It's no secret that Ralph Nader has held the Democratic Party establishment in low regard for decades now: the marginally more palatable alternative in an ugly duopoly, he claims, is still quite ugly. But lately Nader's disdain has reached a new high. "It's gotten so bad," he tells me, "that you can actually say a Republican president--with a Democratic Senate--would produce less bad results than the present situation. That's how bollixed stuff has gone."
Not that he was never optimistic about the Obama administration, especially its potential to make headway on curtailing corporate welfare, now Nader's signature policy objective. But in that, as with so many aspects of Obama's presidency, the adjectives "disappointing" or "inadequate" don't even begin to capture the depths of progressive disillusionment. Looking ahead to the 2012 presidential race, one might assume that Nader has little to be cheerful about.
Yet he says there is one candidate who sticks out--who even gives him hope: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
That might sound counterintuitive. Nader, of course, is known as a stalwart of the independent left, having first gained notoriety for his 1960s campaign to impose greater regulatory requirements on automakers--a policy act that would seem to contravene the libertarian understanding of justified governmental power. So I had to ask: how could he profess hope in Ron Paul, who almost certainly would have opposed the very regulations on which Nader built his career?
"Look at the latitude," Nader says, referring to the potential for cooperation between libertarians and the left. "Military budget, foreign wars, empire, Patriot Act, corporate welfare--for starters. When you add those all up, that's a foundational convergence. Progressives should do so good."
I thought I'd bring up the subject of Ron Paul with Nader after seeing the two jointly interviewed on Fox Business Channel in January. Nader had caught me off guard when he identified an emergent left-libertarian alliance as "today's most exciting new political dynamic." It was easy to foresee objections that the left might raise: if progressives are in favor of expanding the welfare state, how well can they really get along with folks who go around quoting the likes of Hayek and Rothbard?
"That's strategic sabotage" Nader responds, sharply. "It's an intellectual indulgence.... If they're on your side, and you don't compromise your positions, what do you care who they quote? Franklin Delano Roosevelt sided with Stalin against Hitler. Not to draw that analogy, I'm just saying--why did he side with Stalin? Because Stalin went along with everything FDR wanted."
There may be an insurmountable impasse between the camps on social-safety-net spending. "But," Nader says, "you could get together on corporate entitlements, subsidies, handouts, giveaways, bailouts. Ron Paul is dead set against all that. So are a lot of libertarian-conservatives. In fact, it's almost a mark of being a libertarian-conservative--in contrast to being a corporatist-conservative."
"Do you read all these right-wing theoreticians?" he goes on. "Almost every one of them warned about excessive corporate concentration. Hayek did, [Frank] Meyer did, even Adam Smith did in his own way." He leaves the mechanics of a left-libertarian political coalition to be sussed out later.
If the issues around which progressives and libertarians can coalesce, I ask Nader, are the most intractable, deeply entrenched problems, is he proposing that such a coalition would be more tenable than the one currently cobbling together the Democratic Party, with its many Blue Dogs and neoliberals?
"Exactly," Nader says. "Libertarians like Ron Paul are on our side on civil liberties. They're on our side against the military-industrial complex. They're on our side against Wall Street. They're on our side for investor rights. That's a foundational convergence" he exhorts. …