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Ralph Thumb-in-Your-Eye

This last election eve the real question was whether Ralph Nader would stick his thumb in Al Gore's eye. Ralph did and he's proud of it.

Joe Lockard

Wednesday, November 8 2000, 10:06 PM

This last election eve the real question was whether Ralph Nader would stick his thumb in Al Gore's eye. Ralph did and he's proud of it.

Watching the thin vote margin between Gore and Bush in several late-reporting states, we kept comparing this margin with the couple percentage points registering for Nader. Would that Nader vote decide the final result?

Ralph Nader clearly sent a couple states — Oregon and New Hampshire — into the Bush victory column, and possibly indirectly affected several state outcomes elsewhere. In still-undecided Florida, however, Nader had his worst impact. His two percent claim on liberal/progressive opinion has likely sunk Gore, who would otherwise have benefited from that crucial bloc of some 95,000 votes.

Nader's campaign has for months repeated a mantra that there was no difference between Bush and Gore. In the long and still-continuing wait for a final outcome, the nature and extent of that difference has become apparent to all except those invested in a belief that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Difference, unlike beauty, does not reside solely in the eye of the beholder. Political difference here is a logical distinction with real human effects. The policy differences between Bush and Gore can spell life and death. Will many elderly will get the drugs they need? Will women will have a Supreme Court majority protecting women's autonomy over their own bodies? Will critical environmental problems will receive effective answers?

Beyond these sorts of differences, just plain disgust wells up at the idea of the next four years spent wincing at George W. Bush, a man of awsomely profound shallowness. Bush is dangerously sophomoric, whereas Gore can be just plain soporific.

The Nader campaign had its desired effect: their votes were pivotal. Its message to the mainstream Democratic Party — ignore us and we'll defeat you — came through loud and clear.

This message might indeed communicate to Democratic Party powers that their endorsement of social welfare cuts, NAFTA, corporate protectionism, and its inability to stem income inequalities or enact campaign financing reforms will have ballot box consequences. However, the surgically middle-of-the-road New Democrats leadership is not going to fall on their knees in public penance. The Democratic Party more likely will head even more deeply into the right-center where the Republicans have achieved their success, creating even greater ideological hegemony within US electoral politics.

Anyone counting on the Green Party (plural 'parties', actually) to arise in ultimate triumph at the head of a progressive majority has mistaken an old script of The Mouse That Roared for a party program. Despite Nader's brave talk of the future, there is little cause to believe that the Green Party will avoid tracing the same brief rise-and-decline trajectory as previous progressive and third parties.

Two centuries of history in the United States argue that the best a national third party can achieve under the prevailing constitutional system is to replace a worn-out national party, which last happened before the Civil War. An electoral system based on strict proportionality might afford the Greens and smaller parties much greater effect, but that system will not emerge from the federalist compact.

The Green platform outlines a great deal of what a progressive might desire, especially on a national health care system. Yet it is also a party that, despite denunciations of corporate supremacism, has little connection with the organized labor movement. The Greens have negligible support from communities of color and Nader's campaign remained a reformist project with bourgeois foundations. Without attracting such key constituencies, Green politics are a blind alley.

Ralph Nader ran as a Pure Knight, as a moral crusader who spoke nothing but Social Truth Incarnate. Reformers come and reformers go. As Tammany Hall politician George Washington Plunkett said "Reform is like morning glories: they look great early in the day and then they disappear." This time the American public apparently will pay a dear price for Nader's version of reform.

Politics are about getting along with opposing opinions in order to create civil discourse in a complex society. Politics that preach uncompromising righteousness and New Moral Orders are diversions into misery. George Bush ran a campaign to "restore decency" and clean out the supposed moral cesspool of the Clinton White House. Ralph Nader ran a campaign to clean up the moral corruptions of power in Washington. Theirs was the rhetoric of totalistic social demand and moral cleansing.

In the end there was little difference between Bush and Nader.

Joe Lockard is a member of the Bad Subjects Collective.

Copyright © 2000 by Joe Lockard. All rights reserved.