/anti-corporate position will be a lonely, despised pursuit, however necessary it is. Or maybe not. The strong, early sales of my book, Savage Mulessuggest that there are many people who desire an alternate description of our sorry condition, so you never know. Let's see how it'll play in September and October.

Do I think Nader shouldn't run, yet again? It doesn't bother me. The more the merrier -- or messier, if the political weather's right. Cynthia McKinney, Bob Barr, whoever the SWP throws up, whatever Bircher-approved minuteman looks sleek with musket and Gadsden flag: let 'em all loose on the electorate. It won't matter much. The corporate stranglehold on American politics is so complete, the propaganda system so rigged, that the very idea of an "independent" candidacy is fit for a bad, comic musical, with fright wigs, peeling scenery, and atonal warbling from the chorus. Amusing to watch, but no threat to the Big Show on millions of screens.

One Nader critique that elicited liberal sneers was his statement that online activism, "as a mechanism of actually getting people to do something ... it's still significantly a snare and an illusion." What an outrageous claim! Has Nader not heard of the netroots nation, perhaps the most vital American political movement since the Underground Railroad? Further evidence that the man responsible for Bush's crimes has lost what's left of his monomaniacal mind.

As with many other issues, Nader is absolutely right about online illusion. Libloggers have created and polished an "activist" simulacrum of such hypnotic power that they truly seem to believe they are an emerging political force to be reckoned with. What makes this even more absurd is their relentless mocking of Nader, behaving as though they are the "realists," while Nader's stumbling along in a Luddite fog. Reading the liblogs is like watching a character on TV watching TV -- the difference being that the TV actor knows that he or she is playing make-believe. Most libloggers have yet to reach such awareness.

Nader's not alone in seeing the limits of online politics. Sally Kohn, a community organizer, wrote for the Christian Science Monitor a genial but precise take-down of the prevalent Web delusion. As Kohn sees it:

"[S]ocial movements are based on collective action. The American Revolution, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and every significant social change movement in between and since has relied on community organizing, building mutually responsible communities to challenge the status quo.

"On their own, for example, none of the activists in the civil rights movement had sufficient power and influence to end segregation. Coming together in local committees, led mainly by young people, they used the tools of face-to-face community organizing, developing shared strategies to address shared problems. And they took shared action; in sit-ins and Freedom Rides, they formed groups that were more than the sum of individual parts.

"By contrast, Internet activism is individualistic. It's great for a sense of interconnectedness, but the Internet does not bind individuals in shared struggle the same as the face-to-face activism of the 1960s and '70s did. It allows us to channel our individual power for good, but it stops there.

"This is great for signing a petition to Congress or donating to a cause. But the real challenges in our society -- the growing gap between rich and poor, the intransigence of racism and discrimination, the abuses from Iraq to Burma (Myanmar) -- won't politely go away with a few clicks of a mouse. Or even a million."

Kohn is correct, but her critique will fall on ideologically-blind eyes. The notion that online liberals get off their asses and personally, collectively, engage, much less remake, the nasty outside world is a fanciful one, a relic of a dead time. Mouse clicks are the New Direct Actions, as any "realist" will tell you, PDF attachment included.