Do You Want to Ralph?

Green Candidate Nader is the Antipolitician—and Possibly Al Gore's Worst Nightmare

A CNN poll taken at the end of the show tallies 86 percent of viewers saying they'd vote for a third-party candidate. Even the control-room director, who had initially scoffed, is converted. It's no wonder Nader and the Greens want in on the debates.

Traditionally, third parties have bared their teeth, scrapped hard for change, then gone away. The late 19th century's Populist Party was perhaps the most influential, turning the heads of both Teddy Roosevelt Republicans and Wilson Democrats. FDR may have been jarred just enough by Robert La Follette's progressives and Norman Thomas's socialists to jump-start the New Deal. Even Ross Perot, as a Reform Party candidate, forced a balanced-budget agenda onto both Republicans and Democrats.

Will it be the fate of the Greens, then, to ratchet up electoral interest, land an item or two on the national agenda, and then fade? Not if Nader has his druthers. "This is a building process," he says, adding that "third parties have spearheaded the antislavery movement, the labor movement, and the women's right-to-vote movement."

What Nader and the Greens hope to build is a vital progressive movement. While there are currently 78 Greens in elected office, at least 117 are running for office this year in various state and local elections. Their future depends, in part, on their ability to maintain momentum and money.

Nader's not worried about a Democratic loss of the White House. "If half the voters stayed home in 1996, that tells you something," he says. "The two parties aren't doing their job." But wouldn't a Bush victory bring about the nomination of pro-life judges to the Supreme Court? No, Nader says, it's not that simple. For one thing, a Gore victory doesn't ensure liberal appointments as long as Republicans control Congress. For another, fabled justices like Blackmun and Brennan were appointed by Republican presidents.

When asked to address the "spoiler" issue, Nader answers again as advocate and rhetorician: "There are so many people who are alienated and repulsed by the state of politics that we have to give them more choice. . . . But the main thing we have to do is look them in the eye and say: 'Do you as an American want to be more powerful as a voter, as a consumer, as a worker, as a taxpayer? Do you think you hold the reins of government the way Thomas Jefferson and James Madison thought we should?' "

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