A Vote for Nader is a Vote For...Democracy
Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2000
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, November 2, 2000
Ventura County Star (CA), November 5, 2000
The Record, Northern New Jersey, November 5, 2000
As the election nears, Ralph Nader has drawn attention from a media that had shown little prior interest in his candidacy. The reason: there is a slight possibility that Nader could take enough votes from Vice President Al Gore to throw the race to George W. Bush.
For those who are concerned about this outcome, it helps to know that in most states-- 38 at last count-- the presidential race is pretty much decided. So if you live in any of those states, you can vote for Nader without fear that it could contribute to a Bush presidency. That is the nature of our winner-take-all, electoral college system.
What about the 12 states that could go either way? Gore campaigners have mounted a sizeable effort to convince Nader's supporters that "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush." Some have gone further-- the New York Times has written two editorials denouncing Nader for running and telling him to get out of the race.
"You gotta love these people," said Nader in an interview with Harper's magazine. "They think the American electoral process is a gated community."
Ralph Nader is there to bust open the gates, as he has done throughout his career as the nation's most famous consumer advocate. His decades of dedicated work helped bring us the Freedom of Information Act, auto safety improvements, environmental regulation and other reforms that have saved millions of lives. Now he is trying to help bring us real democracy.
And why not? If democracy is good enough for Yugoslavia or Peru, why not for America? While nobody steals elections here, our corporate elite does manage to buy most of the politicians that participate. This leaves the electorate to choose, all too often, between "two buttocks of the same fat gentleman," as Christopher Hitchens so eloquently described our ruling political parties.
Ironically, Ralph Nader is the candidate of the Center, if we define that to be what most Americans support. Polls show that most Americans want universal health insurance, believe (correctly) that agreements like NAFTA have hurt American workers, do not want to increase military spending, and think that corporations have too much power. At least some of these views would prevail if we had more democratic elections.
Of course there are significant differences in rhetoric and even some substance between the major Presidential candidates. This will remain true so long as their parties have some different constituencies: the Democrats after all, still have unions, African-Americans, and women's organizations as part of their base of support.
But politics is rife with unintended consequences. Where party allegiance is minimal and principles are as disposable as diapers, choosing the lesser among evils is not so simple as it appears. For example, a strong case can be made that President Clinton did more harm in his first term than George Bush senior would have done. His "welfare reform" worsened the plight of millions of poor women and children. Mr. Clinton also lobbied furiously to get the Democratic Congress of 1993 to pass NAFTA, breaking his campaign promise to labor and environmental groups that he would not support an agreement of this kind.
His botched attempt at health care reform that would satisfy the big insurance companies set us back many years on this issue. And Clinton's record on civil liberties was also worse than that of his Republican predecessor.
All this is not to argue that worse is better. But you do have to take into account that there are instances in which a Democratic president can get away with socially destructive policies that a Republican, facing opposition from traditional Democratic constituencies, would not.
And there are a lot of issues on which Bush and Gore have the same awful agenda. For example, both will continue the "race to the bottom" in wages and environmental standards through global trade and commercial agreements. Both will persist in the failed "war on drugs" that has sent hundreds of thousands of people unnecessarily to prison. Both support increased military spending, including at least $60 billion on a Star Wars missile defense system. (Gore is somewhat more interventionist, and if we include the IMF and World Bank as part of US foreign policy, Gore could very well do more damage than Bush to the rest of the world).
Given these uncertainties, a vote for Nader is more pragmatic than it may appear. His showing in this election may prove to be more important than the contest between the candidates of Big Money.
Jesse Jackson is supporting the Democratic ticket, but when Ralph Nader appeared on his television show, he closed the interview with this advice to his audience: "Vote your interests and your dreams, not your fears."
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the "Experts" Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).