Why I Will Be Voting for Ralph Nader, Again

by Paul Donahue

15 October 2004

Since the current presidential campaign has heated up, many of my friends have, with good reason, joined the Anybody But Bush club. When they hear how I intend to vote, they basically tell me that I must be crazy for voting for Ralph Nader, again. “Didn’t Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000?”  “How can you possibly want to help Bush win again?”. Of course, it is with plenty of justification that my friends are so focused on the necessity of removing the Bush administration from office. In almost every measure imaginable, George W. Bush has clearly been the worst president in my lifetime, and that distinction is compounded by the fact that he was not even elected to the office.

However, as much as I am opposed to the Bush administration and their horrendous policies, foreign and domestic, removing Bush from office is not my top priority. It is undoubtedly a fool’s errand to try to convince someone from the Anybody But Bush club to vote instead for Ralph Nader. Just the same, for the sake of defending my claim to sanity, I feel the need to explain why I will be voting for Ralph Nader on November 2nd

First and foremost, I am of the belief that our democratic system of government is in serious jeopardy, having been largely brought under the control of corporate interests. As every day passes, the large multinational corporations grow stronger and more powerful, and their grasp over so many aspects of our everyday lives grows firmer and more difficult to break. An edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, gave us this definition of fascism, “ A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.” What does that say about our country today? Our democracy itself is at stake.

The two-party system has a stranglehold on this country, and large corporations have a stranglehold on the two parties. Through their financing of our very, very costly election campaigns, corporations have gained a phenomenal amount of control and influence over all levels of our government. It is very simple. Politicians want to remain in office. To remain in office they need to run expensive re-election campaigns. To run those campaigns they need the corporate donations, and to keep the corporate donations flowing, they need to do the bidding of the corporations during their time in office. It is a basic flaw of our electoral system. As the Democratic party has sold out to corporate interests, it is a flaw for which the Democratic party must accept half the blame.

It is like the two parties are running an exaggerated game of good cop-bad cop on us. In good cop-bad cop, the bad cop knocks you around and denigrates your mother while the good cop is sympathetic and understanding and offers you a cup of coffee. But they are both working together for the same goal and for the same master. In this case, the Democrats are the good cops, the Republicans are the bad cops, and the master is free-market capitalism.

In so many policy areas we are in need of fundamental change - in our foreign policy, in our environmental policy, in our domestic social policy. However, until the juggernaut of corporate control over our government is broken we are not going to get the fundamental change we need, and it is certainly not going to happen under a Democratic president. Yes, of course, we will get changes with Kerry, but they will be small scale, mostly cosmetic changes, not fundamental changes. Nader represents the fundamental change I believe we need.

In this election cycle, of the top ten corporate donors, all of whom are financial corporations, (such as CitiGroup) Bush and Kerry share four of them. During his years in the Senate, John Kerry was among Congress’ top recipients of special interest money, and in this election cycle alone he has received large donations from pharmaceutical companies, HMOs, the communications and electronics industry, the oil and gas industry, investment firms, insurance firms, real estate interests, transportation interests, and contractors, among others. What do these corporate interests want from Kerry? It is easy to guess, but one sure way to find out is to elect him president.

Ralph Nader stands apart from both Bush and Kerry in not being controlled by corporate interests. His campaign has not accepted corporate donations, and were he to be elected, he would be working for the people who voted him into office, not for the corporations who funded the campaign.

Second, as if it is not bad enough that the Democratic party has sold out to corporate interests, now, belying their name, they are acting in a profoundly undemocratic fashion. Democrats have decried Republican attempts to rig the coming election, as they did in the 2000 presidential race, but the Democratic party is equally guilty of attempting to thwart democracy.

In an attempt to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot in as many states as possible, the Democratic party has orchestrated an unprecedented campaign of dirty tricks against him. They have initiated dozens of phony lawsuits, intimidated signature collectors, and even called up petition signers. After getting hold of the petitions, they have looked over the names on the petitions to identify any registered Democrats in the various municipalities. They have then called those people up to ask whether or not they had been badgered into signing the petition, and even dragged some of them into court to question them further on the witness stand. In the states where they were able to get hold of the lists of signature collectors, they made house calls and threatened the collectors, telling them that if even one signature they collected was fraudulent, then they could face jail time. In Portland, Oregon alone they managed to scare off 30 signature collectors.

Here in Maine the Democratic party hired two of the largest law firms in the state to work on keeping Nader off the ballot. Not content with the judge’s ruling in the lawsuit they brought, they appealed the decision all the way to the state supreme court before letting it go. Nader is now safely on the ballot in Maine, but what if they had succeeded in expunging his name from the ballot? Would the Democratic party expect me to reward their deeply undemocratic actions by voting for their candidate?

Third, I believe it is important to vote one’s hopes rather than one’s fears. I view my vote not as some tool to be used strategically to win an election, but rather as one of the few official opportunities given by our government to really express my hopes and beliefs. For that reason I cannot bring myself to waste it on a candidate whose views are so fundamentally different from my own.

Arguments against voting for third party candidates have been used very effectively since at least 1868. The arguments used back then are basically the same ones being used today….this is the most important election in our history…..voting for the third party candidate is a waste of one’s vote …Kerry is the lesser of two evils, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, etc., etc., etc.

How different would our country be today if people had not been scared into voting for the lesser of two evils for all that time? Four years ago, to keep George W. Bush out of the White House I was supposed to vote for Al Gore instead of Ralph Nader. Now I’m supposed to vote for John Kerry to keep Bush from winning a second term. And what about four years from now? If John Kerry wins the race this time around, what will I be expected to do four years from now when the Republicans run another extreme right wing neo-con against him? What arguments will be thrown up against the third party candidate in 2008? In 2012? In 2016? When do we say enough is enough, stop voting for a lesser evil and start voting for a candidate in whom we really believe. Nader is a candidate in whom I believe.

Fourth, there is the candidate himself. While I know lots of people who will be voting for John Kerry on November 2nd, I do not know anybody who really likes him. How sad is that? In a country of 260 million people the Democratic party seems incapable of producing a presidential candidate who arouses enthusiasm in the population. With everyone I know who will be voting for Kerry, the response is the same, “Well, Kerry’s better than Bush.” Of course Kerry is better than Bush, no argument. But given Bush's record, how hard is that?

While he may be better than Bush, John Kerry is still a militarist who, as a member of the U.S. Senate, voted to wage war on Afghanistan, an action he still supports despite the death and destruction wreaked on the country’s innocent citizenry. He voted for the Patriot Act, and has very recently stated his continued support for it. In what amounts to an endorsement of genocide, in an attempt to win the Jewish vote Kerry has also publicly expressed support for all of Israel’s illegal and immoral actions against the Palestinian people. Most importantly, he voted to authorize President Bush to wage war on Iraq. The single issue concerning me most at present is our illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. However, as a presidential candidate Kerry has said he would increase the number of troops in the military, and send even more troops to Iraq. He has told us that U.S. troops would probably be in Iraq until the end of his first term. So, if Bush is re-elected we can expect another four years of U.S. involvement in Iraq, but if Kerry should win, well, then we’ll only have another four years of U.S. involvement in Iraq. Some choice.

As an anti-war activist, I would have voted for John Kerry in April 1971, back when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the disastrous Vietnam War. At an anti-war rally at the U.S. Capitol that month he said, “This is a government that cares more about the legality of where men sleep than the legality of where we drop bombs and why men die.” Believe it or not, at the time White House Special Counsel Charles Colson wrote in a memo to President Nixon, “Let’s destroy this demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader.” What happened to him? How can I possibly vote for the militarist John Kerry has now become?

America’s policies regarding international trade and investment, implemented through institutions such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank and trade agreements such as NAFTA, have a major impact on the rest of the world. As well as being a militarist, John Kerry is also a corporatist who embraces the corporate economic agenda for the world and I fear the policies that he would sponsor in the area of international trade and investment. The corporate globalization of the planet is a tremendous threat to the environment, as well as to indigenous and impoverished people everywhere. However, Kerry voted for NAFTA and every disastrous piece of trade legislation to come before the Senate and as president he will undoubtedly continue to promote corporate globalization and the extension of the American empire.

These are not trivial differences of opinion I have with John Kerry, they are fundamental. This is a man I do not want in the White House. I do not simply want a kinder, gentler version of the same policies George W. Bush has given us for the past four years. From what I know of Kerry’s history in the Senate and from what he has said during the presidential campaign, it is an absolute certainty that if he is elected president he will put into action policies with which I strongly disagree. If he wins the election and I have helped him to do so, how can I justifiably complain about the horrific policies he will surely implement?

Fifth, I am in complete agreement with almost every one of Nader’s positions, positions he has stood firmly behind for years, including. ..

·      meaningful campaign finance reform and public financing of election campaigns

·      strengthening of our environmental laws, including support for the Kyoto treaty process to limit global warming

·      a new clean energy policy that no longer subsidizes entrenched oil, nuclear, electric and coal mining interests

·      opposition to NAFTA, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and continued U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and instead, support for trade policies that are open and democratic with high environmental, social and labor standards

·      an end to nuclear weapons

·      an end to the Star Wars missile defense system

·      repeal of the Patriot Act

·      democratization of the media

·      an end to corporate welfare

·      tougher action against corporate crime

·      universal health care

·      support for a Patient’s Bill of Rights

·      increased federal support for education

·      an end to the trade embargo against Cuba

These are policies that would be to the benefit of the vast majority of Americans. And very high on the Nader agenda would be the immediate withdrawal of U.S. military and corporate forces from Iraq, a position I strongly support.

Unfortunately, however, the combination of ballot access laws written by the Democratic and Republican parties to maintain their control, the dirty tricks of the Democratic party, the refusal of the Commission on Presidential Debates (controlled since 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties) to allow Ralph Nader to participate in the presidential debates, the failure of the mainstream media to give Nader’s campaign the same level of coverage it does the two main candidates, campaign finance laws that allow large corporate interests to buy the election, and the mistaken belief of a majority of Americans that they must vote for either a Democrat or a Republican, my chosen candidate has no chance whatsoever of prevailing in this election.

So, from my point of view, this election is a no-win proposition that will bring us more of the same. Whoever triumphs on November 2nd, Bush or Kerry, I am going to be extremely disappointed with the outcome. By voting for Ralph Nader at least I can express my disappointment in this outcome and send a message to the Democrats and Republicans. At the same time I can express my hope for a future in which citizens, not corporations, make the important decisions that affect our lives.

Paul Donahue
South Harpswell, Maine