Few issues have aroused such passion and debate on the American
political left as how to approach this year's Nader-LaDuke Green
Party campaign for the White House. For those who support the progressive
policies of Nader and LaDuke, the questions are tactical: Will a
vote for Nader help to elect Bush, a truly horrendous and reactionary
fool? Is the Nader campaign a necessary step in breaking out of
the downward cycle of "lesser-of-two-evils" politics? Is the ultimate
route to advancing left electoral politics to come through the Democrats
or through a third party like the Greens? Whatever one thinks of
Nader's campaign, a discussion of these sorts of long-term strategic
issues has been long overdue, which explains the passion and intelligence
of much of this debate.
I have made my own case for why I believe it important for those
on the left to support Nader. Some people like In These Times
founder James Weinstein and editor Joel Bleifuss disagree. Although
they have raised some strong points, on balance, I think they are
wrong. But with the publication of Carl Pope's piece, the debate
in this magazine has careened off the tracks.
Since this is a strategic and tactical debate over whether or not
to pull the lever for
Nader, we need to stop thinking of this in the abstract as some national,
whoever-gets-the-most-votes-wins election. The presidential election
is not determined by whoever gets the most votes. Due to the electoral
college system, it is settled on a state-by-state basis.
As of this writing, the outcome in around half the states effectively
has been decided. If someone lives in states like Texas, Indiana
or Arizona, they can vote for Nader with complete and total peace
of mind because Gore doesn't have a prayer. Likewise, there are
several places--Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are obvious
ones--where Gore has a commanding lead. If everyone sympathetic
to Nader voted for him, Gore would still carry these states with
And Gore has recently built up solid leads of 5 to 10 points in
many states across the Northeast and Midwest. If Bush's campaign
continues to flounder--and his incompetence, corruption and stupidity
become more apparent--only the most cautious souls in the few states
where the race is close need consider a vote for Gore. But even
if the outcome remains in doubt to the end, some 40 states still
should be clearly in the Bush or Gore column beforehand.
In this light, assuming votes for Nader do not cost Gore the election,
it is in the interest of all progressives, all who believe Nader
is right on the issues, for his campaign to do well this year. If
Nader can get 5 percent of the vote, it will guarantee some $12
million in matching funds to the Greens in 2004. In view of the
media blackout of the Nader campaign and its lack of money, getting
5 percent of the vote would be a huge victory and would invigorate
organizing in the coming years.
Now some sympathetic to left politics but committed to working
within the Democratic Party might find this counterproductive. They
might fear that an established Green Party would undermine our ability
to push the Democrats to the left. I think that is wrong. If Nader
does get less than 5 percent of the vote, it will spell disaster
for progressive electoral politics. If Nader gets smashed down to
1 or 2 percent of the vote, it will send a clear message that there
is no viable constituency for left politics in this country. It
will demoralize all progressives immeasurably. But if Nader does
well, it will assure those working within the Democratic Party that
there is a base of voter support for their policies.
Let me reiterate this crucial point: The progressive wing of the
Democratic Party has been crushed by the pro-corporate Democratic
Leadership Council over the past two decades. It only looks to get
worse. It used to be that "moderate" Democrats like LBJ and Jimmy
Carter picked liberals like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale to
balance the ticket. With the moderate Gore's selection of the militaristic,
business-loving Lieberman, he raised a middle finger to the left
in the party and the nation. And now we are supposed to believe
that Nader getting 1 percent of the vote instead of 5 percent or
more will increase progressive leverage within the party? I don't
There is another reason why Nader doing well is crucial to the
development of left electoral politics. It is arguable that the
electorate, even with our pathetic news media, is well to the left
of the established political parties. Survey after survey finds
considerable popular support for progressive issues like single-payer
health insurance and campaign finance reform. Both Bush and Gore
made their largest gains in the polls when they pitched their campaigns
to the left of their standard comfort zones. In each case this was
the result of extensive focus-group research on likely voters by
the campaigns, not a sincere shift in thought by the candidates.
Moreover, the majority of adults are now non-voters, and as they
are disproportionately young, minorities and working-class, they
fit the profile of those more inclined to vote left. Were it not
for the electoral system and the role of big money, U.S. politics
would be well to the left of where it is today.
One of the core problems the left faces is that many Americans
consider politics irrelevant and see little difference between the
parties. In the official culture, Clinton and Gore are the left-wing,
which means most Americans don't even have a sense of what progressive
politics actually look like. If Nader succeeds this fall, his greatest
contribution may be establishing a place for progressive politics
in our political culture. Millions of people oblivious to left ideas
might be exposed to them. I can hardly exaggerate how important
this will be to the left's long-term prospects. Likewise, if Nader
flops this fall, our job will be doubly difficult.
This is Nader's real threat to the status quo. The corporate establishment
knows he is not going to win the election, but they are scared to
death of the politics he represents. They want the world to see
Gore-Lieberman as the left edge of permissible thought. Accordingly,
The New Republic, New York Times and Washington Post,
to name a few, have engaged in a character assassination of Nader
and his campaign worthy of Pravda's treatment of Andrei Sakharov.
The Times, for example, has probably given Nader a minute
fraction of the coverage it has provided Bush or Gore, but it has
printed no less than four editorials and columns in the past 10
weeks attacking Nader that were filled with half-truths, innuendo
and flat-out lies.
Likewise, the Gore campaign has sent out its liberals to lead the
charge against Nader, arguing to those on the left that a vote for
Nader would lead to the ruination of the republic. Principled Democrats
like Paul Wellstone, Russ Feingold and Jesse Jackson Jr., who are
more interested in advancing progressive politics than winning brownie
points from the DLC, will have nothing to do with this charade.
But others, like Barney Frank, are trotting around the nation bashing
Nader in the most unscrupulous manner imaginable.
Enter Carl Pope. There are no concerns here with how best to advance
progressive politics. There is no discussion of tactical voting
in states where a vote for Nader will not hurt Gore. There is no
recognition whatsoever of the problems with Gore and the corporate
domination of the Democratic Party. That's because Pope isn't on
the left; he isn't a progressive in the contemporary usage of the
term. He has supported the mainstream of the Democratic Party over
his long career. His career has been filled with attempts to reduce
the influence of the left in the Sierra Club and the environmental
movement, to keep it respectable for corporate America. And it appears
he wants to do the same thing to the Democratic Party.
To employ Dick Cheney's vernacular, Pope supports Gore "big time."
For Pope to argue the truth, that he supports Gore's politics and
has been Gore's main advocate in the environmental movement for
more than a decade, would be counterproductive. His assignment is
to go around and thwart the rebellion against Gore by any means
necessary. So Pope submits this disingenuous and sloppy piece of
propaganda to In These Times to serve the Gore campaign.
(How sloppy? As key evidence, Pope tells us the great Bob LaFollette
didn't believe in third parties. In fact, LaFollette, out of disgust
with the status quo, established the Progressive Party and got 17
percent of the 1924 presidential vote on that ticket.)
Pope fraudulently masquerades as someone who supports Nader on
the issues but has been reduced to endorsing Gore this time because
of the technical nature of the two-party system. In the process,
he presents a mean-spirited and vicious diatribe against Nader,
his supporters and his campaign, all with the aim of discrediting
them. This is not meant to contribute to a comradely debate among
progressives, and it doesn't.
I am not trying to convince the Carl Popes of the world to vote
for Nader. They should vote for Gore. My concern is with those who
actually support Nader's policies, who are on the left, who want
to advance progressive politics, and who are understandably concerned
about the prospect of a Bush-Cheney administration. That is the
important debate that belongs in In These Times.
Now read Carl Pope's response, "Power