The National Catholic Review

When Ralph Nader won the Green Party’s nomination for president, The Saint Louis Post Dispatch gave the event 12 inches on the second page. They allotted Nader a tiny picture, symbolic of the 3 percent support vote he received, as they noted under his face. A heading for the article ran: "He wins nomination over punk rocker, commune leader." A few pages on, the picture of independent counsel Robert Ray (who? another one?) was 15 times the size of Nader’s. The article, yet another on Clinton and Lewinsky, was six times larger than the coverage of the Green Party’s convention.

The proportionate space, the selected quotes and the picture caption tell us all by themselves what to think even before we read the inconsequential article: a) The Greens are a little loopy, contenders for their nomination being over-the-hill rockers and hippies; b) Nader is insignificant, as minuscule as his picture and as marginal as the 3-percent weirdos who back him; c) Don’t bother; no chance; d) Business as usual.

Yes, business as usual. A month earlier, the Democrats raised $26.5 million in three hours of partying in Washington. A month before that, the Republicans had raised $21.3 million at their affair. At least the Democrats had room for the peons in the bleachers, although, because they contributed only $50, they had to buy their food and fork over $3.75 for a soda popan apt image of the Democrats’ relationship to the poor and the middle class.

Nader, like long-lost John McCain, is against this kind of fund-raising, where the elites have all the clout and the poor throw in their pittance. He wants to bring ordinary citizens to the banquet table at which the rich have been feasting for a decade.

Within 48 hours after the big Democrat bash, Clinton got his China trade bill, his "stunning triumph," The New York Times put it, "for his administration and corporate America." Three fourths of the Republicans made his triumph possible, while two thirds of the Democrats in the House voted against it.

One of those Democrats, David Bonior of Michigan, sounded like Nader. "You can have free markets without free people, but it doesn’t often come to a good endChile’s Pinochet, Indonesia’s Suharto. We should have learned the lessons of Naftajobs lost in food processing, in consumer products and high tech, 100,000 good auto worker jobs lost forever. And where are those men and women today? Oh, they’re working in nursing homes, at gas stations, at convenience stores, and making a fraction of what they once earned. And the jobs they used to have? They’re now performed by workers making pennies on the dollar in Mexico’s economic fire zone, the maquiladoras...."

ýonior has it right. And he echoes the charge made by a member of Nader’s Public Citizen group: "This vote is a case study of the corrosive effect of money on the democratic process." It is also indicative of the harsh realities in the third world, where the poor will work for anything just to survive, and in the United States, where parents are willing to take three jobs to support a family.

And who profits from all of this? Surely it must be those "butchers of Beijing" (Clintonspeak in 1992) and those 100,000 donors at the center table who don’t pay for their Cokes. Is that why the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable spent $10 million touting the trade bill?

The boondoggle does not stop there. Just before the Nader nomination, the house voted to repeal the federal estate tax, an achievement that neither Reagan nor Bush could claim. Again, it was done with the help of Democrats. Although only the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans will profit from such a tax break, although all estates under $1.3 million are protected from such taxation, and although threatened family farms and businesses could be further protected, this short-range tax break for the super-rich will amount to a $100-billion loss in revenue over 10 years.

Pointing out these things is not "class warfare." Nor does it assume that wealthy families are ungenerous with their bounty. But it does raise questions about the rush to cut taxes for the most well-off segment of our citizenry.

Who among them claims that the last decade has brought them the economic hardship that requires a tax break? Who of them, like millions of wage workers, are laboring longer hours for less buying power? Who of them have experienced what entry level workers without a college education have seen over the last 20 years: a 28-percent drop in real wages?

Indeed, our most fortunate citizens have contributed by work, taxes and ingenuity to the common good. But are not they the ones who profit most from our highway system, our subsidized arts, research, higher education, air-traffic control and stable society? Would they not see the value, if it were brought to their attention, of enhancing the infrastructure from which they benefit? Would they not want to strengthen the education and health care of people who help make this country run so effectively?

At least these questions deserve hearing. This is why Nader, in his acceptance speech, appealed to all voters, including conservatives. Nader’s three prime issues are universal health care, campaign-finance reform and income inequality. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this became part of our national debate?

But it won’t happen, especially if Nader is ignored and his message is distorted as some dream of marginal wackos.

John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.