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Synthesis/Regeneration 35   (Fall 2004)

Thinking Politically

An Open Letter from Ralph Nader

Dear Anybody But Bush Liberal Democrats:

If you wish to defeat George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in November, restore the House and/or the Senate to the Democrats and continue to build a longer term progressive political movement, enlisting the young, middle-aged and elderly together, beyond November 2004, and you have some doubts as to whether the Democrats can do this by themselves, this letter is for you.

Let’s face the facts. Our country has serious problems. The world is not doing very well. We need every source of energy inside the electoral arena to turn harmful, costly and cruel trends against billions of innocent people into just and healthy directions.

The electoral system in our country is rigged in many ways against third parties and independent candidates having a level playing field chance to compete. This leaves the two major Parties to regenerate themselves internally without external pushes and jolts. The Republicans generate themselves with corporate batteries while the Democrats try to play catch up in the corporate money-raising sweepstakes. So it is not surprising that many people are left with the least of the worst choice and take it, assuming you are not in a single party district. After all, they know they are all hostages to this winner-take-all Electoral College straitjacket.

They realize that the political terrain is rigged to leave them as of now with just that choice if they want to be with a possible winner, which most voters want to be. A modern full representation system to make more votes count should become part of our national political debate. One version—multi-seat districts—elected the first woman, Jeanette Rankin, to Congress from Montana in 1916.

Apart from their ways, the Democrats need to be shown additional ways—strong, rational, emotive ways to defeat Bush and the Republicans.

Why? Because their leaders and consultants are either too cautious, too unimaginative or too indentured to vested interests to even conceive, not to mention field test, these vulnerabilities of the Bush regime.

Enter an independent candidacy in a duopolized system that does not believe the election has to be totally enclosed by zero-sum gaming among the major candidates. Instead there should be various strategies and probes and anticipations inside the electoral arena that in important ways escape the zero-sum mind so as to more likely achieve the common goal of ouster.

Here is what I mean. Campaigns must have distinct approaches—not only to get more votes on one’s side but also to depress the votes on the other side. The latter voters either stay home or switch to another candidate, other than the major opponent, as a protest vote. In 2000, exit polls showed that 21% or 25% of my vote would have gone to Bush, 38% or 41% to Gore, and the rest would not have voted. Counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Not if you know that conservative and libertarian Republicans have not been happy with the corporate Republicans who dominate the party and concede to their right wing the verbal platforms to keep them in line.

Now, many conservative or libertarian Republicans are furious with Bush over the massive deficits, taxpayer-funded, corporate subsidies, the Patriot Act’s invasion of privacy and undermining of civil liberties, the impaired sovereignty issues in NAFTA and GATT, uncontrolled corporate pornography beamed to their children in violent commercial entertainment. Not a few of them are outraged over the corporate looting by executive greed and crimes, exemplified by the Enrons, World Coms and Tycos (they lost jobs, 401K’s and investments, too) and believe that Bush/Cheney are too close to these companies to launch a crackdown that will convict and jail these executive crooks.

The Democrats need to be shown in the field how to appeal to the millions of voters whom they have turned their back on because many of them are against abortion and gun control. It is one thing when litmus paper tests are applied to candidates by groups or voters, but candidates are foolish to do this in reverse—after all even your friends don’t agree with you on everything.

Moreover, an independent candidacy that generates more political and civic energies by the American people helps to generate more understandings and support for major new directions for our country—realistic long overdue directions.

Do you want to see another mandateless, dreary presidential campaign that ignores these critical subjects, that doesn’t take seriously the necessity for solar energy, affordable housing, modern public transit, repeal of laws that obstruct trade union organization by millions of workers mired in poverty by wages that cannot meet their minimum family livelihoods? Advocacy groups that have long supported these sensible policies should make demands on the Democratic Party and its candidates to ensure these necessities reflect vigorous mandates. They should not give them their support without making such demands.

What all this boils down to is the resurgence of powerful civic values which subordinate the dominance of commercial values that are taking down both our country and the standards of democratic, honest governance that Americans crave and deserve.

You can agree with all this and still say that this candidacy will take away votes from the Democratic candidate. If so, you also have to assess how many more votes the Democratic nominee will receive by (a) being pressed to appeal more forcefully for the interests of the people, (b) how many effective modes and critiques he can pick up from the independent candidate to improve the prospects of defeating Bush, and (c) a more exciting campaign that brings more progressive voters out which, in a rigged, winner-take all system unfortunately would go to the Democrats in large percentages. By the way, there are astute political observers who believe that the Greens pushing Gore to more populist rhetoric allowed Gore to get many more voters.

Now what about the Senate and the House? In 2002, the Republicans won the Senate by 41,000 swing votes and the House by about 100,000 swing votes.

This was not supposed to happen in an off election year. That it did happen was due in no small part, leading Progressive Democrats in Congress tell us, to their Party narrowcasting that election toward the few contested districts instead of also nationalizing the election (as Newt Gingrich did in 1994 to a stunning success) on the daily front- page issue of the corporate scandals and the corporate crooks who were very close to top Republicans, including Bush and Cheney, in the present Administration. By turning Bush into a “wartime president” with the open-ended, unconstitutional war resolution of October 2002 against the Iraqi dictator, the Democrats made it easy for the President to campaign against Democrats in state after state without rebuttal.

Do the Democrats need a spillover vote produced by an independent candidate? Some top Democrats have said they would welcome this part of the strategy. If they need their conventional “what if” reinforcement, they can ask Senator Maria Cantwell how the very large Green spillover vote in 2003 helped elect her by a narrow margin of 2,229 votes over her incumbent opponent.

So, in summary, our approach can help defeat Bush, strengthen the progressive forces inside the Democratic Party by successfully amplifying ways to end this regime, while simultaneously furthering the “longer range expansion” of the forces of peace, justice and democracy in future elections and nourishing a more vigorous civic movement as well.

After thinking about this, you may still judge that the infinitesimal risk that is worrying you is too important to take compared to the higher risks that the Democrats on their present path will not only lose the election to Bush, but maybe lose near the scale of a Dukakis or Mondale defeat and destroy their chances of recovering even one house of Congress, with accompanying losses on the state and local ballot lines.

Two fronts are better than one if conducted collaboratively on those objectives held in common…

We believe that two fronts are better than one if conducted collaboratively on those objectives held in common, without compromising either candidacy. To wallow in the squabble of “spoiler” is to plunge into second-class citizenship scapegoating which will get the Democrats nowhere. Think strategically out of the box and you will have three arenas to block Bush: evict him from the White House or, helped by a spillover, recover one or both of the Houses of Congress not to mention affecting state and local races. Generally speaking, with a few luminous exceptions, the Democrats have been on a losing team for ten years—the House, the Senate, the state legislatures and the state governorships.

Their language is stale when it is candid and servile when it is bought and paid for. The alternative in a rigged political system to defeat Bush is to respect small candidacies that can demonstrate high standards and big ways to defeat Bush as well as produce a spillover vote to recover at least one House of the Congress.

From our viewpoint, a renewed respect will be accorded the civil liberties of third parties and Independent candidates to exercise their right to reform the political system and not be told to remain silent and not speak by not running. It is a sad day when the electoral Republican thieves cause the Democratic blunderers in the Florida 2000 election to lead some prominent or active liberals to take it out on future candidates who might help jolt their beloved but stagnant Party into the minds of more voters.

At the very least, kindly consider withholding judgment and wait and see.

Sincerely, Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is an attorney, author, organizer and father of the consumer movement. He has co-founded numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, Essential Information, Commercial Alert, and the Center for Women’s Policy Studies. Mr. Nader was the Green Party’s candidate for president in 2000.

[17 aug 04]

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