Where is Ralph Nader when we really need him?
In a presidential debate predictably marred by flat-out lies, laughable energy policies and one startling reference to children who can’t learn, the consumer rights activist and Green Party candidate for president was conspicuously absent. After a summer-long battle with the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), Nader could not even get a ticket to last week’s debate in Boston. When a student gave him a ticket to an auditorium where the debate was being shown on the big screen, a representative from the CPD and three policemen kindly informed Nader that he was “not invited,” and forced him to leave.
Barring a last minute injunction in his court case against the CPD and its corporate sponsors, Nader will not be on stage at Wake Forest tomorrow night either. The Gore campaign has justified its refusal to allow Nader into the debates by writing off his candidacy. “The reality is that there are over 200 people running for president,” a campaign spokesman told The New York Times.
Many others in the media have insisted that Nader represents little more than a Wahoo trying to entertain himself. Last Sunday, when Nader drew 12,000 to Boston’s FleetCenter for one of his “Super Rallies,” The New York Times wrote that it “looked less a political gathering than a body-piercing convention.” (Twelve Williams students attended, wearing a total of zero body piercings).
The Washington Post refused to cover Nader’s first day of campaigning in the District of Columbia, even though Nader is the only candidate to endorse congressional representation for the nation’s capital. Even Gore has dismissed Nader in public, abruptly telling voters, “Don’t throw your vote away.” But the vice president’s friends in the media have been sounding a much more urgent message.
In a campaign in which editorials characterize the choice between the two candidates as “a man on a raft facing the decision of whether to drink seawater or his own urine,” many have chosen to side with the lesser of the two evils. In this case, that lesser evil ostensibly is Gore (I don’t know whether he’s the piss or the seawater).
No sooner had last Tuesday’s debate ended than those of us handing out information on Nader’s campaign at Goodrich encountered accusations of “splitting the left.”
On the national level, a revolving door of second-generation political legacies – including Robert Kennedy, Jr., and Richard Daley, Jr. – have come out in support of Al Gore, Jr., with the chorus, “A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.” Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen criticized Nader and his supporters as immature, citing a supposed inability to compromise their own feelings of purity.
Some Nader supporters countered with a compromise they think will attract many troubled progressive Democrats. The so-called “Ivins rule,” named for The Nation editorial writer Molly Ivins, suggests voting for Nader unless you live in one of six so-called “battleground” states. In those six states where electoral votes may go either Republican or Democrat, the rule holds, consider voting for Gore to keep Bush away from the Supreme Court. That misses the point. What this rule says, in effect, is vote for Nader unless it counts. I have been looking forward to being able to vote in a presidential election since I was 12 when Gore was inaugurated as vice president.
But now that I finally can, party machines and media conglomerates are telling me that my vote only counts if I choose who I am told to.
My interest in Ralph Nader started four years ago, out of a disgust with Al Gore’s special interest politics. Even Gore supporters like Quindlen and The Nation editorial director Eric Alterman admit the candidate’s environmental record shows only betrayal and that his policies inevitably defer to the corporate interests that fund his campaign.
Al Gore is not entitled to my vote, nor to anyone else’s. He may be nominally more liberal than George W. Bush, at least if you believe what you hear in the debates. But the two major candidates are the same in one fundamental way – they will never change the power structure that got them to where they are.
In the end, a vote for Gore is a vote for the system and all its perverse injustices. You need to look no further than Ralph NaderÂ¹s absence from the debates for proof.