Sometimes you just have to do the right thing, even if it means throwing in against long odds. This year, voting for Ralph Nader for president is the right thing for a progressive populist to do.
Nader has been fighting against long odds his whole career. As a citizen advocate he has fought for the rights of working men and women for more than 40 years. He made his bones beating General Motors and the auto industry on car safety in the early 1960s and he has not slowed down since then, fighting practically every fat cat and corporation that has arrayed itself against the public interest. He has an old-fashioned belief in democracy -- that the people should get to decide on public issues after they review the facts. He was one of the first columnists to sign on with The Progressive Populist when we set up shop five years ago. In truth, if we were to sit down and design a public official we couldn't have done a much better job than to describe Ralph Nader.
So why is Nader stuck at 2-4% in the polls, excluded from daily news coverage and left out of the debates?
The simple answer is that vested interests, in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase, decided more than a year ago that Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush would be the candidates for president. Gore and Bush won the "money primary" last year and the national press dutifully reported them as the frontrunners. It really made no difference what Democratic and Republican voters thought.
Shame on the national media that allow the plutocrats to dictate the terms of the campaign, but that's the way it goes. TV sells its integrity for $1 billion in political advertising and the newspapers follow the polls driven by the TV advertising. The New York Times tells Nader to step aside and let a real politician lead; the Washington Post calls for Nader to be included in the debates but doesn't bother to assign a reporter to cover him, even at D.C. press conferences. So it falls upon the alternative media to cover Nader's campaign.
In 1996 Nader stood for election -- almost literally. He accepted the Green nomination, spent less than $5,000 and got less than 1% of the vote. This year he has made good on his promise to run a real campaign; as of this writing he has raised more than $2 million; more importantly he has raised progressive populist issues, and he has helped to build the Green Party as a progressive alternative to the two main parties, with ballot status in at least 44 states despite restrictive ballot access laws.
Still, he is all but ignored in the mainstream news media.
Why is Nader so marginalized? Because he speaks out for health care for all Americans? Because he speaks out for enforcement of the right of labor to organize and engage in collective bargaining? Because he believes the government should help family-owned farms survive instead of helping big agribusinesses reduce farmers to sharecroppers? Because he wants to hold corporations accountable for their actions and force them to act in the public interest? Because he only takes contributions from real people, not corporations or PACs? Because he travels by coach on commercial flights instead of hiring his own airliner to jet him around the country?
If someone like Ralph Nader, with his years of public service and long record of accomplishments to show for it, can't be taken seriously as a candidate for president, then democracy in America is dying.
Gore, while deeply compromised, at least comes from a progressive tradition and is much preferable to Bush, in our view, but either of them is acceptable to Wall Street. In fact, Wall Street might prefer Gore because he would continue the Clinton administration's policy of giving big business everything it demands while paying lip-service to working people. A Bush victory might cause Dems to reject the business-oriented centrists who have sold out the party. That might cause the Dems to seek more populist leadership next time, the thinking goes.
Some of our Democratic friends may curse us for our maverick choice, but we think the election will come out all right in the end. Nader's populist campaign already has made Gore a better candidate in forcing him to adopt a more populist pose at the Democratic convention. After that, Gore surpassed Bush in the polls. Since then, Gore has moderated his tone again and Bush has closed the gap.
Despite the fears that he would whittle away at Gore's core support, Nader is more likely to attract back to the polls the alienated non-voters, giving the Democrats a shot at their vote for congressional races. Nader also has given young people a reason to join the political process as he seeks to maintain the coalition of environmentalists, trade unions and social activists that shook up the World Trade Organization in Seattle last December. If attendance at his mass rallies in Portland, Minneapolis and Seattle is any indication, he has succeeded.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, Ralph Nader will leave this campaign with his reputation intact, which is more than we can say for Democratic hacks, leaders of feminist organizations and minority groups, former allies of Nader's, who belittled his commitment to their causes after they fell in line behind the Democratic nominee.
As for helping Bush win, because of the electoral system, if you are in the more than 40 states where either Gore or Bush already are safely in the lead, you can cast a vote for Nader without worrying about throwing the race to Bush.
If you are in one of the battleground states, you may watch the polls and, if the race is still close in your state on the first of November, you may decide to vote for Gore. That is a cautious vote for the status quo -- and we won't criticize you for it. But we'll vote for Nader to make a difference.
In congressional races, however, we advise our readers generally to vote Democratic. If Democrats manage to retake the House and Senate, the leadership would be in the hands of progressives like Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, which would be a tremendous improvement from right-wingers Dennis Hastert and Trent Lott. The balance of power probably would still remain with conservative Democrats, but Senate committees would be chaired by people like Tom Harkin on Agriculture instead of Richard Lugar; Carl Levin on Armed Services instead of Strom Thurmond; Paul Sarbanes on Banking instead of Phil Gramm; Ernest Hollings on Commerce instead of John McCain; Joe Biden on Foreign Relations instead of Jesse Helms; Ted Kennedy on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions instead of James Jeffords; and Patrick Leahy on Judiciary, vetting federal court nominees, instead of Orrin Hatch. House committee chairs would be progressives like David Obey on Appropriations, Henry A. Waxman replacing infamous Dan Burton on Government Reform, John Conyers on Judiciary, George Miller on Resources, Nydia Velazquez on Small Business, Lane Evans on Veterans Affairs and Charles Rangel on Ways & Means.
A notable exception to our Democratic endorsement in congressional races is in Texas, where Democrats cravenly discouraged challengers to Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's re-election, hoping she would not ramp up her campaign, which they feared might hurt Dems in legislative races. A perennial candidate stepped up to file as a Democrat in the race against Hutchison; a better challenger is the Green, Doug Sandage, a Houston lawyer. Greens also are running well-qualified candidates for the Supreme Court and the regulatory Railroad Commission, other races the D's ducked. For more on Texas Green candidates, see our web site (www.populist.com).
Remember that George W. Bush has been able to present his "compassionate conservative" side to the public because he had to work with a Democratic House in Texas which moderated many of the governor's initiatives. We have only seen glimpses of the true conservative Dubya but we don't want to set him loose with Republican majorities in the House and Senate and give him free rein to remake the Supreme Court with right-wing clones of Antonin Scalia. If that happens, overturning Roe v Wade would be the least of our worries. -- JMC