Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lessons from Ralph Nader's 2000 Presidential Campaign

Back in 2000, Ralph Nader mounted a third-party run for President against Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush.

While many on the left criticized Nader's run and cautioned that he would help Bush get elected by siphoning votes away from Gore, others felt that he would energize new voters and bring attention to important issues that would otherwise be ignored by the major party candidates.

I supported Nader's right to run (though I did not vote for him for a variety of reasons), and I was glad that he was advocating for a variety of environmental and social justice issues that were getting short shrift from both major parties.  However, I felt he was being dishonest when he repeatedly said on the campaign trail that Al Gore was not significantly different from George W. Bush.

I wonder how many of those who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 can look back and honestly believe that Al Gore would have used the 911 attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq in 2003.  Or that he would have rolled back environmental protections and squandered our nation's budget surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy.

Nader ran a humorous commercial in which children expressed a series of cynical dreams for their future. One said: "I want to vote for the lesser of two evils."  The implication, of course, is that it is better to vote for someone you really want, even if they have no chance of getting elected, or just to stay home.  I have always felt that those who refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils are complicit in allowing the greater evil to come to power.

Nader actually said that, given a choice between a candidate (Gore) who would make voters complacent with small incremental improvements in environmental protections and one (Bush) who would wake up the left by making things worse, he would prefer the provacateur.

I am not sure what Nader meant by waking up the left.  If he meant that they would come out to vote the Republicans out of office in 2002 and 2004, then he was rather naive.  If he meant that they would donate a lot of money to Nader's organizations so that they could "fight" the disastrous Bush policies, then he was rather corrupt. Either way, those who believed his campaign bullshit were taken for a ride.

Most voters are turned off by the extreme left. Nader and his ilk (I'm looking at you, Dennis Kucinich) will never succeed in pulling the Democratic Party as far to the left as they like, because for every voter gained on the left, two in the center will be lost.

In recent months, I have seen the debates among anti-Walker activists over where the movement should go and what tactics should be used.  I would like to point out that influencing politicians is more like training a cat than training a dog.  You must be very patient and reward incremental improvements in behavior.  Any Hollywood cat wrangler will tell you that negative reinforcement does not work with a cat. While you must be careful not to reinforce negative behavior, you must be just as careful to recognize and reward positive behavior, even if it is only a fraction of the eventual behavior you want to see.


Palmer said...

"I wonder how many of those who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 can look back and honestly believe that Al Gore would have used the 911 attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq in 2003."

Why is this the sole criterion for evaluating how different Gore and Bush may have been?

The thing is, we'll never know what Al Gore would or would not have done. But look at Obama. Did the people who voted for him think he'd decide that he has the power to have American citizens assassinated without due process? That he'd throw the public option away in closed door negotiations? That he'd renege on all manner of civil liberties issues? That he'd ignore Congress when going to war in Libya?

A Democrat who got into office with some great sloganeering has carried on many Bush policies. The very people on Wall Street who had a huge role in the economic collapse now get to put their own in the gov't agencies that are supposed to be regulating Wall Street. (Where do SEC regulators come from? Wall Street.)

When it comes to invading Iraq, we'll never know but I'm willing to concede that Gore and Bush were not clones on this issue. I think the point Nader was trying to make was that both candidates were essentially beholden to highly monied/corporate interests.

"Any Hollywood cat wrangler will tell you that negative reinforcement does not work with a cat."

How is this relevant?

I suspect that someone who is looking at losing health care insurance and seeing their children's school budget slashed while corporations get tax breaks is probably not inclined to sit back and wait 50 years for incrementalrewards for positive behavior to accumulate to the point where positive change occurs. Personally I wouldn't blame them.

Ordinary Jill said...

Folks are seeing their children's school budget slashed largely because many Wisconsinites who came out to vote for Obama in 2008 stayed home in 2010 because they were angry with the Democrats' incremental progress. So instead they got Fitzwalkerstan. Apparently, they couldn't see enough difference between Scott Walker and Tom Barrett. If you can't bring yourself to vote for the lesser of two evils, you have less right to bitch when the greater evil kicks you in the balls.

Palmer said...

On the contrary, people who abstain from voting have every right to complain because A) they didn't give consent to the policies of any of the 2 candidates and B) people like you who are simply content with the lesser of 2 evils which merely perpetuates evil.

I have always felt that those who refuse to vote for the good instead of the lesser of two evils are complicit in allowing evil to come to power. This is, IMO, why Kerry lost or at least a big part of it. Instead of giving people a positive reason to vote for him, the best lefties could do was "Anyone but Bush." Being too far to the left may indeed turn away some centrist voters but so will an attitude of "At least he/she isn't the other guy/gal." That's not a platform, that's an admission of defeat.

Ordinary Jill said...

You apparently disagree with the saying "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

There will always be some people who stay home waiting for that perfect candidate who never appears. There are also those who will not face the fact that their idea of perfect is shared by only a tiny minority of the country. You are entitled to believe that there was no reason to vote for John Kerry, but I do not believe it gives you greater right to complain about the damage that George W. Bush did to this country.

James L. Greenlee said...

Is Kucinich "far left?" Or his he merely further left than any of the mainstream Democrats? We hear an awful lot about extremist lefties, and Rush Limbaugh pretends that Obama is one. . .but they sure seem rare to me.

Ordinary Jill said...

I do consider Kucinich "far left" -- he is closer to Bernie Sanders than he is to Russ Feingold. If nothing else, his "Department of Peace" idea puts him firmly on the fringe. I believe in peace also, but I can't imagine how a cabinet-level department could effectively promote it. Isn't that what the UN is supposed to be for?

purplepenquin said...

Staying home is the wrong way to solve anything - it tells the political professionals that you have basically given up and don't care one way or the other about what happens. But voting for whoever happens to be on your party's ticket doesn't work either, because then you just get more of the same ol' same ol'. However, if enough people go to the polls in order to vote for a 3rd/4th party, then the PartyBosses sit up and take notice. That is how major changes in our women getting the right to vote...were brought about.

Alley Flos said...

It has taken nearly 12 years for Americans to figure out why Nader ran for president in 2000.
Look at Occupy Wall Street and the 99% today! This is what Nader predicted would putting the worst of two evils in charge. The quickening happened. I voted for Nader in 2000, I voted with my heart, conscience and intelligence. Knowing full well I was gonna put a Bafoon-Bush in office. Unfortunatly most Americans don't pay attention to govt until it hits their pocketbook this is finally happening for a large number of people.... Imagine if Gore had made it in office..would it have taken 20 yrs instead of 12 to figure out corporations are running this country not the people!

Ordinary Jill said...

So you really think it was a good thing to increase the damage to this country, just so people would "figure out corporations are running this country" sooner? Do you think there would be as much damage to our environment and economy now if Gore had won? Do you think we would be fighting endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do you think the Citizens United ruling would have happened if Bush had not stacked the Supreme Court? Do you think the satisfaction you are feeling now at the angry protests is worth all the lives lost and irreversible damage done? I disagree with your priorities.

Alley Flos said...

Of course I don't agree with the things you listed. However most fat,lazy,consuming Americans won't do anything until they go through all the aforementioned tragedies! Then they decide to get off the couch,take a day off of work and do somethings about it. Do I think that Gore single handedly could have put global warming in the front of any corporated driven,money hungry, stock market obsessed politicians and 1% of the wealthiest people. The answer is NO! Could he have made us avoid the abuses that the largest banks in this country did to working class Americans by finding loopholes in lending. NO! He would have been to busy with his own Democratic agenda. When will you see that a two party system in this country does not represent the people. you say that you support naders right to run! Girl, this country was founded on anyones right to run. Not just the two sides of one COIN! So no Gore would not have been the savior of these tragedies of the Bush administration. Bush got in on a governal-sp count not the popular vote. Which is a whole other issue I don't agree with. Gore could have had it but he didn't convince 10% of the progressives in this country that have now grown to 99% and are Occupying Wall Street. I am sorry and it is unfortunate that most humans don't respond until enough of us are badly burned either thru their pocketbook,dead soldiers, starving children,cancer ridden uninsured or dead polar bears and that we couldn'nt see the writing on the wall 12yrs ago. Think if Nader was in office and the twin towers were hit we would be at war? Or would he have dropped teachers in to educate the woman and children that the Taliban were not in their interest. Think if Nader would have been in office that the arctic would be shrinking as fast as it is? He is a consumers advocate first and formost professionally, he never would trust a lobbyist motivated by corporations to implement laws. This is what is happening now.Corporations run this country.

Ordinary Jill said...

I think if Ralph Nader had been elected President, he would have been unable to get anything through Congress. If by some miracle he did enact his policies, the U.S. economy would have gone the way of Greece's, with spending on social programs far outpacing tax revenues leading to an eventual collapse and severe austerity measures. You can argue about whether that would be better or worse than our current problems, but your belief that Nader would have magically made everything better is not based in reality, in my opinion.