Ralph Nader (on the Left) and Bruce Fein (from the Right) rake Obama’s foreign policy over the coals

Few things clarify the absurdity of partisan politics more than presidential elections; with their mud-slinging platitudes and vague assurances of a better tomorrow, red and blue would-be presidents present a continual tableau of the very worst of our politics and ourselves.  We vote for them in the way we cheer for our favorite sports teams, paying more attention to the execution of their strategies than to the ultimate purpose of the game. But Bruce Fein and Ralph Nader, who visited Harvard Law School on February 8th and spoke to a packed audience in Austin Hall, silently provided a blueprint for a new kind of politics, one transcending partisan rancor in order to conquer the truly exigent problems of the day.

I say silently even though they lectured passionately and well. Fein went first, and began his talk with the same quotation from Tacitus with which he opens chapter one of his book Constitutional Peril: "The worst crimes were dared by few, willed by more, and tolerated by all." Fein then went on to discuss the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American purposefully obliterated by a United States drone strike without so much as an official indictment, much less a trial. Fein describes the utter lack of due-process in al-Awlaki's death, and the way in which the government and media subsequently ignored the killing of al-Awlaki's sixteen year old son three weeks later. Fein described the myriad ways in which, after 9/11, our most basic civil liberties have been eroded, how congress has acquiesced in its most fundamental duties (including the duty to be the institution that declares war), and how the threat of impeachment, which loomed as a fundamental check on presidential power even half a generation ago, has all-but disappeared, even as the crimes of the executive have become steadily more obvious and egregious.  What began under Bush continued under Obama: Fein felt no need to pit red vs. blue, for the destruction of civil liberties had become a decidedly purple bruise on our union.

Ralph Nader also discussed the erosion of Americans' basic freedoms, focusing his ire on the way in which deaths linked to corporate greed are greeted with a shrug, while those caused by terrorist thugs are met with the greatest overreaction-and what he categorized as the greatest war-crime in the form of the Iraq war-in American history. We shrug when we consider that an estimated fifty thousand people a year die because of workplace trauma, or that forty-five thousand meet their maker too soon because they go without health insurance.  But faced with three thousand deaths to terrorism? That, it seems, warrants two wars, a domestic spying program, assassination of American citizens and now, with the National Defense Authorization Act, the indefinite detention of Americans on the President's say-so.

But one thing went basically un-acknowledged in Fein and Nader's two talks and the discussion that followed. Nobody mentioned that Bruce Fein carries political views of the "far-right", and Nader of the "far-left." Fein admits in his book that he "applauded President Bush's appointments of...Roberts and ...Alito" and that he believes that "the Supreme Court's abortion decree in Roe v. Wade (1973) and invention of a right to homosexual sodomy in Lawrence v Texas (2003) created wretched constitutional law." Nobody mentioned that Ralph Nader was the presidential nominee of the Green Party, and a man who called the Bush administration's tax policies "Alice in Wonderland economics." What Nader and Fein demonstrated by their presence and their passion was that the problems our constitutional democracy faces are far more dire than those that lend themselves easily to the red vs. blue, Democrat vs. Republican discourse. The fight for freedom in our country against the odious and scandalous degradations to which we have grown accustomed knows no color or party.

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