did not attend Ralph Nader’s campaign rally last Thursday
expecting much. Since before the Democratic primary, I, like
so many others, had made a decision that this time around
I would be voting for Bush’s Democratic opponent. I had decided
that the mind-numbingly shameless atrocities of the Bush administration
had to be stopped sooner rather than later. You know the drill.
So it was a little surprising, and either heartening or embarrassing,
or maybe some of both, to find myself drinking up his words.
Oh, thank God, someone is still talking bluntly about overweening
corporate power and the hypocrisy behind so-called free-market
capitalist patriots (but that’s a column for another time),
about living wages and single-payer health care and the existence
of an Israeli peace movement. And doing it well, may I add.
John Kerry’s performance in the debate on Friday, at times
inspiring and at other times nauseatingly like a candidate
in the Republican primary, didn’t help that much.
But I’m still voting for Kerry. Actions speak louder than
words, and what’s especially loud is how those actions do
or don’t match up with your words. There have been a lot of
people calling Nader’s campaign this time an ego trip. His
supporters argue that it’s a sad state of affairs when someone
is accused of an ego trip for exercising his right to run
for office and offer the voters a choice. They’re right. But
what if that’s not why people are saying that?
One of the worst things about the Bush administration is its
sense of entitlement. Rather than let the voters have their
say, they turned to the Supreme Court because the presidency
was too important to leave to the unreliable people of the
country. They’re doing it again this year already, attempting
to suppress voter turnout in ways large and small.
There is a similar feeling of entitlement about the Nader
campaign’s quests to get on the ballot. In accepting petitions,
nominations, and money from Republicans whose express purpose
is drawing votes away from Kerry, he is not actually sticking
up for the rights of third-party candidates. He is saying
that he feels he deserves to be on the ballot even in states
where he doesn’t actually have enough supporters to put him
there. That seems like exactly the kind of shortcut around
grassroots organizing and listening to the voters that Nader
folks like to blame the out-of-touch major parties for.
Nader argued that the Democrats should be focusing on voter
registration in minority communities rather than legal battles
over ballots. He’s absolutely right. So should he. Not to
mention that he should be fighting for instant runoff voting
and other voting reforms that would strengthen the voices
and chances of all third-party candidates. Long-term strategy
I don’t think he should be vilified, derided or constantly
made to defend his choice to run in 2000. But I don’t think
his campaign this year is strategic in either the short or
long term. Here’s my level of Nader support right now: my
partner’s brilliant idea that the Kerry campaign should make
it known that they will nominate Nader to be attorney general,
where he can do what he does best and prosecute corporate
wrongdoing to his heart’s content. After all, if characters
like Cheney and Ashcroft can carry out their agenda through
the Bush administration, a Kerry administration could surely
afford the same opportunities.
Meanwhile, I have had varying success with my attempts to
feel enthusiastic about Kerry rather than dutiful. My activist
friend who gave me a walking tour of Kerry’s neighborhood
this summer has compared Kerry to the “foul but reluctantly
necessary odor of a commercial cleaning product,” and I think
many of us feel the same (chemotherapy and tourniquet analogies
come to mind as well). Sometimes the pace of change has to
be slowed down before it can be reversed.
It’s not that there aren’t things to like about Kerry. His
voting record on many of the core progressive issues—campaign
finance reform, environmental issues, reproductive rights—while
not a dream come true, are more worthy of the (apparently
still dreaded, given his reaction to it in the second debate)
word “liberal” than “centrist.” I’m impressed with his work
investigating the Iran-
Contra affair, his testimony after the Vietnam war, and perhaps
especially some of the analysis out there that posits that
his public presentation sometimes suffers because he is obsessed
with nuance and complexity that doesn’t make good sound bites.
If any image is heartening to me, it’s that final one.
I think, in fact, that it’s not that Kerry tends to be so
centrist that is tiring. It’s constantly being reminded that
if he wins, the relief will be brief, and then we’ll have
to dig in to both repair the messes of the last four years
and do the slogging work of convincing a president who is
nominally in support of the people against the corporations
to actually act on that. No easy task, and a hard thing to
be busting our butts through a bitter election for. But it’s
one I’d far rather be involved in than trying to stop the
speeding train of Bush’s wanton destruction.