Name the politicians: A mainstream Democratic presidential candidate who is competent and experienced, yet flawed and uninspiring. A Republican opponent with dubious qualifications. And a proud progressive complicating the electoral equation.
No, we’re not talking Clinton, Trump and Sanders. We’re talking Gore and Bush. And in the wake of Bernie’s lukewarm endorsement of Hillary, we’re talking the one word that diehard Sanders supporters need to remember: Nader.
With everything at stake in 2016, Ralph Nader’s role in the 2000 presidential election merits emphasis, perhaps particularly for millennials. Sixteen years ago, Nader inadvertently helped usher George W. Bush into office. Today, Sanders supporters could conceivably ensure the election of the demagogic, race-baiting Donald Trump, with whom even the disastrous Bush pales in comparison.
The need to recall Nader hit home for me recently when chatting with a few friends, politically aware twenty-somethings. They educated me (an early sixty-something) on all sorts of matters, ranging from race relations to gender identity to tech innovation.
On the other hand, too young to vote in 2000, those very astute individuals were surprisingly unschooled on what went down that year. Many of the 70 million millennials who also came of age after that election may be in the same boat.
So, to briefly recap:
- Without Nader in the race, drawing nearly 100,000 votes in Florida when Bush won the state by only 537, Gore would have captured its electoral votes and thus the presidency. Polling data and common sense suggest that more Nader voters favored Gore over Bush as a second choice, a potential net gain of 26,000 in Florida according to one analysis.
- Gore also might well have won New Hampshire and the presidency, but for Nader.
- Finally, by poo-pooing the differences between the two major candidates, Nader arguably drew votes and support away from the Gore across the country.
And the price we paid via the Bush presidency? It includes:
- That little thing called the Iraq War.
- That other little thing called the 2007 Financial Crisis.
- The atrocious response to Hurricane Katrina.
- The Supreme Court, its conservative majority sustained by Bush appointees Roberts and Alito, gutted campaign finance reform, facilitated voter suppression and delivered many more dismal decisions.
Now, Nader was not solely to blame for the election results. Gore ran a lousy campaign. The Supreme Court delivered an egregious ruling that in effect picked Bush to be President.
And yes, the historical parallels are far from precise. Nader was the Green Party candidate to the end then, while Bernie has bowed out of the Democratic contest. But some Sanders supporters seem so angry over his loss that they will abstain or, like the Naderites, go with the Greens come November.
For all of her flaws, a Clinton presidency will benefit women, minorities, the poor and many others at home and abroad. Even at her worst, she offers a half a loaf of progress.
Compare that to the toxic stew of a Trump triumph. Pick your poison for where he’d inflict the greatest harm. The many thousands of Americans or innocent foreigners who could die due to his ignorance-based foreign policy? The Supreme Court, via his appointments denying that institution a progressive majority for the first time in nearly a half-century? Latinos? Muslims? Women? Climate change? The economy? The rule of law? Our very democracy?
So, back to that word, and the lesson it holds for diehard Sanders supporters: especially in view of recent presidential polls indicating a dead heat, forgetting about Nader means forgetting that an election and the course of history can hinge on a handful of votes.
And a vote for Clinton? It means the life or livelihood you save could be your own…or that of someone far less fortunate.