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I circulated this article via email in early October 2000, to all the lists, listservs and websites I could. It travelled a fair amount around the Internet, but the networks were far less developed than now. I wish it had gotten out just a bit more widely in Florida and New Hampshire, the states where Nader's vote exceeded Bush's official margin.


As state after state seems to now swing by a razor thin margin that’s less than the number of people now voting to Ralph Nader, I think the risks of voting for Nader in key swing states now outweigh the gains. I don’t want to repeat on a presidential scale what occurred a few years ago, where Mitch McConnell, the most implacable foe of campaign finance reform in the Senate, got elected in Kentucky by fewer votes than the candidate of the Socialist Workers Party.

So I’m writing you and all my contacts to offer my perspective and hope you’ll do what you can (including talking with students if you teach), to get as many people as possible to make sure that the Republicans don’t capture the White House, Congress and the Courts. That means voting but also volunteering, and doing our best to get the turnout that’s needed for the Democrats to win at as many levels as possible.

I admire Ralph Nader tremendously, always have. His campaign has raised critical issues and reminded Gore that there are loads of people disgusted with his political timidity. To my mind, he’s on the wrong side on global trade issues, and unacceptably compromised to corporate elites. To do anything decent, he’s going to have to be pushed hard and consistently by organized grassroots citizens.

But that said, I think that those of us in swing states need to do everything we can to defeat George W. Bush, even if it means actively supporting and even volunteering for a man we have little respect for. Because I think a Bush presidency would be a disaster in the following key ways.

The Supreme Court: I wish Beyer and Ginsberg were even close to the league of Justices William O’Douglass, Hugo Black or even William Brennan. But they’re a long way from Scalia and Thomas. Those folks are vicious, siding with the powerful and against the powerless on every conceivable issue, from regulatory questions to the environment to campaign financing, let alone abortion choice. The margin on most key votes is razor thin already. Whoever wins will probably appoint two or three justices. As Tom Wicker points out in a recent Nation article, a Bush presidency could move the Supreme Court and all other Federal Courts backwards in a way that would hamper citizen efforts at justice for thirty years to come.

Labor rights: Finally, we have a revived union movement, organizing several hundred thousand new workers each year. Gore may not help it much, but he isn’t going to attack it, and has made some pretty explicit pledges that will help. And for a Senator from a largely non-union state, he actually voted pretty decently on these issues, better actually than Bill Bradley’s record in New Jersey. Bush will go directly after the union movement in every subtle way he can, from "paycheck protection," to an unequivocally hostile NLRB, to worsening the already dreadful rules on how union elections are conducted. A Republican Congress will go along. Given how much organizing has been damaged by the fifty-year legacy of Taft-Hartley, I don’t want to see the barriers raised even higher.

The Environment: I agree Gore has been cowardly. I was part of a meeting with his top environmental advisor where everyone present lit into his timidity, including people wearing Gore buttons, like the Northwest head of the Sierra Club, and one of the directors of League of Conservation Voters. Still, he’s pledged to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Bush wants to drill in it. He offers tax credits for energy efficient technologies; Bush makes snide jokes about them. He has pushed for a long while, if ambivalently, on Global Warming; Bush denies it even exists. He’s supported Clinton’s protection of national monuments; Bush opposes it. For all Bush’s talk, I see no indication that he would do anything than let the worst polluters directly write the laws.

Campaign Finance Reform. Gore can be pretty craven, but he’s pledged to back McCain-Feingold, and the people at Public Campaign think his democracy endowment is actually pretty decent. Bush has opposed campaign finance reform at every turn, is totally opposed to any such legislation, and will try to sandbag or veto any that comes about. There’s a major grassroots effort to change the rules of the game—as in the example I wrote about from Maine, and similar laws that passed in Arizona, Vermont, Massachusetts. I can’t see that Bush would do anything other than place as many obstacles in the way of these efforts as he could.

Abortion choice: a huge clear difference. We take it for granted. We shouldn’t. Bush will do everything he can do erode or end it. That matters, especially to poor women who will suffer the most if access is eroded.

And Gore’s at least pushing for children’s health care is something, though far from the universal coverage I’d like. Whereas Bush is unequivocally opposed.

Those to me add up to significant differences. We’ll still have to push Gore like Hell on globalization, militarization, the death penalty, and a bunch of other issues. Nader will be there, I assume, to help build on the momentum he’s created. And as Nader said, Gore could and should have reached out to capture the voters currently defecting. Nader’s running was good and important. But to me, given the current choices, I think it would be a disaster if he let the presidency, Senate and Congress be captured by Bush and the Republicans.

I know many of my friends and many people I admire will disagree with me. Whoever gets elected, I hope the progressive momentum Nader has helped coalesce will continue long after this election. But I think the time for visionary organizing is afterwards, and that for now, in states that are on the fence, it’s better to get Al Gore in the White House, and then to go back to all the hard and ongoing work that will create enough pressure for him to move this country toward a more just society, whether his instincts lead him that way or not.