Confessions of a Swing State Voter


Editors’ Note: What follows is JEFF TAYLOR’s response to the Greg Bates’s survey of swing state voters published in CounterPunch on October 12, 2004. Taylor wrote the chapter on Paul Wellstone in CounterPunch’s new volume, Dime’s Worth of Difference.

1. Do you live in a swing state? Which one?

Yes. Minnesota.

2. Are you still planning to vote Nader? Why?

Yes. Because Nader is by far the best candidate running for President in 2004. He’s an honest, humane, informed, and intelligent man. He shares my ideology (populism). I agree with him on most of the issues (but not all–we disagree on some social issues).

3. If Nader wasn’t running, would you vote for Kerry? Explain.

No. I would not vote for Kerry under any circumstances. I’ve been familiar with John Forbes Kerry since he was elected to the Senate in the 1980s as an inspiration for all self-satisfied yuppies. Like Bush, Kerry was born into wealth and tapped for Skull & Bones while at Yale. I think Kerry has always been an ambitious and opportunistic politician with a commitment to plutocracy, militarism, and imperialism (despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary). I disagree with Kerry on every major issue of the day. There’s no rational reason to vote for a man I neither respect nor agree with. If Nader wasn’t on the Minnesota ballot, I would either write-in his name, vote for a different third-party candidate, or not vote at all.

4. Assuming you plan to vote Nader, do you think your vote could help tip the election to Bush by taking a vote from Kerry?

No. I’m not taking a vote from Kerry because voting for Kerry was never a possibility for me. Kerry never had my vote–or the vote of anyone else–in his back pocket. The votes are cast on Election Day. Until that time, they belong to individual voters, not politicians or parties. My one vote is not going to reelect Bush. I’m not going to vote for Bush. If I voted for Bush, I would be morally complicit in his past and future misdeeds. In my case, I’m voting FOR Ralph Nader because he’s the best man and I generally agree with him…and AGAINST Bush because he deserves to lose. Kerry also deserves to lose. I only have one vote. One popular vote has never determined a presidential election and it’s very unlikely it ever will. Even in a “swing state,” one popular vote doesn’t make any significant difference. Despite all the controversy of 2000, in the end, with the way the votes were counted, Bush defeated Gore in Florida by hundreds of votes (not one vote). I only have one vote and one conscience. I’m not going to divorce the two for the sake of a strategy aimed at gullible voters and devised by dishonest Democrats.

5. Are you aware of the costs of another Bush presidency? If yes, what accounts for your determination to vote Nader?

Yes. Bush is a bad president, but the badness of his presidency has been exaggerated vis-a-vis other presidencies. His administration is no better or worse than most during the past century. After four years of a Republican president, the Democrats always pull out the “sky is falling” mantra to stir up fear and hysteria among those who comprise their political base. The Republicans do the same thing when Democrats have the White House. It’s just part of the game. The extreme, manichean rhetoric during the election season might lead you to think that the national leaders of the two major parties believe in something beyond personal power and privilege, but that’s almost never the case. It has nothing to do with policy or issues or their impact on the 99% of Americans who lack power, money, and fame. It’s a charade.

George W. Bush is the latest in a long line of bipartisan plutocrats, militarists, and imperialists (and liars). Every major misdeed of his administration has an antecedent under Bill Clinton and/or his predecessors. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died at the hands of Clinton/Gore because they kept the sanctions in place. The 9/11 attack was planned during the Clinton years…and Clinton chose to keep U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, continue U.S. backing of Israeli oppression, and maintain U.S. dependence on middle eastern oil (thus making Americans more unsafe).

Clinton started a war against Serbs without any conceivable threat to the American people, without UN approval, and without the congressional declaration required by the Constitution. Anglo-American imperialism took the lives of many innocent people in the Balkans in the 1990s with the support of the Democratic Party. The Bosnia and Kosovo wars were justified by the demonization of Milosovich, as if U.S. foreign policy is actually determined by things like concern for human life or human rights. The propaganda about Milosovich echoed and foreshadowed the same verbal attack on Hussein. Of course, Milosovich was a thug, but he and the Serbs did not have a monopoly on atrocities during the Balkan civil war (as Clinton, Gore, Albright, and Kerry well knew). Instead of acknowledging this, and allowing the Europeans to continue working on a brokered peace, the Democrats poured gasoline on the fire and killed more innocent people. The Patriot Act is an updating of the Anti-Terrorism Act created by Clinton in 1996. CAFTA proposed by Bush builds upon NAFTA pushed by Clinton. Kerry supported war against Iraq as early as 1998, when many congressional Democrats were agitating for bloodshed.

It should go without saying that Senator Kerry has supported President Bush in every major policy area during the past few years, including the Iraqi war resolution, No Child Left Behind, Patriot Act, coddling of the Chinese government, and oppression of the Palestinians. Looking to the future, Kerry has promised to “try to” withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of his first term (if circumstances permit). That’s quite a promise to those of us who oppose the war! At least four more years of American troops killing and being killed in an occupied country. Kerry’s approach to Iraq is identical to that of Bush, except he thinks he can talk some Europeans into sending troops to the quagmire for international political cover. Kerry has repeatedly said that we have to “win” the war in Iraq and he’s going to stay the course. He constantly talks out of both sides of his mouth, but, in this instance, I believe him. Peaceniks should wake up. With Kerry, “hope” is not on the way–it’s only false hope. The faux war hero is promising a “stronger America” at a time when the world–and Americans–need just the opposite. Widely perceived, for good reason, as a global bully, America needs to be humbler or even weaker–not stronger.

I think war against Iran is more likely under Kerrry than Bush. Just listen to what Kerry, Edwards, and the Democratic platform are saying about Iran. This would be a perfect opportunity for John “Reporting for Duty” Kerry to prove how macho he is, expand the American empire, please the Israeli government, and help out U.S.-based oil companies. In the second debate, Kerry was specifically asked how he would handle Iran if they don’t stop working on their reputed nuclear program. In typical fashion, he gave a mealy-mouthed answer but ended up saying, “If we have to get tough with Iran, believe me, we will get tough.” If you support war with Iraq, vote for Kerry because he’s the most likely candidate to give you what you want. (If he does, maybe some of the neoconservatives will return to their Democratic home and join the DLC hawks who have long loved Kerry and Edwards.)

Is Bush bad? Of course. Is Kerry just as bad? Yes. In some ways, he’s a slightly lesser evil and in some ways he’s a slightly greater evil. It’s a wash in the end. The Bush bogey-man doesn’t scare me. It’s a tactic that pulls the Bush administration out of its historical context and it’s spewed by dishonest Democrats and self-serving leaders of pseudo-liberal interest groups. Bush may be an idiot, or at least an ignorant man with an Alfred E. Newman smirk. Kerry may be more sophisticated and somewhat smarter than Bush (although I doubt that he’s half as smart or knowledgeable as Nader). But, in the end, the real problem we face are Bush’s policies, not Bush the man. I don’t see any improvement if Bush’s policies are handed off to Kerry for his smoother style of administration. It might make Barbra Streisand or Jacques Chirac feel better, but it won’t help the rest of the world. A vote for Kerry is truly a vote for Bush’s policies. It’s illogical, delusional, and immature to think otherwise.

6. Various organizations opposed to Nader’s run have been running ads and broadcasting petitions to convince people such as yourself to vote for Kerry. What impact, if any, have these efforts had on your thinking?

None. On second thought, they do have one small impact: They lessen my respect for the persons involved in such stupid and pernicious activities.

7. Is there something those groups could tell you that would sway your vote?


8. How have the efforts to keep Nader off the ballot affected your decision?

They’ve made me even more disgusted by the Democratic Party than I normally am. They’ve inspired me to send additional money to Nader’s campaign. They inspired my wife to commit her vote to Nader. Until my wife saw the Democratic dirty tricks on C-SPAN, with Professor Lawrence Tribe arguing against democracy before the Florida Supreme Court, she was thinking of voting for Kerry. That spectacle eliminated Kerry as a possibility for her.

9. Some of Nader’s allies from 2000 have said his candidacy this year is a strategic mistake. Do you agree? Explain.

No. Nader’s 2000 allies have a right to criticize Nader’s 2004 campaign, even when it makes them look stupid (e.g., Michael Moore begging for Nader’s withdrawal on TV or promoting an anti-war film for the benefit of a pro-war candidate). However, I disagree with them. It’s a poor reflection on themselves, not on Nader or his current supporters.

10. Let’s suppose that you and others vote Nader in a swing state, Kerry loses that state which he would have won if the Nader voters had backed him and that loss costs Kerry the election. What is your thinking about this outcome?

I won’t regret my vote for a minute. Will I feel sorry for John Kerry? No. For Bob Shrum? No. For Robert Rubin? No. For George Soros? No. For the Democratic Party hacks who want a job or an invite to a White House cocktail party? No. For the living-in-a-dreamworld yellow-dog-Democrats? No. Who am I supposed to feel sorry for? The American people? Sad to say, they’re going to be neglected, abused, and exploited whether Bush or Kerry wins. Neither party in the White House–or in Congress–will stand up for their needs, interests, and aspirations. The same goes for the common people in the rest of the world. They’re going to be at the mercy of the transnational corporations, American imperialists, and homegrown elites whether Bush wins or Kerry wins. Politics is a crooked game dominated by evil principles. That’s why candidates like Ralph Nader never win the White House and candidates like Russ Feingold or Ron Paul only rarely win seats on Capitol Hill. My one vote won’t change this political context, but at least I can be true to my conscience, abstain from endorsing the morally bankrupt system, and make a small symbolic statement on behalf of good things like truth, justice, peace, and democracy. That’s something.



Jeff Taylor teaches politics and writes books.