Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jim Hightower, and Ralph Nader's
former running mate Winona LaDuke haven't convinced you that voting for Nader
is too great a risk this election, maybe nothing will. But the stakes are high
enough to try.
As Nader supporters continually point out, Kerry is a compromised,
centrist Democrat, ambivalent at best on a host of key questions including the
Iraqi war. And yes, Nader's positions are better, and it may feel personally gratifying
to vote for them.
But this election isn't about abstract stands. It's about
Bush's threat to democracy. Not just Bush, but a larger Republican machine that
purges African Americans from the Florida voting rolls, throws away voter registrations
in Nevada, jams New Hampshire Democratic phone banks with hired telemarketers,
shouts down Palm Beach vote counters, and shuts Congressional Democrats out of
the legislative drafting process entirely, replacing their voices with those of
industry lobbyists. That doesn't count waging preemptive wars and lying about
their justification, passing over a hundred billion dollars a year of regressive
tax cuts, smashing unions, plundering the environment, and branding everyone who
disagrees with you an ally of terrorism.
Either we stop these trends or we
don't. And what we do this with is the ballot. If we place all our hopes in awaiting
some nebulous citizens' revolt, we throw away a concrete opportunity to stop this
assault in its tracks by voting Bush out. And that gives away an aspect of power
that citizen movements have fought and died for. That's what we do by replacing
a real vote against Bush with a symbolic vote for Ralph Nader.
Think of the
court appointments. Four years ago, the issue seemed abstract. After the gang
of five justices installed Bush in office, it's urgent. William Rehnquist is 80
years old sick, with thyroid cancer. John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor and
Ruth Bader Ginsburg have had cancer as well, and Stevens is 84. Do we really want
another Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas to replace them? Or another Rehnquist?
These justices didn't just anoint Bush as president. The same 5-4 majority recently
validated Tom DeLay's mid-census reapportionment of key congressional districts
in Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania, to give the Republicans a near unbreakable
short-term lock on the House of Representatives. Maybe O'Connor will have a change
of heart, but if they appoint one more ultraright justice, all three branches
will be controlled by a party that seeks not just victory, but the total annihilation
of all opposition, as if we were the rats and insects that DeLay used to exterminate.
Stopping this trend means stopping Bush.
There's a reason Republicans have
put so much money, time and organizational effort into getting Nader on the ballot
in key states: it's a chance to consolidate power. And there's a reason every
major progressive organization in this country begged Ralph not to run. And that
three quarters of participants in Nader's "Committee of 100" from four years ago
are now mobilizing for Kerry in efforts like the Unity Campaign (www.theunitycampaign.org).
As Chomsky says, "...Anyone who says 'I don't care if Bush gets elected' is basically
telling poor and working people in the country, 'I don't care if your lives are
destroyed... I don't care about you'... Apart from [this] being wrong, it's a
recipe for disaster if you're hoping to ever develop a popular movement and a
In fact, there's an odd parallel between Bush's total
lack of accountability and belief in his divinely anointed infallibility, and
Nader's. Nader insists that no matter how many how many long-time allies ask him
to pull back, he has a direct line to the truth, and knows he's right. It's tragic
that someone who has spent most of his life fighting to expand democracy is doing
his best to make the worst of Florida's plantation politics our national political
I've heard Nader supporters say their vote won't matter. Or that Nader
will actually take votes away from Bush. As a recent Nation Institute survey showed,
Nader actually draws three to one or more from those who'd otherwise support Kerry,
but if you'd otherwise support Bush, please do vote for Ralph. If you want to
get Bush out, however, and your state is remotely close, then you need to act
as if every vote matters, including your own, and those of everyone you turn out.
You need to assume that the 366-vote margin in New Mexico (where Nader got 21,000
votes) or the 537 votes that Katherine Harris certified in Florida will be the
outcome in your state this round, and that your actions will make the key difference.
You don't want to become one more Republican tool.
Think about the 2002 French
election. Progressives split their vote in the initial balloting, allowing neo-fascist
Jean-Marie Le Pen to edge Socialist Lionel Jospin to make it onto the final ballot.
In response, French progressives and moderates rallied around Conservative Jacques
Chirac, because Le Pen was too great a threat to ignore. And Chirac surprised
us all by refusing to go to war in Iraq. Bush's politics aren't as rightist as
Le Pen, but their global impact is infinitely greater. Bush's Euro-bashing aside,
this is one time to learn from the French.
I'm all in favor of acts of conscience.
But we also have to be strategic. We can find ample ways to express our direct
voice after November 2. If Kerry wins, I expect to be marching soon afterward
to get America out of Iraq, because it's going to take persistent citizen action
no matter which way the elections go. But symbolic statements and symbolic actions
will not stop the Republican assaults on democracy. At some point we'll need to
vote them out. That point is now.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of "The
Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear",
just published by Basic Books.