Some honest leberals who are planning to vote for Gore have admitted that on some important issues, the Democratic presidential candidate may be worse than Bush. In a recent Nation article, Eric Alterman observed that ‘‘on trade and globalization issues, a Democratic President can turn out to be even worse than a Republican one. A Democrat carries sufficient clout to pass most agreements against both public opinion and the public interest, but lacks the power to force Republicans to accept the kinds of restrictions that genuinely protect the envirioment and workers’ rights.’’ As a result, the Clinton-Gore administration embraced global trade policies that the overwhelming majority of American workers and core Democratic voters opposed. Ironically, a Republican president might ‘‘result in a more unified opposition party’’ to globalization. Similarly, Gore completely supports the showering of the military with mountains of unneeded funds as well as a truly idiotic missile defense programme that can only do untold harm to the nation’s security along with its budget.’’
There are several clear-cut reasons why it is in the interests of black people, working people and progressives to vote for Nader over Gore. The first is the reality that the national election is really fifty separate state elections, based on the winner-take-all principle. Whoever wins a majority or even plurality of a state’s popular vote wins 100 percent of that state’s electoral votes. The Electoral College technically selects the president, not the people. And in several instances in US history, candidates who lost the popular vote won the Electoral College vote and became president—for example, Rutherford B Hayes in 1876, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888.
In practical terms, this means that as of this writing, the presidential election is already over in about 40 states. Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. will be carried by Gore by margins of two or three to one. Gore has absolutely no chance in Texas, in most of the west except for the Pacific states, and the bulk of the South. In any state where there is today at least a ten-point margin between Gore and Bush, every voter who is sympathetic to Nader can and should vote for him. Gore doesn’t need your vote, and by supporting Nader, we can send a powerful, progressive protest message to the Democrats.
Netertheless, many people who are afraid of voting for Nader because they might throw the election to Bush, the ‘‘greater evil’’, do have a vaild point. A few months ago, I asked Lani Guinier whether she intended to vote for either Gore or Nader, and she astutely replied that the fundamental problem with US politics transcends personalities. Our undemocratic winner-take-all voting system aggressively blocks real alternatives.
What we need ultimately is a voting system based on proportional representation, where minority groups could actually have real access to decision-making. Short of the goal, progressives should push for instant runoff voting or IRV. Adopted in Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom, IRV permits voters to choose their ‘‘favourite’’ candidate first, and then to select their second and subsequent preferences. If one candidate has a majority of all first choice votes cast, she or he is declared the winner.
If no one has a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, with the votes distributed to whomever was designated as the ‘‘second preference’’. The IRV procedure is still winner-take-all, but it would permit minority groups to effectively mobilize and run for public office, without the fear of throwing the election to their opponents. Comprehensive campaign finance reform, with the elimination of billions of dollars of ‘‘soft money’’ from the system, would also improve the political process.
Perhaps with the adoption of IRV and other electoral reforms, a Nader candidacy could be considered on its own merits. Right now, however, more than one half of all Americans consistently don’t vote, and those of us who do vote feel completely disempowered by candidates and parties that rarely reflect our interests. This is the practical reason that African-Americans should explore coalitions and joint activities with the Green Party. Any democratic structural reforms within the political process, or progressive changes in voter eligibility requirements (such as permitting ex-felons to vote in elections), is in black people’s collective interests.
Second, a vote for Nader is essentially a vote against America’s corrupt two party system. If Nader achieves at least 5 percent of the popular vote, the Green Party would receive $12 million in federal matching funds. Black progressives in Washington, D C, New York, Connecticut, South Carolina and several other states have developed tactial alliances with the Greens. An independent progressive political party will never be built simply by voting for Democrats, no matter how ‘‘progressive’’ some of them may be.
A word about Ralph Nader himself : he is a dedicated, anti-corporate activist, the country’s leading progressive voice for environmentalism, consumer rights, and aganist sweatshops and globalization—but he is hardly perfect. The movement around Nader is nearly lily white, and mostly middle class. Nader is personally and deeply committed to racial justice and women’s rights, but doesn’t adequately or clearly spell out his positions. The campaign’s literature and staged public events make few efforts to reach urban black, Latino and poor people’s communities. These are, after all, the greatest victims of corporate power, and they potentially represent the core constituencies for fundamental progressive change in the country. As long as the Greens are overwhelmingly white, they will lack the capacity to build or even to maintain a truly democratic movement.
In those few remaining battleground states like Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida, black Latino and progressive activists admittedly have a difficult decision to make : do you vote for the politics you want, or the lesser evil? Noted black intellectual Cornel West, Transafrica executive director Randall Robinson, actor Danny Glover, Massachusetts activist Mel King, and dozens of prominent African-American progressives, including myself, are voting for Ralph Nader. Considering all the alternatives, we’re convinced it’s the best option we can take.