Nineties nostalgia is cute when it’s all about overalls and Nicki Minaj sampling “Baby Got Back,” but Ralph Nader is taking it too far, by trying to revive his all-too-successful late ‘90s campaign to convince huge numbers of American liberals that there is no meaningful difference between Republicans and Democrats.
In a recent interview with Larry King for Ora.TV, Nader launched a rather scurrilous accusation of secret Republicanism at Hillary Clinton that recalled his similar efforts against Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the ‘90s, only this time he added a sexist kicker to it. King asked Nader about recent accusations that Nader has lobbed at Clinton, namely that she evinces a “shocking militarism that is a result of trying to overcompensate for her gender by being more aggressive and macho,” and that she’s “reversing the tradition of women of peace.”
“But isn’t she moving more toward the left?” King asked.
Nader, in a performance that most of us who lived through the 2000 election remember, scoffed at this idea, painting Clinton as a warmonger who would put any Republican to shame. “She’s never seen a war she doesn’t like. When she was on the Senate Armed Services Committee, she never saw a weapon she doesn’t like,” Nader ranted.
Then he went full-blown sexist, decrying “the tradition of these macho women who, when they finally get responsible positions—like Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice—it’s like they have to out-macho the men instead of saying, ‘We come from a peace advocacy tradition.’” He then went on to spell out how women, in his eyes, have a unique responsibility to be peaceable, because of the historical origins of Mother’s Day.
There’s a lot to unpack there, starting with Nader talking about women having power like it’s a failed experiment instead of a natural outgrowth of treating women like equals. But while his essentialist views of womanhood and mansplaining is offensive, the bigger concern here is that once again, Ralph Nader is trying to con liberals into seeing Democrats not just as a problem, but as if they’re the real enemy and somehow just as bad—if not worse—than Republicans.
This is evident throughout the interview in how Nader talks about politicians from both parties. He concedes that Jeb Bush is just like his brother and calls him a “corporatist and a militarist,” but he elides talking about specifics. For Democrats, however, his language gets aggressive and colorful. He outright accuses Obama of being worse than George W. Bush, no doubt hoping that the audience will just have a brain fart and forget about that whole thing when Bush, using falsified intelligence, invaded an entire country that was not actually a threat to our national security. Yes, the drone program is wrong and should be stopped, but it’s not worse than the Iraq War.
Same story with Clinton: To watch this interview, you’d think that the country is much more likely to get into a war under Clinton than under Jeb Bush, an utterly preposterous idea that becomes more preposterous when you consider Jeb Bush has hired the same foreign policy team that encouraged his brother to start an adventure invasion of Iraq.
Nader is playing the same game on domestic policy, too. He tacitly admits that Clinton might be able to do things like raise the minimum wage or improve the social safety net, but immediately shifts gears back to trying to convince you that there’s no real difference between Republicans and Democrats on economic issues, because Democrats are too cozy with Wall Street. Indeed, they are that—the Trans-Pacific Partnership is evidence—but it’s another thing entirely to hand-wave away the idea that there are substantive partisan differences here.
For one thing, economic fixes like the social safety net and the minimum wage do matter for everyday Americans and are not a small issue. Second of all, anyone who lived through the Bush administration and the economic collapse of 2008 should remember that Democratic coziness with Wall Street ain’t got nothing on Republican willingness to look the other way when corruption is going down.
It’s clear that Nader is really gunning for a rerun of the 2000 election. He is still pushing the toxic narrative that the Democrat and the Republican are indistinguishable, with heavy insinuation that the Democrat may even be worse. Even if Nader doesn’t run—here’s hoping!—that narrative is a godsend for Republicans hoping to chip off votes from the Democrats. If liberals are discouraged from thinking that a vote for the Democrats matters, they’re not going to vote, which will help the Republican, likely Jeb Bush, coast to victory.
Nader is feeding off a combination of legitimate liberal grievances with some of Obama’s more conservative policies (hello, drones and TPP!) and general frustration caused by gridlock that, while orchestrated by Republicans, can often cause liberals to blame Democrats for somehow concocting and impossible plan to overcome. (If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a liberal suggest Obama has some magic power he’s not using to overwhelm Republican opposition to him in Congress….)
But the reality is that, as much as Democrats may frustrate liberals at times, the best solution is not to write them all off as Republicans in disguise. No, the best way to push Democrats to the left is to vote for them. Obama may be a centrist in many ways, but he presided over a dramatic lurch of the Democratic Party to the left.
In no small part this is because Democrats used their temporary majority in his first two years in office to push through the Affordable Care Act. Yes, it was a watered-down, centrist bill that is no socialized medicine, but the ugly political battle around it resulted in a number of conservatives Democrats losing face with the voters and just getting massacred at the polls. The concept of a “Blue Dog Democrat” is quickly becoming a relic. You want to clean house with the Democrats and get rid of all the baddies so the party can move to the left? That’s how to do it.
But Nader’s little anti-Clinton song and dance act isn’t just bad politics. It’s also just straight dishonest. Is Clinton more hawkish and corporatist than most liberals would like? Sure. But she’s still pretty liberal and certainly better than anyone being offered up by Republicans, and it’s important not to lose sight of that fact.
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.