As I have traveled the country in this election year, many progressives have asked me whether I believe a vote for Ralph Nader is justified to promote the longer-term goal of a truly representative democracy--with third and fourth parties--in which progressives would have a larger piece of the governing pie. My answer to them is no. Regardless of whether progressives believe that third-party politics makes sense, Nader is not, and cannot be, the standard-bearer for such an effort. Why not? In short, because Nader's agenda and his record have been far too narrow to serve as a springboard for progressive politics in the twenty-first century.
In fact, in any comparison between Nader and Vice President Gore, Gore is far more qualified to shepherd progressive causes than Nader. And I say this as someone who has fought for progressive causes in Congress for thirty-five years. I say this as someone who learned under Martin Luther King Jr.'s tutelage the interconnectedness of the multiple progressive issues in forming a more just society.
While Nader was fighting for a safer bus, Gore was fighting so that Rosa Parks could get a seat on the bus. It's not that Nader did not support civil rights but it did not appear to be a central concern. It was for Al Gore. Despite the potential cost (his father, Al Gore Sr., lost his Senate seat in part because of his support for civil rights legislation), Al Gore has been there not just in word but in deed for the civil rights struggle. As senator, he not only supported landmark civil rights legislation but actively sought out the Congressional Black Caucus to help plan strategy. In the White House, he was frequently our "go to" guy and our strongest inside ally on hate crimes and racial profiling and in our efforts to kill legislation to repeal affirmative action.
We in the civil rights movement know the difference between an active crusader and a mere supporter of the struggle. Gore has been an active crusader. Nader, by contrast, has been a mere supporter. Indeed, the same can be said of Nader across the spectrum of first-tier progressive causes, such as women's rights. While Nader led the commendable fight against dangerous contraceptives, seldom was he pounding the pavement in defense of choice. By contrast, Gore spent years in Congress and the White House actively fighting for choice. In Congress he fought to codify Roe v. Wade, and in the White House he campaigned to kill countless bills that encroached on the cherished constitutional protection. He also led the charge on the Violence Against Women Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Equal Pay Act and increasing the minimum wage. When you measure the sweat off the brow that Gore and Nader have expended on women's issues, Gore wins, hands down.
Al Gore has also made a centerpiece of his agenda something else that women, particularly mothers, are demanding--common-sense gun safety legislation. While Gore cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to close the gun show loophole and helped lead the fight for the Brady law in 1994, Nader has, until recently, been largely mum. Credible progressives are hard pressed to justify a vote for Nader over Gore based on this as well.
The space on this page does not allow me to continue the litany. But if we closely study not just the positions that each may take at election time but the level of passion and commitment that each has shown on these and other issues critical to progressives--supporting public education and smaller classrooms, maintaining the Social Security and Medicare safety nets, and a wide range of other issues--we'll find that Gore has toiled far longer, far more consistently and with far more sweat on issues fundamental to progressives. And while both Gore and Nader have dedicated themselves to progressive causes, Gore has devoted his career to a far broader progressive agenda.
I take the opportunity to express this on these pages not simply because I believe that a vote for Nader is effectively a vote for Bush, although I believe that it is. I say this also because I believe that progressives cannot build a multiracial, multicultural and multisocioeconomicmovement based on Nader's record as compared with Gore's.
JOHN CONYERS JR.
When I cast my vote Election Day, I intend to cast it in favor of progressive ideas and grassroots action. I'm going to support a genuine alternative to a closed system where two parties often act with a single agenda--an agenda that simply does not address the daily reality of millions of citizens. I'm going to lend my voice to the fundamental concept that government should serve the needs of the people, not a handful of multinational corporations. In other words, I'm voting for Ralph Nader.
If you're talkin' politics, my decision has never been simpler. Nader speaks openly against the death penalty and in support of women's rights, plus his environmental stand is exemplary. Nader and the Greens also want to cut military spending, end the drug war and attack poverty at its systemic roots. They represent the best way to follow through on the groundswell of anticapitalist activism currently uniting progressives across traditional boundaries of gender, class and generation. I don't expect him to win, of course, but I know that a vote for him truly counts over the long haul, because it's helping to bust open the stifling two-party stranglehold on our system and bring progressive voices into the national political discourse.
'Course, there's just one little hitch. The way the Electoral College works, a majority of votes for any given candidate wins the whole state, and there are certain states where Gore or Bush will be a clear winner. In my home state, New York, for instance, it's easy to vote for Nader without worrying that I am aiding a Bush victory. But in the swing states (currently, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin), a Green Party vote really does mean that Bush comes one vote closer to winning. While I am sensitive to the power of a symbolic protest vote, there are larger issues at stake in this election. It's true that Democrats and Republicans have grown disturbingly similar, but there are still profound differences between their agendas. If I found myself in a swing state, I'd remember the record number of executions Governor Bush has authorized in Texas, for instance, and I'd think long and hard about the bleak future of women's reproductive rights in a Republican-controlled White House. And my vote would go to Al Gore.
I firmly believe that if all of us progressive thinkers around the country collaborate in a thoughtful strategy, we can achieve the dual goals of getting the Green Party on the ballot for future elections and getting Gore into the White House, thereby preventing the tragedy of a Baby Bush administration.
Because my vote does count, this year more than ever. The choice may not be cut and dried, but one thing is obvious: I don't want an even dumber Bush in office, and I don't want my actions to allow that to happen.
P.S. These articles helped shape my thinking: Eric Alterman, "Bush or Gore: Does It Matter?" [Oct. 16] and Katha Pollitt's "Subject to Debate" of October 9.
Righteous Babe Records
Two weeks ago I heard my students here at UMass coughing in class from the lingering effects of the macing they received in Boston for trying to get Ralph Nader heard in the presidential debates. For the first time in decades there is something in the air, a genuine resistance to corporate tyranny--and then what? I come home tonight to read that a vote for Nader is, in your opinion, simply too radical an act. Why don't you just change your name to The New Republic and get it over with?
The Woodlands, Tex.
Your courageous and practical editorial urging people to vote for Gore in states where a vote for Nader might tip the election to Bush was a pleasant surprise. I am a lifelong (53-year-old), left-wing Democrat and have always chosen to fight my party from within. I wanted to bolt over the death penalty and welfare "reform," but I've seen new parties come and go while the Democratic Party endures, warts and all--the only party that can stand against the Republicans. And just think, most of the people in the House who would get chairmanships, if the Democrats take over, are liberals.
KAREN A. SISCO
The Clinton/Gore Administration really has brought minorities into government in record numbers. That offsets, for me, the disappointment over the failure to enact national healthcare and other needed reforms. Another Clinton/ Gore policy was the return of Father Aristide to Haiti--the only US foreign policy initiative I've supported in the past forty years. My heart is with Nader, a truly heroic figure, but my head says Gore.
ROBERTO SANCHEZ MENDES
New York City
The Clinton years have made it crystal clear that Congress--especially the Senate--plays as important a role in governance (including who gets onto the Supreme Court) as the President. We also know that which party controls the Senate is likely to be decided by one or two state races. Therefore, it is essential that Joe Lieberman and not a Republican become the next senator from Connecticut. For that to happen, Lieberman must lose the election for Vice President. Viewed in that light, voting for Ralph Nader is not only morally right, it is strategically right. As a slogan for the remaining days of this election season, Greens might consider: "Help the Democrats Win Control of Congress--Vote for Ralph Nader."
I'm glad The Nation is calling on people to vote for Gore in close states. If Bush wins--in any way that can be attributed to Nader, and it's hard to imagine him winning in any other way--then for a number of people the entire left or progressive project/approach that The Nation champions will seem not to be worth the candle. I'd rather not face that miserable scenario.