Into the Breach

I'm voting for Ralph Nader. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I can't just settle for second worst. I can no longer allow myself to vote for candidates who offer a handful of liberal-sounding platitudes, while turning against everything I believe in.

I'm entitled to back a candidate who speaks up for the average worker and his or her family, who questions the primacy of the corporate order and who is seeking to bring the government back to the American people.

Will he win? Probably not. But that can't be my concern. I have to vote my conscience and hope for the best.

A lot of liberals and progressives see that as tossing away my vote, as giving up and allowing the Republicans to take back the White House. Granting George Bush residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, they say, guarantees a slide into barbarism.

Under Bush, the theory goes, all the things progressives hold dear go down the drain. Bush will let the NRA and right-wing Republicans run the show, will strip women of the right to choose, will speed executions and will leave us with a gutted Constitution.

Putting a Democrat back in the White House is our best bet to stop this oncoming destruction, they say. Vice President Al Gore offers our last best hope.

It is the same argument Democrats have been using to keep the left in line for the last eight years. Progressives need to support the party, and President Bill Clinton in particular, because to do otherwise will dump the government into the hands of the Republicans.

And what did we get for our troubles? Welfare reform, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization, a federal death penalty, a stepped-up war on drugs and a decimated Fourth Amendment. What we got, in essence, were many of the things we fought against when Ronald Reagan and George Bush were pushing them.

Now establishment liberals are asking us to turn down the same road again, to vote for the centrist Al Gore, the man who's served so loyally as vice president beside President Clinton. It is the same Al Gore who fought to pass the NAFTA and has taken the lead in the Clinton administration's efforts to open trade. It is the same Al Gore who shills for corporate cash for his party, the same man who backs the death penalty and the Star Wars missile plan, who talks tough on crime issues, and so on.

And it's the same man who writes of needing to save the planet, to conserve and preserve the water we drink and air we breath -- but who continues to allow cattle grazing, oil drilling, mining and other pursuits on federal land.

Fact is, Al Gore is not the bulwark he's being cracked up to be. He's just a blank canvas on which we've decided to sketch our hopes, a man playing for the team we've always thought fought for our ideals and beliefs but no longer does so.

It's not that the Democratic Party is beyond saving -- there are a number of principled and humane party members, people like Sens. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Reps. Donald Payne of New Jersey and David Bonior of Michigan. But we can no longer rely on it to stand up and demand justice in this changing world.

We need to cut it off at its head to save its soul by showing the party's leadership that left-leaning voters will walk away rather than back another moderate Republican in Democratic clothing. We need to show it that we will look elsewhere when a better alternative presents itself.

An alternative like Ralph Nader.

Nader has demonstrated a commitment to both political and economic democracy. He has taken on the corporate order, fought against corporate entitlements and international treaties that weaken the ability of American workers and citizens to control their own lives, communities and workplaces.

He has his flaws. His track record as a stealth candidate in 1996, one who seemed to shy away from actually running, has hurt his credibility among some on the left who are concerned that another half-hearted effort atop the Green Party ticket could damage any chance progressives have of building a new party. And he remains uncomfortable talking about gender, race, ethnic and sexual identity issues and sexual issues.

But his critique of the American and world economic structures and their crippling effects on democracy is right on target and his record on environmental, health and safety issues is spotless.

And he says he plans to appeal to voters' better selves and to encourage a campaign that focuses on the issues that each and everyone of us face, the power structures we run up against each and every day.

And that makes his campaign worth supporting, regardless of what the political insiders may say.

After all, the alternatives are not very appealing.

Hank Kalet is a newspaper editor and poet who lives in New Jersey. He can be reached at

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