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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

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Frances Fox Piven, political-science professor at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York and co-author of Why Americans Don’t Vote

I’m voting for Nader with a relaxed conscience. It’s very easy for me in New York, and it should be easy in California. Al Gore is the candidate of the Democratic Leadership Council, which is absorbed in trying to pry the Dem ocratic leadership away from its historic base, which they call special interests. But to them, women, minorities and working people are special interests. I would vote for Nader even in a state like Oregon or Washington. This campaign is occurring at a point in time when corporate domination of the economic and social life in this country is virtually complete, when inequalities are at unparalleled levels and politics are corrupted by corporate money. The only hope for reversing those conditions is a powerful protest movement, and the signs of such a movement are emerging. The issues Nader articulates resonate with the emerging movement: He’s anti-corporate, concerned about the erosion of democracy and economic justice. It is in the strength of that movement that I place my trust. I think that the two issues that very reasonably are of great concern to progressives who are inclined toward Gore is what a Bush presidency would do to reproductive rights and labor. Those are legitimate issues, but they are not issues in states where the spread between candidates is large. It doesn’t make any strategic sense in California or in New York or in New Jersey to vote for Gore.

Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation and author of the forthcoming essay collection Subject to Debate

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I’m voting for Nader, because Gore has New York state locked up, so he doesn’t need my vote. I don’t believe in the creative-destruction theory, that President Bush will be good for left politics. The Reagan years were not wonderful for left-wing politics, the Bush years were not good, and I don’t think the W. years would be good, either. However, the other side of it is, I am not an admirer of Al Gore, who is much too conservative. I think that a Nader vote in New York state sends the message that there is a constituency for progressive politics that should be attended to. Whether the Democrats hear this message is another question. Nader’s candidacy will not provide the way through which poor people get to live decent lives, it’s not going to be the way the system of class privilege is overthrown. Isn’t that obvious? The ideal outcome is Gore is president and Nader gets his 5 percent, then maybe the Democratic Party will say we can’t completely ignore this bloc of the electorate. Of course, I think it more likely the party will look at the 48 percent that votes for Bush and say we can’t ignore those people. Once you’re so far to the center, it’s easier to take a vote from the Republicans than to take a vote from Ralph Nader.

Carlos Porras, executive director, Communities for a Better Environment

Certainly we have more of an alignment with Nader’s platform, but that is not to say that Nader’s platform has addressed all of our issues. Even Nader has not given enough attention to the disproportionate impacts of environmental policy and environmental hazard that reflect directly on the health of urban poor communities. As for Gore, the rhetoric we have seen coming out of this administration, from both Clinton and Gore, has been unsatisfactory, with some lip service to environmental justice but a lot of support for market incentives, which is largely a veil for deregulation. Nader does have the visibility in the media to challenge the other parties to be more responsible on issues of environmental justice. That is what I hoped would happen.

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive

The Progressive doesn’t endorse candidates, but I’m voting for Ralph Nader. Al Gore has done nothing to earn my vote. A lot of us have worked hard to get rid of U.S. sanctions against Iraq: Al Gore is in favor of the sanctions, which have killed more than 500,000 Iraqi children. A lot of us have worked to expand the safety net: Al Gore helped shred the safety net as the primary person in the Clinton White House pushing for so-called welfare reform. A lot of us are against the death penalty: Al Gore’s in favor of the death penalty. A lot of us want to see cutbacks in defense spending: Al Gore wants to raise defense spending. Nader is raising issues neither of the other candidates is touching. He’s for universal health care, for full public funding of elections, for an end to the senseless war on drugs and an overhaul of our discriminatory criminal justice system, for a full-bore attack on corporate greed. I feel he’s earned my vote.

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