Well, the results are in from the first Great Presidential Debate and the winner is ... Ralph Nader!
Even after our man Ralph scrounged up a bona-fide ticket to join the onlookers at the debate, he was brusquely turned away from the door to the debate hall Oct. 3 by three cops and a frontman for the corporations that set up the debate and limited it to the two sponsored candidates. They wouldn't even let Fox News bring Nader on the premises. "We don't want your kind around here," they might as well have told the Green nominee, despite his qualifying for the ballots of 43 states and scoring in public opinion polls at a level that would make the Green Party eligible for federal funding if it holds up in next month's election.
In one of the first polls after the debate, the Reuters/MSNBC tracking poll of 1,209 "likely voters," released Oct. 5, support for Gore and Bush remained largely stagnant, but Nader's support had doubled, to about 7%. If the two establishment candidates keep alienating voters at this rate, Nader might yet reach the 15% threshold the corporations arbitrarily set to participate, in time for the third debate. (Of course, the sponsors are entirely capable of coming up with a new reason to deny him a place in the discussion.)
The polls have been fluctuating wildly, with overnight double-digit swings in support between Gore and Bush. That raises questions about the methodology of these surveys that are used by the mainstream news media not only to measure the horserace of the frontrunners but also to justify keeping the "also rans" such as Nader, right-wing Reformer Pat Buchanan, Libertarian Harry Browne and Natural Law's John Hagelin in the background.
If, as the New York Times' William Safire reports, two-thirds of people refuse to respond to surveys, and even when they respond the undecided are pushed to name a favorite, and some respondents are excluded as "unlikely voters," how much credence should be placed on these survey results? The Nader campaign noted that 7-Eleven's coffee cup survey found that out of six million cups of coffee sold in September, 20% of customers took a Bush cup, 20% took a Gore cup and 60% expressed their preference with a "no opinion/third party" cup.
The pundits say that America doesn't need a third or fourth party, so they aren't going to pay any attention to alternative candidates. They figure that the electorate will follow suit. But muckraker Michael Moore notes that shaking up the political establishment is a revered American tradition. "On Mount Rushmore," Moore noted, "we have carved in stone the heads of our four most revered Presidents. YET, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM BELIEVED IN THIS CORRUPT 'TWO-PARTY' SYSTEM! Lincoln won as a third-party candidate of a brand new party. Jefferson won in a three-way race too close to call -- it had to be decided by Congress. Washington didn't even belong to a party, and Teddy Roosevelt, after succeeding a slain President and serving another term, became so disgusted with the 'two' parties he formed his own third party and came in second, beating the Republican, William Howard Taft!
"If we admire these individuals so much, why do we now aspire to so little, settling for the evil of two lessers?"
Is it possible that, even after being excluded from the "official" corporate-sponsored debates, Nader, with the help of a goodly share of the 55% of the electorate that is relegated to the category of "unlikely voters," could shock the pros, as Jesse Ventura shocked Minnesota's pundits in 1998? Well, crazier things have happened. The Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Serbia just voted Slobodan Milosevic out of power. Maybe the unlikely American voter can overthrow the tyranny of pundits, pollsters and reduced expectations.
We understand that many of our friends in states where the race is tight won't risk a vote for Nader. A Democratic Gore who occasionally panders to corporate interests is preferable to a Republican Bush who was raised to instinctively please the corporate interests -- and make no mistake, Bush would do real damage if he got in the Oval Office, particularly if he also has a Republican Senate majority to rubber-stamp his court nominees.
In Texas, where Bush is probably 20 points ahead and the Democrats aren't even campaigning for statewide races, we can vote for Nader and the Greens with no qualms. In other states where Gore is far ahead you also are free to vote for Nader with no fear of helping Bush. At this writing, four weeks from the election, there are about 14 battleground states: Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. By election day that list will probably be down to a half dozen states where the race is close enough that you might consider whether a Nader vote might help throw your state to Bush.
If the first presidential debate exposed Gore as the smart-aleck who interrupts, exaggerates and sighs rudely while Bush was bumfuzzled by "fuzzy math" and foreign affairs, the vice presidential debate was probably a truer indicator of what the race is all about. Joe Lieberman projected the image of a moderate, business-oriented Democrat (what we used to think of as a moderate Republican) while Dick Cheney portrayed the "compassionate conservative" -- never mind his right wing record when he was in Congress and his longtime service on behalf of the oil business.
But when Joe Lieberman needled "Big Time" Cheney that even he had to admit that he was a lot better off than he was eight years ago, when he was Defense Secretary under George Bush Sr., Cheney retorted that government had nothing to do with his recent success in business. What an ingrate! After Cheney turned over the keys to the Pentagon in 1993 he made the Halliburton Company, the world's largest oil services firm, into a leading defense contractor, with $1.8 billion in work from the Pentagon from 1996 to 1999, according to Bloomberg News. Halliburton got another $1.8 billion in loan guarantees granted by US agencies that promote exports. That doesn't even count the US military which spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually to protect the interests of multinational corporations like Halliburton. But government didn't help Dick Cheney?
Cheney and his "boss," Dubya, when it comes down to it, offer a classic Republican self-serving vision: They want to cut taxes for the people who got rich during the Clinton boom years while they cut spending on programs that would help the working poor; they want to "reform" Social Security by diverting the contributions of younger workers to the stock market, which would set up the failure of the system when Boomers retire; they want to "reform" Medicare by turning it over to insurance companies and HMOs; they want to "reform" the education system by giving parents a $1,500 voucher per child.
The voucher proposal is one of the more cynical Republican ploys. Vouchers would help those who already send their kids to private schools but they offer little practical benefit for low-income parents who, if they could not make up the rest of the $3,200 average tuition at Catholic schools, or if their kids could not get into other private schools which would quickly fill up with "more desirable" students, they would be stuck with the crumbling public schools that would quickly lose middle-class support for any future expenditures. And who will end up picking up the $80 billion tab? Don't expect Bush to tax those hard-pressed millionaires!
Progressives have an incentive to vote -- for Nader if you dare, for Gore if you're willing to settle for the status quo, but vote for Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in either case. Putting in Dick Gephardt as House Speaker and Tom Daschle as Senate Majority Leader would go a long way towards giving Al Gore a progressive backbone. -- JMC