Chicago Tribune
November 6, 2000


Gore: Our Defense Against A 3-Headed Beast


By Salim Muwakkil

Tuesday's election is a pivotal contest in the land of the free and home of the brave. If Texas Gov. George W. Bush defeats Vice President Al Gore, the stage will be set for a three-branch governmental assault on the very idea of progressive public policy. With a Bush presidency, a GOP Congress and a Supreme Court full of Republican appointees, rulings like Roe vs. Wade, policies like affirmative action and concepts like social justice are likely to become relics of a bygone era.

A vote for Gore is the only way to prevent this horrid possibility, though I believe Ralph Nader is the best candidate. Nader's economic populism speaks most directly to the issues that to my mind are the most important: the expanding rich-poor gap, the ravenous jail industrial complex, the destructive war on drugs, the need for universal health care, the unchallenged power of corporate capital, the hazards of globalization, etc. Neither of the major candidates comes close to Nader in his vision of the nation's possibilities. A Naderized America would look very much like that place advertised in the Pledge of Allegiance--"With liberty and justice for all."

But, alas, Nader can't win. The next president will be either Gore or Bush. Nader's presence in the race pulls votes from Democrat Gore, the only real alternative to the amiable son of a Bush known as Dubya. The vice president is not a particular favorite of progressives, however. He is a major architect of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, an intraparty-caucus designed to fashion "new Democrats" out of old ones. Bill Clinton is the most celebrated DLC alum and his eight-year reign presumably had vindicated the group's centrist approach. Gore's victory in Tuesday's election would accelerate the council's growing influence.

The triumph of the new Democrats has come at a cost, however. That cost has been escalating as Clinton's "triangulation" strategies had him outhawking Republicans on foreign policy and intensifying the drug war, among other things. On Election Day that cost will be personified by Ralph Nader. In Oregon, Minnesota, Washington and even California, the well-known consumer advocate could pull enough votes from Gore to put Bush ahead in those traditionally Democrat states. Victory in those states would surely throw the election to Bush. Many progressives argue that Gore's defeat would just be payment for the Democratic Party's right turn. And, in truth, that argument has a certain symmetrical logic.

Symmetry may be important to artists and philosophers, but it's virtually irrelevant to the rough and tumble of electoral politics. If Bush wins, the new Democrats won't go away. While they may be a bit chastened by defeat, they nonetheless will argue that centrist politics are the answer. Meanwhile, the nation will be extraordinarily vulnerable to the whims of an unchecked, one party government with undisguised right-wing allegiances. Bush has handed out political IOUs to the religious right, oil and cigarette companies, and thousands of right-wing functionaries who would take over the nuts-and-bolts details of numerous governmental agencies in every state.

Nader's supporters are likely to be energized by a Gore defeat, even if his Green Party candidacy fails to garner the 5 percent of the votes it needs to earn federal funding. They will argue that the new Democrats' emulation of the GOP simply convinced Americans that they might as well vote for real Republicans. What's more, the 67-year-old consumer activist has tapped into an insipient social movement that raised its voice even before his candidacy came along. Recent demonstrations against sweatshops, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund all have revealed a growing chorus of dissenting voices.

But social movements create the space for political change, not the other way around.

Nader's supporters are putting the cart before the horse. And since most of Nader's supporters are white, they are susceptible to the criticism that vulnerable minorities are being sacrificed for their symbolic political gesture. White students and the activists/academics who make up most of Nader's support have marketable skills and are unlikely to be affected by the Republican takeover of the federal government, the argument goes. But those most in need of social services and governmental redress will face the brutal wrath of this three-headed beast. Once again, they charge, the poor and minorities are being used as cannon fodder. Although that charge badly misinterprets the motives of most Naderites, it has a historical resonance in a black community long plagued by ideological hucksters.

Nader's the best man, but the best choice is Gore.

Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times.

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