A Final Plea to Nader Supporters
October 30, 2004
By Paul Rogat Loeb
If Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jim Hightower,
and Ralph Nader's former running mate Winona LaDuke haven't convinced
you that voting for Nader is too great a risk this election, maybe
nothing will. But the stakes are high enough to try.
As Nader supporters continually point out, Kerry is a compromised,
centrist Democrat, ambivalent at best on a host of key questions
including the Iraqi war. Nader's positions may be better, and it
may feel personally gratifying to vote for them. But this election
isn't about abstract stands. It's about Bush's threat to democracy.
And not just Bush, but a larger Republican machine that purges
African Americans from the Florida voting rolls, throws away voter
registrations in Nevada, jams New Hampshire Democratic phone banks
with hired telemarketers, shouts down Palm Beach vote counters,
and shuts Congressional Democrats out of the legislative drafting
process entirely, replacing their voices with those of industry
That doesn't count waging preemptive wars and lying about their
justification, passing over a hundred billion dollars a year of
regressive tax cuts, smashing unions, plundering the environment,
and branding everyone who disagrees with you an ally of terrorism.
Either we stop these trends or we don't. And what we do this with
is the ballot. If we place all our hopes in awaiting some nebulous
citizens' revolt, we throw away a concrete opportunity to stop this
assault in its tracks by voting Bush out. And that gives away an
aspect of power that citizen movements have fought and died for.
That's what we do by replacing a real vote against Bush with a symbolic
vote for Ralph Nader.
Think of the court appointments. Four years ago, the issue seemed
abstract. After the gang of five justices installed Bush in office,
it's urgent. William Rehnquist is 80 years old sick, with thyroid
cancer. John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg
have had cancer as well, and Stevens is 84. Do we really want another
Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas to replace them? Or another Rehnquist?
These justices didn't just anoint Bush as president. The same 5-4
majority recently validated Tom DeLay's mid-census reapportionment
of key congressional districts in Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania,
to give the Republicans a near unbreakable short-term lock on the
House of Representatives.
Maybe O'Connor will have a change of heart, but if they appoint
one more ultra-right justice, all three branches will be controlled
by a party that seeks not just victory, but the total annihilation
of all opposition, as if we were the rats and insects that DeLay
used to exterminate. Stopping this trend means stopping Bush.
There's a reason Republicans have put so much money, time and
organizational effort into getting Nader on the ballot in key states:
it's a chance to consolidate power. And there's a reason every major
progressive organization in this country begged Ralph not to run,
and that three-quarters of participants in Nader's "Committee of
100" from four years ago are now mobilizing for Kerry in efforts
like the Unity
As Chomsky says, "Anyone who says 'I don't care if Bush gets elected'
is basically telling poor and working people in the country, 'I
don't care if your lives are destroyed... I don't care about you'
... Apart from [this] being wrong, it's a recipe for disaster if
you're hoping to ever develop a popular movement and a political
In fact, there's an odd parallel between Bush's total lack of
accountability and belief in his divinely anointed infallibility,
and Nader's. Nader insists that no matter how many long-time allies
ask him to pull back, he has a direct line to the truth, and knows
he's right. It's tragic that someone who has spent most of his life
fighting to expand democracy is doing his best to make the worst
of Florida's plantation politics our national political model.
I've heard Nader supporters say their vote won't matter, or that
Nader will actually take votes away from Bush. As a recent Nation
Institute survey showed, Nader actually draws three to one or more
from those who'd otherwise support Kerry.
If you'd otherwise support Bush, please do vote for Ralph. If you
want to get Bush out, however, and your state is remotely close,
then you need to act as if every vote matters, including your own,
and those of everyone you turn out. You need to assume that the
366-vote margin in New Mexico (where Nader got 21,000 votes) or
the 537 votes that Katherine Harris certified in Florida will be
the outcome in your state this round, and that your actions will
make the key difference. You don't want to become one more Republican
Think about the 2002 French election. Progressives split their
vote in the initial balloting, allowing neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le
Pen to edge Socialist Lionel Jospin to make it onto the final ballot.
In response, French progressives and moderates rallied around Conservative
Jacques Chirac, because Le Pen was too great a threat to ignore.
And Chirac surprised us all by refusing to go to war in Iraq. Bush's
politics aren't as rightist as Le Pen, but their global impact is
infinitely greater. Bush's Euro-bashing aside, this is one time
to learn from the French.
I'm all in favor of acts of conscience. But we also have to be
strategic. We can find ample ways to express our direct voice after
November 2. If Kerry wins, I expect to be marching soon afterward
to get America out of Iraq, because it's going to take persistent
citizen action no matter which way the elections go. But symbolic
statements and symbolic actions will not stop the Republican assaults
on democracy. At some point we'll need to vote them out. That point
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take
a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear,
just published by Basic Books. Loeb is also the author of Soul
of a Citizen. See www.theimpossible.org.
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