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Lesser Evil?


Michael Albert

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.