Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign for the presidency has evolved into a dangerous game. On one hand, the candidate insists it doesn’t matter if George W. Bush beats Al Gore. Yet we also are assured that Nader doesn’t pull votes from Gore in closely contested states. Both positions are patently false.

With very few exceptions, most states are up for grabs, including California, where the once huge gap between Bush and Gore has narrowed. Nader now is poised to cost Gore an electoral majority. There is no comparable threat to siphon conservative voters from Bush by the floundering Reform Party campaign of Pat Buchanan.

Nader’s supporters are potential Gore, not Bush, voters. “The Nader campaign talks about its appeal to disaffected [John] McCain, [Jesse] Ventura and [Ross] Perot voters, but I have rarely met one at a Nader rally,” says reporter Matt Welsh, who has been covering the Nader campaign for the online journal http://www.newsforchange.com. Welsh added: “The biggest applause lines are those that appeal to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.”

Those Nader supporters have an obligation to vote for Gore because a Republican sweep of the White House and Congress would spell disaster for environmental protection and for efforts to increase the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit, not to mention the hard-won gains made by women and minorities. Nader knows better than anyone that there has been a huge difference between the Clinton Administration and the Republican Congress on those issues.

Nor should Nader be downplaying the consequences for the Supreme Court if Bush is elected. On the campaign trail, he muddies the issue by observing that some Republican Presidents have appointed moderates to the Court, ignoring Bush’s pledge to Pat Robertson and the rest of the GOP’s right wing that he would name judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. As it is, the Court in the past five years has struck down twenty-five progressive laws that Clinton managed to get through Congress, including parts of the Brady gun control bill and the Violence Against Women Act.

That is why leading progressives like Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.), Jesse Jackson and Gloria Steinem have taken to the hustings to convince Naderites to vote for Gore. It is not their intention, or mine, to deny Nader credit as the most consistent and effective crusader for consumer interests in the history of this nation. It is also true that Nader deserves thanks for raising basic issues arising from the corporate dominance of our political process, which the major candidates have pointedly ignored.

And, yes, it does mock democracy to have denied Nader and Buchanan a place in the debates, particularly given moderator Jim Lehrer’s apparent indifference to the role of big money in undermining representative democracy. Let me also add that I feel betrayed by a Democratic candidate who is so gutless as to not even utter the name of the President, whose enormously successful administration is the source of Gore’s credibility.

So Gore’s not perfect–what else is new? Most often, the majority of voters end up siding with the electable candidate who comes closest to their political thinking. For progressives in this election, that is clearly Gore. Certainly, Robertson and his allies on the Republican right now justify their support of Bush as a vote for the lesser evil. They get nervous when Bush talks about “compassionate conservatism” and plays to the center, but they hold their noses and rally around his candidacy because that is the best they’ve got.

It is time for progressive Democrats to be equally practical. Gore is a centrist Democrat, and he will not likely do much to rein in corporate power, pass much-needed universal health care or reverse the travesty of welfare “reform,” which will prove a disaster in the next recession.

But Gore is on record as supporting the McCain-Feingold campaign reform measure, affirmative action and a woman’s right to choose. He would protect Social Security and Medicare from Bush’s irresponsible privatization schemes. He has an expansive view of civil rights protection for minorities and gays. And he has as consistent a record in support of the environment as any major politician.

Finally, from my experience interviewing Gore and observing him in action, he is far better than his media notices. Like Clinton, but in sharp contrast with Bush, Gore is very bright, has seriously worked the issues and sincerely believes that an effective federal government is necessary for the well-being of the populace.

That may not make for a green revolution, but it’s a lot better deal than a Bush White House with the doors thrown open for Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, Pat Robertson and Charlton Heston to run amok.