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Is Hillary Clinton Pulling a Ralph Nader?

New America Media, Commentary, Russell Morse Posted: May 15, 2008

Editor's Note: As Hillary Clinton promises West Virginians that she will be their key to economic upturn after her seemingly meaningless win, New America Media commentator Russell Morse wonders if she is trying to be a "spoiler," a la Ralph Nader.

Eight years ago, I found myself crouched in a doorway in downtown Los Angeles as police officers in riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets at young people in the street in front of me. Just a block away, Bill Clinton was onstage at the Staples Center, warming the crowd for his heir apparent Al Gore on the next to final night of the Democratic National Convention.

The kids in the street were not protestors, in a strict sense. At that time, my generation didnt have much to rally around. In a vague and almost naive way, we resented globalization and were put off by the obscene wealth of the tech era. Most of that was rebellion for rebellions sake: we had no war, no recession, no paranoia, no visible tyranny. We just wanted something different.

As people vomited in the street from the gas, others ran blindly and the police shouted orders over bullhorns to disperse, a young man I was sharing the doorway with turned to me. He was calm and smiled before asking me, What do you know about Ralph Nader? I half shrugged, to question his timing, and he handed me a flyer.

Months later, people would curse Ralph Nader for handing the presidency over to George W. Bush. In many ways, that wasnt criticism. His plan was to upset the system, to demonstrate that there were legions of Americans who didnt want to choose between two different kinds of same. Because of that, I liked him. He appealed to youthful, idealistic, short-sighted rebellion: the kids in the street. He stuck around for the purpose of crashing the party.

It appears after Tuesdays near-meaningless victory in West Virginia that Hillary Clinton has the same designs. The only problem is that this time, young Americans have found someone to rally around in the name of change who is not a trouble-making outsider, but a viable candidate. In light of that, even though the race is all but un-winnable, Hillary has had to readjust herself as the champion of a different group of Americans: old, white, poor, uneducated and subtly racist. You could say she is now positioning herself as a Ralph Nader for Hillbillies.

That phrase would be funny if it werent true.

I dont like the word irony, but I dont know how else to describe the Wellesley/Yale girl scouring the nether regions of Appalachia in a pantsuit, promising to shine the light of freedom and prosperity on this forgotten and cripplingly poor corner of America.

Now, you dont have to be from humble means to advocate for the poor, but you do have to be genuine. Hillary only recently positioned herself as a populist, when she realized it was her only remaining option to combat the inclusive, optimistic and successful candidacy of Barack Obama.

If Hillary Clinton was sincere about helping the people of West Virginia, she might have told the story of that states most famous resident: Lynndie England.

Lynndie was raised in a trailer park in Fort Ashby, West Virginia: a town of 1,354 where the median income for a woman is $21,667. When Lynndie was 17, she dropped out of high school and joined the Army Reserves to escape her night job at a chicken processing plant. Lynndie had dreams of going to college and becoming a meteorologist. She saw the Army Reserves as a means to that end. The only means for her, in fact.

Instead of college, though, Lynndie ended up as a prison guard at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and the rest of her story is as tragic and heartbreaking as the beginning. Her superiors at the prison manipulated her into posing in pictures with naked detainees, giving the thumbs up, among other things. When she became the face of the Abu Ghraib horrors, she became something else: the face of white poverty in America.

Lynndies story highlights the horrific distaste of Mrs. Clintons pandering. She is not a crusader of this neglected, suffering group of people. She is trying to exploit their misfortune as a means to derail her own political party. It is truly sick and insane.

She was only allowed a brief West Virginia victory dance, however.

John Edwards threw a rather clunky sabot into Hillarys false populist loom late Wednesday with his endorsement of Barack Obama. This spells trouble for Hillary because Edwards (expensive haircuts and shiny penny loafers aside) is a genuine populist. Hes been singing justice for Americas poor since the beginning of his political career.

So choose your metaphor. Chris Matthews said the snow cone has melted. Pat Robertson said the train has left the station. At this point, Barack Obama would have to be found naked with a face full of cocaine in a Super 8 with Miley Cyrus to lose the nomination. Or so it seems.

The other option (which I have to consider because nothing is certain this season), is that Hillary plays her cards so shrewdly that she derails the party with underhanded dealings and steals the nomination.

In that case, come July, Ill be huddled up in a doorway in Denver, dodging rubber bullets in the street with betrayed and angry young people while a block away, Bill introduces another heir apparent.

Related Articles:

Young Campaign Workers Move Beyond the Youth Vote

Clinton Limps Past the Finish Line

Bossy Old White Women Rule

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