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Ralph Rising 

What the Nader Candidacy means for Gore, the Greens, the left, and the nation

Wednesday, Jun 28 2000
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Page 5 of 5

Which likely leaves Nader with a hard core of young progressives, and a number of older progressives who will stick with him -- or not -- depending on how Al Gore is faring against W.

V. ON THE EDGE

IT'S A NATURAL TENDENCY TO LOOK back at a third-party campaign and ascribe its relative success or failure to the campaign's ability to engage voters and occupy a political space all by its lonesome. Natural, but often wrong.

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In fact, third-party candidacies frequently rise and fall depending on the dynamic in the race between the two major-party candidates. The vote for five-time socialist candidate Eugene Debs spiked in 1912 at 6 percent, my historian friend Jim Chapin argues, chiefly because the Republicans had split that year, nominating two candidates, ensuring the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson, and freeing up leftists to vote their conscience. In 1948, former FDR Vice President Henry Wallace was polling as high as 12 percent in March, but when Harry Truman began to conduct a progressive campaign (for universal health care -- it's been around that long) and was closing the gap with Republican front-runner Thomas Dewey, Wallace's vote toppled to a little over 2 percent.

In the accompanying interview, Nader himself acknowledges that it's easier to vote for him in a state that's lopsidedly for Bush or Gore than it is in a tossup state. The same dilemma confronts the Greens on every election day, and unless governments shift to a proportional-representation system of vote counting -- a transformation not high on the wish list of any leftists save the Greens -- the system of winner-take-all elections will confine them to the margins of American politics, as it has confined every third party for 140 years.

What Nader and the Greens do have the power to determine is their own message, and here, a remarkable transformation has already occurred. The Greens now call themselves blue-green, which, in old-time parlance, largely means Red. For his part, Ralph Nader has emerged as the scourge of the world capitalist system in its totality, a synthesizer, a seer despite himself. Cool and austere as an El Greco saint, he stands alone at the lectern, a force for justice who could become so much more of one if only he could find a way to touch his ever-respectful listeners.

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