A vote for Nader is a vote for Nader;
a vote for Gore is a vote for Bush

By Mike Feinstein

In a nation starving on a diet of the lesser of two evils, the Green Party presidential candidacy of Ralph Nader presents a rare opportunity to vote for a candidate worth believing in, who actually has a chance to transform politics.

Yet some call voting for Nader "spoiling" - spoiling the chances of Al Gore, the seeming lesser of evils, even while acknowledging that Nader is the better candidate at the same time. Is a vote for Nader a step toward changing politics, or just "stealing votes"?

Whose votes are they? At least in theory, votes don't belong to candidates or parties. They belong to voters. If voters don't hold candidates accountable, there's little point in having elections. "Representative democracy" becomes name-only.

The Nader campaign is a force because many voters believe they've already lost choice. They're ready for a new strategy - based upon voting one's beliefs instead of one's fears. This would assault the Democratic/Republican duopoly, which counts on voters to accept the lesser of two evils - or stay home. With the rightward lurch of Clinton/Gore, and the increasing similarity between Democrats and Republicans on issues of power and wealth, fewer Americans feel represented by their government. A Nader candidacy promises the potential of reshaping the political landscape.

Expanding democracy

A vote for Nader can be an impetus for necessary change on several levels - policy-making, political party structure and the electoral process.

Supporting Nader sends a message to both major parties: take progressive issues more seriously or else lose power. Democrats and Republicans only fear each other. This allows them to narrow political debate through a co-dependent, manipulative monopolization that thrives on the "lesser-of-two evils." The Democrats offer a slower death to democracy than the Republican, but Gore does not offer a fundamental alternative.

Politics in the United States today are top-down. Both the Democrats and Republicans represent the top. They deflect attention from this by focusing on social issues like gun control and school prayer, where they differ. But even their social issue gap is narrowing. Gore and Bush both support the death penalty; Nader would eliminate it. Neither Gore nor Bush even supports a moratorium, despite findings that innocent death row inmates are being executed.

If Nader gets at least 5 percent of the national vote, the Green Party will receive several million dollars for its presidential candidate and convention in 2004. This would be an enormous benefit to the progressive movement. It would also complement the Greens' successful local strategy. The number of elected Greens has grown on the municipal and county level from 44 to 79 since 1996. This distinguishes Greens from other minor parties, which only run candidates for state and federal offices, get low voter percentages and make little progress election after election.

When people vote for more of the same, why are they surprised when they get it? By not expanding the dialogue, a vote for Gore is a vote for Bush because it perpetuates the co-dependency of narrow political options. Instead of responding to Nader on the issues, Gore's campaign hides behind the specter of a Bush victory (Gore does not publicly utter Nader's name).

Ironically, the rightward push of Clinton/Gore makes a marginal candidate like Bush possible by not offering a real alternative. Something similar occurred between 1992 and 1994, when the Democrats controlled both Congress and the Presidency. Presenting themselves as "Republican-lite," they lost their House of Representatives majority for the first time in 40 years, as turned-off Democratic voters stayed home in large numbers.

As "New Democrats," Clinton/Gore have made a practice of abandoning traditional constituencies like workers, environmentalists, health care advocates and the poor, sometimes undermining decades of work in the process.

Clinton/Gore set back healthcare reform 20 years, selling out the universal healthcare movement in 1993, bowing to the pressures of the healthcare insurance industry lobby, and making a mockery of health care reform overall.

On military spending, Clinton/Gore followed their Republican predecessors in advocating substantial, unnecessary increases. At the same time, they passed the Welfare Reform Bill, throwing 2.6 million people into poverty, 1.1 million of them children. Gore pushed Clinton to sign this Bill despite the opposition of nearly the entire Cabinet, and without any plan for homelessness, health care, affordable housing, or living wage jobs. Clinton/Gore also passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, severely restricting civil liberties.

Gore tried unsuccessfully to gut affirmative action at the federal level with his "reinventing government'' initiative of 1993. He then successfully negotiated the Telecommunications Act, which legalizes consolidation of media power to unprecedented levels. On banking, insurance and other industry mergers, Clinton/Gore have also overseen a record consolidation of financial power.

Gore solicits and accepts campaign cash from arms companies, the nuclear industry, firms - like Mattel - that have moved to Mexico, and those that exploit child labor.

Some argue we must swallow this because of Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court. Their argument: if Bush is allowed to make new appointments to the Court, a women's right to choose will be taken away.

The same argument was made when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Twenty years later, including 12 years of Republican presidents and several Reagan appointees, Roe v. Wade still stands. This is in part because of the consistent support from Reagan-appointed Justice O'Connor, Ford-appointed Justice Stevens, and Bush-appointed Justice Souter. (It was the Democratic majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee that made anti-choice Clarence Thomas a justice).

At the same time, it is twice as hard for a woman to obtain an abortion as it was when Clinton/Gore took office. Now a woman can get an abortion in only 14 percent of U.S. counties.

Voting for what you believe in

Much discussion around the Nader/LaDuke candidacy centers on the alleged risks of voting for Nader. But perhaps the central question is the risk of not voting for Nader.

If voters agree with Nader's positions on the issues - but cast ballots for Gore - they are sending an ominous message to the Democrats and Republicans: "Do what you want in office. There's no consequence." Mike Feinstein is a co-founder of the Green Party of California. He currently is an elected official on the Santa Monica, California, City Council and is running for re-election.

Feinstein worked on the Nader campaigns in 1996 and 2000.

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