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Letters to the editor

April 16, 2004 | Page 4

A referendum on "lesser evilism"
Don't limit the struggle to help Democrats

Nader isn't a vote for the left

Dear Socialist Worker,
Ralph Nader has closed the debate about whether his candidacy will present a clear break to the left of the Democratic Party in 2004. And unfortunately, his answer is a resounding "no." On April 2, his campaign Web site posted an open letter to "Conservatives Upset With the Policies of the Bush Administration," formalizing a campaign strategy to recruit and organize Perot supporters, conservative libertarians and otherwise disgruntled Republicans.

Posted two days after Nader's letter to "Anybody But Bush Liberal Democrats," this letter solidified the two-prong strategy of the campaign: win the vote of right-wing, pro-war, anti-immigrant "patriots" by criticizing Bush from the right and win the vote of liberal and left activists and progressives by criticizing Bush from the left.

If this sounds insane, that's because it is--but it boils down to Nader giving in to lesser evilism and refusing to campaign against John Kerry. Rather than take on the pro-war, pro-corporate, anti-gay Democrat, Nader agues that somehow his campaign "can help defeat Bush [and] strengthen the progressive forces inside the Democratic Party."

Practically speaking, the implications of Nader's strategy--which is a slap in the face to principled left activists, socialists and left Greens like Peter Camejo, who have worked hard to defend the right and need for Ralph to run--have already begun to show themselves.

On the Students for Nader listserve, for example, a member of the right-wing Independence Party of Michigan recently accused the International Socialist Organization (ISO) of "treason" for not supporting the brutality of the U.S. campaign in Iraq. Rather than reiterate Nader's (weak) statement in opposition to the occupation, the campaign organizer asked that we not argue with this racist--in the name of "unity."

The tragedy is that Nader's lurch to the right comes as more and more people are feeling increasingly reluctant to pull the lever for Kerry in November. My hope was that Nader would at least provide an ideological alternative to the Democrats, if not on the same organizational scale as 2000. Unfortunately, Nader 2004 has declared itself to be a mush of right populism and "Anybody but Bush" spin that the ISO should not endorse or support.
Ben Dalbey, Washington, D.C.

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A referendum on "lesser evilism"

Dear Socialist Worker,
Like many supporters of Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential bid, I was disappointed to hear that he had written to John Kerry proposing that they work together to defeat Bush. One of the most exciting things about his last campaign was the unequivocal sense that "You can't spoil a spoiled system"--and that the Democrats were not our allies in the fight against right-wing neoliberalism.

Despite this strategic problem, however, it is crucial that the left endorse Nader's campaign and intervene in it. No matter how Nader himself tries to spin it, his candidacy is a referendum on the question of "Anybody but Bush."

The logic of his campaign is to attract voters and activists who are breaking from the idea that our movements must be shackled to the lesser of two evils--even if Nader tries to frame his run as somehow helping the Democrats. Every discussion I have had with antiwar activists, coworkers, friends and family about Nader has centered not on the question of whether Nader's positions were left wing enough, but on whether breaking with the Democratic Party would be a step forward for our movements, unions and the left.

His positions on gay marriage or the occupation of Iraq may not be exactly revolutionary, but he is willing to take on the Democrats on every major issue. The main question today is whether Nader's campaign will have the activist and left-wing feel that the super-rallies did in 2000.

The left can play a role by intervening in his campaign to shift it in that direction. To not do so would be to fold our arms and step aside from the concrete expression of the key question of the day.
Peter Lamphere, New York City

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Don't limit the struggle to help Democrats

Dear Socialist Worker,
Recently, at a panel in Burlington, Vt., on the fight for gay marriage, the horrible politics of "lesser evilism" were on full display as a strategy that actually prevents our side from winning victories against bigotry. The panel featured a speaker from the Vermont Freedom to Marry Taskforce, among others.

This speaker went out of her way to argue that pushing the mayor of Burlington to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples would be a bad idea, that public rallies in support of gay marriage could do more harm than good, and that our focus should be on winning over Rotary Clubs instead of members of the City Council. Not only that, but she expressed grief at the fact that, in the aftermath of the Vermont legislature passing a civil unions bill in 2000, several "pro-gay" politicians ended up losing their seats.

The unspoken conclusion then is that we shouldn't have even pushed for "separate and unequal" civil unions--because it cost politicians their seats. Would we have been better without civil unions but with "pro-gay" politicians still in the legislature?

The same logic was implicitly applied to the question of pushing the local mayor to issue gay marriage licenses. The mayor is running for governor of Vermont as a Democrat in November, and the worry is that if we push him to start issuing licenses to gay couples, it may cost him the governorship. Again, would it be better to have gay marriage rights in Burlington with a Republican as possible governor, or continued second-class citizenship status for gays in Vermont with a Democrat as governor?

This is why the politics of lesser evilism is so deadly. It means that we won't fight for what we believe in because it may hurt so-called "friendly" politicians. Our movements should be less worried about helping "lesser evil" politicians climb the electoral ladder, and more concerned about winning concrete victories for oppressed people through mass struggle.
Keith Rosenthal, Burlington, Vt.

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