September 03, 2004

Nader does not mean nothing

There was an interview with Ralph Nader on Newsnight earlier this week. Well, they advertised it as an interview - I don't know what to call it. For some reason, ever since the days of the great Charles Wheeler, the BBC have always sent over the most mediocre Atlanticists to be their US correspondents. People utterly unable to walk behind the scenes, as Wheeler did, and ask questions of their own, instead of simply reproducing the issues as mainstream US politicians would like to present them. Stephen Sackur. Gavin Esler. All of them. Of course, by reputation the US press corps are no better, but, just as one would like the Prime Minister of this independent country to step outside the US line a little, the fact that Washington journalists are so lacking in independent-mindedness seems a poor reason for British correspondents to wish to emulate them.

Anyway, Gavin Esler was the Atlanticist in question. His interview with Nader comprised precisely five questions, rather fewer than he was to ask Don King at the Republican National Convention the following evening. The first of these questions asked whether Nader cared that the effect of his campaign might be to let George Bush in. This would have been a legitimate question had it not been the second question also. And the third. And the fifth. I can't actually remember the subject of the fourth question, but it was not an invitation to Nader to set out his programme and expound on his political philosophy, something he was effectively denied any opportunity to do.

As an interview, it was a disgrace. Polite, well-mannered, friendly, but a disgrace nevertheless. I very much doubt that Esler set out to do what he achieved, though I don't recall the BBC only asking Ross Perot whether he wasn't letting in the Democrats. But he succeeded all right, simply by doing what BBC correspondents in the US do, and asking only those questions that the mainstream does. He denied Nader his independent voice.

The US mainstream sets out to reflect and protect the political duopoly - there are the Republicans and the Democrats, and outside those two there is nothing. Or if there is, it is described only in so far as it affects the duopoly. Nader has no independent existence - he exists only in so far as he might take votes from one party and thereby aid the other.

The interview, if interview it was, demonstrated in itself why Nader is running - that the stranglehold of the Republican /Democrat system is so tight that it chokes the breath out of all political life outside it. (Not, one might add, that there is any real life within it.) But ironically it also, simultaneously, demonstrated why he's probably wasting his time.


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