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In the Public Interest: Between Hope and Reality

In the Public Interest: Between Hope and Reality .

   In the Public Interest
   Between Hope and Reality
   by Ralph Nader

   Dear Senator Obama:

   In your nearly two-year presidential campaign, the words "hope
   and change," "change and hope" have been your trademark
   declarations. Yet there is an asymmetry between those objectives
   and your political character that succumbs to contrary centers
   of power that want not "hope and change" but the continuation of
   the power-entrenched status quo.

   Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous,
   unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall
   Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm
   attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President
   achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why,
   apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall
   Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so
   much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate
   record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign
   record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil
   drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and
   avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the
   corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget,
   for example) you have shown that you are their man?

   To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires
   character, courage, integrity—not expediency, accommodation and
   short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation
   from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago
   before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman
   for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic
   oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water
   seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their
   shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Eric Alterman
   summarized numerous polls in a December 2007 issue of The Nation
   magazine showing that AIPAC policies are opposed by a majority
   of Jewish-Americans.

   You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports
   the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago
   worked out a detailed two-state solution (which is supported by
   a majority of Israelis and Palestinians), will there be a chance
   for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you
   align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your
   infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention right after
   you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported
   an "undivided Jerusalem," and opposed negotiations with
   Hamas—the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored
   the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by
   the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis
   favored "direct negotiations with Hamas." Siding with the AIPAC
   hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians
   advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was
   describing when he wrote "Anti-semitism today is the persecution
   of Palestinian society by the Israeli state."

   During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45
   minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference,
   and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have
   focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians. Your
   trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance
   of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused
   on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have
   totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian
   casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that
   decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the
   Arab League’s 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state
   within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and
   diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you
   played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and
   Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

   David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described your
   trip succinctly: "There was almost a willful display of
   indifference to the fact that there are two narratives here.
   This could serve him well as a candidate, but not as a

   Palestinian American commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that Obama
   did not utter a single criticism of Israel, "of its relentless
   settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life
   unlivable for millions of Palestinians. …Even the Bush
   administration recently criticized Israeli’s use of cluster
   bombs against Lebanese civilians [see www.atfl.org
   for elaboration]. But Obama defended Israeli’s assault on
   Lebanon as an exercise of its `legitimate right to defend itself.’"

   In numerous columns Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, strongly
   criticized the Israeli government’s assault on civilians in
   Gaza, including attacks on "the heart of a crowded refugee
   camp… with horrible bloodshed" in early 2008.

   Israeli writer and peace advocate—Uri Avnery—described Obama’s
   appearance before AIPAC as one that "broke all records for
   obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama "is prepared to
   sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US
   has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace
   that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses
   from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim
   world and mortgaged his future—if and when he is elected
   president.," he said, adding, "Of one thing I am certain:
   Obama’s declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad
   for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for
   the world and bad for the Palestinian people."

   A further illustration of your deficiency of character is the
   way you turned your back on the Muslim-Americans in this
   country. You refused to send surrogates to speak to voters at
   their events. Having visited numerous churches and synagogues,
   you refused to visit a single Mosque in America. Even George W.
   Bush visited the Grand Mosque in Washington D.C. after 9/11 to
   express proper sentiments of tolerance before a frightened major
   religious group of innocents.

   Although the New York Times published a major article on June
   24, 2008 titled "Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama" (by
   Andrea Elliott), citing examples of your aversion to these
   Americans who come from all walks of life, who serve in the
   armed forces and who work to live the American dream. Three days
   earlier the International Herald Tribune published an article by
   Roger Cohen titled "Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque." None of
   these comments and reports change your political bigotry against
   Muslim-Americans—even though your father was a Muslim from

   Perhaps nothing illustrated your utter lack of political courage
   or even the mildest version of this trait than your surrendering
   to demands of the hard-liners to prohibit former president Jimmy
   Carter from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. This
   is a tradition for former presidents and one accorded in prime
   time to Bill Clinton this year.

   Here was a President who negotiated peace between Israel and
   Egypt, but his recent book pressing the dominant Israeli
   superpower to avoid Apartheid of the Palestinians and make peace
   was all that it took to sideline him. Instead of an important
   address to the nation by Jimmy Carter on this critical
   international problem, he was relegated to a stroll across the
   stage to "tumultuous applause," following a showing of a film
   about the Carter Center’s post-Katrina work. Shame on you,
   Barack Obama!

   But then your shameful behavior has extended to many other areas
   of American life. (See the factual analysis by my running mate,
   Matt Gonzalez, on www.votenader.org). You have turned your back
   on the 100-million poor Americans composed of poor whites,
   African-Americans, and Latinos. You always mention helping the
   "middle class" but you omit, repeatedly, mention of the "poor"
   in America.

   Should you be elected President, it must be more than an
   unprecedented upward career move following a brilliantly
   unprincipled campaign that spoke "change" yet demonstrated
   actual obeisance to the concentration power of the "corporate
   supremacists." It must be about shifting the power from the few
   to the many. It must be a White House presided over by a black
   man who does not turn his back on the downtrodden here and
   abroad but challenges the forces of greed, dictatorial control
   of labor, consumers and taxpayers, and the militarization of
   foreign policy. It must be a White House that is transforming of
   American politics—opening it up to the public funding of
   elections (through voluntary approaches)—and allowing smaller
   candidates to have a chance to be heard on debates and in the
   fullness of their now restricted civil liberties. Call it a
   competitive democracy.

   Your presidential campaign again and again has demonstrated
   cowardly stands. "Hope" some say "springs eternal." But not when
   "reality" consumes it daily.

   Ralph Nader