On Native Ground
MORE THAN NADER, DEMOCRATS SHOULD FEAR COMPLACENCY
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Despite all the pleading by liberals not to, Ralph Nader is going to run for president.
My advice to everyone who seems upset about this is not to worry. Anyone can run for president in this country if he or she wants to, but that doesn't necessarily mean people are going to vote for you.
I voted for Nader in 1996 and 2000, and do not regret those votes. I respect him and consider him to be one of the most useful American citizens of the past century. But don't solely blame Nader for George W. Bush's presidency. There's plenty of blame to go around.
Start with Al Gore, who ran one of the worst campaigns in recent memory. He was running for president in a time of relative peace and prosperity against one of the shallowest and dumbest Republican candidates ever. But Gore was indistinguishable from President Bush on corporate welfare, the death penalty, defense spending and globalization. Gore represented a continuation of the rightward shift of the Democratic Party as epitomized by Clinton, and Gore's hectoring and pedantic style turned off many people.
As The Nation's David Corn wrote shortly after the 2000 election: "To accuse Nader of causing Gore's downfall (is) akin to blaming a warning label for a product that fails."
The lesson of the 2000 campaign is that when you have two candidates that agree on essentially the same issues (except on Social Security, abortion rights and tax cuts), the average voter will make his or her choice on style rather than substance. And style usually wins. If Gore wasn't inept, shallow and robotic - in other words, if Gore was Bill Clinton - he would've won in a landslide.
Most liberals held their noses and voted for Gore in 2000. The people who wanted an alternative to Gore voted for Nader, but it's safe to say that many of the Nader voters wouldn't have bothered voting at all if Nader wasn't in the race. Those of us who voted for Nader wanted to send the Democrats a message that being a pale imitation of the GOP wasn't going to earn our support.
Unfortunately, the Democrats haven't quite gotten the message. Sen. John Kerry is poised to be the man to challenge President Bush, yet he voted to give the President a blank check to invade Iraq, voted for his ill-advised tax cuts, voted for the horribly misnamed "No Child Left Behind" education plan, voted for the Patriot Act and voted for NAFTA.
Again, I want to see President Bush voted out of office as much as anyone, but is it asking too much to have the Democrats run a candidate who isn't merely a kinder, gentler version of this President?
That's what the Democrats should really be afraid of.
Howard Dean was the best hope the party had to break away from the failed politics of the Clinton years. He was bold and he had good ideas, but he was destroyed by the party establishment and the media out of a misplaced belief that Kerry is the "more electable" candidate.
We all know the stakes are different now. In the fall of 2000, few believed that President Bush was going to be the most radical, most disastrous president we ever had. What we saw happen in Florida during the re-count was the first real indication of the kind of presidency we were going to get under President Bush. You don't need me to repeat to you what's happened since then.
Since almost every American who is appalled by the last three years of the Bush administration agrees that another president is needed, very few people are going to be voting for Nader - except maybe for the diehard lefties who aren't likely to support Kerry anyway.
Why? Because I think that most people realize that until our electoral system is changed, third party politics is a waste of time. The current winner-take-all setup is designed to favor the Democrats and Republicans, and neither party wants to change it.
If Ralph Nader wants to make a real contribution to the electoral process, he should concentrate instead on changing the electoral process to give third party candidates a better chance through proportional voting and instant run-off voting (IRV) elections.
Most of the world's democracies use some form of proportional representation. This means that a political party that wins 10 percent of the vote wins 10 percent of the legislative seats. Doing this makes voting for a third party candidate more than just an act of protest. Instead, it would give third parties a voice in the legislative process and get more voters involved in the democratic process.
Australia, England and Ireland all use IRV. Here's how it works. Voters pick their first choice on their ballot plus their second and third choices. If a candidate gets a majority of the first choices, the election ends. If not, the candidate that gets the fewest votes is eliminated and a run-off round begins. In this second count, each ballot counts for the top-ranked candidates still in the race. If there still isn't a winner, the counts continue until there is a majority winner.
As with proportional representation, IRV gives third parties a greater role in elections and enables them to form coalitions with established political parties. For example, if IRV was used in 2000, progressives wouldn't have had to agonize over choosing between Gore and Nader. Nader voters could picked Gore as their second choice, and Gore would've have won in a run-off vote in many states. Instead of a vote "thrown away," IRV would have created a Green-Democratic coalition that would've helped the Democrats to retake Congress.
All 50 states could implement IRV for every election, including the presidency, without changing any federal laws or the U.S. Constitution. No one has tried it though, mainly because politicians like the election laws as they currently exist. Why would they change a system that makes it nearly impossible for an incumbent to lose an election?
So, stop getting upset about Ralph Nader. He alone didn't cause Al Gore to lose in 2000, and he's going to have little if any effect on the 2004 election.
Instead, the focus for Democrats should be on avoiding a repeat of the 2000 and 2002 electoral debacles by offering voters something more than just a "we hate Bush" platform.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.