The Bush administration is poised to steal this election as it did the one in 2000. Thousands of voters, mostly African Americans, are in danger of being illegally disenfranchised by Republican party manipulations.
In the year 2000, tens of thousands of African Americans were improperly purged from the voting rolls. Given that African Americans — when they did vote — overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Gore, and given that the margin in
Or was it? Imagine this defense of Republican scheming: “Gore didn’t lose because of any Republican machinations in
Our response to this should be obvious: the disenfranchisement by Republicans of Florida’s Black voters was not a sufficient cause for Bush to win the election, but it was a necessary cause. Without the disenfranchisement, Gore would be president, and, therefore, it is accurate to say that Bush stole the election. If I muff an easy lay-up at the end of a basketball game and my team loses by one point, it doesn’t mean that I was THE cause of the loss; my team may have blown dozens of easy points earlier in the game. Nevertheless, given all the previous missed opportunities, it is still the case that that last shot meant the difference between winning and losing. Missing the shot was a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for losing the game.
The hypothetical defense of Republican behavior in
Why am I reflogging the dead horse of 2000? Not because I believe that Naderites were the main reason for Bush’s victory four years ago. They weren’t. Gore’s incompetence and spinelessness and Bush’s theft were the main reasons. But Nader was a necessary, though not sufficient, cause. I raise this here because I am part of the Left and I fear that some of my comrades are going to make the same mistake this time around.
I believe in building third parties. I voted for Nader in 2000 (in the safe state of
Of course, some will argue that the difference goes in the other direction, that Kerry is actually worse than Bush. Kerry’s campaign rhetoric on foreign policy has been truly awful. But notice that when people like William Safire, the New York Times‘ rightwing columnist, announce that Kerry has been out-hawking Bush, they don’t really believe it — or else why is Safire not endorsing Kerry (since he’s closer to Kerry on issues like separation of church and state and civil liberties)? Kerry is terrible on
Others make the claim that Kerry is more dangerous than Bush because he will try to sugarcoat the
Nader has argued that in fact he’s going to take as many votes from Bush as from Kerry. What’s remarkable is that he maintains this claim despite the fact that no one else believes it. The Democrats don’t believe it (which is why they’re been trying so hard to keep Nader off the ballot). The Republicans don’t believe it (which is why they’ve been giving all sorts of assistance to get Nader on the ballot). And this Republican assistance does not mean that he’s going to get Republican votes. They’re helping him — as some have openly acknowledged — precisely so he’ll take votes from Kerry. I’m not saying Nader needs to go through all his donations and return those that come from Bush supporters. But it ought to give pause to those who accept Nader’s argument when they see funders of “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” and other committed Bush supporters making contributions to Nader’s campaign. Instead of saying, as the Nader camp did, that these contributions show Nader’s broad appeal, they ought to ask themselves whether the Nader campaign is inadvertently helping the candidacy of someone Nader agrees represents the greatest danger. (Polls, by the way, belie Nader’s claim that he’ll draw more from Bush than Kerry.)
Pat LaMarche, the Green Party vice-presidential candidate, elicited strong criticism when she said (later retracted) that she might consider voting for Kerry if the race in her state were tight. Could one imagine Bush or Kerry saying something like this, pundits asked? No, one can’t imagine it, because one of these two is going to win the election. A vote for LaMarche, on the other hand, is only symbolic, and as such the value of a vote cast for her can be weighed against other goals, such as the value of defeating Bush. In European political systems where there is a run-off election leftwing parties often advise their members to vote for someone else on the second round. And in the
Sure, it’s infuriating to vote for a candidate who has horrible positions on so many issues, who keeps appealing to rightwing sentiments among the five or ten percent of undecided voters rather than the progressive sentiments that could have enabled him to cinch the election, who trumpets his participation in the immoral war in Vietnam rather than his principled break with that war. But we’re not voting to feel good. We’re not voting to maintain our moral purity (if we were, would we vote for Nader, who has failed to build a grassroots alternative party and who has formed unsavory alliances?). We’re voting to do the best we can to improve people’s lives, both in the short run and the long run.
Consider two possible outcomes: Four more years of Bush with Nader having gotten 1 percent of the vote or a Kerry presidency with Nader having gotten 0.5 percent of the vote. It’s hard to see how the former would be better for anyone. For the Left, the former means having to operate in a far more repressive environment; having to organize against Bush policies that this time would have the endorsement of the U.S. population; having to fight to prevent the enactment of rightwing policies instead of working for progressive change. For African Americans, a Bush victory means continued assault on affirmative action. For women, it means reproductive rights will be in great peril. For workers, it means more attacks on unions, on the minimum wage, on overtime. For the elderly, it means privatizing social security. For gays and lesbians, it means the anti-same-sex marriage amendment. And for people around the world, it means fewer checks on
Stephen R. Shalom teaches political science at