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The REAL Lesson of Ralph Nader and the 2000 Presidential Election

By       Message Wendy Burnett       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   38 comments

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As a Bernie Sanders suppo

Ralph Nader 3 by David Shankbone edited-1
Ralph Nader 3 by David Shankbone edited-1
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org))
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rter, I am always being threatened with, "If you don't vote for Hillary, Trump will win, and it will be YOUR FAULT." This is usually accompanied by some version of, "Nader was a spoiler in 2000, Bush won, and just look what happened!"

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The "take-away" from the 2000 election, at least for Democrats, seems to be, "we can't allow third party candidates because they take votes away from us." Hmmmm. How democratic is it to try to prevent the voters from having genuine choices? How democratic is it to tell voters that don't even belong to your party that they must vote for your party or WHOEVER (it's the same in every presidential election -- the rhetoric is the same, the platform is much the same, the only thing that changes is the name of the "big threat."

I've been old enough to vote since 1977 (yes, I'm giving away my age.) I've been watching the so-called "political process" since even before that, and you know what I've figured out in the last 40 years or so? The "process" is to offer two candidates who are not that different, and then disguise the similarities with overblown rhetoric about the differences. Over the years, the reasons for voting for one candidate over the other all boil down to, "vote for me because I'm the lesser of the two evils," while the difference between the "two evils" has become smaller and smaller.

What nobody mentions is that whether you vote for a lesser evil or a greater evil, you are still voting for evil . . . In fact, the parties and the media are very, very careful to keep you distracted from actually thinking about this fact by stirring up fear and loathing on both sides.

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So, back to the actual lesson that both parties should have gotten from the 2000 presidential elections, which requires a bit of background.

The Republicans had been out of the White House for 8 years and wanted it back, so they nominated George W Bush, the son of a previous President who had only been in office for 4 years, and had not been universally loathed by the opposite party. GW basically inherited his father's "street cred" among Republicans, without having inherited a lot of baggage to go with it. This put him in a pretty good place starting off -- he had strong support within his party, but was unknown enough not to present many targets for the Democrats.

The Democrats nominated Clinton's VP, Al Gore, who had the support of the Democratic elites, but was practically unknown to ordinary Americans except as an extension of the Clinton presidency and policies. He didn't present many personal targets for the Republicans, but he inherited many of the policy targets of the Clinton presidency because he was so closely connected. To make things worse for the Democrats, Gore was a policy wonk, and was not charismatic at all. In fact, he was so unknown and insignificant to the voters that he didn't even win his home state.

Finally, we have Ralph Nader, a well-known consumer advocate running as the Green Party candidate. Although this was the first time he had chosen to run, the Green Party had "drafted" him in 1996, and he had drawn a reasonable number of votes in that election. He was well-known; and well-liked by consumers, by environmentalists, and by progressives in general. In addition, he wasn't identified as a politician. He was an outsider, didn't come with any baggage, and because he wasn't part of one of the major parties, he wasn't seen as much of a threat.

So here we are with three candidates, two of which are actually managing to stir up excitement and support within their parties and with independents as well. The third? Even his own party doesn't really give a crap about him, he's just "better than the alternative." The problem with that is that better than the alternative doesn't really encourage people to get out and vote. To get your people to the polls, they have to actually care about "their" candidate, and ordinary democrats didn't. In fact, ordinary democrats were SO indifferent to Gore that a pretty good chunk of them voted for Bush, and unimpressed independents voted for Bush and Nader.

So what was the REAL lesson that the Democrats should have learned from this? If you have a candidate that the voters don't care about, they're either going to vote for someone else, or they're going to sit at home and watch what happens. Oh, and the corollary to this lesson? If Independents don't like your candidate, they are going to give their vote to someone else.

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So what happens when some of your own party doesn't vote for your candidate, and you don't convince Independents to vote for him either? You lose, because there aren't enough "vote blue no matter who" voters in this country to carry an election.

I don't have many positive things to say about Republicans, but I have to admit that they do understand that the only way to win elections is with interested and engaged voters. That's why we have a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and one hell of a lot of Red states . . . Until the Democratic party learns that voters have to actually LIKE their candidate to get out and vote for them, they are going to continue to lose seats to Republicans, Independents, and Progressives.

 

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Wendy is a writer, blogger, and health activist with interests in health, politics, women's issues, and all the areas where these topics intersect.

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