Progressive voters leaning towards Ralph Nader or other third-party candidates could make the difference between Barack Obama winning or losing the presidency.
Being marginal myself, I am very aware of how decisive third-party voters can be. I won the Democratic nomination to the California Senate by less than one-percent in 1992. In the final two weeks, I mailed out an appeal to Green Party voters in my district, urging them to switch parties in order to vote for me. The mailer included cards to re-register from Green to Democrat for the primary, and another card to register again as a Green once the primary was over. Those hundreds of votes made the difference.
Late in 2000, I found myself enmeshed in torrid conversations between the Gore and Nader campaigns. The process wasn’t good. The Democrats were trying to push Nader off the ballot anywhere they could, thus refusing to recognize his core interest in establishing a new party. The Nader people refused to acknowledge that there was any difference between Gore and Bush, and denied that their votes could affect the outcome. My “Gore-Nader” proposal–that Nader endorse Gore in Florida and other close states, and become our most important progressive advocate in Washington after a Gore victory–went nowhere, because Nader would have none of it.
So much was at stake in 2000 that, to this day, the wounds then inflicted have not healed. One side (in the tens of millions) believes that Iraq and the Alito Court would have been avoided and the first environmental presidency would have been launched. The other side (a few thousand) denies that the Nader vote caused Gore to lose Florida.
Rather than scrape those scabs one more time, my proposal is that progressives thinking of voting third party this time consider the historic chance to elect Barack Obama president. Such an open gesture would be enormously important to the people who most fervently favor Obama–young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and labor, for example–and go a long way to heal and unify the progressive movement this time around.
Many of those Obama supporters share the criticisms of Obama made by the third-party advocates–that he needs to apply more pressure on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, domestic spying, trade. But there is no sympathy, no comprehension–only something between irritation and rage, towards the third-party view that it doesn’t matter if John McCain wins and Barack Obama loses.
It is hard for many people to grasp that an infinitesimal fraction of voters could deny progressive hope and revive the failing fortunes of the neoconservatives and the right-wing evangelicals. It is also possible that Obama, fueled by the Wall Street economic scandal, will pull away, in which case everyone can vote their first preference.