There are a number of persuasive reasons to cast a vote for Ralph Nader in the fall, and a number of unpersuasive reasons, too. But the principal argument in favor is this: On the 22nd of May last, Nader said without equivocation that if he had been a Congressman he would have voted to impeach Clinton and that if he had been a Senator he would have voted to convict him.
The argument that “they all do it” has, paradoxically, become an argument with which the Washington permanent government actually justifies itself. It used to be a Nixonian gambit, and it evolved easily into a Clintonian one. But you have not broken intellectually with the consensus unless you view the phrase “they all do it” as part of the case for the prosecution, not the defense.
This sets Nader apart from most of those liberals who only affect to despise or oppose the “bipartisan” monopoly. Faced with the question, How corrupt and lawless can a man be and still be President, the bulk of the American left (which, to put it coarsely, is as much as to say the bulk of a rump) answered, Easy. He can be as corrupt and lawless as he likes, as long as he’s a Democrat. After all, aren’t his foes Republicans? Aren’t they partisan? This riposte, insofar as it deserves the name, is one of those beliefs that are only true for as long as the speaker is stubborn enough to persist at them. It’s not unlike saying that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote. Self-evidently, if more Democrats had denounced Clinton’s abuses of power, the honor of holding this position would not have accrued so exclusively to Republicans. By a somewhat longer chain of reasoning, if all those who wanted political pluralism and a multiparty system were prepared to waste their franchise by voting in favor of it, their franchise would turn out not to be so wasted. Admittedly, both propositions are quixotic to begin with, but they do not express the obvious fallacy or tautology of the opposed positions, and they do not depend on having other people determine your thinking for you.
I had the slight distinction of being the speaker at the defeat celebrations of the Green Party in Washington, DC, on election night 1996, and I probably looked as much of a fool as I felt. For one thing, I am not a member or supporter of the Green Party. (If you care to know my politics, I am an old socialist who is living fascinatedly through a period when only capitalism seems to be revolutionary.) For another, I had been awfully disappointed at the apparent vanity and futility of Ralph’s campaign. Nineteen ninety-six was the year in which it became clear to literally millions of people that an election could be bought, party conventions could be rigged, media coverage could be arranged and presidential “debates” could be fixed. Yet those willing to work and argue for at least a protest against this–and there are times when even a protest is better than nothing–had been let down by a manneristic, even eccentric noncampaign.