Democrats are furious with progressives who would vote for Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, concerned that they will spoil Al Gores bid for the White House. They warn Naderites they will be responsible for a George W. Bush victory and the inevitable parade of horrors to follow.
Yet the Nader rally is easily explained by both major parties ignorance of issues larger than retooling the military and federal educational policy. Bush and Gore have focused on the economy. Nader appeals to those who believe serious social issues have been abandoned in this years race.
Many longtime Democrats as well as McCain and Perot supporters are enthused by Naders candidacy. They we want to secure another choice, a new voice on long-ignored issues.
Two primary sources of widespread national discontent are themes all but ignored in the recent debates: corporate control of government and the widening divide between rich and poor.
Almost everyone now believes corporate power exerts itself in ways inconsistent with the public interest. The Sept. 11 issue of Business Week reports its survey results that 74 percent of Americans feel corporations have too much political clout. As the fall season of colorful campaign ads reaches its peak, Bush and Gore wring their hands that they cannot unilaterally halt the excesses of soft money.
More troubling is the permanent government of corporations and trade associations in Washington. As citizens mind their workaday jobs, lobbyists protect their clients interests by shaping legislation in Washington and in state capitals.
It is small wonder that Naders consumer watchdog credentials have convinced voters to launch a new party to compete for government seats.
The second unpleasantry ignored by the major candidates is the growing gap between the rich and the poor: The big lie of this campaign season is that the strength of the economy has translated to broad-based prosperity: It has not trickled down to our class of working poor. Contrary to the 1992 Bill Clinton promise that no full-time worker would remain poor, the Clinton-Gore administration pushed welfare reform while raising the minimum wage to just $5.15 hour, nowhere near a living wage level.
A host of sobering facts temper the heady economic talk from Gore and Bush.
Our savings rate is a negative number for the first time since the Depression. Credit card debt tripled in the past decade to near $600 billion in 1999. Personal bankruptcies doubled in the same period to well more than 1 million last year. Forty-two million Americans have no health insurance. Nearly one in five children live in poverty. The ranks of temporary workers without benefits is steadily increasing. Low-paying, private-sector service jobs account for more workers than ever. Nearly all workers have seen a significant loss in their real wages.
Nader alone suggests that we judge our economys success by these human yardsticks.
The fallout from these two major problems affect much of American life. Many people feel powerless to affect their government. The recent China trade measure proved to many the overwhelming influence of corporations and interest groups in dictating policy. Were average workers interests in fact protected by that bill? Did citizen e-mails to Congress carry the same weight as the National Manufacturers Association and Chamber of Commerce?
The alienation of the public has also undermined civil participation in the political process. Voter turnout was less than 50 percent in 1996. The number of viewers of the recent debates was embarrassingly low. Young people (and old) are justifiably cynical of their politicians whose debates assume a disturbing status quo. Does the future look bright for our political system?
Nader followers are hardly all leftists. They are Americans who share the common sense that somethings been left out in the two-party debate.
Associate Professor Gary Maveal is director of the Urban Law Clinic at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.