Ralph’s Revolt: The Case for Joining Nader’s Rebellion. Greg Bates. Common Courage Press, 2004. 175 pages. $9.95.
“Should we abandon third-party efforts to oust George W. Bush?” Greg Bates writes in the introduction to his recently published political tract. His answer: “To promote and encourage democracy, we must build the third party strategy. Even during, perhaps especially during, these most dangerous times.”
With the possible exception of George Bush, no one’s name can pucker the mouths of some “progressives” with more vitriol than that of Ralph Nader. Soon after Nader announced his candidacy for the 2004 Presidential election, Robert Scheer described him as an old chanteuse, with fading make-up, who hadn’t realized his best days were behind him. Norman Solomon of FAIR (!) uses his finely chiseled pen and reams of column space to denounce the former maverick hero as a sort of Benedict Arnold to the Greater Cause.
Bates, the publisher of Common Courage Press, has lent his weight to the wheel for years and finds himself in sharp disagreement with some of his own authors! His book, he writes, “represents an attempt to open a dialog with deeply divided friends who care just as passionately as I do, who see politics through the same progressive lens...who want to take their country back...who are as frightened about what the future might hold.”
Bates’ answer is a cogently argued book that dissects the various reasons not to vote Ralph, exposes them to the sunlight of hard thought and soul-searching, and comes out swinging in favor of the Consumer-Champion-in-Chief. We all know why we should not-vote for the Boy Emperor again. His crimes stink to high heaven, beginning with the more-than-odious election of 2000. So malodorous, in fact, that the House of Progressivism is divided, many joining the Anybody But Bush cavalcade of Hollywood celebs.
But, is Kerry of the Long Jaw the one to smite the dragons of War, Poverty, Environmental Degradation, and Crashing Infrastructures of health care, education, transportation and communication? Only for those who believe the country hasn’t moved inexorably to the right since Reagan—and that the Democratic Party hasn’t been a major accelerant.
Bates does believe the Ship of State’s been starboard-bound, and he thinks we all need to take a studied look at where we’re headed on the horizon. “Social movements are critical,” he writes, “more important than who is president.” It’s his final, clinching argument, and I’ll explore it in a moment, but first, two buoys to help us mark the way.
Argument One for voting Ralph: barring the Lone Star state’s sudden shift in appetite from barbecue pork to cheese fondue, it’s a safe bet the eyes of Texas will shine on Bush. Likewise, barring Boston Brahmins suddenly hankering for grits and hominy, it’s safe to say, Mass libs are voting Kerry. The operative word is “safe,” as in “safe states.” Because of the way the Electoral College works, Bates argues, “most voters who want to vote for Nader—for reasons of conscience or to send a message that a third party is needed—can do so with virtually no fear of affecting the winner. They don’t have to waste their vote—on Kerry that is.” Besides Texas and Massachusetts, other major states like California and New York are also “safe.” (Bates advises checking the polls a little before the election, to determine if one’s state still qualifies as “safe.”) For the sake of building a viable progressive movement, for the sake of voting one’s conscience and sending a clear message, vote Ralph in the “safe” states.
The real contest comes in the “swing” states, battlegrounds where victory might go either way. According to the Pew Research Center, there are at least 15 likely swing states, comprising about 40% of the US population, and including heavyweights like Florida, Ohio and Michigan. Bates makes a simple calculation, as well as a telling point: “60% of those who want to vote Nader but are worried about throwing the election don’t need to worry.”
So much for playing it “safe” and still being morally responsible. What about those of us living in those crucial swing states? That’s Argument Two: “A vote for Kerry in a small swing state is likely to be a waste unless the Electoral College votes stack up so evenly that the votes in a small state tip the balance.” Again, stay up-to-the-minute as the election nears, and vote responsibly. Most likely, Montana’s 3 electoral votes or Maine’s 4 will not tip the balance in the Electoral College’s 500-plus votes. (In 2000, Bates observes, only one state mattered in the end: hanging-chad Florida. And if Gore had demanded a recount of all the precincts, he would have clutched victory from the jaws of, er, victory!) So, you can be a mensch, and still vote your conscience.
And Argument Three, as I wrote, is the clincher. It has to do with long-term vs. short-term thinking. In the short-term, Global Corporate Empire has given us a Bush-Kerry, Janus-headed election and either way it plays, they win, we lose. In the short-term, voting for Kerry endorses the Clintonesque Democratic Leadership Council’s abandonment of the middle class while it simultaneously courts wealthy donors—often the same wealthy donors as are courted by the Right. In the short-term, any way we flip it, we get the bird.
But if we take off our A.B.B. blinkers a moment, if we can think about those lights on the distant horizon—2008, 2012...2024—well, given the long history of progressive movements in this country and the world, we’ve actually got a chance. Third parties, after all, helped liberate Blacks and women, helped transform the working class into middle-class union members, helped to launch the environmental movement.
No one said it would be easy, no one said there wouldn’t be, in Paul Simon’s words, “slip-sliding away.” It’s going to take a lot of nerve, clear vision and careful calculations. Bates’ book is a handy whetstone to keep the mind sharp and focused.
Gary Corseri's work has appeared on PBS-Atlanta, and in DissidentVoice, CounterPunch, CommonDreams, AxisofLogic, The Village Voice, New York Times, Redbook and elsewhere. His novel, Holy Grail, Holy Grail, is the only Arthurian legends-based book set in medieval Japan and modern Atlanta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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