mercredi, octobre 27, 2004

Political Realism or The Case Against Ralph Nader

A couple of years ago, Winona LaDuke, spoke at my church. My plan was to give her a piece of my mind. I really felt (and still feel) that Bush would not be President today if not for the Nader/LaDuke candidacy. I maintain – even while I hope that I am wrong – that Nader will impact the result again – even if he makes it easier to dispute the result.

Anyway, I listened to Ms. LaDuke speak, and I was blown away. She was so soft spoken and so shy - she rubbed her necklace gently throughout her presentation. And just like a challenging book commands more of your attention, her words were tremendously compelling and memorable because we had to strain to hear them. Winona LaDuke is a beautiful person with an awesome spirit, and I’m pretty sure that had I seen her speak during her 2000 candidacy, not only would I have voted for her, I probably would have campaigned for Nader/LaDuke too.

But I digress. The web is filled with open letters and articles and posts and sites that are all pointed toward making the case against a Nader candidacy, and it is a compelling case. There is not much to add to the argument, so I’d like to add my own general idea to the conversation by talking about my voting philosophy - which I call political realism.

In the strictest sense, I would venture a guess that very few of us have voted for our perfect candidate. There are so many issues out there, and the chances that a person will support a candidate who agrees with them on all the issues are slim and none. This is especially true if you get into questions of extent. For example, a voter might agree with a candidate that gun control is a bad idea, but the candidate may draw the line at armor piercing bullets while the voter might not.

At some point, most voters make compromises and engage in an analysis that is simultaneously complex and simple. I think it goes like this:

First, which candidate most closely matches my stance on the issues?

Second, does that candidate have a chance to win?

Third, of those candidates who have a chance to win, which one most closely matches my stance on the issues?

Fourth, in order to support that candidate, do I give up so much on my key issues, that it is not worthwhile?

Fifth, by supporting the original candidate that most closely matches my stance on the issues, do I run the risk of electing a candidate who does not support my stance on key issues?

So, to apply this reasoning to Ralph Nader, I would probably conclude in the following way:

First, I might say of the 73 Presidential candidates, Ralph Nader most closely matches my stance on the issues (hypothetically).

Second, Ralph Nader does not have a chance to win (he’s not on the ballot in all 50 states).

Third, of the remaining viable candidates, John Kerry most closely matches my stance on the issues.

Fourth, in order to support John Kerry, I do not give up so much on my key issues that I might as well vote for Nader.

Fifth, by supporting Nader, I would run the risk of electing George Bush who does not support my stance on the issues.

So that's what I call political realism. There are some key sacrifices that must be made for this approach. We all have to do the best we can. The biggest sacrifices, of course, are that we never get a multi-party system, we never get the candidates of our dreams, we potentially are less excited about our suffrage, and we can count on having our hearts broken even if our (compromise) candidate wins (Clinton signed NAFTA, Wellstone voted for the Defense of Marriage Act). It becomes damage control, which is never as sexy or as compelling as like-mindedness or love or passion.

Someday, perhaps, we will have a multi-party system where it is easier to vote, ending the analysis after the first question: "which candidate most closely matches my stance on the issues?". Until that day, most voters have to live in the real world. We all have to get as much as we can, and that requires compromise and letting some things go in order to keep others.

It is sad, but true that voters who support Nader may vote for the person who most closely matches their stance on the issues, but, in so doing, they run the very real risk – we know it from the 2000 campaign – of undercutting the very policies that inspired their support for Nader in the first place.