Volume 25, No. 2 February 20, 2001
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Ralph Nader-Election Spoiler 
by Brett Alexander-Estes

Did Ralph Nader‘s presidential bid ensure the triumph of George W. Bush?

Did the Green Party candidate help put an anti-environmentalist in the White House?

Republican George W. Bush, former Texas governor and long-time friend of Big Oil, is now the 34th president of the United States after winning the closest presidential race in U.S. history.

Former Democratic vice-president Al Gore won the U.S. popular vote. But to win the election, Gore also needed a win a majority in the U.S.Electoral College. Bush gained the decisive electoral lead when he won the state of Florida by a paper-thin margin.

In Florida, people punched the ballot 2,911,872 times for Bush and 2,910,942 for Gore — a difference of only 930 votes.

Nader, who ran for president as a Green Party candidate, drew voters from Gore’s core constituency. One study found that two out of three voters who were likely to vote for Nader would otherwise have voted for Gore

Nader’s share of the Florida vote was 97,429 — only 931 of which were needed to put Gore in the Oval Office.

During the campaign, Bush cast himself as a "compassionate conservative." But one of his first acts as president has been to propose that federally protected areas in the Alaskan wilderness be opened for oil drilling.

Had Gore been elected, it is unlikely he would have proposed similar legislation.

Beginning with his first term as a Tennessee congressman in the 1970s and throughout his two terms as vice president, Gore advanced consumer protection and spearheaded pro-environmental legislation, such as the Clinton Administration’s global-warming treaty. This hardly makes Gore a tree-hugger. But his record plants him on the Green Party side of the political fence and should have won him Nader’s endorsement.

What Gore got, instead, was bitter hatred.

Gore is a "consummate political coward" and a "coward from top to bottom," said Nader during last year’s presidential campaign, at one point describing his rival as speaking with "a forked tongue and chattering teeth."

Throughout the campaign, Nader insisted that Gore was a shill for corporate interests. "What is the difference between Bush and Gore on corporate issues?" asked Nader during a Green Party rally in Michigan. "On the big issue of whether our corporate government is going to take over our political government in Washington …the difference is the velocity with which their knees hit the floor when the corporations come knocking at the door."

Gore and Bush, said Nader, "feed at the same trough" — the trough being tainted corporate profits. Republicans and Democrats alike, he insisted, are thrusting their snouts into the glut of dirty money.

"Both parties are subordinating their obligations to represent the American people to global corporations who have no allegiance to our country and no allegiance to our community," he said

The Democratic Party, historically a political haven for America’s have-nots, drew most of Nader’s fire.

"The Democrats," he said, "have decayed beyond recognition."

The only solution, Nader said, was to create a new party, a third party, an environmental coalition forged from disenfranchised liberal and radical factions.

This, Nader maintained, was his mandate for a Green Party presidential bid in the 2000 election.

It was a baffling move by a man dubbed one of the "100 most influential people of the 20th Century" by Life magazine.

In the mid-Sixties, when Nader began lobbying Congress to pass the Wholesale Meat Act and the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act, nobody — least of all America’s duly- elected representatives — thought to expose the lethal flaws in certain American products or to challenge the toxic policies of some of America’s leading corporations.

Acting essentially on his own and usually in the face of entrenched opposition, Nader founded America’s modern consumer movement, spurring government to increase automobile safety, workplace health and protection, and environmental safeguards.

Which makes his opposition to Gore and his acceptance of a possible Bush presidency even more incomprehensible.

Bush supports increased timber sales in national forests, even advocating that the last roadless areas in those forests be opened to logging. One gubernatorial advisor, economist Terry Anderson, has advocated privatizing Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.

As governor of Texas, Bush lobbied to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act. "The air quality of Houston is now the worst in the nation," said Sierra magazine recently.

As president, Bush will make as many as four Supreme Court appointments. Chief Justice William Rhenquist, slated to retire, will likely leave his seat to Justice Antonin Scalia, who has been characterized by Sierra magazine as "the most anti-environmental voice on the court."

During the campaign, when Nader was asked if the prospect of Bush presidency and an environmentally hostile Supreme Court bothered him, he replied that it would be a "cold shower" for the Democrats. His goal, he said, is to build a "new progressive political party that says to the Democratic Party, ‘If you don’t shape up, you’re going to ship out.’"

Nader’s new coalition has clustered around the Greens.

"The decade-old Greens, composed of the competing Greens Party USA and the Association of State Green Parties, include sensible environmentalists who think the Democrats are too enamored of automobile companies. But they also include fringe animal-rights activists and aging hippies obsessed with legalizing drugs," wrote John B. Judis in recent issue of The New Republic magazine.

The Greens backed Nader for president in 1996, pitting him against Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.

In that election, Nader did not campaign and spent less than $5,000. But his presence on the Colorado ballot helped Dole win that state.

While Nader increased his share of the nation’s vote in 2000, even he had no illusions about the outcome of the election.

Nader’s goal in 2000 was to "attract five percent of the overall presidential vote, thereby qualifying the Green Party for federal matching funds in 2004." wrote John J. Miller in the Oct. 23, 2000 issue of National Review.

On November 7, Nader fell short of that goal, attracting only three percent of the overall presidential vote.

But he insists his small showing in the 2000 election doesn’t matter.

"The truth is, you can’t lose," Nadar said. "You bring thousands of people into the progressive political community. You cost the Democrats a few states. They’ll never be the same again."

Nadar believes the presence of the Greens on the ballot will force one or both mainstream parties to modify their political platforms in 2004 to reflect the Green agenda.

"As a strategy, it is pure fantasy," wrote Carl Pope and Paul Rauber in a recent issue of Sierra magazine.

The authors note that the transformation of U.S. political parties has not been "related to third-party challenges. Rather, highly motivated constituencies inside the parties worked to change them. Ronald Reagan’s operative systematically out-organized Republican moderates in California for a decade, eventually routing them entirely. And in state after state, the religious right began its takeover of the Republican Party with local school boards.

"In American politics," the authors concluded, "revolution comes from within."

Nader’s recent comments in Brill's Content magazine indicate that he must imagine that he will once again face Al Gore in the 2004 presidential race.

Gore’s record is "rich in surrender to or support of big-business interests, including car companies, the biotechnology industry, the oil giants, and the banking, agribusiness, and telecommunications goliaths," he wrote.

So why did Big Business back Bush?

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