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Endorsements 

The Weekly’s recommendations in the November general election

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PRESIDENT: Ralph Nader (conditionally)

Ralph Nader is the clear choice for progressive voters in November’s presidential contest. At a time when the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee have drifted far from the party’s liberal roots and working-class concerns, Ralph Nader has emerged as a strong voice — the only one in this year’s campaign — for democratizing the new global order, for universal health care, for getting money out of politics. Over the course of the campaign, Nader has become the foremost critic of the financial world’s hostile takeover of civilization, and the foremost proponent of an alternative approach that would restore popular control over the growing sovereignty of the markets. A vote for Nader is a cri de coeur against the cult of laissez faire — and a knock upside the head to a Democratic Party that has grown far too comfortable with Wall Street’s world-view and campaign contributions.

So why a conditional endorsement? Because in some states (although probably not our own) a vote for Nader would help put George W. Bush in the White House. Which brings us to the condition in this year’s endorsement.

Defeating Governor Bush must be the paramount concern of progressive voters this November. Behind W.’s happy face lurk forces that want to turn America in the 21st century into a New Age version of America in the 19th — when individuals provided for their own retirement and medical care, when abortions (and gays and lesbians) belonged in closets, when unions barely existed and health, safety and environmental regulations didn’t exist at all. For all of Al Gore’s shortcomings, the differences between Gore and Bush are gaping. Gore has consistently advocated stronger action to arrest global warming; W. still questions whether global warming actually exists. The steadily growing projections of the budget surplus have only widened the differences between the two: Gore now calls for public investments to help seniors pay for prescription drugs, make preschool universal and enable the middle class to afford college tuition payments, while Bush now calls for a huge tax giveaway to the rich.

So what’s a voter to do? Our recommendation is to vote for Ralph Nader, assuming the late polls show that California (or whatever your state may be) is firmly in Gore’s camp. But if those last polls before election day make it too close to call, hold your nose and vote for Al Gore. From where we sit, flexibility in the cause of progressivism is no vice.

 

Throughout American history, third-party candidates have raised issues the two major parties wouldn’t otherwise touch. Third-party nominees have set goals that the nation would realize only after several decades; they have also inspired idealists and young people to commit some portion of their lives to political action. Such was the effect of socialists Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas, progressives Theodore Roosevelt, Robert LaFollette and Henry Wallace.

And now, Ralph Nader. In the course of Campaign 2000, this critic of corporations and champion of economic democracy has been posing a deeper, more fundamental question: What has happened to the nation, to its commitment to civic life, to its spirit? In effect, he has become the personification of the spirit of Seattle, giving voice to the fierce indignation that underlies that movement. The takeover of government and politics by big money, the trivialization of TV news, global warming — Nader places all of these into a larger context: the shrinking of the public sphere, the reduction of citizens to consumers, producers, investors. He challenges his audiences, particularly on campuses, to become public citizens to help stem this tide. Nader has assumed the inspirational mantle of the best third-party candidates; he is, by the power of words and example, turning many of his listeners into activists. By this measure, his campaign is already a success.

The changes that Nader is calling for are clearly the changes that America needs to make. To counter rising inequality, he advocates a national living wage, rather than a mere minimum wage. He supports changes in the law that would enable workers to organize without fear of retaliation. He stands for universal single-payer health care, for a public commitment to affordable housing, and for reclaiming our democracy through full public financing of campaigns. Crucially, he is the only candidate in the field who does not view globalization through a corporate prism, who sees the race to the bottom that corporate globalization sets off, who documents its wreckage and its casualties.

He is also the only candidate willing to label as folly two failed and costly national priorities that the two main candidates embrace. Nader opposes creating an anti-ballistic-missile system, on the reasonable grounds that it’s unworkable, hugely expensive, not calibrated to stop any real nuclear attack (which is more likely, he says, to be delivered by a terrorist than a missile), likely only to destabilize our relations with the Russians and make any moment on the threshold of war insanely dangerous. He also points out that our drug war is an abysmal failure and calls instead for a national commitment to drug-treatment programs. He stands against the death penalty. And he has ventured into areas that are new for him — calling, for instance, for civilian review boards to oversee America’s police departments.

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