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International Socialist Review Issue 14, October-November 2000

The Only Real Choice in Election 2000

It's an election year, and the mainstream media are up to their old tricks. They've given us wall-to-wall coverage of the most trivial details of the Democratic and Republican campaigns. And they seem intent to ignore virtually anything that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader says or does.

Yet despite this blackout, Nader's shoestring, word-of-mouth campaign has drawn enthusiastic audiences just about everywhere the candidate has appeared. Organizers for Nader's August 25 rally in Portland, Ore. would have been ecstatic if 3,000 people turned out. Instead, 10,000 enthusiastic people of all ages and backgrounds packed the Portland Coliseum. The Nader campaign is planning similar events at professional sports arenas in Seattle, Boston and Minneapolis. The big rallies have their echo in the hundreds of neighborhood and campus committees for Nader that have sprung up around the country.

The reason for the response to Nader is simple. He's the only candidate in the presidential race who is actually addressing critical issues facing workers today. No other candidate even comes close to advocating universal health care, turning the minimum wage into a livable wage, cutting the military budget or enabling unions to organize more easily. International Socialist Review urges our readers to build the Nader campaign and to vote for Nader. The Nader campaign represents an opportunity to challenge the corporate domination of American politics--and to build a bigger and stronger left from it.

But just as the presidential campaign has hit its fall home-stretch, the chorus of voices urging Nader supporters to "get real" grows louder. Toby Moffett, a former "Nader Raider" and Democratic member of Congress urged in an op-ed piece appearing in a number of newspapers: "Ralph continues on his destructive mission. There's no talking him out of it, but my goal is to convince enough progressives that voting for him comes with a potentially huge price tag." Since American politics is all about winning and Nader doesn't have a chance of winning, the argument goes, Nader supporters should come to their senses and cast their votes to Gore. Otherwise, a strong Nader vote--particularly concentrated in a few key states--could throw the election to Bush.

These calculations lay behind the concerted attacks on Nader that Democratic politicians of all stripes--but particularly, the liberals--have mounted. It also helps to explain Al Gore's packaging as a born-again populist at the Democratic convention. "A funny thing happened to Al Gore on the way to his surprisingly effective acceptance speech," wrote Robert Kuttner in the American Prospect. "He became a liberal." Gore's populist posturing has made it easier for the Democratic "base" of labor unions, feminist groups and civil rights organizations to back him. "I think [Gore's] populist message gives him a better chance with working people than what we've heard before," Dan McCarthy, a United Auto Workers activist for Nader, told the New York Times.

Despite this, no one should be fooled that Gore--should he win--will govern much differently than the Clinton-Gore administration. Gore's campaign is just as awash in corporate cash as Bush's is. The policies he stumps for hardly differ from the "centrist" Republican-lite policies of Clinton. And just in case Gore's populist phrase-mongering gives Corporate America the wrong idea, Gore chose one of Corporate America's chief water carriers, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), as his running mate. On August 22, Lieberman told the Wall Street Journal: "There is no rational reason why the markets should be in any way adversely affected by the positions and policies and programs of the Gore-Lieberman ticket." He told business not to worry about the campaign's rhetoric: "Political rallies tend not to be places for extremely thoughtful argument. You have some rhetorical flourishes."

Given this reality, it's remarkable--but hardly surprising--how quickly liberal interest groups and supporters have jumped on the Gore bandwagon. Weeks before the Democratic convention, the AFL-CIO made clear that it would have nothing to do with street protests about workers' rights and other issues during the convention week. For months, the United Auto Workers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters refused to endorse Gore. They even flirted with supporting Nader. But on the eve of the Democratic convention, the UAW came back to the fold. And just after Labor Day, the Teamsters announced their backing of the Democratic ticket.

Meanwhile, the Democrats' "in-house" left--liberal figures like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rev. Jesse Jackson--used their credentials as sometime liberal Clinton-Gore critics to bash Nader. Their attacks on Nader amplified charges from the scribes of the liberal left, like The Nation's Katha Pollitt, In These Times' Joel Bleifuss and the editors of the American Prospectź All of these people showed that they treat criticism of Clinton-Gore as a parlor sport. When it actually comes time to do something about it--to vote for Nader--they scurry back to the Democrats.

Liberals and activists who argue for a vote for the "lesser of two evils"--Gore--build their case on three main points: First, they say, a vote for Nader is one less vote for Gore. Thus, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. Second, the U.S. presidential election system being what it is, "realism" demands a vote for Gore. An "idealistic" vote for Nader is a fool's errand. Third, if the vote for Nader helps put Bush in office, woe to the most oppressed people in the country. They will suffer the most from a Bush administration's efforts to turn back the clock.

It takes a lot of amnesia for the Jacksons and the Franks to forget the last eight years. That's what's so cynical about their anti-Nader blasts. Clinton, Gore and most Democrats oppose the right of gay people to marry. Gore's "reinventing government" scheme had "a devastating impact on federal government workers, particularly racial minorities," according to the National Legislative Review Committee of Blacks in Government. This is not even to mention the impact of Clinton-Gore's law-and-order and welfare reform policies on the poor and people of color.

Yet millions of ordinary people whose careers don't depend on shilling for Gore are drawn to the "lesser evil." They want to cast their vote for some positive change, even if it's limited. With the federal budget running surpluses, politicians' calls for austerity have lost their bite. Gore's plans for adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare falls far short of Nader's call for universal health care. But it seems like a "practical" or "realistic" alternative--one that has a chance of being enacted.

Unfortunately, history is littered with dozens of "realistic" proposals that never became law because Corporate America's twin parties sank them. In 1992, Bill Clinton came to office promising to provide health coverage for all Americans. In fact, health care reform was Clinton's most popular campaign promise. Two years later, the health insurance industry--and its supporters in both parties--assured that Clinton's proposal never even came to a vote in Congress. Now, eight years after Clinton won office, eight million more people have lost their health insurance coverage. As long as the two parties of big business determine the limits of the possible in American politics, ordinary people will always get the shaft.

"In setups where the choice is between one capitalist politician and another," the socialist Hal Draper wrote in 1967, "the defeat comes in accepting the limitation to this choice." That's why we need the largest possible vote for Ralph Nader on election day. The Nader campaign marks a step in breaking the Republocrat stranglehold on American politics. It opens the possibility that American workers--and not just their bosses--will find a voice in the political system.

Socialists and the Nader Campaign

RALPH NADER's presidential campaign has the potential of breaking the two-party consensus that dominates American politics. It is already clear that whatever the final outcome of the elections--and Nader's share of the vote in it--his campaign is already a›success. It has helped shift politics to the left. It has raised class issues that were otherwise ignored or played down by mainstream politics. Nader's campaign has played an important role in giving voice to those disgusted by "politics as usual" and has helped revive the left as a small but real force in the U.S.

The bigger Nader's vote, the bigger the challenge to the two-party "duopoly," as Nader calls it.

This is true in spite of the limits of the Nader campaign and Naders' own political weaknesses. The most obvious of those is that the Nader campaign has made little effort to give organizational shape to the anti-two-party sentiment that exists across the country. The big Nader meetings that have packed halls in several cities are crucial to raising his profile, but more needs to be done to build active Nader committees. This could not only help bring thousands more into organized political activity but›could also lay the basis for an oppositional current to continue to build after the elections. During Jesse Jackson's presidential bid in 1988, active Rainbow Coalition committees built Jackson's campaign across the country. But Jackson--fearing that they might become the focus of activity for a political alternative outside the Democratic Party--moved to shut them down.

›ader's own opposition to the Democrats is not as sharp as it could be. On the one hand, he denounces the two party system and calls for building a movement against it, yet he also expresses hope that his campaign will improve the electoral chances for Congressional Democrats. He has also endorsed Democratic candidates for Senate races in New York, Vermont and Washington.

›ader has mounted an important challenge to the system--but at the same time believes that the system itself can be reformed--its worst excesses contained. Of course, there is some truth to that assertion. Poverty in the U.S. can be reduced without gettin› rid of capitalism--provided workers wage a fight over how the government surpluses are spent. Workers could improve their pay and working conditions massively by stepping up their challenges to corporate greed. But reforms that are won, as we know only too well in the last two decades, can also be taken away.

Nader's opposition to big capital--to big business--is also accompanied by his support for small business. As he has often said, he is not an opponent of capitalism--but a reformer who has been shut out of the Beltway.

None of this is to detract from the significance or importance of his campaign. But it is to assert clearly what is the most important: The involvement of masses of people in politics is the only way to break the hold of the two parties of corporate America. Nader's views still stand him head and shoulders above Al Gore and the Democrats. He is the only candidate with the courage to raise the questions that concern millions of ordinary people. To be sure, these questions that can be solved only by broad struggles of the sort that won unionization rights in the 1930s and civil rights in the 1960s. But if socialists and activists use Nader's election bid to build a strong campaign on the campuses, communities, and in the unions, not only will we be able to maximize Nader's vote, but we will have taken an important step toward rebuilding a fighting left wing--and yes, a socialist--movement in this country.

Finally, after November 7, thousands of activists who have helped build the Nader campaign will have to think seriously about where to put their energies in order to change society.

A broader and revitalized left, outside the limits of the two-party system, can make the transformation of society a concrete goal for the first time in generations. The Nader campaign does not have to end on November 8.

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