With election day looming and opinion polls pointing to one of
the closest presidential races in years, the debate has intensified
among progressive Americans--Nader or Gore?
Those on either side of the debate who pretend this is an easy
choice are deluding themselves. Sure, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman
represent the neoconservative wing of the Democratic Party, but
it is wrong to simplistically equate them with the Republican ticket.
There are substantial differences between the candidates in many
important areas--public education, Social Security, labor rights,
the environment and abortion, to name just a few. A George W. Bush-Dick
Cheney victory, regardless of what happens in the congressional
elections, will reinvigorate the most rapacious elements of this
country's large and growing conservative movement, and likely will
mean new attacks on the most vulnerable sections of our population.
Ralph Nader is clearly the superior candidate when it comes to
fighting against corporate control of government, invasions of individual
privacy, neoliberal free trade policies and U.S. military intervention
abroad, or when it comes to defending labor, consumers and the environment.
But Nader's weaknesses should not be minimized. He continues to
pay little attention to issues that deeply affect racial and ethnic
minorities--job discrimination, police brutality, the scandalous
incarceration rate among blacks and Hispanics, the continuing controversy
over affirmative action. His campaign style up to now, ˆ la Jesse
Jackson's campaigns in 1984 and 1988, seems more geared toward promoting
himself than to building the Green Party as a future vehicle for
Many honest and dedicated progressives will find themselves on
different sides of the fence come November 7. But more important
than what happens on Election Day is the ongoing need to nurture
and expand the vibrant new people's movement that has grown since
the WTO protests in Seattle.
That new movement combines several separate streams of popular
resistance that have managed to build an embryonic alliance:
* A labor movement that has started to reclaim its place in American
society as a force for social change. Increasingly, as new immigrant
and Third World workers form a larger share of the work force, a
profound revolution within the union movement is inevitable.
* A new pro-democracy movement that has targeted the mass media
as a pillar of corporate social control and has started devising
ever more ingenious ways to provide the population with independent
sources of information.
* An idealistic, democratic, anti-consumer-culture youth movement,
which is determined to save the earth from ecological devastation
and end the growing worldwide gap between rich and poor.
* A growing movement within black and brown communities against
rampant police brutality, wholesale incarceration, racial profiling
and the death penalty.
More important than any candidate or election is strengthening
the long-term alliance of these four movements, and finding the
organizational forms with which that alliance can win the support
of the American people. The Democratic Party is becoming more conservative
with each passing day and can never be the vehicle to represent
Most progressives recognize that this nation needs a new people's
party. American voters repeatedly have showed their deep discontent
with the two major parties, either by refusing to vote or by backing
third-party candidates such as Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura. Each
time, however, the major parties have been able to contain the challenge,
to steer their dissidents back into the fold.
Nader and the Green Party represent the best opportunity in half
a century to place a progressive agenda on the national scene. The
Nader candidacy has already forced Al Gore to adopt populist anti-corporate
rhetoric into his campaign. It has brought hundreds of thousands
of white youth into electoral politics in much the same way that
Jackson's Rainbow Coalition movement brought disaffected blacks
to the voting booth in the '80s. Moreover, Nader has inspired young
people to believe that global capitalism can be resisted even in
the absence of any viable socialist alternative.
Unlike Jackson, who became increasingly co-opted by his access
to corporate honchos and his role as a "spiritual adviser" to the
Clinton White House, Nader could end up making the Green Party a
genuine alternative force, should he garner more than 5 percent
of the popular vote--and I believe he will do that handily if he
reaches out to those who usually stay home on Election Day.
Those of us who came of age in the '60s grew up with Ralph Nader.
We watched him tilt at windmills for decades, always speaking truth
to power, always accomplishing more than others thought possible.
His seat belt victory against the automobile companies alone may
have saved more lives than did any general in American history.
Sure, four years of Bush-Cheney seems a horrible fate, but 20 or
30 more years of this periodic circus of two parties sponsored by
the same corporate advertisers seems far worse.