News & Politics

A Vote for Deep Democracy


We can have a democratic society or we can have the concentration of great wealth in the hands of the few. We can’t have both.
Ralph Nader, quoting Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Harper’s Magazine, September

In a letter published in the July 1 New York Times, Richard Rosenblitt got to the core of why I’m voting for Ralph Nader: his “run injects something sorely lacking in the current campaign: true political discourse about issues affecting Americans. That discourse further educates the public in ways that Democrats and Republicans would never do.”

A similarly honest campaign is also being waged by David McReynolds, who, like Nader, is against capital punishment. He is the presidential candidate for the Socialist Party. I have great respect for David, who used to write probing Press of Freedom columns for the Voice. But he will not have the impact of Nader.

Norman Thomas ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket in every election from 1928 to 1948. He never came close to winning, but—as chronicled in Webster’s American Biographies—”his deeply felt social concerns made him a ‘conscience’ candidate for many independent voters over the years.

“Many of his proposals—for low-cost housing, the five-day work week, minimum wage laws, and the abolition of child labor—ultimately found their way into legislation.”

Obviously, Ralph Nader, a truly independent candidate, will not be sworn in as president of the United States next year; but if he gets 5 percent of the votes, he will have $12 million in matching funds when he runs again for the presidency in 2004.

And, as Michael Janofsky noted in the August 6 New York Times, “The last two presidential elections were the first consecutive pair since 1856 and 1860 in which alternative parties have won as much as 10 percent of the popular vote. To some political experts, that portends a trend.” Moreover, in an increasing number of states, more and more voters are registering as independents.

This year, as Nader said in the August 21 Insight magazine, “For the first time in many years, the soul of the Democratic Party—which is the progressive wing—will no longer be able to be told, ‘You’ve got nowhere to go, therefore take it or leave it,’ by the Democratic Party establishment. That will either change the Democratic Party and make it more distinct in reality . . . or the party will fracture. So, as I say, it will either shape up or shrink down.”

In the autumn Earth Island Journal, Donella Meadows speaks for me and, I think, a good many others:

“What is a vote, anyway? Is it a ‘chit’ we use to play political games? Or our one straight signal to our government telling it what we—who pay the bills, we whose interests the government is supposed to represent—really want?”

As for the present Democratic Party—led by the very prototypes of the “moderate” white-bread New Democrats—CBS’s Evening News reported on August 13 that 56 percent of the delegates to this year’s Democratic convention call themselves “moderates.” And 36 percent—the smallest percentage ever—describe themselves as “liberals.”

A lot of the rest of us no longer want to go to that gentrified home. And the burgeoning movements of largely unaffiliated dissenters already know that “the two parties are really converging more and more into a huge vested-interest money pot,” as Ralph Nader said in an interview with me.

I’ve provided evidence of that corporate convergence in recent columns. But on another front, Gore and Lieberman—who never dissented from Clinton’s passion on the death penalty or his evisceration of habeas corpus and so many other due process rights—will continue in that icily antidemocratic vein.

On May 2, speaking to law enforcement officials in Atlanta—quoted in the July Progressive—Al Gore pledged: “If you give me the chance, I will be a law-and-order president.” For once, I do believe him. Gore and his chameleon running mate have never shown anything like a passionate concern for civil liberties. Both, moreover, would regulate—and censor—the content of films and television.

Nader could be more informed and out-front on the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution, but at least—as he said during a June 25 CNN interview—he understands that justice is “the great work of human beings,” and that we have to “build a deep democracy.”

It may be far out for Nader—and even for many professional civil libertarians—but I hope he may eventually agree with Charles Black on strengthening the Constitution. Black, a former law professor at Yale, was part of the Thurgood Marshall team that finally convinced the 1954 Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, that segregated public schools are inherently unconstitutional. Black went on to believe that freedom from poverty “should be a constitutional right.”

Since there are now more segregated public schools than in 1954, the failure of Brown ought to be an issue for Nader. It surely won’t be for Gore or Bush, because fulfilling Brown would require focusing on residential segregation and the need to expand city school districts to include adjacent suburbs where so many voters for the New Democratic Party and the new “compassionate” Republican Party live.

Don’t expect that to happen unless American politics change so much that there could be a Supreme Court beyond Scalia, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer—one in the passionate Bill of Rights tradition of William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and William O. Douglas.

Until then, a vote against the cumulative antidemocratic deceit of Gore and Bush is a vote for Nader. As Nader says, Gore “talks populist but buys into corporate power.”

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