A Green Light for Nader


The Village Voice supports Ralph Nader for president.

Nader and the Green Party are the only national political force willing to speak out against the stranglehold that corporate America has on our political system. We believe Nader would battle poverty and inequality, rein in globalization and an imperial foreign policy, abandon the war on drugs, and work to ban the death penalty. The Clinton-Gore administration has done little in these vital areas, choosing to abet big money and placate conservatives instead. The Democrats and the Republicans, in fact, share common ground on most of these issues. A vote for Nader is a protest against lesser-evilism and the rightward drift of the Democrats.

We believe Nader would battle poverty and inequality, rein in globalization and an imperial foreign policy, abandon the war on drugs, and work to ban the death penalty.

Many progressives and liberals support Al Gore (see “Nader: Unsafe at Any Issue”), but we find his track record dubious. The Clinton-Gore administration gutted welfare, then failed in adding the jobs half of the “reform.” They rammed through NAFTA and GATT and China’s preferred trade status. They passed the liberty-shredding 1994 crime bill and the 1996 immigration bill, which in conjunction with the welfare bill stripped legal immigrants of access to social services. Clinton-Gore has funded Colombian counterinsurgency and backed the missile defense boondoggle. Gore pushed for passage of the crime bill, has promised to cover America in “a blanket of blue” with 50,000 new cops, and has urged prison expansion and mandatory sentencing. Like his vice-presidential nominee, Gore voted for the Gulf War. Lieberman backed California’s Proposition 209 (which outlawed affirmative action) and voted with the GOP on the nomination of Sheldon Hackney to be head of the NEH. Is it any wonder we have trouble supporting the Democratic ticket?

Our endorsement of Nader is also part of a long-range strategy. By winning 5 percent of the national vote, the Green Party would qualify for as much as $13 million in federal matching funds next time around. Not an immense sum of money in politics these days, but a solid step in a long-term vision for social and political change. With the 5 percent, a national presence for progressive politics will be established. Other countries provide encouraging examples. The New Democratic Party in Canada demonstrates what can happen when progressives set aside lesser-evilism and build a left alternative. The German Green party, Die Grünen, emerged from modest roots and now controls 47 seats in the Bundestag, serving as a junior partner in Gerhard Schröder’s government. Neither runs its country, but they have a greater effect on mainstream politics than the American left does. The Democrats have been flying liberals across the country trying to assuage Naderites. But what if the Democrats actually had to change their policies to accommodate progressives? The reform faction of the Democratic Party—Jackson, Wellstone, labor, etc.—has failed to move the party in a progressive direction, to turn it away from a corporate agenda. Let’s try a strategy that’s been shown to work.

The future makeup of the Supreme Court has been a prominent campaign issue. A vote for Gore, it’s been argued, will best insure a Court that will protect our civil and reproductive rights. We dispute the idea that these rights are simply the result of a few enlightened justices. They’re the result of massive social movements. Brown v. Board of Education cemented a change that came about as a result of a decades-long civil rights struggle. Safeguarding abortion rights is not about the Supreme Court, but about maintaining feminist activism. As Katha Pollit and others have pointed out, access to reproductive services has actually declined under Clinton, because the movement that established them has waned. We survived 12 years of Reagan-Bush, despite their opposition to abortion, and, if need be, we will survive Bush Jr.—if we organize. With the Greens as a major national presence, this sort of organizing becomes more feasible.

Nader’s ballot presence also promises to awaken the most typical citizen, the nonvoter. Rallying nonvoters is democratic. And it’s arrogant to suggest that Nader’s voters are rightfully Gore’s.

We would prefer Gore to Bush. But Gore and the machinery he represents will never get us where we ultimately want to go. The way to achieve real equality is to build the left, with an empowered Green Party.

It should be noted that some of us have reservations about Nader, and support him on narrower terms. These staffers encourage voting for him only in states, like New York, where Gore has a comfortable margin over Bush. The goal of this strategy is to bring the Green Party up to that 5 percent it needs to qualify for federal matching funds, without aiding Bush’s possible election. By campaigning in swing states where a Green Party vote may help Bush win, some believe Nader is willing to undermine issues like affirmative action, abortion rights, and gay rights. Since the major differences between the Democrats and Republicans lie in these important areas, some fear Nader is sacrificing them for his own advantage. Some also wish it noted that Nader’s supporters, taken as a whole, are white, and that he doesn’t play well in either the black community or among minority activists. A number of civil rights leaders—including NOW’s Patricia Ireland and the Human Rights Campaign’s David Smith—complain that Nader has not given race and gender issues the prominence they deserve.

The Democrats have spent far too long ignoring the left. They have done this by design—that’s what Clinton, Gore, and Lieberman’s Democratic Leadership Council was created to do. Ralph Nader is unlikely to win this election, but voting for him will help establish an important progressive beachhead for the political battles of the 21st century.