The attacks on Ralph
candidacy, on the
Green Party ticket,
stir memories that
stretch back two decades. In 1980, after abandoning the
Republican primaries, I ran for
president as an independent candidate. The arguments lodged against
me then were almost identical to
those now being waged against Mr.
When polls taken in the spring of
1980 showed my support in the range
of 25 percent, I was promptly labeled
a "spoiler," driven more by personal ego than conviction. Critics
charged that my candidacy deprived voters of the opportunity to
make a clear choice between the
right-wing conservatism of Ronald
Reagan and the far more moderate
incumbent, Jimmy Carter.
My counterargument, based on
the advice of Erasmus, was simply
this: When confronted with a choice
between two evils, do not choose. I
felt that a systemic problem in our
political process could only be addressed by taking a new direction.
Call it the third way. The electoral
system monopolized and controlled
by the two majority parties was
then, and continues to be, irretrievably broken. More important, the
two-party system is not constitutionally ordained.
Our founding fathers worried
about the effect of party dissension
on our democracy. James Madison
wrote that factional strife would obscure a vision of the common good.
And George Washington warned
about "the baneful effects of the
spirit of party."
The "domination of one faction
over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension," he said, "is in itself a frightful
The postwar history of divided
government, with control of the
White House in the hands of one
party and control of Congress in the
other, has all too often been a prescription for gridlock.
But internal divisions within the
major parties have also contributed
to government disarray. Moderate
and right-wing Republicans are in
strong disagreement, and their inability to be a cohesive political
force hurts, rather than strengthens,
the democratic process.
Dissonance and acrimony have
disillusioned the voting public. In
1996, more than 100 million adults
did not bother to vote in the presidential election, according to the
Federal Election Commission. And
President Clinton was chosen by less
than a majority of the votes cast.
Yes, it is unlikely that Mr. Nader
will become president. But why
shouldn't his views be heard?
Mr. Nader advances issues that
the major parties are unwilling to
even broach. For instance, the
Green Party has advocated "instant-runoff" voting. Under this sensible system, voters cast ballots for
their first-, second- and third-choice
If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the top two
candidates are entered into an instant runoff -- and the second- and
third-place votes are counted. The
election would thereby produce a
winner who wins a true majority of
votes. Mary Robinson was elected
president of Ireland in this fashion,
as was Ken Livingstone, the mayor
Ralph Nader should not simply be
dismissed as a "spoiler." His candidacy could raise issues and propose
solutions that may elevate the political dialogue.
Most important, his
candidacy offers the healthy prospect that millions of voters who now
feel disenfranchised will become active, interested and involved citizens.
John B. Anderson is president of the Center for Voting and Democracy, which studies alternative electoral systems.
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company