Despite the ballot controversy in Florida, the presidential election
did produce confirmed winners: One of them was Ralph Nader.
Nader did his part to defeat Al Gore, as was his stated goal. In
the last weeks of his campaign, Nader ignored Gore-safe states like
California and New York, where he could have appealed to progressives
to vote tactically and increase his national vote total. Instead,
he concentrated on Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the Nader
turnout nearly swung the states to George W. Bush.
In his public statement after the election, Nader justified his
spoiler role, saying that the Democratic Party "has been seized
by its conservative-moderate, pro-corporate wing," which "produced
a candidate and a platform that simply did not excite the voters."
He went on to say: "Progressives in the Democratic Party must decide
whether they want to remain a captive of the Democratic Leadership
Council and its love affair with the big corporate money that fills
the party's coffers."
While Nader is correct that the Democratic Party failed to nominate
a candidate or put forth a platform that inspired voters, on all
the rest he is off-base. Progressive Democrats are not hostages
of the Democratic Leadership Council and its corporate sponsors.
Yes, the DLC exerts great influence over the party, especially the
Democratic National Committee in Washington. But the Democratic
Party is not a monolith; it is a collection of local and state organizations
of varying political hues.
The party is home to centrist Wall Street bankers and corporate
liberals; it is also the political arena where the majority of African-Americans,
Latinos, trade unionists, feminists, environmentalists, and gays
and lesbians practice politics. Nader has acknowledged that Congress
contains about 80 good representatives. All of these men and women
have solid anti-corporate credentials. All are supported and elected
by activists and voters that call the Democratic Party home. And,
yes, most of them voted for Gore--not because he was their ideal
candidate, but because he was better than Bush.
The Green Party could be a vehicle for progressive change if we
elected our representatives through a system of proportional representation.
The current winner-take-all system, however, prevents the formation
of successful third parties. That is a reality. And while Nader
calls on people "to join the Green Party," the party doesn't exist
as a coherent entity, which explains why he is not a member--there
is no party to join.
Nader promised to "transform this year's race into an open debate
on corporate control of our democracy and our lives." This much
needed discussion would have found a much wider audience if Nader
had run as a Democrat in the primary. He would have been in all
the televised debates and addressed the Democratic Convention. From
that platform, Nader's message would have found a national audience
far greater than the talk show appearances and sound bites that
were generated by his Green Party campaign. From that platform,
Nader's call for citizen, not corporate, rule would have found a
sympathetic ear among progressive Democrats--those unionists, African-Americans,
Latinos, feminists, environmentalists, and gays and lesbians to
whom the Democratic Party is home.
A left electoral strategy should aim to unify progressive voters.
A Nader bid for the Democratic nomination would have done that.
Yes, he would have lost, but such a campaign could have laid the
foundation for the creation of a caucus--let's call them Green Democrats--that
could challenge the DLC in congressional primaries across the country
in 2002 and fight for the soul of the party.
Instead, Nader and his largely white, middle-class, youthful followers
chose the righteous path of the true believer. While that may have
made them feel good, it did little to advance a progressive agenda.
Indeed, should Bush become president, the gains of the past eight
years will be nullified--a fact not lost on those Nader supporters
who abandoned their candidate on November 7 and wisely, if reluctantly,
cast a pragmatic vote for Gore.