The Lesson of the Bad Cop in Two Party Democracies
By: Solon J. Simmons November 1, 2011
Let me begin this essay with a riddle: what is the difference between Ron Paul and Ralph Nader? They are both septuagenarian advocates of extremist positions (in the context of the American political economy). They both have long and distinguished histories of political achievement in national politics, and they equally are both cranky and uncompromising proponents of their strategic approaches toward the reform of corporate capitalism. The difference between them is that, as what Paul Krugman has called the Lesser Depression unfolds, Paul is trumpeting his conceptual alternative to corporate capitalism on a national stage with an eight million dollar war chest, while Nader has been reduced to relative silence and ignominy. This difference has implications beyond the fates of the two radical leaders; Nader and Paul serve as metonymic representations of the movements they have led and of the future of movements we describe as left and right in American politics. The lesson of how Nader became pariah and Paul the quirky populist alternative is the story of American democracy told from the margins, but its implications are far from marginal. As we transition through catastrophes we once thought we would only read about in history books, it is the voice of the libertarian, not the social democratic alternative that is poised to steer us through the currents.