I normally don't shy away from disagreeing in a friendly way with my friends on a variety of topics. Many of my friends are not vegan, for example, and that is something that I believe in to my core and I have a hard time understanding how anyone with strong social justice convictions, which all of my friends have, can disregard as it seems to me that the connections are undeniable. I do accept that our beliefs about what Carol Adams calls "The Other" are complex and not necessarily consistent or rational. We also might disagree about a variety of other topics, from what time a child should go to bed (our son is the rock star of the group, not ready to quit the non-stop party that is his life until around 9:30 or so, an hour inconceivable to those whose children go to bed when Denny's is still seating for their Early Bird Special) and other sundry issues, but for the most part, we are a pretty simpatico bunch. That is, unless someone should bring up the Name That Shall Not Be Uttered, that bugaboo of the Democratic Party and unholy scourge of anything decent and good, Ralph Nader. Truly, his very name inspires such a (at times) hysterical response among good and decent lefties that I have learned to keep my support of The Beast to myself, because that one fact of my life has threatened to derail otherwise solid friendships. I have been told outright that I was personally responsible for the war in Iraq and other Bush-era atrocities; I have had friends shake their heads in disbelief at my seeming naivety and selfishness. [Ignoring, perhaps, the Electoral College and the fact that Al Gore was all but guaranteed in my home state.] I have learned to feel out a person if she should bring up Mr. Nader so I can brace myself for the degree of vitriol that will be slung my way once my convictions have been brought to the light of day. I tend to not bring up my views on this particular subject unless it is clear that a friend wants to have a calm discussion because I have learned that it is almost too thorny a topic for even the most accepting of friendships to bridge. So I tend to quietly state my opinion and try to change the subject.
Yet I supported Nader in 2000 and am unrepentant. If he ran again, say, against Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Guiliani, you can bet your sweet patootie that I would be voting for Ralph Nader. Rather than attack me, though, I think a good question to ask is why would an avowed progressive vote cast a vote against a pioneering Second Wave feminist? Because Hillary Clinton is as anathema to me as a Republican - she gave her unapologetic consent to invade Iraq, after all, killing thousands of women, children, soldiers and civilians - and to me she is the personal embodiment of the ethical and strategic failures of the Democratic Party. In the same way that some liberals cannot look at Nader without the knee-jerk reaction of "He Stole The Election", I cannot look at Hillary Clinton, as well as the overwhelming majority of her Democratic peers, as anything but abject, worthless failures. They were the ones, by and large, who voted in support of the war. What is wrong with these people? Ralph Nader has been an outspoken critic of the war since before troops were ever deployed.
Leaving behind my general loathing of the Hillary Clinton and her fellow senators (with the possible exception of Dick Durbin, Obama and a few others), though, I have to ask, as I did back in the day: is a democratic system a unwavering two party system? Isn't my right a voter to vote for the individual who is most reflective of my core values? Were we too perilously close during the 2000 election to seeing a dynamic and true democracy in action (we didn't really as Nader was shut out of the debates and most of the public eye in a decidedly undemocratic fashion) and we scared ourselves with its potential for a true multiplicity of views? Ralph Nader was anti-war (Gore was not), pro-choice and possessing of a critical, sharp and passionate mind. He had a stellar reputation of taking on corrupt businesses and politicians no holds barred, his legacy is nothing if not admirable. How could I not vote for him? I had never had the opportunity of voting for someone so close to my own values and casting that ballot was a joyous occasion that I do not regret for a moment. I was finally supporting someone in the political world who I truly believed in and I felt like I was participating in a real democratic process for once. It was exhilarating.
The 2000 election was Gore's to lose and lose it he did. Putting aside Republican ballot corruption in Florida, which most certainly occurred, it was a razor-thin race. (Gore technically DID win, but that's a whole different topic.) The fact that after eight years of prosperity, eight years of relative peace, Gore could not win the election handily from that goon from Texas speaks volumes about the man and his ability to inspire the voting public. He didn't even carry his home state of Tennessee, for crying out loud. The fact that voters were (almost) as likely to support an executin', coke snortin', drunk drivin', National Guard desertin' ( I have to admire the Family Values of the Republican Party, once again) IMBECILE, well, the blame for that rests solely on Gore's shoulders. Again, that election was his to win or lose: all he had to do was bunt a little and he could have run home safely. Now, as I said, there was malfeasance in Florida and who knows where else, but unless we're talking about an epic fleecing of the voting public, it was a stupidly close race all things considered. Gore should have contested that much more vigorously given the fact that he technically won Florida and thus the race, but he didn't and GWB assumed the throne with all the grace of a robber baron who simply set his beady little eyes on something he wanted but didn't deserve or properly win: the presidency. I was heartsick and disgusted the way that the Supreme Court appointed him to office, with his basic argument of, "I want it, so everyone better shut up. I'm taking it."
This is all to say that I'm really wanting to see the Nader documentary that is out now, An Unreasonable Man. The thing that's complicated for me about Ralph Nader and pretty much anyone who would run for President (with the possible exception of Kucinich) is that he seems like someone I wouldn't like personally very much. Those same traits that make him so admirable, particularly his dogged, rigorous pursuit of what he believes is right despite what those around him thing, well, that could make him on the sociopathic side. Like even if you had been friends with him for years, it wouldn't deter him from ramming you into the ground if you did something he considered suspect or dishonest. That unwavering pursuit of justice would likely make him a difficult friend to have, especially if you have any inconsistencies, as most of us do. Still, I would not mind those qualities in a world leader. I am a believer in democratic principles: we need to demand that our politicians start living up to that degree of integrity. Does Hillary Clinton? If not, come 2008, I urge you to look elsewhere. Isn't that democracy in action?
The charges leveled against Nader seem specious at best. One such charge is that he's selfish. For not walking in lockstep with the Democratic Party? For articulating the sense of betrayal and discontent so many millions of voters already felt? For highlighting the corruptions and failures of the Democratic Party. No, that was his gift as an engaged citizen. The charge of selfishness itself seems to be a particularly "liberal" one: haven't we all been called selfish at one point or another in our lives for holding true to what we believed? It is an attempt at guilt-tripping someone for upsetting the status quo, pure and simple. Second, doesn't it seem like the qualities we claim as American traits, as well as the traits all Hollywood movie heroes embody, dogged determination and independence, the very same traits that were seen as flaws in Nader. It seems to me that we don't so much admire these traits when they are applied in real life. Second, the charge of megalomania seems confusing: isn't that a trait of any one who would run for leader of a nation?
So this is all to say that if you voted for Gore in 2000 and plan to vote for whomever the Democratic party nominates in 2008 because that's what you believe in your heart is the right thing to do, than go for it. But please don't hold against me the pleasure of engaging in true democracy and voting for the individual I hold in the highest respect.