(Greg Bates co-founded Common Courage Press in 1990, and is the Publisher. He is also the author of the new book, Ralph’s Revolt: The Case for Joining Nader’s Rebellion. Bates recently spoke with Joshua Frank about his upcoming book, the elections, and the future of progressive politics in America. He currently resides in Monroe Maine.)
Joshua Frank: Greg, first thanks for doing this interview, as I hope it adds to the discussion about Ralph Nader’s role in the upcoming election. You have been a publisher and an editor for many progressive books and publications, but have never authored a book before. Why now? Why this book?
Greg Bates: The book came about by accident. Last year Ralph Nader called to order some books. I got on the phone and said, “Of course, you are running, right?” He was a bit surprised and asked me to write a letter about why, which got posted on Commondreams.org. That made me a lightning rod for a ton of mostly negative emails. I paid little attention until he announced his run in late February. I realized from the press coverage and emails from both friends and foes that there were a lot of issues I considered obvious that no one was actually addressing–including Nader himself. So, on February 28, I just decided to write the book in an attempt to elevate the dialog.
The key myths about his run that I wanted to debunk are:
1. A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.
2. We should hold off on a third party run for now.
3. Nader is an egomaniac
4. We can reform the Democratic Party from within.
5. A Kerry presidency will be better.
6. Kerry had to move right.
7. Kerry will be more receptive to pressure from social movements than Bush is.
I wanted my first book to be much more carefully done over a number of years. But given the need and the timeframe, I banged it out.
JF: What was your reaction to the Green Party deciding to nominate long time party activist David Cobb on June 26, rather than endorsing the Ralph Nader/Peter Camejo independent ticket? Cobb as you know was democratically nominated by the largest progressive party in the US, where Nader is running on his own. Doesn’t that hurt Nader’s chances, not only of making an impact on this election, but in building any viable third party movement over the long haul?
GB: First, I look at this from the progressive voters’ perspective. The fact that the Greens are running ANY candidate as opposed to no candidate gives voters more choice in the 22 states where Greens are on the ballot. More voter choice–even if you feel passionately about what choice they should make–is a move toward democracy. So it’s a step forward.
Second, again from the perspective of voter choice, I wish the Greens would run Cobb in all 50 states. Voters in those states where he isn’t running have less choice.
I would have preferred that Nader/Camejo was endorsed because they stand for letting voters decide. It is the role of those who want to be president to run as candidates, the role of voters to make the choices, strategic and otherwise. Refusing to run in swing states says that you know better than the voters do. That’s antithetical to democracy.
Had Cobb said he was really running for president across the country, I would still have preferred Nader for the simple reason that Nader has the best track record and the longest. Let’s hope Cobb–and many others–duplicate this over the years.
Does Nader’s lack of endorsement hurt his chances of an impact? Minimally to the extent that he may have trouble getting ballot access in some of the 22 states the Greens have. But those who vote Cobb instead of Nader are endorsing the Nader strategy–be a counterweight to the Democrats’ drift right. Since neither candidate will win, it doesn’t matter which one you vote for; it still has an impact on Kerry.
Nader’s run highlights the need for a party, and I hope inspires others to get involved, whether with the Greens or some other group. The lack of endorsement could cut two ways. On one side, he doesn’t have party backing from them (but he does from the Reform Party). On the other, he might feel freer to found a new party. A new party that was committed to holding a convention in time for serious efforts at ballot access (say in October of the previous year rather than the Green’s impossibly late timing at the end of June), could free up the Greens to abandon presidential runs, about which they are ambivalent.
Plus, if a new party gave the Greens a little competition for the progressives abandoned by the Democrats, it might make them better. That wouldn’t be a bad thing. Some group is bound to move into the space in a fairly professionally organized way, especially the larger the political space becomes as the Democrats move right. Maybe it will be the Greens, maybe another group. But I predict–largely as a result of the Democrats abandoning their constituents–that third party politics will become a much larger force in the coming years.
As I point out in the book and as many have argued, building a party takes years, as does acquiring the experience of presidential runs in order to one day win. Airbags took Nader and so many others 20 plus years. For the presidency we might need to think in terms of 13 elections or more over the next 50 years. That is the proper time frame, regardless of who the party is, I believe. That has certain implications, among them you have to run flat out each time to get the experience and develop the networks and resources in all 50 states.
JF: In 2000, many progressives maintained there was “no difference” between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Many of those same voters feel much differently today, including many former Naderites. What about you? Do you not see any substantive differences between John Kerry and Bush? Many progressives argue that if Kerry is elected, even if he is just ‘Bush-lite’, he will at least give us a little ‘wiggle room’ to push for genuine change, whereas with another four years of Bush we have no chance of that. In your book you don’t seem to buy this argument. What are your reasons?
GB: The differences are hard to understand, not because there aren’t any but because there are so many variables involved. And because we fervently WANT to believe there are solid differences. Progressives and liberals don’t want 4 more years of Bush; they want to believe they will get something better in Kerry. But it’s best to drop how we want to see the situation in order to perceive it as accurately as possible.
One thing that makes Bush different is 911. Would Gore have prosecuted the “war on terror,” had he been given the chance, the way Bush has? Undoubtedly there would have been differences. More important, what about Kerry? He advocated going into Iraq over WMDs–in 1998. On that front, he beat Bush by several years and, crucially, was arguing the case BEFORE the pretext of the war on terror. Today he says, “I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the war on terror. I believe he’s done too little.” That tells me I can’t hope Kerry will better on this critical issue.
Another factor that makes Bush different is that he is the first Republican president to serve since the 1950s when Republicans had control of all branches of government, the Judiciary, both houses of Congress and the Executive. I think this leads to some important insights–if we are going to lose the election to Bush (a very real possibility independent of Nader), regaining the House and Senate are vital secondary goals. And having Nader out there could draw more voters to the polls (both those in favor and those opposed to him) who would then vote for Democrats in the House and Senate.
Another factor in the mix is Kerry’s record. It has shifted so far right that it isn’t clear how much farther right he would shift as president–we have no clear idea what the differences are on most issues. I thought I had one pegged–abortion. I wrote the section in the book to acknowledge that, on this issue, pro choice advocates are safe. But then I had to write a last minute insertion about his statement that he would appoint anti-abortion judges. He gives a caveat–as long as it won’t affect Roe v. Wade. But that’s meaningless. Had one of those judges been sitting on the recent San Francisco case that declared the law against partial birth abortion unconstitutional, the case could well have gone the other way and been a victory for the pro-life advocates who favor overturning Roe.
So what are the differences? Answer: I don’t really think they are knowable. Are they significant? Probably. How significant? I don’t know and I don’t think anyone can tell us because Kerry is moving right quickly.
Will those differences give us more wiggle room? That’s essentially what Howard Zinn focuses on when he says “I don’t have faith in Kerry changing, but with Kerry there is a possibility that a powerful social movement might change him. With Bush, no chance.”
We would do well to ask, how powerful would that movement have to be to change him? On some issues like civil rights and other domestic ones, success might be relatively attainable. But on war? Consider what it took to protest the last Democratic president persecuting a war, Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam. Some activists burned themselves to death in an attempt to shake the foundations. Years of people protesting on the streets, etc. A crisis of democracy. And Johnson left rather than submit. We won, eventually, at least partially. (Although the U.S. foreign policy establishment also won even though they had to pull out–by bombing the area back into the Stone Age they foreclosed any possibility that some palatable alternative to our economic system could survive.)
The point isn’t that the Democrats are equally unreceptive to social movements. Rather, the differences on some vital issues such as war are probably very tiny at best. How much wiggle room would we get? In some scenarios, such as a Kerry Presidency in which we have another 911, I predict it might be no extra room. Like his mentor Kennedy who needed to stand tough on Communism for fear of attack from the right, Kerry will need to stand tough on terrorism–and that probably means more war.
Many social movements don’t succeed because of “receptivity.” They can also succeed by building up such intense force that the costs of continuing whatever the policy is becomes greater than the cost of giving in. With war, we will have to raise the cost very high through a social movement–regardless of whether it is Bush or Kerry in office.
Perhaps because I suffer from looking through the same rose colored glasses, I too think there are differences between Bush and Kerry. I hope Kerry wins. But I want his leash as short as possible. We may have more wiggle room in a Kerry presidency if he can see we are building ever more serious electoral challenges with each cycle.
The problem with the strategy of elect him first and then pressure him is that he will view his electoral strategy of moving right as a success–how else could he view it? And so he’ll be set to move right again. In that scenario of a large Kerry victory, social movements will have a tougher time pressuring him than they will if he can also see a large group of his constituents defecting…
Sorry for the long winded answer. Here’s the short answer: Kerry has made it completely clear over many years on many issues that he has zero receptivity to international law. What makes you think he’ll be receptive to social movements?
JF: Okay, so if Kerry will not be responsive to social movements, which I absolutely agree with, you have to admit getting the neocons out of office is still essential. And many are willing to do it at almost all costs. You even admit you would like to see Bush defeated, but as you write in Ralph’s Revolt, “let’s admit that the more support Nader gets the more likely Democrats are to lose the election.” [p. 16] So you are admitting what many Nader supporters deny — that indeed Nader voters could siphon votes from Kerry, and hand the election to Bush. So how can we get the neocons out of office, and still put energy into building a progressive third party movement in the US without risking another four years of Bush? And speaking of which, isn’t Nader starting his own third party, the Populist Party? Doesn’t this also hurt the Green Party movement?
GB: If we look at the situation a little deeper, the details reveal a more complex situation than the idea that support for Nader comes at the expense of costing Kerry the election. First, the conditions under which a vote for Nader helps Bush are narrow. The following have to be true for Bush to benefit from a Nader vote:
1. It must be a vote that would in fact be cast for Kerry if Nader wasn’t in the race. (If you intended to stay home but go to the booth to vote Nader, your vote doesn’t hurt Kerry because, absent Nader, Kerry would not have received it.)
2. It must be a vote that, if Nader wasn’t in the race, it would be cast for Kerry (Repubs voting Nader could hurt Kerry more if Nader was absent because Bush could get their vote).
3. The national election must be close, not just in popular vote but more importantly in electoral vote. If one candidate pulls ahead, Nader voters won’t be the deciding factor. John Pearce, co-creator of the Don’tVoteRalph website is jumping up and down with poll data showing that Nader voters could indeed cost Kerry some swing states. But that’s only if the election were held today. By November, the election may not be a close one. We don’t know.
4. The vote must be cast in a swing state. 75% of voters, according to a cover story in BusinessWeek in June 04, live in safe states–they can vote Nader with no fear of costing Kerry the election.
5. The election in that swing state must be close. (Which it will be if it is a swing state, assuming voter preferences don’t change dramatically and make a swing state into a safe state.)
6. The larger the swing state, the more the possible impact. The smaller the state, the less likely it is that the particular swing state will decide the election. Of the swing staters, Floridians have the most power–27 electoral votes. Mainers and Nebraskans have the smallest: although these states have several electoral votes, some are decided one at a time by district. Meaning that, in my case living in Maine, for example, my vote influences just one electoral vote.
For a vote for Nader to be a help to Bush, the first 5 conditions must be true. And the effect is magnified to the extent 6th is in a large swing state.
A vote for Nader under conditions where any of these 5 aren’t true does not support Bush. Most people I talked to who voted for Nader in 2000 feel bad that they helped elect Bush. But unless they voted in Florida, their vote didn’t help determine the election. This time, like 2000, most support for Nader can be an important protest vote, humbling for Kerry should it narrow his victory, and, in the event of a Kerry defeat, a crucial message that Democratic presidential candidates running on Republican platforms have picked a losing strategy.
How can we get the Neocons out of office? Kerry could run a campaign like Nader’s designed to infuse passion in voters and get out the vote to pick a candidate genuinely working for their interests and for justice. That’s not Kerry. He is running against a president who, if re-elected, will have won with lower approval ratings this close to the election than any incumbent in history. If Kerry can’t win a landslide in these conditions, we need to point the finger not at Nader, but at Kerry and the strategy of running to the right. The responsibility for the support Nader is getting is Kerry’s. “The stakes are too high,” argues the Naderfactor.com website opposed to Nader’s bid. Most progressives agree. How is it, then, that Nader is polling so high even as his one time celebrity supporters have abandoned him or remained silent? The answer is it is the Kerry factor, not the Nader factor. Could it be that there are a few people who, in the midst of a war, want to vote against it?
Let’s modify the question: how could we get the neocons out of office while electing a prowar candidate who seeks to emulate the incumbent’s father while the economy is recovering? Sorry, absent a Bush scandal or downturn in the economy, I don’t think it’s doable. The risks of another 4 years of Bush have so much more to do with Kerry than Nader. Progressives have a right to be mad–at Democrats who selected Kerry and his strategy. Anger at Nader, or at voters who don’t want to vote for his Republican platform, seems misplaced to me.
If Nader founds a third party, does this hurt the greens? I don’t think so. I don’t buy the “limited resources” argument. If the Democrats keep moving right, resources for third parties will grow, not shrink. There are so many races out there that two or more progressive parties could run candidates where candidates aren’t in direct competition. And as I mentioned, competition might help.
Regarding Nader’s plans to be a party animal by founding one, I have no information.
JF: What do you make of the stories that are now coming out regarding major Republican donors to the Nader campaign in swing states like Oregon? Isn’t this a bad thing for building a progressive third party movement? Doesn’t it hurt his credibility with those fighting for peace and justice?
GB: I find it appalling that we have a situation where Democrats–who represent the party of the people–are desperately trying to cut off choice for voters while Republicans are trying to widen it. Fighting for ballot access is the right thing to do; it matters little what people’s motivations are for doing it. So I support those Republicans, along with anyone else, who are working toward Nader’s access.
The whole premise of the argument that Nader should disavow those on the right fighting for his ballot access is this: if voters get access, we can’t trust them to make rational decisions. But the minute we decide what choices the voters should be allowed, we start working for the wrong side.
One person who heard this argument from me responded by saying, look, “the fascists are inside the gates; this is no time for philosophy.” Putting aside the issue of whether Bush = fascist, it’s aligned with George Bush’s position. Replace the word “fascist” with the “terrorist” and it’s his argument for curtailing democracy: We have to stop democracy because the terrorists are inside the gates. Progressives reject this argument when Bush makes it. I believe we should be consistent and reject it whenever anyone makes it.
I believe we have to strengthen democracy–get dialog going among voters, widen their choices on the ballot, empower them by treating them as equal to ourselves, and build social movements.
There’s another premise behind the argument that Republican support for Nader is bad: Everything Republicans do is a major help to their cause. That’s false–they make blunders like the rest of us. For example, some months ago they ran ads linking Bush to patriotism over 911. Not a bad ploy, one might think, but much to their surprise, the ads were met with universal disgust and backfired. Now they are helping Nader. Looks like a good ploy. But if it leads to shifting the debate onto a more progressive landscape, it will be a disaster for them, a help to liberals and progressives.
JF: You predict “same-sex marriage could turn out to be a bigger threat to John Kerry’s presidential bid than Ralph Nader.” [p. 55]. Why is that? What different position than his current “middle-ground” might benefit candidate Kerry?
GB: Same sex marriage seems like a fringe issue. But as the Wall Street Journal reported, fundamentalist Christians who want to ban it are putting a referendum question on ballots in swing states:
“In at least seven swing states in the presidential race–Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Missouri, Michigan and Minnesota–a vote on gay marriage may be included on November ballots, a move that could prompt a large turnout among socially conservative voters. High turnout [by social conservatives] inspired by the issue could also win houses or senates in eight state legislatures where control is up for grabs. They include Indiana, North Carolina, and, again, Minnesota.”
As the article goes on to say, that could spell disaster for Kerry in those states. Meanwhile, gay and lesbian allies have little incentive to turn out for Kerry. Contrary to your characterization of Kerry’s position as “middle of the road,” it’s aligned with Bush: both favor bans on gay marriage. The difference is Kerry wants states to decide. He claims he favors civil unions and equal rights but that’s disingenuous. You can’t get the federal rights conferred by marriage unless the union is recognized at the federal level. So favoring letting states decide means you are effectively opposed to granting federal rights.
The reason gay marriage might be a bigger threat to Kerry than Nader is is that in swing states, I expect many who want to vote Nader will vote Kerry to help oust Bush. Nader’s support in those states may turn out to be small compared to the boost Bush gets from fundamentalists turning out for the referenda. (That’s no small number. Bush strategist Karl Rove is reported to have calculated that 4 million fundamentalists stayed home in 2000 because Bush wasn’t working in their interests hard enough. You can bet they will turn out this time…)
What position could Kerry have chosen? That of leader–which is what we need in our times of crisis and what Kerry abandons. A leader could have taken a position on the principle of human rights. And could have figured out that, with a majority of Americans already in favor of granting the rights to those in same sex unions, educating them to realize that marriage is the only way to confer those rights would have been a small step. Even if he failed to convince them, given that same sex marriage ranks 12th in one poll of voter concerns, Kerry had little to lose. Instead, he blew it.
JF: Nader says his run is geared to pull the Democrats back to the left. But aren’t they already past the point of no return? Many progressives argue the Democrats were never left to begin with. Isn’t the idea that a party funded by the corporations will actually act in the interest of working class people and minorities a dangerous illusion? Or as you seem to argue in Ralph’s Revolt, isn’t this something Nader needs to recognize now, in order to help his chances?
GB: Some Democrats are past the point of no return. Others, especially on levels below president, are more open. Nader has already had an impact on Kerry, the intransigent end of the spectrum. They met, Nader said he wouldn’t pull out and asked Kerry to push for a living wage. Weeks later, voila!–Kerry announce he is our $7 dollar (an hour) man. He’s now arguing the minimum wage should rise to that level. Good for Kerry, thank you Nader.
But on issues of war, there is little chance Nader will influence Kerry. This gets back to “receptivity” to social movements. The point of those movements–and of what Nader is doing–is to raise the costs of continuing current policies above their benefits (in this case Kerry’s policy of being a Republican), so that those carrying them out cease because to persist becomes too costly, regardless of how they feel about it.
A party funded by corporate interests can act in the broader interest if it is forced to do so, not because we “persuade” it that our path is morally the better choice–they already know that, or are so committed to their positions that they will never know it.
Whether the Dems will act in the broader interest remains to be seen, and there is ample evidence that no matter how punishing third parties are, the Dems just won’t abandon nursing at the corporate teat. To the extent that is true, this is an even more powerful argument for pursuing 3rd party politics–not to swing the Dems left but to replace them, which may take a long time.
Regarding what Nader needs to recognize now: keep in mind that my view is only about what I understand him to be saying as portrayed by the media, which may be distorted. While I agree with Nader that voters are unlikely to vote for him in large enough numbers to swing the vote to Bush (see conditions listed in last answer), progressives voting for Nader in swing states could be dangerous to Kerry’s bid under certain narrow conditions. I think we need to acknowledge that at the starting gate.
It’s not just a matter of honesty, but of clarity: that danger is precisely what makes Nader’s efforts so powerful, and should be proclaimed, not shied away from. Nader seems to be trying to deflect it when he could embrace it powerfully. That danger is why, if you have limited resources, you should campaign not in safe states but in swing states. It’s the swing state pressure that sends the message. Cobb and LaMarsh (who hails from my state of Maine and is a wonderful person who I admire for running), are wasting their time campaigning in safe states. Why bother? It does have some effect, registering dissent. I think campaigning everywhere is best. But if you had to choose, I’d favor doing the opposite of what Cobb and LaMarsh are doing.
That raises the obvious question: Isn’t 3rd party campaigning in swing states too dangerous? I believe candidates should run, and leave to the voters the decision of strategy. It’s my choice, as a swing state voter, whether I vote Nader, Cobb, stay home, or vote Kerry. It’s not up to Nader or any other candidate to choose for me. Those who suggest that Nader should throw all his support behind Kerry at the last minute, just don’t want to argue with the voters, and seek to avoid doing so by asking Nader to make the choice. It’s demeaning, as a swing state voter, to hear others imply by their advocacy for running in safe states only, that I shouldn’t have the choice.
I don’t take lightly the requests by Howard Zinn and others that I vote for Kerry, a man who has the blood of innocent Iraqi children on his hands from backing sanctions. Zinn has good reasons-Kerry does not equal Bush. But voting for Kerry isn’t some easy gesture; it’s a decision to be made carefully. But I’m far less likely to vote for Kerry if Democrats succeed in blocking my right to choose by keeping Nader off the ballot or convincing him that he should bar my choice by abandoning his run. In that event I’m likely to vote Cobb–or stay home.
Some pundits opposed to Nader’s run this time wrote columns that said they voted for Nader in 2000 but have learned their lesson. To those advocating no swing state campaigning, I ask, what makes you think I or any other voter is less capable of thinking through the implications of voting Nader this time than you are? Step one in any democracy is to treat all voters as thinking people who can be argued with, not cut off their choices.
Returning to Nader, he has said he won’t pull out because he doesn’t want to let the campaign workers down and because he wants to let voters in swing states–and everywhere–have a choice. For me, that latter point far outshines the former because it goes to the heart of democracy. If he were to say “My run is in fact dangerous to Kerry under certain conditions,” he could then make the powerful point, “and if you want to do something about it, stop nagging me and start dialoging with those who want to vote for me.”
JF: But, despite these frivolous attacks, doesn’t Nader risk becoming the Gus Hall of independent candidates with this being his third run for President in a row?
GB: The problem with repeat runs is usually that there is big news value the first time followed by declining interest with successive runs. Doesn’t seem to me that declining interest is a problem here.
JF: Recently, Nader has courted the Reform Party and in an interview with Pat Buchanan argued for immigration restrictions that many view as racially motivated. Should this give Leftists pause about endorsing Nader’s canididacy?
GB: Let me answer that question on two levels. First, in reading that interview I saw his motivations as economic, not racist–open the borders and it depresses wages of poor Americans. Doesn’t matter what the race of the immigrants is if they are unskilled and increasing the competition at the bottom end of the ladder. It’s hard to read racism/xenophobia into Nader’s motivations, given his choice of Peter Camajo as running mate, or Winnona Laduke previously, and given that he’s of Arab descent himself.
The real answer to the immigration problem–and by problem I mean the downward pressure on wages–is to have a foreign policy that enhances the fiscal security of workers and families globally. If workers had hope, money, access to medical care, rising wages, prospects of increasing their skills and education, and finding or creating meaningful work in their own countries, the desperation Nader talks about to move to the U.S. wouldn’t exist. People would still migrate–because it’s fun, because it’s interesting, but not because they are desperate. It’s the sea of destitution that we are actively creating which entices people to find islands of prosperity. It’s what we do with the sea, not the access to the islands, that is the key to one day having open borders that don’t threaten labor but enhance all cultures through promoting diversity.
I don’t know what Nader would say to that.
But the second level of the question is more important. Many people are trotting out Nader skeletons and saying, see, he isn’t as good as he proclaims. We could discuss an endless number of issues–Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer raised some, others have pointed to his opposition to unions within nonprofits including his own, and still others have raised accusations about how he uses resources, among other issues. And then there is the “he’s a megalomaniac” argument. You raise a policy position, on immigration. Policy positions are most important–they tell us how a candidate would govern. Personal practices are less so.
But even granting, for the sake of argument, that all of the criticisms are on target (which I don’t), there is the question of what we do with the information. Having proved he is no saint, some want to argue that therefore he should be out of the race. But as soon as you stack up these warts against Kerry and Bush, it becomes totally obvious Nader has both beat on personal integrity and virtually every policy position. The choice between Kerry who helped kill 500,000 children in Iraq with his approval of sanctions, Bush who would like to if we just give him 4 more years, and Nader who wants a just foreign policy should be obvious.
The real argument we are having isn’t about Nader’s warts. It’s all about strategy–what happens if voters for Nader swing the election to Bush? The warts are a red herring.
The reason the warts keep cropping up is that integrity is the one thing Nader has that Bush and Kerry don’t. And they can’t build that with a raft of campaign promises. Nader’s integrity is based on a 40 year-plus track record. So they keep trying to dent it, arguing most recently that he is somehow evil because his campaign offices are rented from the building that houses his nonprofits. No doubt we will see more. I read these articles and rejoice–they are the accusations of the desperate, and they say more about the accusers than the accused.
JF: What would you say, or think Nader would do, if Kerry offered him a cabinet or VP position?
GB: I can’t speak or speculate for Nader. But if he got offered a position and took it, I wouldn’t be surprised if he suffered the same fate as Robert Reich, Clinton’s labor secretary, who titled his book “Locked in the Cabinet.”
But I’d be shocked to hear Kerry offer him something important above the level of, say, Ambassador to Antarctica… Kerry needs a VP to root for his positions. If I were Kerry, I’d worry that Nader had too much integrity to pull that off.
I think Nader is much more effective right where he is, on the outside. A Kerry overture would be aimed at one thing: neutralization. We need Nader as an advocate for consumers, workers, etc. As soon as he gets appointed, he would have to be an advocate for the administration.
If Nader moves from the outside to the inside and becomes president, I’ll amend my position.
JF: Many progressives fear that a women’s right to choose will be lost if Bush serves long enough to make a Supreme Court appointment. And this fear is exemplified by leading feminists and other Democrats. You don’t believe this is true do you?
GB: It could be true if there are enough appointments. But it will take more than just the one that Kerry’s campaign claims. There are only 3 who voted to overturn Roe and who continue to say it was wrongly decided: Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. For a majority, two more are needed. And even more might be needed. If Bush were to appoint a new justice to replace Rehnquist, that would not be a net gain for the anti-abortion forces. You have to have two pro-Roe voices retire. It’s still an important issue. But we need to be clear exactly where we are.
Where would we be with Kerry? Almost certainly better, but not necessarily a lot better. He voted for Scalia, which he now regrets. Will he regret an appointment he makes? He has a lot of regrets for things he has supported–the war, no child left behind, for example. He’s still probably better than Bush, but again we don’t really know by how much.
JF: Greg, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview. One last question: If Bush is re-elected because Nader threw the election to Kerry, how will you feel the morning after? Even if you claim Kerry lost it himself by not pandering to progressive voters, won’t that stigma still damage third party efforts in the future?
GB: I don’t think we should act solely based on how people might perceive the act. In this case, I wouldn’t worry about stigmatizing third party efforts, and just do what seems right: running an antiwar candidate in the middle of a war seems unobjectionable to me.
Second, if it seems as if Nader voters in swing states threw the vote, we’d have to examine that carefully. Would they have voted for Kerry in the absence of Nader? Let’s suppose that too is true. Then there is the question of what is the political landscape. If Repubs still control both houses and the presidency, that would be bad.
But even in that outcome, we should assess the reasons instead of heaping blame on Nader. Was it voters just couldn’t stomach Kerry? Did they miscalculate and think they wouldn’t throw the election? Either is a strong message to the Democrats: turn around! My guess is that such an outcome would signal the growth of disenfranchised progressives who aren’t willing to cooperate with the lesser evil strategy no matter how great the greater evil is. Democrats–and progressives–need to then ask, how should we respond to this constituency? Blaming them or who they vote for will likely prove an ineffective response.
In any case, I will feel that voters got to make their choice. If this becomes the start of permanent serious third party runs, it will mean that the Democrats will have to get used to not being the only game in town. That could have a very positive long-term outcome, possibly waking them up in time to change strategies for the midterm elections in 2006.
Returning to the issue of stigma, we are already there–people are scared stiff that Nader will throw the election. But I think the likelihood that the stigma will intensify is worth the risk.
Greg Bates welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joshua Frank is the author of the upcoming book, Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press and is a contributor to Counterpunch’s forthcoming book, Dime’s Worth of Difference. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.