August 21, 2000


What's in Your Green Tea?
An In These Times special investigation.

Why I'm Voting for Nader ...

... And Why I'm Not

Fox Shocks the World
Now comes the hard part for Mexico's new president.

Tijuana Troubles
NAFTA is failing workers.

Unions Get Religion


Safety Last
As oil prices soar, so do the number of deadly accidents.

Sale of the Century
An unusual government auction helps preserve the Nevada wilderness.

Water Wars

A botched deal leaves Palestinians high and dry.


Lowell Thompson, a.k.a Raceman.


Toxic shock.

HMO's invasion of privacy.


A Terry Laban Cartoon


Give It Away
The Maussians are coming.

Good Fela
The music, politics and legend of Nigeria's Fela Kuti.

Time's Arrow
A Chilean dissident finds the cinema in Proust.

Mission: Impossible 3
Goodbye, Mr. Secret Agent ...


Gore or Nader?

In These Times' readers speak out.

In response to the editorial by Guy Saperstein (8/7/2000) touting Gore as an environmentalist, I would ask that readers step back and take a look at the big picture. The U.S. has trouble getting a handle on its gross environmental problems because our government is corrupted by corporate money. I will vote for Ralph Nader because I believe his candidacy is a positive step toward loosening the stranglehold of corporate control over this and other parts of our lives. Bush may have a worse environmental record than Gore, but either of them can be bought by anyone with deep enough pockets.

Katie Rustad

Kennewick, WA


What's going on at In These Times? With Joel Bliefuss's touting of Al Gore for president the annual issue with all the labor union ads might be a bit skimpy this election year, especially after the latest Clinton/Gore sellout of labor on China.
Join the debate: Tell us what you think about Gore vs. Nader.

Now it's Guy Saperstein from the Sierra Club adding "greenwash" to the hogwash about Gore as "An Environmental President." Jane Holtz's trenchant warning about "Wolves in Green Clothing" (and by using Holtz's metaphor I do not intend to denigrate wolves, who as sentient beings, are more honest in their endeavors than either Bush or Gore) on the facing page of your August 7 issue should have been the headline for Saperstein's article.

Saperstein's desperately tries to score points for Gore as a "environmental president" based on a convoluted apples vs. oranges argument that is nothing but greenspin. Is he on Gore's campaign staff? He (very) selectively picks a (very) few positive environmental positions taken by VP Gore over the last seven years, and then portrays them as a Candide - like ''best of all possible worlds" in contrast to what George W. Bush says he might do or has done in Texas, the "worst of all possible worlds."

Hey, we don't need Guy Saperstein to tell us that George Dubya would not be the "environmental president." But in the interests of brevity, let's consider how attorney Saperstein selectively picks his evidence to exonerate Gore and indict Bush.

Exhibit one is oil drilling. Saperstein makes his (very) weak case based on one scenario - drilling in the Artic National Widlife Refuge. Bush is for it. But so was his father, Ronald Reagan, Senator Ted Stevens and Reagan's Interior Secretary James Watt, and what happened? Concerted Democratic, mainstream, and grassroots environmental, conservation, and indigenous groups raised enough of a fuss that it did not happen. Why wouldn't that still be the case if a Dubya administration comes into being? The perhaps groups like the Sierra Club would forget about inside-the-beltway "access" and legislation, and start fighting corporate predators and their political lackeys on environmental issues?

Saperstein says Al Gore is against such drilling in environmentally sensitive areas. Good! But Gore's record as VP indicates otherwise. Since Saperstein lives in California and is a lawyer, he must know about Al Gore's own 1998 "teapot dome" scam that privatized the Elk Hills reserve in California for Occidental Petroleum, in which Gore is a major stockholder! Do trustees of the Sierra Club know how to spell "conflict of interest?" This is the oil reserve that was linked to the infamous Teapot Dome, Wyoming scandal that revealed the corruption in the Harding administration in the 1920s, and sent the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, to prison for bribery. How does Al Gore get away with the largest privitization of public environmental resources in the history of the United States, with the Sierra Club's blessing?

Meanwhile Occidental is environmentlly raping the lands and resources of the indigenous U'wa people of Colombia, who have threatened mass suicide if they don't stop. But Gore supports Congress's appropriation of $1.6 billion for military terrorism to keep the world safe for Occidental and other multinational corporations under the guise of a bogus "war on drugs" in Colombia. Saperstein must be aware that the executive director of the Sierra Club has attempted to get "access" to Gore on the U'wa situation, but Gore has demurred to respond. He is too busy running for president to care about human rights. But like Candide, I guess the Sierra Club believes that this will change magically for the better when Al Gore has even more power if elected president, and they have even less "access." I'm sure the U'wa have read their Voltaire and are equally consoled.

And when he's not self-dealing directly, he's willing to sell oil drilling rights for campaign cash from other oil companies like Arco. In 1995 Gore opened the National Petroleum Reserve, which belonged to the U.S. navy, to Arco after receiving a couple hundred thousand dollars in campaign contributions. So much for the oil drilling issue Mr. Saperstein.

Al Gore's record, like George W. Bush's, shows that the interests of big oil companies trumps concerns for environmental quality or human rights. Both candidates and both parties collect their oil company stock dividends and campaign contributions. The alternative should be obvious to the editor and contributors of In These Times: the Green Party and Ralph Nader.

As an anti-environmental "wolf" at least Dubya shows us his fangs, and if elected, like his Republican predecessors, can be neutralized. But while Gore tries to retract his claws, he remains a "wolf in green clothing'' who cannot be trusted, and therefore is harder to curb. The question for Joel Bliefuss and Guy Saperstein about Al Gore is: why hasn't the Justice Department, the Sierra Club, or some muckraking journalists who are supposed to write for a progressive magazine like In These Times, pursued the obvious evidence that should result in Al Gore following Albert Fall to jail, instead of being ushered into the White House?

John Shaw

Tucson, Arizona


Dear Editor:

Wow! Where has Guy Saperstein been living? Does he really expect thinking Americans will believe his accolades over Al Gore's environmental plans in view of his abysmal record? Where is the VP on NAFTA, GATT, Elian Gonzalez, the MAI, that mephitic welfare bill signed by the administration, not a hint of universal health care and, hitting a point raised in his comments, the leasing of California oil lands that will dwarf Teapot Dome by comparison? This is for starters.

The Bush/Gore differences on choice are only an ideologic concern; choice is going no where. And the court? Despite the dregs that are Scalia and Thomas, neither candidate stands with Fortas, Brandeis, or Douglas.

The point remains - if we always go for the lesser of the two evils, when do we ever get what we need and want? There is an anecdote about the congressman who proposed a bill to finally change the country to the metric system to "keep up with the world." An opponent made a plea for the "old people" who are post schooling with set lifestyles and would be in turmoil in their old age in making the switch. The proponent nodded sympathetically and yielded by asking, "When, then, can we change?" "When all the old people die," came the reply.

The older generation and who knows how many more must pay the price for their mistakes. We have accepted all too long that lesser of the two evils concept and then always receiving the evil of the two lessers. If Nader and the Greens get enough votes, federal monies the next time around could be the start of something meaningful. Chairman Mao noted that every thousand mile march starts with a first step and it was Gene Debs who remarked that he would rather vote for someone he wants and not get him than for someone he does not want and get him.

Don Sloan

New York, New York


To the editor:

Guy Saperstein argues that environmentalists should vote for Al Gore since to do otherwise would risk a Bush presidency ("An Environmental President," August 7, 2000). He cites several specific issues that supposedly prove Gore's commitment.

Yet Saperstein misses the bigger picture. Whatever the merits of Gore or Bush on particular concerns, both enthusiastically support a continuation of the capitalist world economy that led us to such desperate straits in the first place. Capitalism ensures that we cannot create an environmentally sustainable society because it treats environmental damage as an "externality" and provides corporate polluters with tremendous influence in government. Gore may be better than Bush on national monuments, but both are equally enthusiastic about forcing upon the world an economic order that institutionalizes massive inequalities of wealth, the concentration of power and environmental destruction.

A vote for Gore or Bush is a vote to legitimate global corporate capitalism. Gore might destroy the environment less slowly than Bush, but the continuation of this economic system ensures that it will be a matter of time only.

Jake Werner

Evanston, Illinois,


I find Guy Saperstein's ''An Environmental President" - August 7, to be totally disingenuous and easily refuted on every point. Clinton has appointed two more conservatives to the Supreme Court and signed the salvage timber act. Al Gore could have broken a tie vote in the Senate ending road building in the National Forests, but had to stand behind Clinton as he made a speech that the U.S. must continue to use land mines. After the speech, still time to break the tie vote, but Al Gore left for a fund-raiser in NYC. Doubtless, the timber and land mine companies were there with their checkbooks. I personally will not vote for Al Gore if the election hangs on my vote. We have Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp and Kenneth Starr to thank for Social Security not having been eviscerated as welfare was, with its demise cloaked in a mantle of ''bipartisanship" This based on projections which cannot know birth rates or immigration rates over the next forty years. Clinton and Gore have presided over eight more years of Reaganism by the following routine: Say something really progressive, get the right wing mad as hell. Get the right wing mobilized, go with the right wing's policy. Say that he's sorry to liberals and the left. Thus we get talk, they get action. Isn't it time someone else noticed this? It is very hard to fight the President of your own party when he repeatedly sells you down river. Thus most liberals in Congress voted with the President on his illegal, unjust and unnecessary war, last year in Yugoslavia. It was Don Nichols, R-Okla., who read the terms of the Rambouillet agreement (which called for total NATO control of all of Yugoslavia) into the Congressional Record, our "liberal media" kept mum. So in essence, I'm saying that it will be easier for those of us on the left to fight Bush to a standstill when he tries to enact some particularly egregious legislation or to appoint another Justice Scalia than to fight Al Gore. If the Democratic Party is denied an election victory by the Nader candidacy, they will have to acknowledge labor and environmentalists. We will be well on our way to re-claiming our party or supplanting it with the Green Party.


Dan Cook

Alpine, New York


The Sierra Club is joined at the butt to the Democratic party and always has been. Has it worked out well for them? Have those environmental side agreements for NAFTA/GATT/WTO (championed by Gore) been implemented? Or are we still experiencing the global commodification of the Earth's resources in the name of profit? And how about those global warming protocols from Rio and Kyoto? Boy, has Clinton/Gore done a great job of implementing those! Yeah, we don't have to fear climatic crisis with those two on the job. Would a Republican president really be that much worse?

The Sierra Club's perennial attachment to the Democrats condones the status quo and constitutes an endorsement of the two-party system. And the Democrats don't have to pay them a lot of attention because where else can they go with only two parties to choose from? The time has come to show the Republicrats that there are alternatives to their marginally different political perspectives. Does the Sierra Club have the guts to admit this reality?

It is not the presence of "third parties" that spoils elections. It is the antiquated, 17th century election system we use that causes the problems. Most other democracies in the world have evolved to proportional representation and other forms of preference voting. Imagine a Presidential election where you can rank all candidates in order of your preference. As the least popular candidates are eliminated, their votes are transferred to the voter's second, third, etc. choices. There are no spoilers in this type of election. You can vote your conscience for your first choice, and vote pragmatically for your second choice. Maybe if we "spoil" enough elections the keepers of the status quo will wake up to the realities of the 21st century, if it's not too late.

James Stauffer

Member, Green Party of California

San Jose, CA


The Nader letters in your 8/7 issue were misleading. His candidacy has little to do with who is going to be our next president or whom he will appoint Supreme Court justices. Instead, his candidacy accelerates our move toward our next global lifestyle, which has more to do with sharing than with taking.

It is too bad that your magazine has not recognized and given recognition that our species is in a struggle for survival and against extinction and that the latter appears to be winning.

Egon P. Winter

Capitola, CA


Election 2000 will be the most important in U.S. history, for our entire system is wavering on a precipice of corporatization about to take a plunge that will carry most people with it because of the privatization of Social Security, Medicare, vouchers for education, etc.

If the entire Supreme Court should become conservative, the judges could abolish the U.S. constitution so that democracy and our federal government would be abolished. Right now the House of Representatives is considering abolishing the Eleventh Amendment. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell dream installing a theocracy in America.

The role of money in the 2000 presidential election could produce a plutocracy in the United States. Governor George W. Bush is a real con man who is misleading many people about his character, record and qualifications to become president. Since he is not interested in academics or governing, Bush's consultants would run the Government.

On the other hand, Vice President Gore is an honorable man, who is better qualified than any other candidate in U.S. history and would be a handsome president. The foreign leaders know Gore, and hope that he will become president. The United States needs Al Gore, a respected leader whose agenda is to improve the quality of life for all of us.

Rose Norberg

Honolulu, HI


First we have Joel Bleifuss telling us that we should avoid making irresponsible political decisions--like voting for Ralph Nader. Then we get Guy Saperstein telling us that failing to support Gore will wreak environmental havoc So In These Times has become the apologist lapdog of the Democratic Party to intimidate and scare its readers into voting for Al Gore?

I live in Illinois too, and I know my vote counts. If enough Illinois citizens vote for Nader, maybe the Democratic Party will look up and pay attention. I'm writing this from California, another state that counts, and one where Nader has significant support. You think that if you vote for Gore he's going to listen to you? Is that why I see so many photos of Richie Daley consulting with you in the Chicago Tribune? As for your environmental scare tactics, remember James Watt? The Sierra Club was never stronger than during his tenure in the Reagan cabinet.

Is George Bush, a (non-reformed) crackhead frat boy with few functioning cells? Sure. Will bad things happen if he's elected president? Sure. But bad things will also happen if Gore is elected. As Ralph Nader has said, the only difference between Gore and Bush is who falls his knees faster when corporate donors care knocking at his door.

Waste my vote by casting it for Gore? Never. I hope In These Times gets its bearings and faces the reality that a Gore presidency will do no more to alleviate global corporation's help on the political system than a Bush presidency.

Peter Jaffe Notier

Oak Park, IL


In response to the editorial by Guy Saperstein (8/7/2000) touting Gore as an environmentalist, I would ask that readers step back and take a look at the big picture. The U.S. has trouble getting a handle on its gross environmental problems because our government is corrupted by corporate money. I will vote for Ralph Nader because I believe his candidacy is a positive step toward loosening the stranglehold of corporate control over this and other parts of our lives. Bush may have a worse environmental record than Gore, but either of them can be bought by anyone with deep enough pockets.

Katie Rustad

Kennewick, WA


Reading your issue of August 7 has finally (and sadly) brought me to the point of withdrawing my support for IN THESE TIMES. The reason is your long-time and consistent denigration of the Greens as a political movement.

While you agree with the Green platform on most immediate issues, when the chips are down your editors always target the Greens as naive visionaries.

What is realpolitik and what is tilting at windmills depends on one's time frame. If one views the next election as the ultimate watershed between survival and disaster, then one is indeed driven by the tired old cliches of the Democratic Left. With the election over, the Democratic Party once more compromises with power, and the Center moves farther to the Right. We have been watching this happen for 40 years.

If, like Winona LaDuke or the late Walter Bresette of Wisconsin, one looks ahead seven generations (or even one), then the need for fundamental change is devastatingly clear and the congealing of radical thought around the Green movement is inevitable. It is the only political party that dares to face the fact of global limits. Joel Bleifuss dismisses this as "the basis for a noble educational campaign, not a presidential one." Can he suggest a more effective tool of education than politics?

Rhoda R. Gilman

St. Paul, Minnesota


At my parents' house recently, I picked up a few In These Times back issues with articles that interested me and decided to subscribe. Then, confronted with your "lesser of two evils" endorsement of Al Gore over Ralph Nader, I decided to send this letter instead.

Really, I am stunned by the myopia of so-called progressives who endorse Gore. Right now, more than a billion people survive on less than a dollar per day, and close to 800 million (more than twice the U.S. population) don't know where their next meal is coming from. The fact is that the United States represents less than 5 percent of the global population and Al Gore, although preferable to "W" on social issues in the U.S., is quite likely worse for the world's destitute. It is sad that people with progressive ideology are willing to ignore the cries of the global poor, casting their lot with those who would allow them to continue to starve to death.

You who will vote for Gore rather than Nader, please try this exercise: Look in the mirror. Pretend you're speaking to a maquiladora worker on the border of Mexico, an immigrant slaughterhouse or sugar cane worker in the U.S., an Iragi child dehydrating to death from diarrhea for lack of medication, or one of the thousands of starving victims of World Bank "Structural Adjustment Programs." Explain your vote.

Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and their ilk, are doing their best to pry open global cheap labor markets and toxic dumping grounds, with far more success than a Republican administration could possibly expect.

A vote for Gore is a vote to make the world safe for global corporate domination. If you vote Gore, the blood of the poor is on your hands.

And that's a vote worse than wasted.

Bruce G. Friedrich

Norfolk, VA


Thank you for running a variety of letters concerning the question of supporting Nader and the Greens during the fall election. As you mentioned in your reply to the letters this is a "worthwhile debate." I would hope, therefore, that you expand the forum for such a debate and publish more Green voices, especially given the fact that in this same issue you gave a whole page to a Gore supporter. In addition, I would encourage you to go beyond the often ahistorical and tendentious tone that creeps into comments on both sides, but particularly those Gore supporters, like yourself, who denounce a Nader vote as "irresponsible."

Electoral politics in the United States, as you and others have pointed out, is hamstrung by the structural impediment of "winner-take-all." Obviously, without the sort of proportional voting that many other democracies have, third parties in the US are often doomed to marginality. Nonetheless, third parties have played an important role in the history of reform in America. And in one case, when the country faced a moral and poltical crisis over slavery, a third party, the Republican Party, became the ruling party. We may, in fact, be at another moral and political crisis because of the dominance of corporate power in Washington and neo-liberalism around the world. Therefore, the Green Pary efforts with the Nader Presidential bid could be like the fledging attempts of the Republican Party in the 1850's to dislodge the major parties' commitment to promotion of and compromise with an iniquitous system.

0n another level, any electoral campaign for progressive change must grow out of a variety of mobilized social forces and the issues they articulate. If you consider the massive demonstrations in Seattle and Washington, D.C., it is clear that the forces and issues articulated resonate with the Nader/Green electoral campaign. Gore certainly does not represent these forces and that may be one reason why some of the central labor activists involved in Seattle and Washington from the UAW to the Teamsters to the Steelworkers have all had positive things to say about Nader while disparaging Gore. Other campaigns around the injustice of the death penalty, the racially punitive drug war, the continuing insanity of the Pentagon budget, the continuation of sanctions against Iraq, etc., all find an electoral voice in positions advanced by Nader and the Greens. On every single one of the aforementioned issues Gore and Bush have essentially the same position.

The fact is that for those (unlike Chris Riddiough) who have bothered to read the Green strategy papers there is a very clear sense of what is needed at the electoral and non-electoral level to change the direction of this country on all of the critical issues the politically-restrictive and morally-bankrupt electoral duopoly are committed to neglecting. Part of that strategy is to get 5 percent nationally in order to qualify for federal funds and institutional status. It would be a shame with so much opportunity in this election to have a national and local impact that those who believe in progressive change continue to rationalize voting for a pandering and pathetic candidate like Al Gore.

Finally, for those who understand that an international force is needed to combat transnational capital, the Greens are a "real world" alternative. A vote for Al Gore will only continue the economic and environmental misery that the Greens and Nader are committed to fighting.

Fran Shor

Royal Oak, MI


This is a response to some correspondence of yours in the letters section of In These Times, in which you state that you couldn't find a Green Party/Nader Campaign phone number in Chicago.

The Nader campaign organizers used the already established office of the Chicago Green Party, at 202 S. State, and the adjacent G.E.A.R.S. electoral office, as a Chicago base.

The Chicago Greens, listed as the Chicago Green Party in the current Ameritech white pages, is on page 240 of that publication. Quite a few volunteers found their way to the Greens office through the Chicago Greens web pages; others throughout Illinois found area contacts through And the Chicago Greens publish a monthly bulletin of progressive activities of interest to a wide variety of activists; it's sent out to 2,500 interested folk through the New World Resource Center's monthly mailing; a lot of information about how to contact the Nader campaign was included in it during the last few months.

And that's how people who are an entirely volunteer organization, with many low income members, who don't pay for petition signatures, and who bristle a bit at being called 'not serious' because their efforts are really and truly grassroots and unfunded, do it; despite the terrible handicap of being dead broke. We do it.

We're growing. We're in it for the long haul. Look beyond this election towards the future and see: THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.

Karen Harris



Back in 1977, I wrote a satirical piece for In These Times teasing the coterie of nominal progressives who emerge at election time to urge other progressives to vote Democrat. Since then, of course, the Democrats, who were no great shakes back then, have moved steadily to the right. As their current leader, Bill Clinton, observed in 1993, "We're all Eisenhower Republicans now." Given this inexorable progression--or should I say regression?--no doubt we can expect a president Gore to proclaim himself a Reagan Republican.

The question for those like my erstwhile colleague Joel Bleifuss, who for reasons of "real" politics go with the flow, is when, if ever, do they bail out? Just how far to the right are they willing to travel with the Democrats? And what do they do if Nader, imagine, does well in November?

I started voting in presidential elections back in 1960. With the exception of McGovern in 1972, I have never pulled the lever for a major party candidate. I sleep perfectly well at nights, reminding myself when in doubt of Gene Debs, "unrealistic," thought that it's better to vote for what you want and not get it than vote for what you don't want and get it.

Pete Karman

Rockfall, CT


The opinions so far expressed within these pages over whether your readers should support Ralph Nader or Al Gore in the 2000 election has failed to grasp the historic implications of Ralph Nader's run for the presidency.

For liberal voters who consistently support the lesser of two evils, the fearful implications of a Bush presidency are valid. The Nader 2000 Campaign should not target these voters. They have made up their minds that it's Al Gore or no one. As United States citizens exercising their civic rights, that is their prerogative.

The challenge for those working to elect Ralph Nader is how to on reach the 50 percent of the electorate who don't vote. This is Nader's constituency, the disenfranchised, who have become so disengaged from their political system that they no longer vote. The democratic and republican establishment has forgotten this silent majority. But Nader, who has spoken to the issues of the majority for his whole career, cannot forget them.

By providing a focus for Green Party organizing, Ralph Nader has catalyzed the building of what may prove to be a viable third party in the United States. The majority may once again be provided an outlet for political organizing not seen in the two party system since television replaced town meetings as the medium for political exchange. It is no surprise that the Green Party has risen to the challenge of Nader's candidacy. As awareness grows concerning the international implications of the policies of corporate globalization, so grows the awareness of the only international political party dedicated to the value of community over corporation.

Corporate donations do not build a constituency. If, on election day, the Nader 2000 Campaign has realized it's dream it will not be because of a Democratic Party split; it will be a direct result of the hard work of the growing number of volunteers organizing to get Nader on the ballot in all fifty states, to get him into the debates, and to get out the vote on election day.

Joe Rigney

Santa Cruz, CA


I was saddened by the Joel Bleifuss editorial "Face Reality" (June 12). As a self-anointed shrewd political realist, Bleifuss implies that those progressives who support Ralph Nader are unserious twits who jog and put soy milk in their latte while serious progressives will presumably do the smart thing and vote for Al Gore. He seems to think that voting for Nader and working for the election of progressive legislators, including Democrats, at all levels are somehow mutually exclusive actions.

False Reality would have been a more apt title for the Bleifuss editorial, because the truth is that the only way progressive can ever regain any influence in the Democratic Party is by deserting it in large enough numbers to scare the hell out of the cynical hacks who now control it. What he refers to as "the give-and-take of real politics" is in reality giving Al Gore your vote and getting taken for a ride--again.

In the 1992 campaign, Gore was fond of quoting the old definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Realist Bleifuss has reason to fear for his sanity.

Marvin Gulck

Topanga, California


Why doesn't Bore stop taking votes from a more qualified candidate, Nader? Bore shouldn't be putting the election in the hands of Gush, the worst possible choice in years.

Peter Grant

Bristol, Vermont


Where exactly is it called a "two-party system"? I don't see any reference to a "two-party system" in the Constitution ("Face Reality," June 12).

If one was watching the debate over trade with China, particularly the bits where Bill Clinton and Tom DeLay stood side-by-side while praising this bill, it is clear that we don't have two parties in this country anymore. We have one party with the same corporate backers that simply runs two candidates to give the illusion of choice. Al Gore and George W. Bush have virtually identical positions on almost every issue that I care about, from foreign policy to military spending to trade.

I would have loved to see a progressive run in the Democratic primary. I was among many who were urging Paul Wellstone to run in that race. But to me, the wise course is to take the enthusiasm for a Nader campaign, combine it with the disgust over the prospect of Gore representing the closest thing to a progressive choice, and use that to build a grassroots political movement in this country.

If Gore loses this election because the Democrats' grassroots base has left the party, perhaps the party will reverse direction and return to its roots. Or if Nader gets sufficient votes to qualify the Green Party as a national party, then it can continue to build a grassroots political movement for the next presidential election.

I consider both of those outcomes preferable to President Gore, who would use his incumbency to block any progressive participation in the Democratic primaries in 2004. If we go down that road, then 2004 will be as bleak a presidential season as 2000 was before Nader started injecting some life into this campaign.

Marc Schuler



I expected more from In These Times than a backhanded endorsement of Al Gore. Face reality? The reality is that I live in a state that has only voted for the Democratic presidential candidate four times in the 20th century (1912, 1932, 1936 and 1964). I'm not about to feel guilty for voting for a left presidential candidate if that person makes it past Indiana's draconian ballot laws. I don't know whether to vote for Ralph Nader or the Socialist Party's David McReynolds. But my vote will definitely not be for Gore.

The real outrage is the two-party dictatorship that controls the electoral process in this country through the ballot laws. While I agree that an independent political party's success lies through grassroots movements, the real key to this is through proportional representation.

Richard Clark

Salem, Indiana


Joel Bleifuss is entitled to his own opinions, but he is entirely unqualified to judge the motivations of those of us who intend to vote for Ralph Nader. He says that one "votes for Nader to avoid tainting principles with the give-and-take of real politics." As I see it, the give-and-take is this: The Democratic Party is not giving me anything I want--therefore, I will take away my vote.

If Bleifuss is "serious about political change" (as he has taken the liberty of telling us that those who support Nader are not), perhaps he might enlighten us as to what political change he hopes to accomplish by once again forming the left's famous circular firing squad.

It is the Democratic Party that will have to face reality: By adopting the corporate agenda and giving up populist and progressive principles, they have lost the support of many of us who are paying attention.

Beverly Woods

Ossipee, New Hampshire


As a supporter of democratic ideals, multi-party systems and open debates, I was extremely angry to find another leftist editorial bashing the political tactics of a third-party candidate for president. If Joel Bleifuss spent more of his progressive political clout endorsing a presidential candidate rather than tearing them down, then maybe there would be a stronger third party on a national level by now.

There is no doubt that the trench work at the local level has begun to make a difference in pocket communities of independent voters, but why belittle efforts to bring progressive politics to the national level. Hello? Let's not forget "The Year of the Woman," which swept a record number of women into Washington thanks in large part to Emily's List, a national grassroots funding campaign. Ralph Nader is serious about building up the political muscle of the Green Party. He is the only conscionable choice in the 2000 election, and with his help the Green Party will run strong candidates for the House and Senate in future elections. These potential candidates are flexing their political muscles as the grunts in this presidential campaign, which is an invaluable educational experience.

Face reality, Joel: The only thing keeping us from achieving our goals is people like you unwilling to believe we have the power to make our own political reality, one vote at a time.

Rini Kilcoyne

Worcester, Massachusetts


The left should focus on local elections in progressive strongholds where grassroots movements can be mobilized against the political establishment. Equally compelling is the argument that an articulate, well-known, third-party candidate might do wonders raising public awareness of the Green Party. The Greens cannot expect to win over the plurality of the American populace. But that is not what Nader's presidential campaign is about. Instead, the Greens are using this campaign to get national media attention for the party and to shed light on some of the issues the corporate media would rather ignore.

In ridiculing the significance of lifestyle choices, Bleifuss misses something big. Greens see the need to fundamentally orient themselves away from consumerism and its associated bad habits. They think their example of eating healthy, buying locally, living simply and even ditching the car can have an effect on others. People have to begin to be informed of the need to make better lifestyle choices and to adopt a more ecologically lean mind set. This is what the Green Party is about.

Jeff Buderer

Mayer, Arizona


Those urging support for Ralph Nader for president this year amply illustrate why the left has been so marginalized in this country for the past 40 years.

No difference between Democrats and Republicans? President Bill Clinton has appointed two justices to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Both have been consistently pro-choice, pro-labor, progressive votes. What kind of Supreme Court would we now have if Bush Sr. had won in 1992 or Dole in 1996? What kind of Supreme Court justices would Gore appoint as opposed to Bush Jr.? The current pro-choice majority on the Supreme Court is 5 to 4. Think about that for a minute.

Or race relations: President Clinton appointed Bill Lann Lee, a former NAACP attorney, to be the top civil rights attorney in the country despite fierce opposition in the Senate. Lee is currently making sure Los Angeles officials stop sitting on their hands in the face of corruption in our police department. What kind of people do you think Bush would put in charge of civil rights? Does the name Clarence Thomas ring a bell?

I work in the labor movement, and I can tell you that Clinton, for all his faults, has made a positive difference. He appointed Wilma Liebman, a former union attorney, and Sarah Fox, who was a staff member for Ted Kennedy, to the National Labor Relations Board. He also appointed Leonard Page, former UAW counsel, to be the NLRB's general counsel. What kind of appointments do you think Bush would make to these posts?

These are some of the reasons organized labor is supporting Al Gore. A vote for Nader is a vote thrown away-or even worse, the equivalent of a vote for Bush. Forget this nonsense about "leveraging" Gore with support for Nader; that's just giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The best "leverage" would be to give Gore a Democratic Congress, where he has to deal with Speaker Gephardt rather than Speaker Hastert.

C'mon, folks, this is not some leftist academic exercise! Be serious about power; I assure you the other side is quite so.

David Koppelman

Los Angeles


I wholeheartedly agree with Joel Bleifuss. When I first got involved in the left, many years ago in Chicago, two of the most important lessons I was taught were about strategy and power-the need to have a strategy in order to gain power to make change. Unfortunately much of the left, having forgotten the importance of strategy and power, spends most of its time tilting at windmills.

If we want to have a serious progressive presidential candidate at some point in the future, we should now be thinking about the 2008 or 2012 elections. The right didn't elect Reagan by starting their work in 1980; they started back in 1964 with the Goldwater campaign. A serious left in this country would now be developing a strategy to enhance the visibility of someone from the Progressive Caucus in Congress so that he or she could run a serious campaign at the end of a Gore/Bush tenure.

Bleifuss rightly says, "If Nader were serious about influencing the national discourse, he would have run in the Democratic primary." Of the more than 50 members of the Progressive Caucus, all but one are Democrats. Labor continues to support the Democratic Party. And yes, the Democratic Party continues to move to the center under the thrall of corporate interests, but it remains the one place where any possibility of progressive public dialogue can take place. Sure, we leftists can talk among ourselves, but, frankly, one episode of The West Wing with Martin Sheen has more impact on national politics than months of "dialogue" on the left.

The Greens, the New Party and all the rest are simply one more way for the left to avoid developing and implementing a strategy. How much easier it is to preserve principle than to face the reality, as Bleifuss calls on us to do.

Christine Riddiough



Joel Bleifuss replies:

The above letters are a selection of those we received discussing the merits of Ralph Nader's campaign for president. We appreciate everyone's contribution to this worthwhile debate.

Marc Schuler asks where the reference to the two-party system is in our Constitution. There isn't one. But as the next letter writer, Richard Clark, rightly explains, the present two-party dictatorship is maintained though state ballot laws. Clark points out that viable third parties could exist if states replaced their winner-take-all electoral systems with one of the tried-and-true systems of proportional representation. Like Clark, if I lived in Indiana, I too would vote for Nader. But I live in a state where my vote counts, therefore I don't plan to throw it away.

Beverly Woods asks what political change I am hoping to accomplish by criticizing the political acumen of Nader supporters. For starters, I would hope that four years from now we are not again faced with another Quixotic, progressive, third-party campaign for president. A friend of my son had plans to spend the summer volunteering for Nader, but he had trouble connecting with the campaign. Neither the Green Party nor the Nader campaign has a phone listed in directory information for Chicago. Hello? This is the nation's third-largest city. Need I say more?

Rini Kilcoyne asks us not to forget "The Year of the Woman." Emily's List should be given credit for helping put more women in Congress. But let us also not forget that almost all those women were Democrats, a couple were Republicans, and none were from a third party. Kilcoyne goes on to say it is people like me who are "keeping us from achieving our goals" because we are "unwilling to believe we have the power to make our own political reality." Of course you can make your own reality, but in politics it helps if that reality is grounded in the real world--that place where presidential campaigns have offices with phone numbers.

Finally, Jeff Buderer accuses me of "ridiculing the significance of lifestyle choices." Be assured, I take lifestyle choices very seriously. And in the same way one should avoid making irresponsible personal decisions, one should avoid making irresponsible political ones. Informing people of the need for them "to make better lifestyle choices" and "to adopt a more ecologically lean mind set" does indeed seem to be "what the Green Party is about." To me, that sounds like the basis for nobleeducational campaign, not a presidential one.


Send us your thoughts on the Gore vs. Nader debate.



In These Times © 2000



Election 2000 Coverage

Never Mind the Bollocks

Here's the new Republican Party
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The Battle of Philadelphia

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Working It
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Big money problems.
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