From firstname.lastname@example.org Thu Aug 24 07:32:17 2000
By Michael Albert, ZMag, 23 August 2000
The general anti-Nader argument is very simple. To vote/work for Nader means not voting/working for Gore. That's uncontestable. In states with close Gore/Bush ratings, Gore could lose enough votes to Nader for Bush to win the state, and ultimately the election. That's also uncontestable. Thus, and here is the leap in logic, if one thinks that Bush has a worse White House agenda than Gore, one should vote for Gore and not for Nader. In short, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.
The most frequent reply to this lesser evil argument either (1) disputes that Bush is that much worse than Gore, or (2) urges that voting for Nader sends a message to the Democrats that they are missing the boat and need to move left to win wider support.
The main problem with the anti-Nader argument is that it assumes that what matters most about an election or an administration is the positions the candidates and their parties want to pursue, rather than what they can get away with.
The main problems with the noted pro-Nader replies are that (1) Bush and the Republicans are -- because of the differing constituencies backing them -- considerably worse than Gore and the Democrats and (2) at most the Democrats would learn from losing a close election due to Nader's appeal that they need to change their image a little--their reality being another thing entirely.
What seems missing on both sides, therefore, is recognition that the most important impact of the Nader campaign will be changing the political climate in the country by energizing the left, and that our arguments need to take account of this impact. Take the cases most often bandied about: Supreme Court Justices, taxes, police violence, abortion, and interventionism. The issue isn't can we plausibly predict that Bush's preferred agenda for each of these policy areas would be sufficiently worse than Gore's to adversely impact many suffering people. Of course it would. The issue is, if lots of people throughout the country support and vote for Nader, thereby awakening not only hope but also organizational clout and commitment, will either Gore or Bush be as able as otherwise to pursue their full agendas on these issues?
In other words, the real choice is Gore winning without Nader getting lots of support and therefore with a typically un-aroused populace that will allow him to pursue his full corporate agenda nearly unopposed, versus Bush (or maybe still Gore) winning but with Nader getting lots of support and therefore with a highly aroused sector of the populace impacted very positively by Nader's campaign and ready to fight up a storm. The correct comparison isn't the will of Bush versus the will of Gore -- it is what Bush (or Gore) will do with a 10% Nader constituency fighting on, versus what Gore will do with no such on-going, galvanized, and organized opposition contesting government policy-making, plus, as well, what the emerging opposition will mean in future elections, and general movement development.
What is odd, therefore, about the lesser evil discussion is that it stacks the deck against third party politics by simply ruling out, tout court, the whole reason for Nader's campaign, it's whole logic and purpose, and thus its real value -- and not only in the long term, but in the short term as well. The discussion most often assumes, that is, that the only thing that matters about an election is who wins it -- not the election's impact on constituencies supporting or opposing candidates, and on movement organization and commitment. It assumes, in other words, that nothing substantial can ever be accomplished electorally (or otherwise, with just a little tweaking of the argument) unless it occurs by some kind of overnight miracle that wins all things sought in one swoop. If Nader could win, then it would be okay to vote for him, but we can't participate in an extended process of work and organizing needed as a prerequisite to later winning major gains and even eventual electoral power. The discussion denies that with elections, you lose, you lose, you lose -- and then you win -- and thus all those losses weren't really losses at all, but were, instead, part of a process of building eventually definitive support. And, more, the discussion denies that the supposed debit of having pushed some elections in the short term from tweedle dumb to tweedle dumber (and more vile), were not such large debits as they might seem, either, because the electoral swing to the right was offset by the fact that tweedle dumber then had to operate against a far more aroused and organized populace constraining his options.
Reasonable people might still plop down on either side of this debate – despite that given the seriousness of their efforts every vote for Nader/Laduke seems like it will be a step in a movement path forward, another tally toward Green electoral finances, another person likely ready to continue dissenting beyond election day, whereas every vote for Gore seems like it will enlarge resignation and whether intentionally or not pave the way for people throwing up their hands as if their task is done once the have elected Gore to gently commandeer our futures further into the maws of big capital.
What certainly isn't reasonable, however, at least for leftists, is to let liberals redefine the lesser evil discussion in a way that presumes that elected officials are invulnerable to pressure, that vote outcomes matter more than the consciousness and organization of constituencies, and that movement organizing impacts what occurs in the short term and what is possible in the long term only by miracles as opposed to the hard work of losing, losing, losing on the road to winning.