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Why you should vote for Nader/Camejo

September 24, 2004 | Pages 8 and 9

WE LIVE in a world of war and injustice. In the name of fighting "terrorism," the Bush administration is carrying out a war on the world that has meant untold misery for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.

At home, in what we're told is the "world's greatest democracy," our civil liberties are at risk, especially for Muslims and people of Arab descent. The gap between rich and poor in the U.S. grows greater by the day, women's right to abortion hangs by a thread, and the politics of scapegoating are the order of the day--as the administration vilifies gays and lesbians who simply want the right to marry.

Yet Election 2004--"the most important election in history," we're told--reflects none of these concerns. That's because the debate is confined to the narrow parameters dictated by the two main parties--the Democrats and Republicans.

On almost every issue that people care about, the differences between Bush and Kerry are harder and harder to find--from their support for the war and occupation in Iraq, to their opposition to gay marriage, to their loyalty to their corporate backers.

For many people who vote this year, it will be a choice of the "lesser of two evils"--a vote for John Kerry only because he seems less bad than George Bush. But as ELIZABETH SCHULTE explains, you can vote for a presidential ticket that you can be proud of--the independent campaign of Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo.

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THE CAMPAIGN of Ralph Nader and running mate Peter Camejo attempts to raise the bar on what we should expect from political candidates. It seeks to raise issues and concerns that people won't hear about from Bush and Kerry, and it offers an alternative to settling for the lesser of two evils.

Ralph Nader has been fighting corporate power since the 1960s. In 1965, he wrote the best-selling book, Unsafe at Any Speed, which exposed the auto industry's complete disregard for the safety of car buyers--including General Motors' (GM) defective car, the Corvair.

Though GM and the others put big money into trying to discredit Nader, he went on to spark a movement for consumer rights and safety. People across the country joined together to become "Nader's Raiders," fighting for--and winning--numerous reforms, such as laws protecting food safety and quality, and requiring clean air.

Nader's vice presidential running mate, Peter Camejo, is a Green Party veteran who ran twice for governor of California, winning more votes in these elections than any Green candidate in the U.S. other than Nader. After he took part in a September 24 debate during California's recall election last year, a San Francisco Chronicle poll found that online readers thought Camejo--not now-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger--won the day.

Camejo initiated the "Avocado Declaration," a call within the Green Party for resisting the pressure of the Anybody-But-Bush liberals and building a political alternative completely independent of the Democrats. Here is where the Nader-Camejo campaign stands on some of the issues:

The Iraq war--Nader and Camejo have called for Bush's impeachment for his illegal war on Iraq, which his administration pushed through with lies and half-truths, including the supposed existence of "weapons of mass destruction," Iraq's links to al-Qaeda and the non-existent threat that Saddam Hussein posed to the U.S. and its neighbors.

The Nader campaign also includes among these lies the idea that the U.S. is "liberating the Iraqi people." Nader has called for an end to the U.S. occupation and Corporate America's exploitation of Iraq. Although he does not call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, he is the only significant candidate to call for American troops out.

Civil liberties--Recognizing the fact that the Bush administration has used the "war on terror" as an excuse to shred our civil liberties, Nader calls for the restoration and expansion of civil liberties and constitutional rights. The campaign supports the repeal of the USA PATRIOT Act and calls for an end to secret detentions, arrests without charges, restrictions on access to attorneys, the use of secret "evidence," military tribunals for civilians and the gutting of "probable cause" determinations.

Nader and Camejo have underscored the fact that people of Arab descent and Muslim Americans have faced special persecution under the government's new powers since September 11. This stance helped Nader win the support of a newly formed group called Arab Americans for Nader. Nader also supports passage of the End Racial Profiling Act.

Gays and lesbian rights--Nader supports full and equal rights for gays and lesbians, including same-sex marriage. The campaign believes that while civil unions may be a step in the right direction, they fall far short of the 1,049 federal rights that are available to married couples.

Health care--The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country in the world, yet some 44.3 million Americans have no health insurance, and millions more are underinsured. No one should have to go without quality health care.

The Nader campaign endorses a single-payer health care plan to replace for-profit health care and remove the private health insurance industry. This policy is supported by Physicians for a National Health Program, the American Nurses Association, and the California Nurses Association.

Israel and Palestine--Nader supports the Palestinians' rights to self-determination and opposes Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Workers' rights--Workers' wages and living standards are on the chopping block. The Nader-Camejo campaign proposes immediately increasing the minimum wage to $8 per hour, from its current $5.25 per hour--to be followed, in two years, by an increase to $10 per hour. Nader also calls for the repeal of anti-union and anti-worker laws like the Taft-Hartley Act, which holds back workers' ability to organize unions and strike.

Criminal justice and the death penalty--More than 2 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. Nader proposes investing in education, drug treatment and job creation--not more jails. He backs repealing mandatory sentence and "three-strikes" laws, and ending the "war on drugs."

Nader opposes the death penalty because it is racially unfair, is applied to the poorest who cannot afford an adequate criminal defense, does not deter crime and results in innocent people being executed. The campaign supports a moratorium on the death penalty.

Corporate greed--The Nader campaign has called for cracking down on the real criminals--corporations that have looted workers of their pension funds. Included in the campaign's "12 steps to crack down on corporate crime" are convicting corporate crooks, making them pay back their ill-gotten gains, reining in executive pay and fixing the pension system.

Women's rights--Nader endorses an 11-point platform put forth by the National Organization for Women, which includes women's access to safe, legal abortion and opposition to welfare legislation that hurts poor women.

Education--Nader is a harsh critic of the inequality--by income and race--in our schools. He opposes the focus on biased standardized testing and vouchers in Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

Can't spoil a spoiled system

IS A vote for Nader a vote for Bush? No. It's a vote for Ralph Nader.

The Democrats have shown that they will stop at nothing to squelch the Nader-Camejo campaign. In states across the country, the so-called "party of working people" has spared no expense to challenge Nader wherever he has tried to get his candidacy on the November ballot.

Ballot laws are already outrageously biased against any independent candidates, but the Democrats are adding all their money and clout against the Nader-Camejo ticket. You have to wonder if Kerry would still be behind in the polls if the Democrats put this much effort into taking on the Republicans.

As Nader said recently, "The anti-Democratic Party should stop trying to limit voter choices through harassment and legal technicalities and start debating the issues." By far, though, the Democrats' greatest weapon against Nader is the argument that he will "take votes away" from John Kerry--and we will have four more years of George Bush.

This echoes the fears of a lot of reasonable people who hate what Bush has done as president. Ever since the 2000 election, Nader has been blamed for "stealing" votes from Al Gore, causing him to lose the vote in Florida, and thus the White House.

This, of course, ignores the votes that Bush actually stole in Florida, with the help of his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. But it also ignores the fact that Gore himself is responsible for losing votes that should have been his--by running a campaign that was a carbon copy of Bush's.

This year, it looks like the Democratic candidate is doing more of the same. If Kerry's pro-business, prowar campaign fails to inspire people to vote for him, it's not Nader's fault.

Many prominent activists and celebrities who campaigned for Nader in 2000, like filmmaker Michael Moore, are using the fear of Nader tipping the balance to Bush as a reason for supporting Kerry this time. Some support the idea of a vote for Nader only in "safe states"--where Kerry or Bush are sure to win by a sizeable margin, so that it is "safe" to cast a protest vote for Nader.

The problem with the safe-state strategy is that it never really challenges the status quo--because it accepts the logic that it is important to vote for the "lesser evil" where it counts. In the end, the Democrats can move as far to the right as they want because they can count on those their left to turn out where it matters.

In 2000, when he was accused again and again of being a "spoiler," Nader replied, "You can't spoil a spoiled system." That's still right. There is something terribly wrong with a political system that is in the stranglehold of two pro-corporate, prowar parties.

You have to ask yourself: Do the Democrats really deserve your support? Or is it time to break with the politics of voting against what you fear, and begin voting for what you believe in?

Building a left alternative

WHY VOTE for a candidate who won't win? And why support Nader this year, when--with the threat of another four years of Bush in the White House--there is so much at stake?

It's true that Nader and Camejo won't win Election 2004. But their campaign means much more than that. It means taking the step toward breaking the Democrats' and Republicans' chokehold on politics and building a political alternative.

Obviously, Nader had greater support in 2000. The Nader campaign reflected the hopes of a developing new left--for example, activists like those of us who protested the policies of the WTO, IMF and World Bank from Seattle to Washington--of winning a better, more just society.

Even after the Democrats' frenzied appeal to vote for the "lesser evil," Nader still won 2.7 million votes in 2000--the best turnout for a left-wing presidential candidate in half a century. This year, however, most of the left has accepted the argument that this year's election is just too important to risk not voting for Kerry, because we might get Bush.

First of all, it's good to remember that the Democrats tell us that every election is "too much important." If it were up to them, the time would never be right to campaign for an independent candidate.

Second, voting for Kerry doesn't necessarily mean voting against Bush's policies. All that Kerry has said so far shows that the goals of his presidency would look a lot like the Bush administration's.

While Kerry may disagree on how Bush went to war on Iraq--multilateral versus unilateral, more or fewer troops--he supported the war itself. Kerry and his party back the same imperial agenda in Iraq--whether or not they would have gone about it differently.

If opponents of the war can be corralled into supporting the likes of Kerry--one of the most conservative Democratic Party options ever--then who or what else will they have to support? Convincing activists to support a candidate who stands opposed to what they care about only weakens the movements that we are fighting to build.

As Camejo told Socialist Worker in July, "The Democrats are playing their role of trying to co-opt and demobilize the antiwar forces...So by voting for Kerry, what we're doing is simply changing the face that's presenting the policy.

"Kerry is a much more popular face, who can talk to broader forces and get rid of some of the problems that Bush has created for his own policy. This is the analysis that we have to consider before we start saying in any way, shape or form to go out and vote for Kerry."

It's no coincidence that the antiwar movement has been at a virtual standstill since the focus of many of its leading voices has turned to getting Bush out of office at any cost. This is why we can't wait. We need to begin building an independent left-wing alternative now.

Unfortunately, some decisions that Nader has made have undercut his campaign's role in building such an alternative. For example, his decision to accept the right-wing, anti-immigrant Reform Party's endorsement and use its ballot line in some states is a serious mistake that breathes new life into an organization that should have been left to die.

Similarly, Nader's sometimes contradictory attitude toward the Democrats--for instance, his meetings with Kerry to "give his advice" to Kerry and his statements that his candidacy might "help" Democrats running for local office--also does a disservice to his campaign. These are questions that should be taken up and debated among Nader supporters--so that we can put forward the strongest possible left alternative.

But in spite of these weaknesses, Nader and Camejo represent the only serious left-wing alternative in Election 2004. Supporting Nader this year--in the face of all the pressure to fall in line behind the Democrats--is essential to maintaining political independence for a core of activists who look forward to building a real alternative to the dead end of the Democratic Party.

Struggles from below--like the movement against the war and the fight for gay marriage--will be stronger for the fact that Nader-Camejo campaigners are pressing these issues.

Indeed, organizing a left alternative must be broader than the elections. It must be about convincing others that if we are organized, we can take on a world of war, poverty and injustice--and prove that another world is possible.

Get involved

For more information on the Nader campaign, visit www.votenader.org.

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