You will probably only find this column interesting if you are deciding between Vice President Al Gore and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. If youre set on Texas Gov. George W. Bush, then, well, you can just go back to whatever you were doing before - probably cutting checks to wealthy CEOs. No, just kidding. Read on - theres important information for Bush supporters at the very end.
I want to vote for Nader, but people keep telling me theres a problem with that.
In Michigan, Gore and Bush are in a statistical dead heat. This means that either one could win, depending on a relatively small number of swing voters, the barometric pressure on Election Day, phase of the moon, etc. Furthermore, either candidate needs Michigans 18 we-could-go-either-way electoral votes or electoral gold, which they call it, to win. As Michigan goes, so goes the nation.
I think thats unspeakably cool. In Michigan, our votes will really make a difference. Indeed, they could decide the election. So wheres the problem, you ask? Or rather, whos the problem? Some of the most notable Democrats - as reported in Wednesdays New York Times - will tell you its Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Nader, they say, could play the spoiler in a swing state like Michigan, because he attracts voters who would otherwise vote for Gore. As a result, too many votes for Nader - the most progressive candidate - could elect Bush - the least.
Well, theyre right.
But the real question is, does that matter? I dont think so. Its easy to get sucked into the argument - implicit in the way the major candidates talk - that the next president will decide the very course of our nation. Thats not true, of course, and never has been.
We tend to give leaders too much credit: Bill Clinton isnt responsible for our current economic free-for-all, just as George W. Bush isnt responsible for the awful toxicity of the Texas skies. They each contributed, of course - either positively or negatively - but the causes of those conditions were initiated years before they took office, and maybe even years before they were born.
History is complex, and it takes a long time to happen. Thats a good thing, in general. It means that even if George W. Bush is elected in November, things will probably be OK. Four, or even (shudder) eight years of Bush would not be a tragedy. The big U.S. machine will keep running.
Similarly, four or eight years of Al Gore wouldnt suddenly transform the United States into a next-generation super nation with zero-emissions automobiles and social justice for all. No, it would probably be a lot like the Clinton presidency, though with fewer shenanigans. But there is a sense that the Clinton administration, which includes Gore, dont forget, has spent a lot of time just fiddling with knobs. Eight years later, the big U.S. machine still works the same way.
Real change, structural change, takes a long time. The Civil Rights Movement was a decades-long process with roots in the previous century. The World Wide Web has only been around since the early 90s, and it hasnt changed our lives yet. Look instead at television, which has been around for more than 60 years and has utterly remolded our expectations for entertainment, news and - especially interesting in this context - political candidates.
So, if we want to change the way the big U.S. machine works, weve got to think long-term. What would we like to see in 50 years, not five, and what can we start doing today to make that happen? Personally, I would like to see an expanded political arena that includes more than just two major corporate-funded parties. I would love to see a Green Party candidate with a real shot at the presidency, which Nader is not, by the way, in 2048. Maybe my grandkids could elect a Green president in 2100. But thats got to start somewhere.
Thats why voting for Nader is a good idea. If Nader gets 5 percent of the national vote - which is what hes polling, on average - that means federal matching funds for the Green Party in 2004. Thats a start.
Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense from the Reagan administration, has gone on the record saying that 20 percent of the U.S. military budget, which is more than $60 billion, could be cut immediately without jeopardizing national security in any way. Nader supports this. Thats a start toward a realistic government balance sheet, with stronger support for social programs.
Do you think thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert are a silly thing to have around in the 21st century, and that a president should make multilateral nuclear arms reduction and eventual elimination a top foreign policy goal? Nader does. Thats a start toward a more secure international community.
More than 40 million Americans, including 29 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds, dont have health insurance. Some people find that unacceptable and dont believe that profit-driven private health insurance companies are able or willing to tackle the challenge of universal coverage. Nader agrees. Thats a start toward guaranteed health care for all Americans.
The state of the campaign finance system is indefensible, and promises of reform from candidates who have benefited most from its excesses are dubious at best. Nader has never used any so-called soft money, and he supports voluntary public campaign financing. Thats a start toward a more engaged political process where money doesnt necessarily equal victory.
I dont agree with Ralph Nader on everything. I think his stance on international trade is overly restrictive and ignores - here it comes again - the long-term benefits of free-trade policies. I think hes overly, even obsessively, harsh on corporations. But I agree with him more than I disagree. More importantly, I think support for the Green Party in 2000 is one of the best ways to work toward change in 2048, or 2100.
If you think Gore is the candidate for you, then by all means, vote for him. Tell your friends to do it, too, so that Gore wins in November.
But if you think Nader most closely represents your beliefs, then dont vote strategically. Vote your conscience. Dont think about the big picture, about who will win this presidential election. Think instead about the really big picture: Who will win the next election, and the one after that, and the one after that? Think long-term. Thats where real change comes from.
And finally, if you think Bush is the best candidate this time around, then remember the election is on Nov. 8. I repeat, the election is on Nov. 8. Better get lots of rest the day before so you can get up bright and early to vote for your man George.
Robin Sloan, a State News undergraduate columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.