When Ralph Nader Put His Thumb in Our Eye

A series of articles over sixteen years revisits the trials and tribulations of third-party politics


Back in 2000, the Voice editorial staff (or at least part of it) didn’t think a whole lot of Al Gore for president. On a cover referencing Don McLean’s massive 1971 hit, “American Pie,” Ralph Nader gave himself a thumbs-up for the presidency.

The Voice wrote in an endorsement that the consumer-protection crusader 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 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.”

The article goes on to note 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 hope was that this kind of safe protest vote would strengthen the Green Party’s base and access to federal matching funds in the future.

Other staffers were less sanguine and, in the great Voice tradition of disagreeing openly in print, countered with a dissent that was headlined “Nader: Unsafe on Any Issue.” This cadre was concerned, as were many, that Nader would siphon votes from Gore and hand the election to Republican George W. Bush, a nightmare that came to fruition when Florida’s electoral votes in the contested 2000 election were given to Bush by Supreme Court fiat. The Voice dissenters further argued that “the second son of a president to become president will end the estate tax and move the country toward an aristocracy of inherited privilege.”

Well, W. didn’t quite pull that off, but President Trump is working on it through a lopsided tax cut that largely favors those such as himself who are already well-off.

On that same page back in 2000, Hilary Clinton got the nod from the Voice for her campaign for New York senator. Again, the signals were mixed: “While we abhor her support for welfare reform, we believe she understands the importance of government to those who desperately need its services. We think she will act on her evident feeling for teachers and other professionals bucking a grotesquely underfunded and overcrowded system.”

With that in mind we include this link to a 2016 article that surveyed the postwar history of casting protest and/or third-party votes (which we’ll just note had a better headline in print: “It’s the History, Stupid”):

So, when you see that ex-Starbucks boss Howard Schultz is contemplating a third-party bid for the Oval Office in 2020, just remember these immortal words from a former would-be presidential spoiler, Ross Perot: “As you and I know, we are in deep voodoo.”