Why Not Nader?
by Juan Gonzalez
In These times magazine, October 2000
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, a 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 independent politics.
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 severaI separate streams of popular
resistance :hat 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
* 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, anticonsumer-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 that alliance.
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 American
Sure, four years of Bush / Cheney seem 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.