Being a columnist is hardly the influential position it's cracked up to be.
For weeks I've been trying to convince Ralph Nader voters that they have an
obligation to vote for Al Gore or risk right-wing domination of government's
three branches. For me, it's a no-brainer since George W. Bush has named
Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia as his role models for the three to five
Supreme Court appointments he's likely to make.
But it hasn't been an easy sell, even among my own three voting-age sons,
who reflect the anxiety typical of my readers over the choices in this
election, and who have come to different conclusions.
Peter, 19, a committed Nader supporter, is the most dismissive of my stab at
"I don't feel like I'm throwing away my vote," he told me. "I feel like I'm
participating in a youth-driven movement. It's very inspiring to see an
older man fill a stadium with thousands of young supporters who pay to get
in, and it's infuriating to then see news organizations say that young
people don't care about politics.
"I'm for Nader because I do not want to compromise on issues of free speech,
the death penalty, gay rights, the environment, corporate domination, the
drug war and welfare, and I want to vote my conscience. Accepting the lesser
of two evils is like voluntary slavery. Until you actually vote your own
conscience, how can you expect any change? And the only way for me to be
heard in this system is to vote for Nader. He's the only one who isn't lying
to us, which is why they didn't want him in the debate."
My eldest son, Christopher, who at 33 is widely traveled and has worked as a
journalist here and abroad, also challenges my arguments. He resents the
pressure of folks like me who insist that a vote for Nader is a vote for
"I haven't decided whether to vote for Nader or Gore," he said. "But these
arguments for Gore strike me as the politics of fear, a crippling dependence
on the lesser evil, which will completely hamstring any developing movement
in the country for real progressive politics.
"Ralph Nader's not responsible for the alienation many Americans feel from
the Democrats and Al Gore. After eight years of Clinton-Gore, this country's
in pretty good shape for white, upper-middle-class people, liberal or
conservative. But it's a worse place to live if you're poor, especially if
you're poor and a minority. Thanks to the prison gulag, capital punishment,
mandatory sentencing, welfare reform, the drug war, things have gotten worse
than under [Ronald] Reagan and [George H.W.] Bush. Even on reproductive
rights, the ability of women to get access to an abortion has steadily
"Many of these things happened not because the GOP forced them down
[President] Clinton's throat, but because the Democratic Party decided it
could run roughshod over the disenfranchised and still win elections by
capturing the tough-on-crime Reagan Democrats because the left rump of the
party had nowhere to go. Well, that's the point of the Nader campaign: to
make a place to go."
Christopher went on, "I don't agree with many of the planks of Nader's
platform, such as his recent call for a strengthened border with Mexico. And
I hate the way he focuses on problems rather than solutions. But how can
liberals blame Nader for inciting passion among his supporters, many of whom
have never voted, instead of blaming the New Democrats for their
soul-killing strategy of 'triangulation' that paved the way for a
progressive alternative? I may get scared and vote for Gore if the race is
close in California. But I'll feel like a dead fish doing it."
Not Josh, 21, who's more critical in his assessment, not trusting any of the
candidates, including Nader. But he supports Gore because he believes
Clinton did a good job, and even though the Gore-Lieberman moralizing about
mass culture worries him, "We still have the 1st Amendment to protect us."
Josh agrees with me that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush: "I understand
wanting to get your message out, but this time getting Nader's message out
means you get Bush as president, and I don't want him as my president, so
I'm not going to vote for Nader. My fear is that with a Republican Congress,
you need to have the check of a Democratic president to prevent bad things
from happening with the right wing totally in control."
I agree with Josh and will vote for Gore as a form of damage control. But I
agree with my other sons that Gore's problems are of his creation, not
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