Ralph Nader seems a respectable enough individual. A Harvard Law School alum, he let his conscience lead him away from the world of corporate law and into consumer activism. Through his landmark book Unsafe at Any Speed and through his tireless efforts to ensure consumer safety and manufacturer liability on items from automobiles to insurance policies, Nader has made American businesses more accountable. Furthermore, because of his lobbying efforts, federal regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have come into existence.
That's a lot of credibility to throw away on false distinctions, vain pipe dreams and reprehensible misstatements about the Democratic Party and the importance of this election. So, in the interest of helping you decide how to mark that ballot--no matter if you are from Massachusetts or Texas or Minnesota--let me bring you a few points of clarification on Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy.
The "tactical vote" for Nader will hurt Vice President Al Gore 69 and help Texas Gov. George W. Bush. This week, much has been made about tactical voting strategies that folks in California, say, who support Gore and Nader can vote for Nader without a worry, because the polls can guarantee California to Gore. If there has been any lesson in the last few weeks, it has been about the tightness of the race and the volatility (read irresponsibility) in the types of polls being conducted.
Hard numbers from respected pollsters are showing Gore in trouble in Minnesota, a Democratic mainstay in seven of the past eight elections, and Even in states that seem a total given, like Massachusetts or Texas, the Gore vs. Bush percentages will matter, in a media environment as data-hungry as this one, a strong Gore showing in Texas might help sway a late-deciding voter in Washington that Democratic is the way to go. The closeness of the House and Senate balance has also received only undercard status this year--a good Democrat turnout could dramatically change the balance in a way that is far less a waste of a vote.
Even Ralph Nader admits there are differences that matter between theDemocrats and the Republicans. This may come as a surprise to hard-coreNaderites. Under a storm of criticism, Nader, in an Aug. 12 letter to TheNew York Times and elsewhere, withdrew any connections with the assertion of no difference, stating instead that there were few major differences between the two candidates.
This leaves Nader in line with the facts, but still guilty by implication of saying that the choice between Bush and Gore will not address major issues. Yet the issues where the choice is most important--the future of a woman's right to choose, of environmental protection and consumer safety and of increasing limits on corporate influence on elections and lawmaking--are exactly the issues Nader claims to be running on!
If a Bush victory will eliminate the chance for advances on these issues for the next four years, will the money linked to a five-percent vote really be a worthwhile consolation four years from now? The paltry millions allowed from federal coffers to a third party are miniscule when compared to the outlay for occupational safety, the environment or consumer protection--all areas where a Republican president, in concert with a Republican controlled Congress, might go hunting for extra money to pay for tax breaks or collateral for Social Security experiments.
The challenge on abortion rights stands by itself, but a more general point about the Supreme Court is relevant: If Nader believes in the use of the federal government to fight for manufacturer liability and other forms of regulation in potentially private concerns, how he can not agree that Gore will be better on many major as well as minor issues?
A Nader victory now will not necessarily help the Green Party in four years. If this is all about the 5 percent, the experience of the Reform Party should also provide a poignant example. This year, Pat Buchanan had the opportunity to blow $26 million dollars that equally fervent Ross Perot supporters won for the Reform Party in 1996 by garnering 7 percent of the vote. Reporting at the Reform Party convention(s) in Long Beach, found old-time Reformers flabbergasted by the way Buchanan could bring his hard-line Republican supporters into their party in search of money. Some had even been duped by Buchanan at first, believing reform was his real message; they then stood helpless as Buchanan commandeered the party simply by bringing in more members who supported him over the party's actual beliefs.
Four years is a long time, both in terms of federal policy and in terms of political beliefs. If the Green Party does succeed in gaining five percent, maybe Buchanan will find his environmental side and bring his well-oiled political machine to take over the Green Party four years from now.
There are no such thing as Nader supporters. As a final point, I think we all need to think about who exactly is behind Ralph Nader and why. Yes, there is a small, dedicated Green Party group, who really believe in the positions of the party, but even Nader wasn't among them when they approached him to run for President. For Nader and most of his supporters, the campaign is about a protest vote about Gores blandness, about a good economy and about the Left losing its vote.
Yes, Bill Clinton pulled the Democratic Party to the right; yes, Gore is not the most inspiring political leader of all time. Perot voters, disaffected Democrats, I feel your pain. Gore and Lieberman are not the leaders of Americas political left--but neither is Ralph Nader or the Green Party, liberals that they are. They just aren't leaders.
You get two choices for a national leader: George W. Bush or Al Gore. In this close an election, don't believe the Nader lie that the choice doesn't matter.
Adam I. Arenson '01 is a hisotry and literature concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.