Column: 28 October 2000 - Nader Fader

Nader Fader
By A. D. Freudenheim

28 October 2000

With 10 days left until the election, the polls show candidates George W. Bush with a slight lead over Al Gore: an ABC News poll gives Bush 49% to Gore's 45%; a CNN-Time poll show's Bush with a 49% lead over Gore's 43%.[1] Over the last two weeks, as the race has tightened and as Gore's earlier lead slips once again, the Vice President has made a concerted effort to "woo" those more left-wing voters committed to Ralph Nader, whose Green Party candidacy may be able to capture between 5 and 10% of the popular vote.

Gore's primary argument, reinforced by the television and radio pundits, is simple: Mr. Nader could be the spoiler in this race, handing victory to Bush by depriving Gore of this small, but valuable, portion of left-wing votes. The Vice President has appealed to Nader supporters, and even to Nader himself, to drop this damaging pursuit and unite behind Gore's candidacy as offering the best hopes for a left-wing presidency. So far, Gore's pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

As well they should. Mr. Nader has articulated a fairly specific platform for his candidacy, and the Vice President has had ample opportunity to address the differences between them. Gore could have attacked Nader's positions on intellectual or policy grounds, arguing against them and articulating why he is the better choice. Or he could have shown himself willing to adopt some of Nader's platform planks as his own, in order to appease Nader supporters. This has not happened.

Furthermore, Gore had an early opportunity to treat the Nader candidacy seriously by including him in the presidential debates; instead, he endorsed the Commission on Presidential Debate's "policy" requiring that all participating candidates must be capable of securing at least 15% of the electorate - as determined by aggregating the most recent popular polls - in order to participate. There is no small irony here: the Republican and Democratic parties, which run the Commission, have deemed any candidate with less than 15% to be irrelevant from a national perspective. Yet Mr. Nader's 5-10% level of support hardly seems irrelevant now.

Nader supporters have nothing to be sorry for; standing up to political expediency should not embarrass them. In fact, it reflects only as a naïveté on the part of the Gore campaign that the Vice President thinks his own personal and political qualities are enough to outweigh deeply-held political views. That this type of political expediency tends to be the name of the presidential game is irrelevant. If "Christian right" voters suppress their more conservative instincts when voting for Bush - whom they believe will deliver for them, even as he refuses to openly commit himself to them - then they deserve whatever they get. In the case of Nader, his supporters do not believe - and there's been little evidence to show - that a Gore administration would substantively address any of the key issues and problems Nader himself has raised.

Naderites should have no illusions: because of the strong support Nader has received in states like Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and Michigan, he may cost Gore the election. The impact of a Bush presidency on every aspect of American life will be tremendous, and Nader supporters should not kid themselves about the damage Bush will do to the things they hold dear. But the cycle of political expediency is difficult to break, and it is difficult to criticize Nader supporters for standing up for their beliefs. If Gore wants the Nader vote, his choices are clear; he has only to choose. That this will likely serve to reinforce Naderite views of Gore as wishy-washy and ultimately without a core set of values is a consequence the Vice President must contend with.

[1]Source: The New York Times, "Bush Has Edge in Presidential Polls," as reported by the Associated Press, 8:12am, 28 October, 2000. Copyright 2000, by A. D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired!