the long knives are out. Media pundits, Democratic Party officials, and I would
suspect Al Gore himself before long, have or will soon begin to do the
predictable: search out a scapegoat for why the Presidential election turned out
the way it did. With Gore having won the popular vote, and yet having apparently
lost in the electoral college, there will be a cacophony of voices saying some
constructive things–like discussing the need for an instant runoff/preference
voting system that would better reflect the will of the American public–but
also blaming the victory of George W. Bush squarely on the shoulders of the
Green Party and Ralph Nader.
had begun even before midnight: television talking heads exclaiming that if Gore
lost, the blame could be laid at the door of Nader and those presumed liberals
and leftists that flocked to his campaign. Few commentators challenged this
analysis, and by the morning after–as we await recounts in Florida that will
determine the outcome–it has become conventional wisdom that Nader did indeed
cost Gore the election, by swinging Oregon, Florida, and perhaps even New
Hampshire to Bush II.
is the sorry state of political analysis, not to mention statistical
interpretation, and such is the pathetic state of the Democratic Party: so
desperate to avoid admitting its own mistakes that it would prefer to attack a
large segment of its progressive base, chastising them like misbehaving
children, as if somehow that will bring them back to the fold. Not likely. And
not a very smart move.
importantly, the Blame-Nader first school is wrong: dead wrong about who is to
blame for Gore’s slim electoral defeat. Here’s why:
the notion that Nader voters would all have voted for the Vice-President in the
absence of their favorite from the race, is nonsense. CNN exit polls show that
only about 47% of the Nader voters would have voted for Gore in a two way race,
while 21% would have voted for Bush and 30% would have abstained from voting in
the Presidential contest altogether.
is significant, especially in New Hampshire and Oregon, where some are saying
the Nader vote was the difference.
at New Hampshire first, it is true that Bush’s margin of victory was only about
7,500 votes, and that Nader received about 22,000 votes there. But based on the
exit polling data, if Nader hadn’t been in the race, only a little less than
half of those Nader votes would have gone to Gore, and a fifth would have gone
to Bush, so that in the end, Bush would have still won New Hampshire by about
1500 votes in all.
Oregon, where it is a virtual article of religious faith that Nader is to blame
for the Bush victory, the hype, is once again overblown and flatly wrong. Yes,
Bush won the state by a margin of only about 23,000 votes, and Nader received
the votes of 54,000. But once again, based on the exit polls, had the race been
only between Gore and Bush, Gore would have gotten 47% of those 54,000, for a
total of around 25,400, Bush would have received 21% of those 54,000, for a
total of about 11,300, and in the end, Bush would still have squeaked out a
victory, by about 8,000 votes.
brings us to Florida. If ever there was a case to make that Nader had been the
spoiler for Gore, it would be here, where the election will likely be decided by
less than 2,000 votes. Clearly, one could look at Nader’s 97,000 votes there and
say, with a degree of certainty approaching definitive, that had Nader not been
in the race, Gore would have beaten Bush among Nader voters by a two to one
margin, and that would have been enough to capture Florida’s 25 electoral
college votes and catapult him to the Presidency.
is this fact which has me anticipating a degree of vitriol, finger-pointing and
Nader bashing truly beyond anything we have seen thus far from the Democrats.
And I fear that some in the Nader camp may fall for it, and come to regret their
decision to vote for an alternative to this broken two-party system. But they
shouldn’t, and here’s why:
about this election the way you would any other competition: perhaps, a football
game. Just a few days ago, for example, I watched as my hometown team, the
Tennessee Titans, beat the Pittsburgh Steelers thanks to a field goal in the
closing seconds of the game. Now, needless to say, if the Titans kicker misses
that field goal, the Steelers win 7-6. If he makes it, we win 9-7. It would have
been easy to say–and predictable and even true at one level–that if Al Del
Greco misses that field goal, he is to blame, and the outcome was the result of
that missed kick.
then again, one could also look back at the entire game and find a number of
other things, which, had the Titans done them right, the game wouldn’t have come
down to that kick in the first place, and so those things could just as
logically be seen as the problem. An interception at a crucial moment, a fumble,
or a penalty flag that hurt an offensive drive. Any one of those things goes
differently, and the Titans have more than enough points at the end of the game,
and don’t need the 3 points that Del Greco can give them. They can just run out
the clock and hit the showers as winners.
same is true in the presidential contest. Sure, if Nader isn’t running, a
plurality of his voters goes to Gore, and he wins Florida. But taking that
singular fact to be the key factor, and making it, in effect, the missed field
goal by Gore as the clock runs out, is silly. There were, as with the Titans
game, plenty of other factors that could have and should have gone Gore’s way in
Florida, but because they didn’t, Nader became a factor. And whose fault is
this: Gore lost in Florida among white women (many of those soccer moms who
Clinton carried, and many of whom would normally have been reached by a
Democratic candidate talking about education, health care, abortion, and other
key issues) by a 52-45 margin, with the Nader factor being negligible among this
group. And he lost among seniors: a group that rightly should have been
concerned about Bush’s plans to partially privatize social security: a plan that
twelve years ago, rendered Pierre DuPont (the only Republican willing to float
the concept), an asterisk in American political history, and a laughingstock.
Here too, among the traditionally Democratic constituency of seniors, the Nader
factor was negligible.
more to the point, Bush received the votes of 12 times more Democrats than Nader
did, and 5.25 times more self-identified liberals than Nader did in Florida,
indicating that progressive voters and those who might have been seen as a
natural lock for Gore, actually were stolen not by the Greens, but by the
folks, when your base is more likely to vote for George W. Bush than Ralph
Nader, this not only is bad news for Nader, obviously, but also makes quite
clear that Gore, not Nader is to blame for his loss in Florida. In all, 19% of
voters there described themselves as liberal. If Nader got 3% of these, this
represents a little less than 6/10ths of the overall popular vote that could
have been "taken" from Gore by Nader voters on the left: those who are
being blamed for Gore’s defeat. But if 16% of liberals voted for Bush (which
they did, for some reason), this represents 3% of the total popular vote
"stolen" from Gore by Bush voters on the left. That 3% is more than
the Nader total in Florida, which was 2%.
same thing happened in Oregon, where Bush outpolled Nader among Democrats by a
margin of 3.5 to 1, and where Bush took 43% more of the self-described liberals
than Nader. And in New Hampshire, where Bush took six times more Dems from Gore
than Nader did, and twice as many self-described liberals.
all this means is simple: Al Gore has no one to blame but himself, and his
inability to rally voters sufficiently around his watered-down agenda and
lackluster campaign. Gore actually lost nationwide among voters who said they
prioritized world affairs, despite the fact that Bush would be hard-pressed to
name a small fraction of world leaders, and has no foreign policy experience
whatsoever. And just to make clear that Nader was not Gore’s Achilles heel,
consider this: nationally, Bush got twice as many self-described liberals as
Nader did, over seven times more Clinton voters than Nader did, and among those
who said "government should do more" (a typically liberal/progressive
position statement), Bush took eight times more of these natural Democratic
voters than did Nader.
course, it should not be necessary to say any of this. It should be obvious that
when an incumbent Vice-President, in an administration that is generally given
high marks for the state of the economy, and who serves in time of relative
world peace, can’t defeat a man who is probably the least qualified, weakest
Republican nominee in the past 36 years, there is something amiss, and it isn’t
the third party candidate.
in mind, 66% of the American public says the nation is on the right track. That
is significantly more than said this same thing in 1996, when only a little over
half felt that way. And yet, when almost half the population thought the nation
was not headed in the right direction, Bill Clinton was able to put together a
landslide victory. Meanwhile, Gore, with two-thirds of the public happy about
the direction of the country, appears to have lost. How could that possibly be
the fault of Ralph Nader?
of course, had Gore carried his own home state, along with either Clinton’s home
state of Arkansas, or the traditional Democratic stronghold of West Virginia,
then Florida would be an irrelevancy.
don’t look for that kind of honesty from the Democratic Party, or
Democrat-friendly spinmeisters in the media. When in doubt, they always look
left for a scapegoat, when the real culprit for their troubles is looking back
at them from the mirror.
don’t believe the hype. If you voted for Nader, don’t feel guilty or conflicted
for one minute. And don’t mourn, organize! After all, the next President of the
United States will be the weakest in decades, unable to get away with the
right-wing plans about which we have ben warned. And the Democrats, though we
might not have actually cost them the election, have been put on notice. They
can no longer ignore the voices of those committed to democratic (small-d)
all, it’s not that bad a day after all.
Wise is a Nashville-based writer, lecturer and activist. He can be reached at