Issue 247 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

US elections

Third way with a difference

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is an easy scapegoat for the Democrats, and for liberals across the US who cannot tear themselves from the Democrats however critical of them they may be. Nader's decision to stand for the presidency, which he did with the backing of the Green Party, drew the Democrats' ire in the run-up to the election. But it sent them apoplectic when the closeness of the vote emerged.

Nader received 2.8 million votes, 3 percent of the poll nationally. He got more than 5 percent in some ten states across the US, and in Alaska--where the rights of oil companies to drill through a wildlife refuge was a major issue--he won 10 percent of the vote. His vote was squeezed, but nonetheless it shows the thirst for an alternative that exists in the US.

In the key state of Florida, Nader got 97,415 votes--that is 25 times the number of votes he got in that state four years ago when he stood for president as a write-in candidate. One Florida Nader voter told reporters, 'I voted for greater democracy. I voted for taking immediate steps to end the crisis of the environment, and the corporate dominance of our government and our culture.'

As a result Nader was blamed for 'stealing' Gore's votes, and a vote for Nader was deemed a vote for Bush. One New York Times (pro-Democrat) columnist called Nader an 'egomaniacal narcissist' with an 'insane economic philosophy'. David Broder in the Washington Post dismissed the Green Party as existing 'mostly in the imagination of its candidate'.

Feminists, African-American activists and some environmentalists joined in the attacks. The National Abortion Rights Action League launched anti-Nader television ads warning that if Bush won because Gore lost votes to Nader, abortion rights in the US would hang in the balance. President of the United Steelworkers of America, George Becker, told Nader supporters, 'It would be tragically ironic if your dedication to principle should ultimately result in the further domination of our political process by the very forces of corporate greed that we have both worked so hard to restrain.'

Nader himself is unrepentant. Speaking on election night he said, 'Going around the country you get the feeling that there are millions of people who are really ready for a new progressive political movement. It takes a lot of work to get them together, and to believe that they can do it, because of the dominance of the two-party duopoly. We have to go into the political arena and mobilise new political civic energy throughout the US in order to come back and take our government back from the corporate supremacists who think that there's nothing they can't control, there's nothing that they can't commercialise, there's nothing that they cannot daunt. And we're going to prove them wrong.'

Soon after the election he spoke to a packed hall of over 1,000 people in Minnesota on 'The corporatisation of America'. He reiterated his campaign message that too much wealth is concentrated in corporations while 20 percent of children in the US live in poverty. The biggest cheer of the night was for when he said, 'Some say the poor don't work. Let me tell you something--the poor are the hardest working people in America.'

There is disappointment that Nader did not receive the 5 percent of the poll nationally which would have qualified the Green Party for federal funding. But as Business Week magazine points out, 'Nader also leaves the Greens with a mailing list of 240,000 supporters who gave $7 million to Nader...nearly all in under $100 donations. He engaged the young, got people to the polls who might never have gone and raised issues that the major parties never mentioned.' Some 40 percent of those polled said they would not have voted if Nader had not stood as a candidate. Those involved want a radical alternative to the present system, and the Nader campaign gave them a focus. The question is, what now for those who backed Nader? The debate has already begun. Some college-based Nader committees are now meeting as Green Party groups. In New York the Greenwich Village campaign, which was active, is keeping going. Others are joining different campaigns. All are feeling confident, buoyed by Nader's success against the odds.

A blue-green alliance?

Counting ballot papers

One Nader campaigner in the US said, 'There was enormous pressure on people in the run-up to the election to buckle and vote for Gore. But lots of people held out, and people feel it was really the right thing to do, especially given how crazy the election has turned out to be. The scandal has exposed how undemocratic the whole electoral process is. People are really disgusted. We feel proud we weren't part of that.'

It is too soon to say whether the Green Party will emerge as a mass party. But an organisation transformed in the wake of Seattle, and which began talking of a 'blue-green alliance' at its convention earlier this year (blue for blue collar), is looking to further electoral campaigns and talking of building a lasting third party. The Green Party holds 72 elected posts across the US, 18 of which were won in this month's election.

Jeanna Penn, who works for Nader, says, 'Obviously, the disappointment is that we didn't reach the 5 percent because of the federal funding issue. But aside from that, everything about the campaign's been a victory...just in terms of the broad numbers of people who are ready to now move and mobilise across the country, it's very strong. It's also prepared a whole youth movement for activism. There's another election in two years time, and we'd like to get as many local Green candidates on the ballots across the country as possible. I think a lot of people are looking towards the Green Party as an alternative.'

Nader says it is too soon to say whether or not he will run again, but says the party is aiming for a 'great second leap forward in 2002'. In the short term many Nader activists are taking part in the hundreds of 'democracy demonstrations' going on all over the US in response to the electoral fraud in Florida. 'We're out there showing we stand for real democracy,' says one Nader supporter.

Gore and Bush

US elections

The real winners and losers

  • An estimated 46 million Americans, nearly 17 percent of the population, live below the poverty line.
  • The top 2.7 million people in the US have as much income as the bottom 100 million. The richest 1 percent have as much income as the bottom 38 percent.
  • The wealthiest 1 percent of households own nearly 40 percent of the entire nation's wealth. The bottom 80 percent own just 16 percent.
  • Some 36 million Americans in 10.5 million households do not have access to adequate food.
  • The prison population of the US is now 2 million.
  • Second Harvest, the country's largest chain of food banks, provides food for almost 26 million people--nearly 10 percent of the population. It turns away around 2.3 million others.
  • Some 400,000 convicted felons are denied the right to vote in Florida, since it is one of 13 states that bars ex-offenders from voting. Nationally a total of 3.9 million ex-offenders are denied their democratic rights. This denial of civil rights hits blacks and Latinos hardest.
  • The Clinton/Gore Crime Bill of 1994 introduced the 'three strikes and you're out' mandatory life sentence for people convicted of third felonies. It expanded to 50 the number of crimes that can receive the death penalty in a federal court.
  • The 1996 Welfare Bill, which Gore urged Clinton to sign, ended federal welfare entitlements that were the cornerstone of the New Deal. Those in receipt of welfare must spend no more than five years in their lifetime on benefits. As a result of this legislation 11 million families, 8 million with children, lost their income.
  • The US today has the highest levels of child poverty of the industrialised world. One in every five children grows up in poverty, and 20 percent of all children under the age of 18 live in food-insecure households.
  • More children are immunised in Jamaica than in Florida. A baby has a better chance of living to see its first birthday if it is born in Cuba than in Miami.
  • Around 7 million to 8 million Americans are homeless.
  • A 1998 study of Harlem in New York found that on average 14 people applied for every new job in a McDonald's. A year later 73 percent of those who were looking for work in Harlem still had not found any. Nationally there are three to five people needing work for every available job.
  • Some 44 million Americans have no healthcare.
  • The minimum wage in the US today is 30 percent below its value in 1968, despite the fact that the economy is 50 percent more productive than 30 years ago. A full time worker on the minimum wage earns around $9,500 a year.

    Democracy in America?

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