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Was it right to vote for Nader in 2000?

By Elizabeth Schulte | August 1, 2003 | Page 7

SHOULD THE millions of people who supported Ralph Nader's Green Party campaign for president in 2000 get behind the Democrats in order to prevent George W. Bush from being re-elected in 2004? That question was discussed again after the Green Party's annual convention in mid-July, where reports said a majority of delegates were leaning toward running a presidential candidate--despite the abuse that Nader supporters have taken since 2000.

Actually, Green Party members are still divided on whether to wage an all-out campaign or target select states that wouldn't tip the Electoral College balance against the Democrats. But according to left-wing journalist Norman Solomon, a Nader supporter in 2000, any third-party alternative would only put Bush in the White House again.

"The presidency of George W. Bush has turned out to be so terrible in so many ways that even a typically craven corporate Democrat would be a significant improvement in some important respects," Solomon wrote in a recent column. "Fueled by idealistic fervor for its social-change program (which I basically share), the Green Party has become an odd sort of counterpoint to the liberals who have allowed pro-corporate centrists to dominate the Democratic Party for a dozen years now.

"Those liberal Democrats routinely sacrifice principles and idealism in the name of electoral strategy. The Greens are now largely doing the reverse--proceeding toward the 2004 presidential race without any semblance of a viable electoral strategy, all in the name of principled idealism."

How should those of us who continue to back a left-wing political alternative in the elections answer such criticisms? First of all, we should underline why it was right to support Nader in 2000.

His campaign reflected the widespread anger among many people about having little choice at election time--essentially, of being told to hold your nose and vote for the Democrat to keep the Republican out of office. Nader took this sentiment on the road in 2000, holding political rallies where he and his supporters spoke to tens of thousands about issues that people actually cared about--workers' rights, universal health care, the attack on the social safety net and election reform. The campaign gave millions of people a taste of what it would be like to build an electoral alternative to the Republicans and Democrats.

Democratic Party supporters called Nader a "spoiler" for "stealing" votes from Al Gore. And when George W. Bush "won" the election, Nader supporters were told that it was their fault. But this ignores several facts.

First of all, Bush "won" the crucial state of Florida, giving him the White House, because Black Florida voters were cheated out of their right to vote--not Nader's fault. Moveover, the election was close enough for Bush to steal because Al Gore's campaign was so pathetic in the first place--again, not Nader's fault.

Since taking office, the Bush administration has steamrolled ahead with pro-war, pro-business policies that millions of people hate and oppose. So in the run-up to the 2004 election, the heat is on for progressives to drop the idea of building a third party--and back a Democrat.

This sentiment is understandable. But it lets the Democrats off the hook. Thus, for example, Time magazine reported Green Party delegates were faced with a question from a reporter for liberal National Public Radio suggesting that the USA PATRIOT Act was a direct consequence of voting for Nader. Yet the vast majority of Democrats in Congress joined Republicans in voting for this attack on civil liberties.

Nader disappointed many supporters after the election because of his relative silence--and again during the U.S. war drive against Iraq, when he refused to take a clear antiwar position. Nader didn't make good on his commitment to help build progressive movements. That gets to the heart of where a genuine political alternative will ultimately come from--below.

Participating in all the struggles against Washington's attacks is the most important way to contribute to stopping Bush. Whether socialists should vote Green in 2004 depends on how serious the party is about its campaign--and whether Nader, if he's the candidate, answers question about his post-election behavior.

But whatever the case, no one should buy the argument that the Democrats deserve the support of the left. They remain a party funded by and for Corporate America--and they have shown over the past three years that they are incapable of really taking on the Republicans. That's why we need an independent alternative.

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