There is no question, absolutely none, that of the four “name recognition” Presidential candidates–Bush, Gore, Nader and Buchanan–Ralph Nader is far and away the most progressive. He will be on the ballot in almost all of the states. As distinct from 1996 he is campaigning hard and seriously. His polling numbers are up to 7% with the likelihood that they will be increasing. His campaign has raised close to $1 million and is confident of reaching its goal of $5 million and possibly going beyond that. He is building upon his Green Party base and attracting an impressive cross-section of supporters from a wide variety of backgrounds. In short, Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke are something we have not seen on the Left for over 50 years–a serious independent Presidential campaign.
Yet there are still a number of progressives who continue to support Al Gore. Why is this?
Much of this support is a result of the winner-take-all political system which has been a graveyard for third party efforts for almost a century and a half. Unlike a parliamentary system, where voters can vote for those closest to their beliefs and know that it will have some impact, under our so-called “democratic” system large numbers of people feel the need to vote for “lesser evils” to avoid greater evils. This is because votes for third (or fourth or fifth) party candidates, unless the candidates win outright, are not factored into the results. This reality continues to have a major influence.
Some progressives are concerned about Supreme Court appointments. Others are concerned about a particular issue, or set of issues, around which they expect to obtain better results from Gore. And still others are critical of Nader because over his many years of activism he has been focused on certain major issues–consumer, environmental and labor issues in particular–and silent, or relatively quiet, on others, such as police brutality, affirmative action, women’s rights, gay/lesbian rights and peace issues.
There are answers in all of these areas.
As far as the “lesser evil” question, there are a number of responses. One is very pragmatic. Since Presidents are determined on the basis of state popular vote results which lead to electoral college votes, and since it is certain that there will be many states where either Bush or Gore is so far ahead that there is little or no chance for the other to win, it would be completely useless, a “wasted vote” if there ever was one, for progressives to vote for Gore.
Another reason to vote for Nader/LaDuke is the 5% factor. If the Greens get at least 5% of the national popular vote, that will translate into at least $12 million in federal matching funds to use in the 2004 Presidential elections. Think what kind of an impact the progressive movement could have with this amount of money! And our success in reaching that goal this year will mean more visibility in 2001, 2002 and 2003 as we continue to run independent candidacies and work on issues. It will announce to the country that there is a progressive alternative that commands the support of millions, which can only help bring new people and fresh energy to all of our progressive causes.
Should we be concerned about Supreme Court appointments? Sure, but let’s think this through for a minute. First, it is not a given that those appointed by a conservative President because of their conservative politics will always and on every issue vote conservatively. There are examples of this on the present Supreme Court, as indicated by recent votes in support of the Miranda decision and overturning the Nebraska “partial-birth” abortion legislation.
More importantly, we need to ask ourselves, where does change, substantive, long-lasting, political/economic/social change, come from? Does it come from the Supreme Court? Of course not. It comes from grassroots political movements made up of common people and not-so-common people, unified around a coherent and understandable program, with leaders who are principled, dedicated, organizationally skillful and open to growing and learning.
As was demonstrated at the late June Green Party nominating convention in Denver, Colorado, this is precisely what the Nader/LaDuke campaign shows every indication that it is all about. Which is why those who are critical, justifiably critical, of Nader for his past unwillingness to speak to a number of important progressive issues should give this campaign a closer look.
Nader has already spoken out in this campaign on the right side of many of the issues he refused to address during his 1996 non-campaign. On a national Meet the Press interview in May he was critical of the Clinton Justice Department for its record concerning police brutality, supported women’s right to choose on abortion, spoke positively of the Vermont legislation allowing civil unions between lesbians and gay men and called for a $100 billion cut in the military budget. He has made it clear that he supports the Green Party platform which, by and large, is a comprehensive, positive platform. But it is not just Ralph Nader who is on this Green Party ticket.
Winona LaDuke gave a powerful speech Friday night at the first major event of the Green Party’s Denver convention. Before hundreds of Green Party delegates, observers and members of the press, she spoke about the realities of life for indigenous people in this country and called for government policies oriented not toward the richest but toward the poorest. She laid out a program for justice for her people and for other people that was clear, well-reasoned and strong. If such a program were implemented the effects could only be described as revolutionary, in the best sense of the term.
The Nader/LaDuke campaign is not without its weaknesses, but it is of great political significance. It is a movement which growing numbers of people are joining and supporting. Those progressives who haven’t yet done so need to take a closer look.