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The Great Divide

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

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.  

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

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.  

Clancy Sigal, novelist and author of The Secret Defector

I want to vote for a Democrat, not two Republicans running against each other. It seems to me Nader is the only candidate that embodies the ideals of the New Deal and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He’s got the guts, the wiliness, the strategic competence and the élan, above all the élan. I’m not voting for him because I agree with him; he agrees with me. I’m a citizen; I don’t play Russian roulette with my vote, I use it wisely and for the future, and that’s why I’m voting for Nader. I don’t care who’s electable; that’s playing the Republicrats’ game. I’m not a member of the cult of winning and losing. I want to cast a vote for building future coalitions. Gore is gutless. It’s a lot of fun to vote for a guy with courage. I vote third-party a lot, and I have the sense this is the first time it’s not a protest vote. I’m voting to build something from the ground up. I spent time with the kids down at the Convergence Center during the DNC, and I have the sense there is a vast parallel America growing out there and growing very fast. Something is going on out there in the country that hardly ever gets reported, but it’s alive, it’s electric, and it’s the future. Gore is yesterday’s man, and Bush is years past. My union friends are staunchly pro-Gore. I hate to part from them, but I want to build that coalition of students, street radicals and union people based upon an enhanced consciousness that neither Gore nor Bush has added to. Nader has. Probably the Gore people have terrific arguments, but people of good will can disagree. There’s no point in any of us name-calling or pointing the finger. I do think the whole winner-loser syndrome is a cult. I should very much doubt I’ve ever voted for a presidential candidate who won. That’s not my deal.

Cornel West, professor of Afro-American Studies and Philosophy of Religion at Harvard University and author of Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America

I supported my dear friend and brother Bill Bradley, as did Paul Wellstone, and we had a good time. I love him dearly. But I am an independent. And I’m a free black man; I speak my mind and heart and soul. And that’s why I’m for brother Ralph Nader. Not because he’s a perfect candidate — no candidate is perfect. But for me on personal grounds, I reached a point where working people and poor people are so disregarded and disrespected by a corporate-dominated Democratic Party that you have to begin a new cycle somewhere with somebody. And this broadens the discourse and broadens the engagement. And maybe we can see a little leftward leaning in the Dem ocratic Party. We shall see. We shall see.

(Cornel West’s remarks are reprinted with his permission from a speech at the Shadow Convention in Los Angeles last August.)

Jon Wiener, professor of history at University of California at Irvine and author of Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files

The central conflict in America today is between the people and the powerful — that’s what Al Gore said at the Democratic National Convention. He’s right — but in his entire career, he’s never taken a stand against the powerful. Fortunately, there is one candidate who’s been fighting undemocratic corporate power for the last 30 years: Ralph Nader. Al Gore seems to want to forget the last eight years, but we shouldn’t. Clinton, Gore and Lieberman led the move away from the party’s traditional (if limited) social concerns to embrace policies that previously had been the Republicans’. The lowest point in the Clinton-Gore years came with what they called “welfare reform.” With that, Clinton and Gore did more to hurt poor women and their children than any Republican administration ever did. This is the lasting legacy of Gore’s years as vice president. But isn’t Gore better than Bush? Yes. And isn’t a vote for Nader really a vote for Bush? The race is close in only six or seven key states, and fortunate ly for us, California isn’t one of them. In those states, progressives should vote for the lesser evil — recognizing that, while Gore may be less bad, he still represents an evil.

 

The Gore Supporters

Elena Ackel, senior attorney for Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles

I’m voting for Gore, because I don’t want Bush to be president. I’m not happy with Clinton, and I’m not ecstatic with Gore, but I don’t want to vote for Bush. I can’t take a chance. The most important thing for me, for people to get any semblance of justice, is to get good judges. The idea of who George Bush might appoint is scary. These people live a long time, and they’re on the bench for life. I’m an old woman. I don’t have time to wait for things to get better. I’m tired, and I don’t want anybody messing with Social Security and Medicare.

Marshall Berman, professor of political science at City University of New York, author of All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.

Robert Borosage, co-director, Campaign for America’s Future, contributor to American Prospect

I think people in contested states should vote for Gore, because there is a significant difference between the two candidates who have a chance to win. The Supreme Court has sensibly gotten a lot of attention. But another large difference is for the most vulnerable in the society, especially poor women and children. With a Gore presidency, the minimum wage goes up; with Bush, a minimum-wage increase gets vetoed. With a Gore presidency, more children get health insurance; with a Bush presidency, progress on health insurance is sacrificed to his tax cut. In a Gore presidency, more money goes to poor schools and classrooms. Bush doesn’t even claim to invest more in schools. In a Gore presidency, unions and progressive and environmental groups have the space to organize and push reforms; under a Bush presidency, all those groups come under attack and must fight one rear-guard battle after another. In places where there is no contested election, progressives are free to vote their hearts. But where it is contested, where the election is close, it is vital that they vote their heads, and that is to vote Gore. Having argued with progressives that they have to vote for Gore, I will take my own advice.

Jan Breidenbach, executive director, Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing

Support is too strong a word. I will vote for Gore simply because a Bush presidency with a Republican Senate — and, God forbid, House — is unacceptable. I think Nader played an important role. I’m actually registered Green. But third parties are not mass movements, and elections do not offer true alternatives.

James Galbraith, professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin (and the person Nader has promised to name to replace Alan Greenspan as head of the Federal Reserve if he is elected)

I’m in a unique position as the only person to have been identified for a major post by any presidential candidate. I went and saw Ralph Nader, and I have tremendous admiration for him. But, while I very much identify with Nader’s issues, if there is one note in his campaign that doesn’t ring right to me, it is that there is no difference between Gore and Bush. I truly believe that there is, on fundamental issues like the future of Social Security, which is closely related to Governor Bush’s incredibly unbalanced tax plan, and for that reason I’m with Gore. At the same time, I recognize that here in Texas it doesn’t matter very much. On Al Gore’s side, I tend to think that his administration will be incomparably better on a whole host of issues progressives care about, and will take constructive input from our labor friends and leaders of the minority community that a Bush administration would ignore. I also think that a Gore administration would push for more public investment than you’re ever going to get under the Republicans. But at the same SEE GORE, PAGE 29 time, I give my entire blessing to anybody in Texas who votes for Nader. I’m a yellow dog, that’s my problem: I vote Democrat as a matter of religion. But I would think in states where the vote is close, people should not be under the illusion there is no difference.  

Todd Gitlin, professor of culture, journalism and sociology, New York University, and author of The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars

The argument for Nader rests on a number of dubious (or worse) claims. There is first the claim that Gore and Bush, or Democrats and Republicans, are crucially the same. How a thoughtful person who is not a born-again Trotskyite can think so about global warming, the Supreme and other federal courts, health insurance, the minimum wage, labor policy, energy policy, affirmative action, worker safety, campaign finance, boggles the mind. To assume these policy differences trivial, or the issues inconsequential, is foolhardy. We Happy Few climb onto an exalted plane above the tens of millions of people whose lives will likely be profoundly affected by the outcome. Such contempt for practical lives is the business of otherworldly aristocrats, not democrats. Of course the parties are corrupt fund-raising machines, of course corporate lobbies run amok. Subtract the left from the Dem ocratic Party, and see how much more corrupt it gets. There is secondly the claim that the Nader candidacy brings the hitherto sensibly demobilized masses out of the woodwork. Ruy Teixeira laid this one to rest in the summer issue of Dissent. There’s no persuasive evidence that large numbers of voters are staying home because they don’t have a left-wing alternative. That’s not the country we’re living in.

The argument for a “strategic vote” for Nader (let the polls make up your mind for you) rests on two other claims of certainty: 1) that polls are accurate and 2) that it would be good to build up the popular support for a third party so that it can get to 5 percent and therefore receive federal funds in the future. Leave aside the moral problem of conditioning your vote (i.e., the moral choice for which you, voter, and you alone are responsible) on polls and suppose, for the sake of argument, that the 5 percent solution works, and the Greens succeed in getting federal funds in future elections. Now what? On the off chance that they can avoid breaking into warring camps, à la the Reform Party, what they can look forward to is someday becoming, say, an 8 percent party. Wow. Let’s have another Republican doing more irreparable damage (we still haven’t recovered from the 12 Reagan-Bush years), complete with its unambiguous tilt toward big oil, against a nuclear-test ban, toward Star Wars, against labor organizing, for HMOs, for kindness toward the Pinochets of the world, etc., and maybe eight years on we can get to, say, 9 percent? 11 percent? This is the sort of sectarian thinking that has kept the left marginal for decades.

We’re not going to get a president better than Gore. We could get a lot worse. We can debate the reasons for this uninspiring prospect. But there it is, and will not be wished away by fulminating against corporations. Last I looked, the choice was not between Gore and Jesus Christ. If half the Naderite energy went to organizing a Million Humans March to welcome Gore to Washington, we’d stand a reasonable chance of seeing a Gore more to our liking. He is, as his fans and enemies all agree, a politician. Or you can always vote for Nader, in which case Gore will owe you nothing.

Arlie Hochschild, professor of sociology, UC Berkeley, and author of The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work

I’m definitely voting for Gore. The race is so close, and the stakes so high — the right to choose, the environment, tax policy — that I’m voting Gore. Bush is Reagan all over again, and would set us back light-years. Once Gore is in, we can work on him from the left.

Stuart Kwoh, Los Angeles civil rights activist

I will be voting for Al Gore. He has a chance to win; Ralph Nader does not. By winning, Al Gore may have the chance to select several U.S. Supreme Court justices who support civil rights laws and issues. That can make a difference for decades to come.

Salim Muwakkil, columnist, In These Times and Chicago Tribune

The choice between Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and Democrat Al Gore is an agonizing choice, for all the obvious reasons. The choice is a bit clearer for African-Americans, however, who likely would bear the brunt of a Republican administration should George W. Bush squeak past Gore. What’s more, there’s a good chance that Congress will remain in the GOP’s hands; that dire prospect would set the stage for a three-branch assault on the very idea of an activist, progressive government. It was that idea that justified programs designed to redress the varied legacies of slavery and Jim Crow apartheid. I’m a longtime admirer of Ralph Nader and a firm believer that we need to establish a genuine left-leaning political party, which would occur if Nader’s Green Party garnered 5 percent of the national vote. But I’m also a middle-class man with marketable skills, as are many of Nader’s most fervent supporters. A GOP takeover of the federal government probably would have negligible effects on us. But it would have a direct effect, for example, on people I know who live in public housing and those many others who live and toil in Chicago’s ungentrified precincts. I can’t help but feel a bit selfish for supporting Nader’s idealistic but doomed candidacy in the face of those realities. I remember the dirty dozen years of the Reagan-Bush regime and its dire consequences. But I also remember how that era started and how many progressives urged a vote for independent candidate John Anderson in the 1980 election that launched Reagan; Jimmy Carter was too tepid a liberal for our tastes. The black community is still paying a steep price for the perverse policies put in place during that benighted era. Nader clearly is the best man for the job, but I’m voting for the lesser of the two-party evils. The worst of those evils is just too likely to cause too much damage.  

Angela Oh, appointee, Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission

I am voting for Gore/Lieberman. My decision to vote for them is based on several things, the most important of which ã is the fact that the next president will name at least two (possibly three) justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. I don’t want to make the mistake of placing Bush into office (as we did Reagan) by voting for Nader (who seems not to understand the global relations that are emerging as a result of our nation’s diversity).

Torie Osborn, executive director, Liberty Hill Foundation

I will vote for Gore, and aggressively lobby all my Nader friends to “Think Nader; Vote Gore” (a great bumper sticker I saw the other day), because a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. A Bush presidency will result in radical-right activists on the Supreme Court and other judicial appointments, which would push public policy toward regressive directions on women’s and gay rights, labor rights, criminal justice and other key issues. Also, Bush’s blatant homophobia and his blood lust on the death penalty are chilling. I recognize the Clinton/Gore shortcomings, but it is not a coincidence that the past eight years have seen a resurgence of both hope and real organizing in a progressive direction. Democratic presidents open up political space for progressives to organize in ever more positive directions. Republican presidents don’t just make life worse for the poor, gays and lesbians, immigrants, women, other groups marginalized or out of power; their blatant support of the rich and powerful dampens hope for and optimism about progressive social change itself — and that may be the most damaging impact.

Ishmael Reed, essayist and novelist, author of The Reed Reader

The white left can afford to experiment with Nader, because they agree with Bush that the problems African-Americans face are traceable to their personal behavior. As an African-American, I have to go with Gore, given the alternative. The Bush family gave us Willie Horton, drugs in the inner city, the outrage of Tulia, Texas, where 17 percent of the adult African-American population was rounded up and humiliated before photographers on trumped-up drug charges that were based upon the testimony of a corrupt undercover agent. And recently George W. Bush and his wife defended the Confederate flag. She even said that the Confederate flag was part of the Southern heritage. I wonder what heritage she’s talking about? Whipping people?

George Bush’s enthusing about the reading scores of African-American fourth-graders has got to be the most cynical act in recent political history. The Bush family is always using black people for one purpose or the other. Bush’s father is famous for the Willie Horton campaign, in which they used a negative image of black people to gain 30 points among white male voters in the South during the time that Horton ad was used. In this case, they’re using black people to show their compassionate conservatism.

Mark Rosenbaum, legal director, Southern California ACLU

The Nader campaign raises the gut issues for the disenfranchised that Gore and Bush are ignoring: living wage, race and affirmative action, corporate welfare, etc. But the reality is that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, and the two major-party candidates are not fungible, especially as regards Supreme Court appointments. If Bush wins, the disenfranchised suffer more, a great deal more.  

Robert Scheer, syndicated columnist, author of Thinking Tuna Fish, Talking Death: Essays on the Pornography of Power

I believe there is such a thing as voting for the lesser of two evils. Obviously, I agree with almost everything Nader says. But there are plenty of people I agree with. I don’t think Nader offers anything but a spoiler role in this election. Nor do I think Nader has been strong in the way Jesse Jackson has on the issues of poverty and race, which I think are the most critical. It does matter that the Supreme Court has only upheld affirmative action by a one-vote margin. The next president will probably get to appoint three or four justices, and Gore is solidly on record as favoring affirmative action as well as a woman’s right to choose. And that’s important. Certainly I agree with Nader that both parties sell out to the major corporations, but the Dem ocrats want to make sure there are more crumbs from the table. If your survival depends upon those crumbs, be it Head Start, food stamps, scholarship money or health care, then that’s important.

Stanley Sheinbaum, Los Angeles activist

I’m voting for Gore, because we cannot take the chance that Bush might win. The entire race is just too tight, state by state, including in California. Nader has about the best grasp of what’s awry in this country, but he does not have the power to implement any of the policy suggestions he has. Even if he wins, he is not the kind of politician who could implement what is necessary to control the corporate world. My primary concern, though, is to stop Bush. He’s kept his agenda pretty well under the table, about being against choice, but his tax cuts would be devastating to the economy. He has too simplistic a view of the system. It’s pretty well known Gore’s appointments to the Supreme Court will be a lot better than Bush’s. An even bigger concern that has not been talked about much is that Bush will be able to tilt the Federal Reserve Board in a way that will hurt the economy, given his view on how the economy functions.

Andrew L. Stern, president, Service Employees International Union

For me, this is an easy choice: Gore. We have elections to vote for somebody who can win. To use your vote as a protest to me is unwise. Al Gore has been with us on the picket line, organizing home-care workers in California, and he saved the public-hospital system in Los Angeles. Ralph Nader has wonderful positions on the issues, but he’s not going to be in Washington, D.C. To me, an election is about who’s actually going to do something, not just what they say. Our members absolutely economically can’t afford George Bush as president.

Kent Wong, UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education

I am voting for Al Gore. A vote for Ralph Nader is a symbolic protest vote. While Nader’s message is appealing, he lacks a strategic vision for building a progressive movement that forges alliances between workers and communities of color.


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