AUSTIN -- Lots of Democrats all over the country are a-twitter over Ralph Nader.
"Nader, Nader, what do we do about Nader? Of course, I agree with him; of course, he's right. But what about the court, what about Roe, what about the environment if Bush wins?"
I have a few modest suggestions that I think may help.
In the short term, support the heck out of Nader -- and I don't just mean progressives, either. Frankly, the Reform Party should nominate him instead of Pat Buchanan. Nader's an economic populist who doesn't much emphasize social issues, which I always thought was the original intent of Ross Perot and that party. Unlike most "liberals," Nader has lunch-bucket appeal. I know for a fact that at least one major union, in addition to the ones that have already endorsed him, is seriously thinking about endorsing Nader.
Unlike his '96 pro forma race, he's working his tail off; he's getting contributions from his Web site; he has an ad guy (the one who did Paul Wellstone's original great ads in Minnesota). Plus, Nader is Nader -- the sea-green incorruptible, the truest, purest, best, smartest, longest-standing, hardest-working, never-sold-out Good Guy in the whole country. You can't beat his record.
Electable? I have a right-wing friend who calls him "Savonarola," after one of those humorless zealots who burned books a few centuries back. Nader is so famous for not having much of a sense of humor that he is actually wonderfully funny on the subject. He loathes the whole idea of celebrity and would infinitely prefer to talk about Subsection B, Part III of the new bankruptcy law than himself.
But there he is: ancient suit, narrow tie, lives on $25,000 a year and puts the rest into the public interest groups that he's set up around the country. He's done more real good for this country than both the other candidates added together and multiplied. He's taught two generations of young idealists how to make a difference in the real world.
Auto safety, dirty meat, unsafe drugs, pollution, corporate power, corrupt politics -- when has Nader ever not been there for us? So where should we be now?
My voting philosophy is simple: In the primaries, go with your heart; in the finals, vote your brain.
As a veteran Texas voter, I am an artist in the art of lesser-evilism. I have voted for more dreary, worthless characters than I care to recall, on the excellent grounds that they were a shade better than the other guy in the race. And what I have learned is that the lesser of two evils `does' make a difference, especially to those of us on the margins of society.
To put it inelegantly, we live in a society where the sewage flows downhill, and those on the bottom are drowning in it. To those who are barely keeping their noses above the sewage, it makes all the difference in the world whether, for example, you pass an awful welfare reform bill or you pass an awful welfare reform bill with an especially nasty amendment by Phil Gramm attached to it.
(Not long ago, Gramm sent me a truly funny note hoping that I'd be back in shape to attack him again soon. I'm back, senator.)
For short-term strategy, let's get Nader the 15 percent support in the polls that the Debate Commission says he needs to appear in the presidential debates. The point here is to move the debate. I am so sick of having to listen to Newt-Gingrich, Rush-Limbaugh Republicans and the Democrats who keep caving to them that I'll vote Nader in a New York minute.
OK, that's because I live in Texas, where a vote for Nader is a "free vote." Our electors are going to Dubya no matter how Democrats here vote, so for us, this is the equivalent of a primary vote: Go with your heart.
The same is true in states with the reverse situation. Massachusetts and New York will go Democratic no matter how the progressives vote; and if we can get Nader and the Green Party the 5 percent they need to qualify for federal spending in 2004, we will, in fact, move the debate. There's every reason to do it, and no reason not to.
As for you voters in swing states, where you might actually make a difference -- why don't we wait and see how it looks in November?
© 2000 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas