Nader for president in 1996

Bob Dole is peddling Reaganesque tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy as the solution to middle-class financial insecurity. Bill Clinton has pledged to sign a welfare-reform bill analysts say will thrust an additional 1.2 million children into poverty. On every important issue from campaign financing to environmental policy, to defense spending to trade, both major party candidates for president consistently kowtow to big monied interests. And this at a time when our political leaders should be standing up against the host of powerful multinational corporations that are busy riding roughshod over the rights and material well-being of ordinary citizens.
Evidence is mounting that Americans are fed up with meaningless choices like the one between Clinton and Dole. In major opinion polls, strong majorities say they would vote for a third party alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Similar majorities say most establishment politicians are corrupt and the government is currently being run in favor of the affluent and big business. Every year more and more people identify themselves as political independents.
So, what’s a disgruntled American voter to do? Abstain from the process entirely? Cast a ballot for homespun authoritarian Ross Perot? Vote for Wall Street lackey Clinton, or agribusiness puppet Dole? Needless to say, these options leave something to be desired. This year voters won’t have to choose a chief executive from among the ranks of the “lesser evils.” That’s because the Green Party, along with assorted other progressive activists, is working tirelessly to put Ralph Nader, trusted consumer advocate and public interest lawyer extraordinare, on the ballot for president in some 40 states across the country (including Minnesota).
You’d be hard pressed to find a better qualified, more honest, more intelligent candidate for leader of the world’s oldest democracy. For the past three decades, Nader has been the nation’s top “public citizen;” a dedicated crusader in the struggle to curb corporate power, expand popular control over the economy, empower communities, defend consumers against dangerous products and protect the environment. In the early 1960s, he agitated for the higher automobile safety standards now enshrined in the Vehicle Safety and Highway Safety Acts. In the ’70s, he campaigned successfully for pioneering environmental legislation. In the ’80s, he blew the whistle on the Reagan and Bush administrations’ disastrous deregulation of the banking industry and their stealthy attempts to roll back anti-pollution laws. Over the years Nader has helped organize countless nonprofit public interest groups including the Public Interest Research Groups and the Center for Responsive Law. Recently, he lead the fight against congressional approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a free-trade pact that already has proven — as Nader predicted — detrimental to American workers and the environment. And he has devoted the past couple years to exposing and denouncing the billions of dollars the federal government wastes on “corporate welfare” subsidies to private businesses.
Best of all, unlike a certain other big name third party candidate for president, Nader’s not a paranoid, dictatorial billionaire obsessed with balancing the budget. As he explained on CNN’s “Inside Politics,” Nader — who entered the presidential race at the request of friends in the California Green Party — agreed to run in order “to help build a progressive political movement for the future way beyond November, to broaden the agenda to include critical issues of corporate power over our political institutions, the economy and culture.” He has said repeatedly he hopes his candidacy will help break up what he calls the “two-party duopoly” which has given us such unaccountable, corporate government. And he advocates creating stronger tools of democracy for voters, workers, consumers and taxpayers.
In keeping with his fundamental commitment to people-first democratic renewal, Nader decided early on to run a zero-budget volunteer campaign without financial contributions or paid staff. His reason for this, he says, “is to encourage a campaign dependent on self-reliant citizen muscle at the grass roots, not some guy on a horse.” The grass roots activists have not disappointed. Already Green Party petitioning efforts have collected enough signatures to qualify him for the ballot in 10 states. There’s organized signature-gathering drives in at least another 30. According to Jo Haberman of the Green Party, volunteers need to gather 2,000 signatures by Sept. 10 to put Nader on the ballot in Minnesota and already have collected 1,500. She said the group is confident it will be able to get him on the ballot. “This is a statewide drive,” she explained. “We have people circulating petitions in Mankato, Brainerd, Bemidji, St. Peter, Rochester, International Falls and Duluth as well as the Twin Cities.”
But grass roots activity won’t end once the petitioning period is over. Organizers hope to generate enough excitement around the campaign to persuade the conveners of the presidential debates to give Nader a place on stage next to Clinton and Dole. “We’d really like to see Ralph Nader’s perspective and 30 years of credibility on a whole range of issues — the environment, consumer and worker rights — included in the presidential debates,” said Haberman. “It would be a crowning opportunity for people to hear a true alternative to the two major parties.”
Even if Nader is denied a chance to debate the representatives of the status quo, his mere presence in the race can’t help but to inspire greater popular interest in, and support for, the formation of a national left-leaning third party or coalition of parties. With the Democrats and Republicans moving sharply to the right, and the power of big business waxing to new heights, the emergence of such a progressive force in the electoral arena is long overdue.
Sure, Nader’s chances of winning the presidency this year are less than nil. But at least if you vote for him you know you are voting for economic justice, consumer rights and an end to corporate rule. You’ll also be making an unequivocal statement of disapproval about the direction in which the Democrats and Republicans are taking this country. Besides, to paraphrase the great American labor leader and perennial Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs, wouldn’t you rather vote for what you want and not get it than vote for what you don’t want and get it?
Steve Macek’s column appeared every other Monday. His column will run in the fall every Tuesday.