Here we go. Five days before the election and all hell is breaking loose. Fear and loathing, but mostly fear, is escalating among Democrats who are worried Ralph Nader is going to cost Vice President Al Gore the election. Greens for Gore in Oregon are urging Naderites to vote Gore and asking Nader to pull out of the election. But a strong Internet campaign among Green supporters, reaching the disenfranchised like never before, tells us that will never happen. Nader has risked too much thus far; in fact, he is gaining in the very states where Gore and Gov. George Bush are running neck and neck.
For those who are loath to consider Bush as the next president, the principled Green Party is turning out to be the Nightmare Party. The Greens are either oblivious, or they truly believe what they say: There is no difference between the two parties. Bush in the White House would be the same as Gore.
Yet how true is this statement? Will this perception, or misperception, cost Gore the election?
Stanley Sheinbaum, founding publisher of New Perspective Quarterly, initially supported the Green Party to help Nader get into the debates. Today, he's taking a different tack.
"Nader is absolutely on track regarding the economy and corporate sector. But he doesn't provide policies or discussion on what he would do about it. And he's not clear on social issues. Nader makes much about the fact that there is no difference between the two parties and that's just not true - There is a difference [in] social issues, health care and education, and the environment. If Bush wins, we lose a valuable advantage we would have gained with Gore."
"That is insane!" says Louise Steinman, Los Angeles writer and essayist, on the notion that the parties are the same. "I think it's a mark of economic privilege to vote for Nader. He's raised great issues and they should be debated and discussed. But how is putting Bush into office going to advance any of the values Nader holds dear? It's a kamikaze approach, and it makes me furious."
"I worry if Bush is elected that Roe v. Wade will be overthrown," laments a Silicon Valley business facilitator who wishes to remain anonymous, "that the moral majority will really be the majority and we will have a recession of free speech. Women, as well as other disenfranchised people who are slowly beginning to feel that they have a voice, will lose their empowerment. It takes at least 25 years for a group that has been discriminated against to get a toehold in our culture," she says. "Let's not go backwards anymore."
But for some progressives who side with Nader, having Bush in the White House doesn't scare them at all. In fact, they believe with a Bush administration, Nader's agenda will be better advanced through a more determined grass-roots movement, citing, for example, how the Sierra Club grew tenfold under a Reagan administration.
Gary Rhine, a documentary producer and director based in Malibu, believes this to be true. "The Clinton Administration has compromised our, and supposedly their, own values in so many fields of concern that in many ways, they have caused as much or more harm than the Republicans have on their watch.... The two-party system is bought and paid for [by corporate interests], and I believe the current Green movement, in hand with the youth movement, is the best chance we've had since the '60s to break the spell."
It's unfortunate that Gore himself has not advanced his own cause with liberals and progressives as best he could, for fear of aligning too closely with Clinton. Yet the Democrats have made the most advances for the poor, despite "corporate interests," since the '70s. Ronald Brownstein of the Washington Outlook writes, "Between 1993 and 1999, the number of Americans living in poverty dropped by more than 7 million - that's a 22 percent decline, enough to shrink the overall poverty rate to the lowest level since 1979." Brownstein continues to say that by overlooking Republican opposition in Congress to legislation that would help the working poor, single women raising families, and children, bills for which Democrats have fought, Nader does not give the Democrats enough credit.
But for retired Judge Ralph Fertig, longtime member of Americans for Democratic Action and chairman of the Social Justice Committee at University Synagogue, the battle between Nader and Gore comes down to the fact that the soul of the party has been compromised beyond recognition by the Democratic Leadership Conference "into a tool for special interests that drive public policy on defense, prisons, illegal drugs, the compromise of international human rights, labor and environmental standards for free trade."
Fertig wants people to fight to regain the Democratic Party in any way they see fit - through joining Progressive Jewish Alliance or Americans for Democratic Action, by joining the Green Party, by mobilizing the social action committee at your synagogue or activating your sisterhood's concerns on gun control. But whatever you do, he believes, we must get back to the commitments once expressed by the New Deal: "Your idealism may exhort support for Nader to help build a new political movement, your compassion may compel you to thwart the admittedly more harmful impact that a Bush win would impose on those most in need... But no matter how you vote, your obligation to reaffirm the principles of government as representative of and a resource for all the people begins on Nov. 8."