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Nader and the Nadir of Democracy?
by Dan Brook
August 7, 2004

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In the contest to evict George W. Bush from the occupied White House, a position he does not legitimately occupy, Ralph Nader is in the race for the presidency, as an independent, while John Kerry is the Democratic nominee. Nearly four painful years after democracy was disenfranchised, it is all-too-common to still hear people griping about Nader’s candidacy from 2000 and how he “spoiled” the election. Although I unfortunately expect it from the corporate media and the mainstream politicians, I can’t believe that intelligent progressive people continue making the same overly simplistic and reactionary claim that Nader cost Gore the election. It should, instead, be extremely clear that Bush and his Gang spoiled the election for all of us and cost us the election.

Let’s briefly set the record straight (again): Bush & Co. cost Gore the election through lies, fraud and intimidation, and through racial profiling and manipulation. Governor Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, in charge of both her state’s elections and Bush’s election campaign in Florida, cost Gore the election through their dirty deeds. The voter purges of real and mostly imagined felons (nearly a hundred thousand, mostly African-American and Latino, mostly Democrats, mostly innocent) cost Gore the election and, ironically, it was the Clinton/Gore administration that created many more felons and anti-felon sentiment through their right wing crime and welfare policies. ChoicePoint’s DBT, the company with strong Republican ties and overpaid to “scrub” the voter lists, cost Gore the election. The cowardly corporate media in the US, which didn’t investigate or report any of these illegal irregularities before, during, or after November 2000, cost Gore the election (only Britain’s Guardian, Observer, and BBC “all non-profit news organizations” covered this most important story...please read, or re-read, Greg Palast’s The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, revised American edition, for what should have been broadcast from every media outlet).

The Electoral College cost Gore the election in which he got a majority of the nation’s (and even Florida’s) votes. Gore cost Gore the election by being a weak candidate with a weak campaign, by not winning his and Clinton’s home states, by not decimating Bush in the debates, by agreeing with Bush on almost all foreign policy issues including past military interventions (and Gore said he supported his commander-in-chief, George War Bush, in the decisions to bomb and invade Afghanistan and Iraq), by not having any effective campaign slogans (I bet you can’t name one... and lock box doesn’t really count!), and by not campaigning with a morally tarnished though still politically popular Bill Clinton. The military votes, including the illegal late ones, cost Gore the election. The defective voting machines, disproportionately in African American communities, cost Gore the election. The butterfly ballot and its accidental demographic, Jews for Buchanan, cost Gore the election. On and on. In any event, it has been proven, and re-proven, that Gore would have easily won the election in Florida, and therefore the country, if all the votes had been counted. That never happened and that cost Gore the election. Neither John Kerry, nor John Edwards, nor any other senator spoke out against this obvious fraud and miscarriage of justice against our democratic system.

We should also recall that many more registered Democrats voted for Bush (about 7 million nationwide, a quarter million in Florida alone) than people who voted for Nader. It is shocking but true that fully one-third of union members voted for Bush along with one-eighth (over 12%!) of self-described “liberals”. Also, in New Hampshire in 2000, more Republicans voted for Nader than did Democrats. For what it’s worth, Nader lost more votes to Gore, due to people’s fear of voting for a third party, than Gore lost to Nader. At present, polls indicate that Nader is drawing nearly equally from Democrats and Republicans. It is also worth noting that, at least in the US, candidates with the most money usually win their elections. George Soros: $15 million, out of his billions, doesn’t come close to compensating for Bu$h’s overflowing war chest in 2004.

With declining voter turnout, 2000 was an aberration with slightly more than half of eligible voters going to the polls, a bit higher than the previous presidential election, partly due to Nader sparking people’s interest. For all we know, Gore would have actually lost the election if Nader hadn’t run, but in fact, as we know, Gore won and Bush lost. Bush was able to then assume the presidency because he was selected for and installed in that position, not by Nader and not even by Gore who didn’t fight hard enough at that crucial point, but by the Bush-Cheney-Baker Brigade. This is simple stuff, yet confusion and delusion still seem to reign.    While Kerry -- along with every other senator including his running mate Edwards, Democrat and Republican alike -- refused to formally oppose Bush’s selection (and it would have only taken one senator!), Kerry voted for Bush’s wars, Bush’s Patriot Act, supports the WTO, and many other dangerous and disastrous Bush policies as well as his odious nominees, despite Kerry’s other differences with him. Kerry accuses France of being “foolish” in its opposition to Bush’s stance on Iraq and criticizes Spain’s newly elected prime minister for pledging to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, for example, while Kerry boasts that he supported Bush’s military budgets, the largest in history, although he sometimes “voted for common sense to make changes.” Kerry calls for sending tens of thousands more troops to Iraq, thereby critiquing Bush’s war from the right.

Further, Kerry has already announced that he is reneging on some liberal campaign promises (e.g., universal preschool, aid for college, opposing Israel’s separation barrier, and others), has offered the vice presidency to Republican John McCain, and has considered Bush family friend Republican James Baker as his special envoy to the Middle East. Like Bush, Kerry opposes the Kyoto Protocol, designed to reduce the greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Kerry also proudly talks about showing himself to be fiscally conservative and a centrist.

In sharp contrast, people like Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley Braun each prove that when they’re involved in the process -- even in a rigged game where they are mostly marginalized and maligned when not totally ignored by the corporate media and the corporate candidates -- certain important issues are addressed, due to their candidacies, that are rarely if ever mentioned otherwise. That’s a plus for our weak democracy which we should celebrate instead of castigate.

Nader has worked tirelessly the last four years, just as he has for nearly 50 years, working on issues related to public safety, public health, corporate control, citizen access, and other concerns of justice. He is up there with only a handful of people who have done so much for this country, directly benefiting millions by saving lives and increasing democracy, while often working six and even seven days a week. Nader has also started many organizations that can continue without him and which create enduring legacies. In addition to all his time and effort over the decades, he has also donated a lot of his earned money to the causes he believes in. Nader has truly been a public servant par excellence.    

One thing I continue to hear from Democrats -- at the level of Code Orange and often Red -- is about the issue of abortion, which is vitally important, and the power of Supreme Court nominees to affect this issue. Unfortunately, Democrats have been complicit in the Republican attempts to hollow out reproductive rights. Neither Kerry nor nearly every other politician, for that matter, support free and unrestricted abortion and other reproductive rights. Indeed, Kerry has announced that he is not opposed to nominating anti-abortion judges to the federal courts. Pro-choice activists should continually demand that reproductive freedom be preserved and enhanced, creating a movement and a culture that would prohibit (mostly male) politicians and judges from chipping away at and possibly overturning safe and legal abortions and other human rights. Relying on our top elected and appointed office holders is a very narrow and ultimately dead-end type of politics. If we were sufficiently mobilized, we would have much less to fear from the anti-choice right wing. The Hopi remind us that “we are the ones we have been waiting for”!    

Nader raises an interesting hypothetical. Suppose, he says, that both major parties were against abortion rights. Wouldn’t we expect reproductive rights activists to run a pro-choice candidate, try to raise this important issue in any way possible, and perhaps even start another party? Nader claims that he is doing a similar thing regarding corporate influence on government and the two major parties. Yet another area where we are not sufficiently organized. One does not necessarily have to agree to recognize that as a valid argument.       

I wish we had an enhanced political system, possibly with publicly-financed campaigns, public use of our public airwaves, a sharp reduction or elimination of corporate interference in the political or at least electoral arena, proportional representation, cumulative voting, instant runoff or “rank choice” voting, fusion candidacies, abolishment of the Electoral College, and/or some other more efficient and inclusive democratic voter mechanisms. If this were so, elections would be more fair, the other half of the electorate -- comprising a hundred million people -- would be more likely to participate, and the possibility of someone’s candidacy wouldn’t be a cause of concern regarding the spoiling of spoiled candidates and a spoiled political party. Nader wishes for an enhanced political system, as well, and has worked to achieve I -- for all of us -- for most of his life. What has the Democratic Party done, especially since the electoral debacle of 2000, to remedy any of these problems? All that said, I won’t vote for Nader this time. He’s not likely to be efficacious, even on his own terms, and, crucially, he will not contribute to the necessary building of either a party or a movement. Quite the contrary. I do, however, continue to admire his activism. Likewise, though, I won’t be voting for Kerry and settling for yet another lesser evil. In the short run, Kerry could not be worse than Bush; in the long run, however, it’s too early to tell. JFK and LBJ led us into Vietnam and then to Nixon, Carter led us into Nicaragua and then to theocratic Iran and Reagan/Bush, Clinton led us into NAFTA, welfare deform, and Kosovo and then to Bush the Lesser. Kerry is certainly no better than the Democrats who precede him. What will he lead us to?      

Republicans, followed by their B-team Democrats, have been shifting to the right over the past decades. How far will we allow them to go? How close are we to the precipice? Democrats aren’t ultimately better than Republicans if they act as a pressure valve allowing a bit of steam to be occasionally released before getting back to business -- and both parties are almost single-mindedly pro-business. The Democrats need to be better than that. It is not that Kerry doesn’t have differences with Bush, but that their similarities are more significant than their differences. We need a candidate from a party that is pro-people, a party that stops apologizing and merely defending, a party that thinks big and fights hard. We need a candidate that systematically wants to change structures and policies, not just people and appearances. I therefore side with the sentiments of Eugene Debs: I’d rather vote for a candidate I want and not get him, than vote for a candidate I don’t want and get him. My vote has to be earned, not taken for granted.

We need to remember, however, that one’s vote is a minuscule contribution to politics, so whether one votes or not, or votes for whomever (including Democrat Kerry, Independent Nader, or Green Cobb), it is much more important to educate, agitate, and organize for progressive social change -- before and after Election Day -- rather than perennially waiting, almost begging, for yet another very privileged person to (mis)rule and (mis)represent us. As Gandhi says, we must create the change we wish to see in this world.

Dan Brook is a freelance writer and can be contacted via CyberBrook’s ThinkLinks: