Democrats are starting to fret that Ralph Nader's presence on the ballot as the Green Party nominee will drain votes from Democratic Vice President Al Gore and cause Gore to lose the election.
Well, it's about time they woke up! Haven't progressives been warning Gore for the better part of a year that he needs to shed his conservative, free-trade, "Democratic Leadership Council" image and start talking about populist issues such as universal health care, a living wage and using our current tax surplus to help working people instead of further enriching the wealthy with more tax cuts?
Instead Gore was a cheerleader for free trade for China, he scolded Bill Bradley that we don't have the resources to provide universal health coverage and he supports a modest increase in the minimum wage that would give low-income workers the buying power that they had in the 1970s.
With a performance like that, Gore is lucky to be trailing Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush by only a few points in most polls. But what has Democrats alarmed is that Gore's gaps grow when Nader's name is brought up. In Michigan, a recent statewide poll by EPIC/MRA of Lansing in early July put Gore at 40 percent and Bush at 45 percent. But in a four-way race with Nader and likely Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, Gore dropped to 34 percent to Bush's 46 percent, while Nader got 8 percent and Buchanan got 3 percent. Another poll, conducted in late June for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, found in a two-way matchup likely Wisconsin voters favor Bush 47 to 41 percent. But when Nader and Buchanan are added to the list, Bush's lead widens to eight points, with Bush at 43 percent, Gore 35 percent, Nader 9 percent and Buchanan 3 percent.
Nader has been helped by the distance the United Auto Workers and Teamsters unions have kept from Gore after he ignored their entreaties on trade status with China. Nader met with the Teamsters' executive council this past month and UAW President Steven Yokich pointedly mentioned Nader as an alternative to Gore.
Craig Harvey, a 45-year-old resident of Pittsfield Township near Ann Arbor, is a good example of a Nader voter: He normally votes Democratic but supported Ross Perot in 1992 and voted for Nader is a write-in candidate in 1996. This year has been circulating petitions to get Nader and the Greens on the Michigan ballot because he likes Nader's call to renegotiate trade agreements, protect the environment and force Congress to listen to citizens rather than corporations. "Nader has been saying the same basic things and working the same basic issues for 35 years now, not changing his tone with every poll that comes down," Harvey told the Associated Press. "I trust him."
Trusting Gore, however, proves more of a challenge. The vice president has adopted a more populist tone lately as he attacked pharmaceutical companies, big oil companies and HMOs -- easy enough targets these days. "I'm on your side and I want to fight for the people," he recently said in Chicago. "The other side fights for the powerful."
Well, after eight years as vice president in charge of privatizing government and making the world safe for big business, Gore has one more chance to redefine himself, at the Democratic National Convention in August. But he'll have to gloss over the party platform, which in its recently released draft brags about the pro-business, pro-trade record of the Clinton administration.
The panic over a Nader groundswell has even reached the New York Times, which in "Mr. Nader's Misguided Crusade," June 30 editorialized: " ... in running for president as the nominee of the Green Party, he is engaging in a self-indulgent exercise that will distract voters from the clear-cut choice represented by the major party candidates, Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush. His candidacy will be especially harmful for Mr. Gore, the contender closest to Mr. Nader on the environment and other issues."
If there are major differences between the major party candidates it is not apparent to the electorate. A new nationwide survey by Pew Media Research finds 30 percent believe it does not make much difference who is elected, and nearly half agreed that "things will pretty much be the same" no matter who is elected. The survey found evidence that voter participation this year will be even lower than the 49 percent of voting-age citizens who cast ballots in 1996.
The Times' Anthony Lewis also took up the cudgel July 8 in a "Dear Ralph" column criticizing his old law-school-mate for taking on the pro-business duopoly, of which the New York Times is the house organ.
Lewis thinks Nader should get out of the way so Gore can block the environmental depredations of congressional Republicans and make "moderate liberal" appointments to the Supreme Court on the pattern of Clinton's choices: Justices Ruth Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. But as Alexander Cockburn notes on page 20 of this issue, the Supreme Court has been a reactionary force throughout most of the nation's history and will continue to be such, regardless of whether Gore or Bush is elected. The court might split 5-4 over whether to allow late-term abortions, but as its unanimous decision June 19 overturning Massachusetts' Burma law shows [see "Trade Trumps Human Rights in Court Decision," Mark Weisbrot, 7/15/00 PP], the high court falls right in line when it comes to what is good for big business.
Lewis also scores Nader for not making civil liberties a more central part of his campaign, although Lewis admits Clinton, with Gore's support, has signed away federal habeas corpus protections, let Congress cut off funds for resource centers that provided lawyers for prisoners on death rows, and promoted the Counter-Terrorism Act, which imported into US law the British practice of trials on secret evidence, and the Immigration Act of 1996, which forced deportation of people who committed trivial crimes years before the act was passed.
Lewis offers the standard Times disparagement of Nader's opposition to "free trade" giveaways to multinational corporations, calling it protectionist. He notes Nader's strange bedfellows on that issue, such as Pat Buchanan and right-wing South Carolina textile magnate Roger Milliken, but Lewis ignores the opposition to "free trade" by the AFL-CIO and trade union activists in the Third World who see "free trade" as just a new form of colonialism.
Even the People's Weekly World, organ of the Communist Party of the USA, is cautious about a Nader candidacy: "A vote for Ralph Nader becomes a pro-corporate vote if the result is the election of Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress," it editorialized in its June 24 issue.
If Gore loses the election, it won't be because Nader ran a campaign on progressive issues. It will be because Gore failed to campaign on those progressive issues and instead left the voters with the choice of a real conservative and a faux conservative. Anyway, Nader, like Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, is more likely to draw voters from that half of the electorate who would not otherwise bother to go to the polls.
My advice: Support Nader's right to get on the ballot and a seat on the presidential debates this fall (write: Commission on Presidential Debates, 1200 New Hampshire, N.W., Box 445, Washington, DC 20036; or see www.debates.org). If a pollster calls, tell him you like Ralph. As Molly Ivins says on page 22, if the race is tight in your state in November, then you can make an informed choice.
But if there is a Senate race in your state, under no circumstances should you cast a vote that would let Trent Lott remain Majority Leader, nor let Sens. Orrin Hatch, Jesse Helms and Phil Gramm continue as committee chairmen. Vote Democratic so that even if Bush wins, Patrick Leahy can take over Senate Judiciary and punt Dubya's Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas clones into the Potomac. That's just good sense. -- JMC