#4:Barbara E.on Nader vs. Gore

Dayne Goodwin dayneg at SPAMshell.aros.net
Thu Nov 2 14:13:45 MST 2000

    Third Party, Mainstream Hopes (NY TIMES-OCt. 26, 2000)


              KEY WEST, Fla. - As Election Day approaches
               with the major candidates in a dead heat,
          Democratic denunciations of Ralph Nader supporters
          grow louder and more bitter. We are accused of
          disloyalty and irresponsibility, of ignoring the
          differences between the candidates and of being
          willing to throw the election to George W. Bush so
          that we can indulge in a meaningless gesture. Or, on
          the assumption that Nader supporters are all of the
          upper middle class, we are mocked for having the
          "luxury" of contributing to a Republican victory for
          which the vulnerable poor will suffer.

          But support for Mr. Nader is only one small sign of a
          much larger growing alienation from the electoral
          process and the two parties that benefit from it.
          Polls show Mr. Nader attracting 5 percent or less of
          the vote in half a dozen tightly contested states.
          Meanwhile, much of the electorate seems unable,
          even after three debates, to detect any gripping
          differences between the two major candidates.

          An even starker sign of alienation is that a majority
          of eligible voters are unlikely to vote - more than
          50 percent stayed home in the 1996 presidential
          election. The working poor, who supposedly have the
          most at stake in this or any election, are especially
          well represented among those who now abstain from

          Not only do Nader supporters represent an extremely
          small proportion of the politically alienated, but
          among Naderites only about a quarter are normally
          Democratic voters, according to a recent
          Reuters/MSNBC poll; the rest are independents and
          Republicans. Among those of us who have voted
          Democratic for most of our lives, the mood is less of
          spiteful defiance than of sorrow. We didn't choose to
          abandon the Democratic Party in its hour of need;
          the party chose to abandon us.

          Our parents or grandparents, who were, in many
          cases, yellow-dog, blue-collar Democrats, would
          barely recognize the party of Bill Clinton and Al Gore
          as their own. To summarize the downside of the
          Clinton-Gore record: They failed to lift the minimum
          wage even up to the poverty level, although
          executive pay soared to more than 400 times that of
          the average working person. They pursued a trade
          policy rejected by unions and a majority of
          Americans. They blew their chance to create a
          national health insurance program, offering instead a
          plan that favored the big insurance companies. Mr.
          Gore's vision of health reform is even more
          constricted, consisting of little beyond proposed
          extension of Medicare coverage to prescription
          drugs. The Clinton-Gore administration has presided
          over a stunning expansion of the prison system -
          necessitated by an increasingly senseless, and
          thoroughly bipartisan, war on drugs.

          For many Nader supporters, especially the feminists
          among us, the Democratic Party's biggest betrayal
          was the so-called "reform" of welfare. Instead of the
          generously financed welfare-to-work program that he
          initially proposed, Mr. Clinton signed an exceedingly
          punitive bill that essentially leaves the poorest
          single mothers and their children at the mercy of
          labor market, where entry-level wages remain at
          about $7 an hour. Mr. Gore boasts of his advocacy of
          welfare reform, but Deborah Leff, president of
          America's Second Harvest, a consortium of food
          banks, has said that food pantries all over the
          country are unable to meet the "torrent of need."

          The increasingly ugly fallout from the changes in
          welfare undermines the argument that a vote for
          Ralph Nader is an upper-middle class indulgence: It
          is not clear that the poor would fare very well under
          another four years of Democratic rule.

          Yes, like most Democrats who vote for Mr. Nader, I
          will be sorry if George Bush defeats Al Gore. I do
          see differences between the two candidates, not
          least in the kind of the Supreme Court appointments
          they are likely to make. But in the case of a Bush
          victory, don't expect me to be apologetic. It's not my
          fault if Mr. Gore has refused to stand up for the
          populist principles that might draw America's
          disenchanted majority back to the polls.

          I see the Nader campaign as a chance to prod the
          Democratic Party to the left and, beyond that, to
          re-energize American democracy. Of all the
          candidates currently running, only Mr. Nader
          addresses the alienation of the American majority:
          the role of big money in elections and the need for
          new political parties to challenge the all-too-similar
          Democrats and Republicans.

          A vote for Mr. Nader is neither a vote for Mr. Bush
          nor a vote nihilistically thrown away. For
          old-fashioned Democrats and adherents of a
          vigorous democracy generally, it's a statement of
          affirmation and hope.

          Barbara Ehrenreich is author of the forthcoming
          "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in
          Boom-Time America."

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