Its one thing to vote for Nader in a state like California that appears to be a likely win for Gore (but keep checking those polls). In states too close to call, however, a vote for Nader could surely trigger a Bush Fratboy Restoration, with all that entails. Some prospective Nader voters acknowledge that a vote for Ralph comes at a real cost but not one that in the end is too high to pay. Writing in Sundays Los Angeles Times, Clancy Sigal (author of one of the greatest unsung American novels, Going Away) concedes that people may be hurt by my Nader vote . . . the economically disenfranchised . . . the elderly and the ill who would suffer if W. becomes president. However, he argues, I am into a long-term struggle to help build a new, progressive coalition that outflanks the Democratic Party . . .
This raises the age-old question of whether the end justifies the means but we need to pose an easier question first: Does a successful Nader candidacy (which Naderites define as one that pulls 5 percent of the nationwide vote, thus qualifying the Greens for federal funding in 2004) build a new progressive coalition at all? (This is a question that pertains even in states that are safe for Gore, since were talking about aggregate national totals.) Suppose the Greens do become political players after this election. What will that mean for the future of left politics?
To the best of my knowledge, Nader has addressed this question specifically only once: in an interview with David Moberg in the October 30 issue of In These Times, the independent left periodical. Nader begins by acknowledging that if he lived in the congressional district of Henry Waxman, the West Los Angeles Democrat whos long been the most successful legislative champion of consumer rights and higher health and environmental standards, hed vote for Waxman unhesitatingly. (Indeed, when he was asked by a reporter at this summers Green Party Convention to name three things he liked about America, Nader listed Waxman as thing number two.)
At this point, though, Naders sketch of his strategic vision for the Greens becomes mind-boggling. Two years hence, if a Green runs against his number-two favorite American thing, says Nader, hell back the Green. Theres an overriding goal here, and thats to build a majority party, he says. I hate to use military analogies, but this is war . . . After November, were going to go after the Congress in a very detailed way, district by district. If [Democrats in a particular district] are winning 51 to 49 percent, were going to go in and beat them with Green votes. Theyve got to lose people, whether theyre good or bad. Moberg goes on to report that Nader is willing to sacrifice progressives like [Senators] Russ Feingold in Wisconsin or [Paul] Wellstone [in Minnesota]. Nader explains, Thats the burden theyre going to have to bear for letting their party go astray. Its too bad.
Ill say its too bad! What Nader is proposing is a policy of no friends on the left that the Greens target as their main enemy such left leaders as Wellstone and Feingold, the only political members who both share their beliefs and who actually win elections. Most progressive Democratic House figures have safe seats but some dont. The late George Brown Jr., who cast the first House vote against the Vietnam War, who led the successful fight against Reagans Star Wars lunacy and who voted against the welfare-reform bill of 1996, represented for nearly 30 years a center-right district in San Bernardino. He was repeatedly re-elected by 51-to-49 percent margins, at best, and he went right on casting one politically suicidal vote after another to follow the dictates of his conscience.
Its precisely the George Browns whom Naders Greens would defeat. And progressive senators (since senators represent states, not safe congressional districts) like Wellstone the Senates leading advocate of universal single-payer health insurance and Feingold the Senates leading advocate of campaign finance reform.
And to what end? There isnt one chance in a million the Greens could become a majority party in the U.S. Nowhere in the world (except, for a time, in Tasmania) have the Greens even managed to win a plurality in multiparty elections. Where they are in government as minority members of left coalitions, as in Germany, its because they have won between 5 and 10 percent of the vote in nations where such a vote entitles a party to seats in parliament. And in these nations, voting Green isnt agonizing; its easy. In these nations, a Green vote doesnt come at the expense of the Social Democrats: The two parties can and often do join together in coalition. In the American electoral system, by contrast, with its winner-take-all vote count, Green votes will always come at the expense of the Democrats. Which is to say, the only possible effect of running against the all-too-few Wellstones, Feingolds and George Browns of this world will be to elect Republicans.