On February 25, Robert McManmon castigated Ralph Nader for throwing his hat into the ring for the 2004 election in an act of “self-promoting hypocrisy.” According to McManmon, the so-called “Green Party spoiler of the 2000 presidential election” has nothing left to spoil “except his reputation.” While his conclusion that Nader’s “candidacy will be less likely to affect the outcome of the general election” this year is logically sound, the impetus behind his argument demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the necessity of the Nader campaign.
As McManmon rightly suggests, “liberal voters now appear to be concerned most with simply removing Bush.” The tendency of well-intentioned, progressive-minded individuals to hop aboard the “Anybody but Bush” train, however, directly underscores the need for Nader’s candidacy.
All signs point to John Kerry receiving the Democratic nomination to run against George W. Bush in the general election. When that happens, we will be faced with a choice. We will cast our votes for one of two wealthy white men from the Skull and Bones society of Yale University. We will decide between two men who voted for the war in Iraq. We will decide between two men who favor the PATRIOT Act. Two men who favor NAFTA and the WTO. Two men in the “yes” column on welfare reform. Two in the “no” column for gay marriage. Two for No Child Left Behind. Two for the maintenance of corporate “health care” and the death penalty. And one for sending 40,000 more American troops to the quagmire in Iraq in his first moments in office. And that’s not Bush.
In fact, the President himself-in a rare moment of brilliance that can only be attributed to Karl Rove-said it best: In the Democratic race, there are candidates “for tax cuts and against them, for NAFTA and against NAFTA, for the PATRIOT Act and against the PATRIOT Act, in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it. And that’s just one senator from Massachusetts.”
Americans deserve more than this hollow “choice.” And that’s precisely where Nader comes into play. Nader’s candidacy reminds us that deserting our values in favor of “Anybody but Bush” precisely fulfills the function of the Democratic Party machine. When people who organized in the streets for O17 or filled arenas for Nader’s Super Rallies become willing to set aside discourse in favor of fear, mainstream status quo Democrats rise to the top. And true progressives like Dennis Kucinich and even potential progressives like Howard Dean fall safely to the wayside.
If there is any hypocrisy in Nader’s campaign, it is that he did not more vocally and actively support Kucinich’s ongoing run for President-a candidate with precisely the same value structure and goals as Nader himself. But Nader fundamentally understands what Kucinich does not-that against the forces of the Democratic party and a media ever willing to obey, activating change from within the two-party system is next to impossible.
To call Nader the “spoiler of the 2000 election” and to even suggest that he might do so again is to disenfranchise millions of Americans with no better tool to exert their priorities in a democracy than their votes. The right to vote in the United States is not limited to the right to vote for one of two parties. When we do so, as Gore demonstrated in 2000 and Kerry stands ready to this fall, we eliminate differences and instead converge into a one-party system that effectively stifles dissent. That’s not, at least on paper, what this country is supposed to be about.
Nader’s new website (www.votenader.org) drives the point home: “It is not the job of third-party or Independent candidates to make sure either of the two major parties wins. That would be like asking a new start-up to make sure Microsoft or Apple has more market share.”
When we vote in a democracy, we fundamentally vote “for” a candidate-not against one. And when those of us who wish to vote for universal health care, against the death penalty, against the PATRIOT Act, against unending war, and against unfair and unworkable trade agreements enter the voting booth this November, Ralph Nader will allow us to do so.
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