"It is in our interest," the politician said last week, "to bring the eight to 12 undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and become citizens of this great nation."
"We have to control our immigration," said the other politician. "We have to limit the number of people who come to this country illegally … . I don't like the idea of legalization because then the question is how do you prevent the next wave and the next?"
The first quote is from Republican Senator John McCain, speaking before La Raza, the Latino civil-rights group. Even as McCain spoke, conservatives in his home state are out gathering signatures to place a measure on the November ballot called "Protect Arizona Now," which, needless to say, envisions something rather different from naturalizing millions of people who sneaked into the country. McCain has a history of speaking against right-wing ballot initiatives in his state -- he opposed a conservative campaign-finance initiative a few years ago -- and we can presume that he knows his words are bound to carry a charge in the current Arizona context.
And the second quote? That was from Mr. Progressive himself, Ralph Nader, speaking to Pat Buchanan in an interview for Buchanan's magazine, The American Conservative. The June 21 issue plasters Nader on the cover with the headline "Ralph Nader Makes a Play for the Right" -- and while editors, and not their subjects, package stories and write headlines, Nader has been around the game long enough to know pretty much exactly how an exclusive sit-down with America's leading paleocon would be packaged and headlined.
So while the largely conservative McCain was making a gesture against a right-wing ballot measure, the supposedly progressive Nader was getting palsy-walsy with someone who is about as far to the right as you can go in American politics and still get on television. And while Nader did emphasize his disagreement with Buchanan on the level of public benefits that immigrants should receive, he conveyed, albeit in a convoluted way, that he and Pat were seeing very much eye to eye -- against amnesty for undocumented aliens, for example. This is the man who lectures the Democratic Party about its lack of principles?
Last week on this Web site, Max Blumenthal broke the news that Nader's ballot-qualification petitions in Arizona were being carried by two rather interesting groups of people: first, professional petitioners also gathering signatures for the aforementioned Protect Arizona Now; second, petitioners being paid by the right-wing former executive director of the Arizona state Republican Party. The result of these efforts, according to one estimate, was that of the 21,000 or so signatories to Nader's Arizona petitions, about two-thirds were Republicans, and fewer than one in five are Democrats.
Around the same time Blumenthal's report appeared, news came from Oregon that, in its ballot-qualification drive there, the Nader campaign had openly enlisted and worked with Republicans to attain ballot status. Two conservative groups, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Oregon Family Council, worked the phones for a week to get their partisans to sign Nader petitions -- and they explained openly that they were helping Nader for the obvious reason that his presence on the ballot (Nader got 77,000 votes in 2000 in the state, which Al Gore carried by just 7,000) could help George W. Bush win the state.
"We aren't bashful about doing it," said Mike White, the family council's director. "We are a conservative, pro-family organization, and Bush is our guy on virtually every issue."
At this point, a hypothetical. Let us suppose that John Kerry either a) was found to have been in some way in cahoots, wittingly or not, with the forces pushing a right-wing, anti-immigrant ballot initiative; or b) in some way permitted his campaign to liaise with a right-wing "pro-family" group. (I might even add a “c,” such as engaged in the simple act of granting an exclusive interview to Pat Buchanan.) In any of these cases, how many seconds do we think it would have taken Nader's jejune and puerile (and increasingly marginal, if his Green Party nomination defeat is any indication) supporters, to say nothing of Nader himself, to denounce Kerry and the Democrats yet again as apostates, soul-sellers, sinners against history, ideological slatterns, and enemies of progress?
But it's all right for Ralph to do these things, right? Because he's fighting the power, baby. By any means necessary, as the power-fighters like to say. I wonder what Nader would have to do or say for his troops to give him up. If working with right-wing activists in two swing states and toadying up to Pat Buchanan -- probably the gold medallist of American xenophobia over the last two decades (with author Peter Brimelow taking the silver and, now, Samuel Huntington making a play for the bronze) -- on immigration issues aren't disqualifying, what could possibly be?
Probably very little, alas. The Nader campaign isn't about politics at all; it's about psychology -- the psychology of disruption.
The American right understands the condition well, which is a big part of the reason it's happy to help. But as Nader moves forward after having been denied the Greens' ballot line, he'll be relying more and more on Republican and right-wing organizations in various states to get him on the ballot. At some point, people who really believe in viable progressive politics are going to have to stand up and say, "Enough."
Michael Tomasky is the Prospect's executive editor. His column appears each week in the online edition.