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Commentary :: Environment
Gag and Bear It: Why We Lefties Have to Vote for Kerry
27 Sep 2004
It’s time to face some hard realities—Nader is not going to bring us a third party, but too many votes and he could bring us Bush and the Republicans, and these days, that could mean we’re on the road to a real one-party state, not just a state with two parties that seem pretty indistinguishable.
This isn’t easy for someone who has long admired Ralph Nader, and who voted for him in 2000, but I’m going to say it: We progressives need to vote for John Kerry.

The sad but obvious reality is that Ralph Nader offers nothing but a protest vote. And in this election, a protest vote by a Democrat is a vote for the candidacy of George Bush and for continued war, at home and abroad. If the polls are to be believed, Bush is doing well even in some states where he lost last time, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (There are arguments being made for doubting them, but I suspect that in the end they will prove to be reasonably accurate in aggregate) That makes protest voting risky even in Kerry “safe” states, and doubly dangerous in swing states.

I realize that for many people it’s not going to be easy to vote for Kerry, but before you fire off an email flaming me, hear me out.

Voting for Kerry is only the first step. Any progressive who casts a vote for this unprincipled, calculating, Democratic Leadership Council member needs to simultaneously take a vow to remain active—no, to become even more active--in pushing for a progressive, anti-war agenda after November 2. A President-elect Kerry must be confronted with a million anti-war demonstrators at his inauguration ceremony. He must face a one-million-member jobs march in April 2005. Having helped elect Democratic candidates this November, we on the left also need to get involved at the grass-roots level in remaking the Democratic Party, which we have for years left to rot in the hands of the DLC and their willing accomplices at the ward level.

The mistake that the left made in 1992, with the election of Bill Clinton, was that we all breathed a huge sigh of relief at being rid of the Reagan/Bush era, and went about our business, figuring that we had a Democrat in the White House, and so all would be well. But he turned around and screwed us.

Now I know if you’re a progressive, anti-war Democrat, a leftist or independent, or an advocate of a third party, the thought of voting for Kerry is revolting, even nauseating. He shamelessly conspired in the trashing of anti-war candidate Howard Dean in the primaries. He voted for the war resolution that authorized George Bush to go ahead with his Iraq invasion plans. He voted for the dreadful and terrifying USA PATRIOT Act. He continues to advocate U.S. intervention in Latin America and other parts of the world. He even calls for continued military operations in Iraq for as long as four more years.

And yet, if we’re honest and realistic, what is the alternative?

Sitting out the election or skipping the presidential part of the ballot is a cop-out. Let’s examine the argument for the other option then: voting for Ralph Nader. (And let me stress here that I’m talking only about the issue of voting for Ralph, not the issue of whether or not his name should be on the ballot, which it absolutely should.)

There are three basic arguments for a Nader candidacy.

One is straight-out principle. Though he’s been kept so busy by the Democratic Party just fighting to get on ballots that he hasn’t had much time to state his views, Nader stands for everything that a progressive voter could want—open government, national healthcare, an end to corporate-run government, serious action on the environment and global warming, gay rights, equalized funding for education, genuinely progressive taxation, real Social Security, an end to the war in Iraq and to American empire, democratic control over corporations and trade issues, and on and on. There is no question that if you believe in all these things and want to make that statement, the only way to do it, at least in 2004, is to vote for him. Of course, Nader is at best going to win a small percentage of the vote, so that’s all you’ll be doing: making a statement. A very small statement.

Related to this first reason is a second: pressuring the Democratic Party to move to the left. The idea here is that by withdrawing our votes from the sell-out Democrats and casting them for a genuine progressive alternative, we force the Democratic Party to shift its position more to the left on a variety of issues. I’m sure there is logic to this idea, though it seems to me that a better way to go about it would be to generate more disciplined support around a genuine liberal or progressive candidate during the primaries so that the party actually ends up with a progressive nominee. That could have happened had Nader run in the Democratic primaries instead of against the party in the general election, but it’s too late for that. The problems with this approach are two-fold. First, the next presidential election is four years away, and there is no mechanism for transforming the pressure of a third-party protest vote in 2004 into a leftward swing by the Democratic Party in 2008. Second—there is little evidence that prior such third party efforts have led to shifts in Democratic Party position. If anything, Nader’s 2000 run created a toxic reaction in 2004 among Democratic voters to those who supported Nader in 2000. If votes for Nader in 2004 swing this election to Bush, the same reaction can be expected among Democratic voters in 2008, only worse. (It might even be argued that another 2-3 percent vote tally this time around for Nader could just convince Democratic candidates that there’s no point trying to win over that group of voters, so they can just be ignored.)

The third reason to vote Nader is to help build a third, an anti-corporate party that could offer a real alternative to the Republicrats. The problem with this admittedly beautiful idea is that it has been tried many times and hasn’t worked. (A third party alternative had its best shot in years in California’s recent recall election for governor, when Ralph;s current running mate Peter Miguel Camejo ran as the Green candidate, and it was a disaster.) We can decry all we want the stacked deck that locks American politics into a two-party straightjacket, but the evidence is there that it is. The courts, the election system, the debates, the media, the moneyed interests, it’s all rigged to keep third parties on the fringe. Even when they have managed to make significant inroads into the vote tally, as in the case of George Wallace’s American Party or Ross Perot’s Reform Party and their presidential campaigns, it was a matter of one-shot deals built around a personality, not a movement. Pretending, or hoping, that Ralph Nader’s campaign, or a Green Party campaign, could somehow grow into an alternative to the Democratic Party is akin to those Socialist Workers Party or the Revolutionary Communist Party fantasies of imminent socialist revolution by the American working class. It ain’t gonna happen.

As the fiasco of the Green Party’s convention this year demonstrated, even if a third party did start to grow, the likelihood of its fracturing into ineffective factions and self-destruction before it could become a significant electoral force is almost 100 percent. We’re talking about the American left here, remember, where one person is a party and two people are two splinter factions. If the U.S. is to have a third party—one that could aspire to replacing the Democratic Party, or perhaps to merging with and subsuming it—it would have to come out of the labor movement, and that work needs to be done not by helping Republicans win elections, but by helping to revitalize, democratize and politicize the labor movement (a movement that only grows weaker the longer Republicans are in power).

So where does that leave us? With the Democrats, and this year, that’s John Kerry.

(Pause here to gag or upchuck.)

Hopefully the Clinton years have taught us on the left that a Democrat in the White House these days doesn’t mean much--just that we should, hopefully, be able to hold rallies in the capital without being subject to organized police assault and mass arrest. And more importantly, that there will be someone in the Oval Office who will have to turn to us for help if he hopes to regain Democratic control of the Congress. While we can’t expect a return to the New Deal, what we will have is the possibility of regaining some leverage over White House policy--if we stay organized and focused after Election Day. How do we know a President Kerry would pay attention to us? He’s already doing it. After having run since he declared for the presidency as a pro-war candidate, he has finally started calling the war a mistake—the first step away from the deep hole he dug himself during the primaries and this past summer. For the first time, he is openly citing his 1972 anti-war credentials, instead of just his medals. He has clearly recognized that he cannot hope to get elected without the support of the anti-war movement and is belatedly going about trying to win that support. Even if it’s just posturing, this is an enormous rhetorical shift, and we should recognize it for what it is—evidence of our power. Faced with a hostile Congress in January, he will have to do the same thing, not just on the war but on every issue (but only if we stay organized and in the street).

For the rest of this column, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .
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Good reasons.
27 Sep 2004
I'll vote Kerry. Bush is out of touch and out of control.
I know Kerry will repeal the Patriot Act. And I know he'll repeal all of Bush's environmental regulations.
That's a start.
Maybe...just maybe...Kerry will become a president for the people.
Anything is better than Bush and his evil bunch.
Re: Gag and Bear It: Why We Lefties Have to Vote for Kerry
27 Sep 2004
The way I see it, every year the Democrats lose is another blow which will eventually splinter the Democratic Party. To vote for Kerry would be an unjust enrichment of a man with no platform. I could vote for at least two other candidates and give the Democrats the punishment they so richly deserve.
Voting for Kerry is worse than not voting at all.
29 Sep 2004
Even a non-vote of apathy is better than actually VOTING for Kerry. Who wants a mealy mouthed, wishy washy man in the White House who will pay more attention to the mirror than to foreign policy? Who wants a man in the White House who joins the team (Armed Services), then when he cant cut it and wimps out, he becomes a political heckler for the Left?

"Anything is better than Bush and his evil bunch. "

Are you ABSOLUTELY SURE about that?