I am one of those people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. And while I lived in a “safe state” at the time, Connecticut, I would have voted for Nader had I lived in Florida. Given the many heated conversations I’ve had with acquaintances and colleagues about the 2000 election over the years, I know how infuriating many Democrats find my position. So let me be perfectly clear about where I’m coming from. I voted for Nader in 2000, and would have no matter where I had been registered to vote, because I am a progressive Democrat. I sat out the 1992 and 1996 presidential races because of my opposition to Bill Clinton’s New Democrat agenda. And since Al Gore represented a third Clinton term, I could not bring myself to vote for an administration that had signed into law the Omnibus Crime Act, Welfare Reform, NAFTA, and HOPE VI and had also deregulated the banking, pharmaceutical, and telecommunications industries. Likewise, Senator Joe Lieberman, Gore’s VP pick, was so conservative that he prompted me to vote for his Republican rival in Connecticut’s US Senate race in the very first election for which I was old enough to cast a ballot. Lieberman’s Republican rival, Lowell Weicker, was a Rockefeller Republican and was far more progressive than the putative Democrat. So considering Gore to be Clinton part II and then comparing Gore’s and George W. Bush’s platforms, Bush/Gore overlapped far too much for my comfort (well before outrage over mass incarceration was politically acceptable, I might add).
Though Democrats frequently blame Nader and people like me for Bush’s 2000 victory, I’ve never felt any guilt about Bush’s victory in 2000, and not simply because Gore didn’t do anything to earn my vote. Frankly, it’s kind of hard to say that Nader cost Gore the election. Why’s that? Well, if Gore hadn’t lost his home state, Tennessee, he would have been President Gore no matter how Florida broke. Moreover, Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris purged the rolls of Democratic (disproportionately black) voters; she was behind the confusing butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County; and she was campaigning for W. in 2000. And then there’s SCOTUS’s unprecedented verdict in Bush v. Gore. So Nader didn’t cost Gore the election. Gore lost the election himself, with a lot of assistance from the Bush machine in Florida and five conservative Supreme Court justices.
This is all to say that, even though I’m voting for HRC in 2016, I know, as in insider, that sitting out and protest voting are sometimes the only good options we progressives have. I also know all too well just how frustrating it is to be hassled by Democrats who feel entitled to the votes of progressives, even when the Democratic candidate is selling him/herself as Republican “lite.”
I have no delusions about the problems with HRC’s politics. I voted for Sanders in the Illinois Democratic primary. And for the first time in my life, I actually felt really good about the ballot I cast. Sanders’s candidacy afforded me the opportunity to vote for a viable candidate who was truly a progressive Democrat—something between a New Dealer and a 1960s-era labor liberal in the vein of Bayard Rustin. Hillary Clinton is definitely not that. Her dispositions are more like her husband’s or Al Gore’s or, frankly, President Obama’s. Progressive groups would have to apply a lot of pressure to HRC to get her to pursue something in the ballpark of a progressive domestic agenda for working people—as opposed to an agenda that benefits a diverse collection of privileged elites. And we know this because it took a Sanders insurgency along with rank-and-file unionists, activists (like Black Lives Matter), and social-media campaigns to push her to reconsider her neoliberal trade and higher-education policies and her attachments to draconian welfare and incarceration policies. And the fact that she touts her husband’s record as a job creator doesn’t engender confidence that the Sanders insurgency has pushed her to the left beyond convenient rhetoric.