The Great Divide 

Why Cornel West, Barbara Ehrenreich, Alexander Cockburn, Katha Pollitt and others are voting for Ralph Nader . . .And why Todd Gitlin, Ishmael Reed, Arlie Hochschild, Robert Scheer and others are not

The Nader Supporters

Alexander Cockburn, political columnist and co-author of Al Gore: A User’s Manual

As three debates showed, nothing of substance separates Gore from Bush, and in many instances (the military budget, crime, intervention overseas), Gore is actually to the right of Bush. In such a situation, how could anyone interested in trying to build a mass radical alternative to the two major parties contemplate voting for Gore? Gore, who supervised sanctions that have killed about a million Iraqi children, who urged Clinton to sign the welfare bill, who supported expansion of the federal death penalty to include 50 new crimes, who gave labor NAFTA, who gave Green groups NAFTA? In the end, the system, including the courts, responds to the power of mass movements. When history offers us these opportunities, we should seize them.

Marc Cooper, contributing editor of The Nation and host of Radio Nation

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Because I believe in the lesser of two evils, I’m going to vote for Ralph Nader. What are the two evils? The first evil would be taking enough votes away from Gore to elect Bush. But because Bush and Gore are so similar, that’s not a very big evil at all. The bigger evil would be to continue to abandon hope and stay paralyzed and take what should be a dissenting vote and a hopeful vote and casting it for the candidacy of someone who hasn’t earned it and doesn’t deserve it. Sometimes the greatest risk is no risk at all.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association

At the California Nurses Association, we see a dramatic need for health-care reform, and we don’t believe we have the political luxury to let the corporations decide the fate of the human condition. Nader’s campaign is ultimately committed to building a social movement to give power to the working people in this country and take it out of the hands of the corporations. For me, the issue isn’t Al Gore vs. Ralph Nader. It’s corporations vs. civic responsibility. For all the myriad reasons in terms of what Nader stands for, he’s essentially incorruptible. Just the vision of Ralph even potentially holding that office — things would change dramatically in this country. The problem with politics is that they become so embroiled in money. Nader is someone outside the political and corporate establishments, and therefore doesn’t have the opportunity to get his message out. But he’s built a phenomenal grassroots effort. He’s given people something to believe in. I was with Ralph a couple of weeks ago, when he was talking to a group of students in San Jose. He asked them, “Do you want the politicians to vote their conscience?” They all said yes. He said, “Then perhaps you should vote your own.” That’s pretty compelling, I think.

Barbara Ehrenreich, columnist for The Progressive, contributor to The Nation and author of Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War

I’m voting for Nader, because he’s much more representative of what I believe in and stand for. He is critical of corporate domination, and he is the only one to address the economic issues faced by so many people. The Democratic Party has been taken over by a conservative faction, and a vote for Gore is a signal that’s okay with you. Gore’s party is not my party. The party I grew up with has been hijacked, and now we have to either change the party or build a new progressive party. It’s a symptom of how undemocratic the system has become that, if you vote for the candidate you want, you may end up tilting the election toward your least favorite candidate. We really need a movement for democracy in America where we have more than two parties, and systems of voting in which you pick a first and second choice. The Supreme Court is a SEE NADER, PAGE 27 concern, and I’m not saying this is a snap decision. But the Supreme Court justices have not been totally predictable in terms of how they will vote on reproductive rights. Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by Reagan, and she’s turned out to be pro-choice. I have never seen such inadequate candidates. We deserve a better choice. Too bad Nader did not run in the Democratic primary. I think he might have done something. He is a real person. With Gore, there is just something missing.

Maurice Isserman, history professor at Hamilton College and author of The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington

Like the late Michael Harrington, I am an advocate of the “left-wing of the possible.” Both the relevant historical literature and the bitter experience of generations of American radicals suggest that third-party strategies do not fall under that heading. Even if Nader and the Greens hit the magic 5 percent mark in this year’s election, it does not mean that this will mark the beginning of a new era for American politics (witness the fate this time around of the Reform Party, which did considerably better than 5 percent in its original outings). Having said that, I probably will vote for Nader in November, as a combination existential statement and shot across Gore’s bow. I will only do so, however, because I enjoy the luxury of living in New York state, where Gore has a lock on the state’s electoral votes. If I lived in Oregon or Washington, or another battleground state, I would not indulge myself in such a futile and self-defeating gesture.

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