Nader supporters must ask themselves - why?

March 21, 2004|by Jon Pearson

He's ba-aack, and Democrats worry that Ralph Nader will again steal their candidate's votes, and thunder, in the coming election. The lefties may be right - Nader's quixotic campaign on the Green Party ticket arguably cost Al Gore Florida and the election last time around.

Nader counters that he'll probably receive more votes from conservatives and liberal Republicans than registered Democrats. That's doubtful, and not the point anyway - a recent poll shows that almost all Nader's support comes from people who would otherwise vote for John Kerry.

More tellingly, Nader argues that Democrats don't deserve his allegiance because they no longer count as an effective opposition. Corporate interests and big money dominate both parties, he says, so they've become Tweedledum and Tweedledee on key issues like the environment, universal health care, consumer advocacy and poverty.

Nader's disdain suggests that it doesn't really matter whether a Democrat or a Republican is elected president. But then he goes on to say that Kerry is preferable to the incumbent, and "we're all on the same page of wanting to retire our supremely elected president, George W. Bush."


This doublespeak only makes sense if he honestly believes it's more important to address problems with our "antiquated electoral system" than to win the White House. The consumer crusader is making a serious allegation here. He's saying our two-party system doesn't provide a voice for much of the population, and can't produce a real alternative to business-as-usual in Washington. If the system is broken, and the outcome doesn't matter, why care who wins?

True, Democrats and Republicans desperately want to win elections, so they reach out, at least rhetorically, to "middle America." As the party line gravitates toward the center, people at the ends of the political spectrum may feel excluded. But what's wrong with that? Elections are supposed to be won by majorities, including moderates and swing voters. If Nader actually wanted to win, he would reach out to other constituencies as well.

Nader seems to believe that our political system ignores voters on the left. However, Democratic Party activists are far more liberal than the rest of the public, and they play a dominant role in the electoral process. These "true believers" volunteer more time, contribute more money, vote in primaries, write the party platform, attend the nominating convention, and staff the general campaign. Not surprisingly, they have greater access and influence if their candidate wins.

Somewhere within this year's diverse crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls, most reasonable liberals found a candidate who reflected their beliefs. Even Nader endorsed Dennis Kucinich back in January before deciding to run himself. Apparently, the problem isn't the Democratic Party's openness to left-leaning ideologies, but Nader's unwillingness to work in the system and accept the results.

Nader apologists argue that he's just looking for a way to get his progressive viewpoints across to the American public. But every one of the Democratic presidential candidates received more media exposure than Nader could dream of getting on his own. (Some of them are still receiving way too much attention.)

The problem isn't the size of the soapbox, but Nader's need to place it in far left field and hog it to himself. It's also silly to claim that there's no real difference between Republicans and Democrats. Most people see critical distinctions between the major candidates, and honestly believe they have a real choice in November. Voters are left to conclude that Nader's intentional blindness must come from frustration, ambition, egotism, or a worldview seriously out of touch with the rest of the country. Nader has had great success over the years, and his philosophy is more mainstream than this go-it-alone strategy justifies. Thumbing his nose at coalitions that have worked in the past will only help re-elect an administration that has worked ceaselessly to undermine his legacy.

Nader's followers mustn't let that happen, or allow their movement to be further marginalized. If they want more clout, they need to do a better job of educating the public and building grassroots support. And, yes, they need to vote for the "lesser of two evils," which, by definition, beats the alternative. If people don't vote, they are telling other citizens to ignore them. If they vote for someone without a snowball's chance of winning, they should do it to send an important message, not "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." And if they join third parties that only undercut their own causes and the will of the majority, then maybe a little marginalization is just fine.

Jon Pearson is a resident of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

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