Nader, buried - by the Internet

I greatly respect Ampersand as a fellow liberal. But on the issue of supporting Ralph Nader in 2000, I disagree profoundly. He wrote:

Bush and the Republicans have been a horror - even worse than I expected. But that doesn't prove to me I was wrong; that shows me I was righter than I knew. By refusing to take a stand, by compromising at every opportunity, and by being the party of no principles, the Democrats have enabled the Republicans to move further right than ever before.

I would be interested in seeing how he responds to these comments by Eric Alterman from 2000 (via Yglesias):

...elections are not therapy. Nor, as philosopher John Dewey reminds us, are they useful occasions for movement-building. If you have to start building your movement by the time Election Day comes around, it's already too late. Given the weakness of the left in America today, our elections are by definition a choice of the lesser evil. The mistake Naderites make is in their refusal to distinguish between those evils.
Had Nader taken a page from the Christian Coalition and challenged Gore and the party leadership in the primary process, he might have forced its center of gravity leftward in response to the organized populist anger we saw on display in Seattle last year. Indeed, I would have been happy to vote for him. A steady, patient challenge to the party's corporate domination at the grassroots and presidential level is just what both the party and its progressives need to build the kind of machine that can win tangible victories down the road. Instead, Nader has chosen to ape Pat Buchanan, leading his followers on a costly and quixotic march to nowhere. Too bad the poor and the powerless will be--as usual--the ones to pay.

This effectively decimates the argument that a vote for Nader was some kind of pressure on the Democratic party. The real path to change and influencing a party is at the primary level. No matter how pure your ideals, if you cannot make a simple cost-benefit calculation, you end up subverting them into the service of your opponents. Note for example Howard Dean - whose flexible, innovative positions on gun control and health care make him unique. His running for the nomination has already put pressure on the other candidates to moderate their views.

In contrast, Ampersand acknowledges that Nader's strategy was to hurt Gore, not Bush:

I'm not talking about comparing Nader's vote total to Gore's losery margin (which presumes, wrongly, that 100% of Nader voters would otherwise have voted for Gore). [Ed. True. Actually, the figure was close to 90%, according to exit polling. --Aziz] I'm talking about a neck-and-neck campaign in which Gore wasted advertising dollars and precious candidate appearances in Democratic "safe states" - or, rather, states that would have been safe if not for Nader. Suppose all those pro-Gore commercials broadcast in Oregon - not to mention Gore's appearance here in the final weeks of his campaign - had been in Florida instead?

It probably would have made the difference.

But then again, wasn't that the whole idea?

Point. Driven Home. The whole idea of voting Nader was to defeat Gore. That anyone can be consistently outraged by self-serving politics and manipulation by Bush, but fail to see (and in fact rationalize away) the same behavior by Nader, is astonishing to me. And ultimately disappointing.

I myself voted for Nader. Actually, I vote-swapped - I voted for Nader in Texas while a Nader supporter voted for Gore in Oregon (we got organized and coordinated through one of teh several vote-swapping websites that flourished at the time). The idea was inspired by an essay on Slate.

The entire issue of teh Nader/Gore dynamic however is more interesting beyond the basic issue of a squabble amongst liberals. It hints at the transformative power of the Internet on the very dynamics of democracy itself. Chris Mooney hinted at this a bit in a recent essay, where he glowingly praised the Howard Dean 2004 blog for its groundbreaking role in supporting Dean's candidacy.

Always the visionary, Douglas Adams had thoughts along these lines during the 2000 election. On his website forum, he wrote:

I have this kind of utopian idea, though, that within a generation the internet will make this vast edifice of top-down government irrelevant and - with any luck - extinct. And I'm not talking about casting your four or five yearly vote on a computer screen instead of a booth, I'm talking about the cumulative effect of all of us being able to micromanage our lives in a responsive environment. You may call me a dreamer, but (altogether now) ...

In 2004, I will vote against Bush. If Nader runs, I will again use whatever resources I can to counter that threat, including vote-swapping or whatever else I can think of. The Internet makes this possible. Nader suceeded in his goal of defeating Gore, and for that, he has sealed his doom. The Internet shall be my witness.

UPDATE: Found this old thread on Golly (titled, "Gore and Nader can both win", a concept that Nader supporters never really grasped) where I fought the Good Fight, right up to Election Day. In this thread I posted volumes of text about why I swapped my vote, because of the specific dynamics of the Electoral College and the Two Party System. I was solidly outnumbered and never suceeded in delivering my point. Still, it's a good debate, exhaustively covering all the angles, and is good reading for reference in 2004. The Internet IS my witness.

UPDATE2: grr, pseudonyms. I apologise for te gender swap :( Fixed.

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