Chomsky and Zinn and a Total Loss of Nerve

Back in 2004 several intellectual figures of the American Left — among them some with libertarian leanings including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Cornell West — lost their courage and signed a petition urging voters in swing states to vote for the Democratic Party candidate. The petition read in full:

We, the undersigned, were selected by Ralph Nader to be members of his 113-person national “Nader 2000 Citizens Committee.” This year, we urge support for Kerry/Edwards in all swing states, even while we strongly disagree with Kerry’s policies on Iraq and other issues. For people seeking progressive social change in the United States, removing George W. Bush from office should be the top priority in the 2004 presidential election. Progressive votes for John Kerry in swing states may prove decisive in attaining this vital goal.

Of course George W. Bush was reelected anyway, and all the petition accomplished was to demonstrate how quickly the Left can be frightened by democracy (although Chomsky and Zinn, safe in John Kerry’s home state, did vote for Ralph Nader, at least).

Amy Goodman interviewed Nader on the October 4, 2004, episode of “Democracy Now!”. She asked him specifically about the petition (beginning at 39:00 in the video), and he gave this reply:

Well, it’s a total loss of nerve. I mean first of all, they didn’t ask anything of Kerry. They said to the voters in the close states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon — They said, Vote for Kerry, quote, even though we strongly disagree with Kerry on the war and other issues, end quote. Well, when you don’t demand anything of Kerry, he gets worse. If you don’t make Kerry better, he gets worse. Because the corporations are demanding 24 hours a day. They’re not squeamish like the Left is.

And more important is that if the Left believes that their issues are compelling issues to the majority of the American people, they should be proud to pull Kerry toward them so he can get some more votes. It’s as if they’re ashamed of their issues. […​]

This is the collapse of the Left. You couldn’t have more distinguished people on that list. It’s a collapse of the Left. They have in effect put a figurative ring in their nose, and they’ve said to the Democrats, because the Republicans are so bad, we collapse and we’re going for the least worst. When you don’t make any demands, when you engage in unconditional surrender, why should Kerry ever look back at you? Why should he give you the time of day?

What was even worse, was that these were our supporters in the year 2000, and they didn’t go to the next step and say, In the safe states we urge you to vote for the Nader/Camejo ticket. What message is this to the younger generation when these seasoned Leftist thinkers and activists can in effect turn their back on the only significant third party or independent effort that represents the whole panorama of where they want the country and the world to go?