first published in the San Francisco Examiner, July 15, 2004; reprinted in Anderson Valley Advertiser, July 21, 2004; reprinted in Independent Politics, The Green Strategy Debate (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006) ed. Howie Hawkins


Peter Camejo, Matt Gonzalez & Ralph Nader, July 16, 2004


by Matt Gonzalez

THESE DAYS IT’S POPULAR, particularly in progressive circles, to attack presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his running mate, Peter Camejo.

Votes for Nader would likely otherwise go to Sen. John Kerry, and so the fear is that President Bush will be re-elected — a possibility that naturally engenders strong feelings. But why is the right solution to attack Nader, who genuinely holds views different from those of Kerry and Bush? After all, Nader and Camejo are simply running for public office in a democracy.

The problem isn’t that Nader and Camejo represent a duplicative platform, or fail to address issues being ignored by the two major parties — it’s simply that their running cannot be accommodated within our two-party system. So the answer, for many, is that they shouldn’t run. But why make the solution an undemocratic one? Why not insist that the system be changed?

Do you really think it’s an accident that the Democrats can’t come up with a solution to the spoiler problem? Ask yourself, have they spent four years trying to reform the Electoral College? Or calling for majority elections so that we don’t get a repeat of Florida — an election decided by a plurality victory? Why blame Nader?

One need only look at the two major candidates for president to see how much of a failure our political system is. On virtually every issue of significance, the candidates appear to be in agreement. For instance, they both supported the war in Iraq (although Kerry believes Bush is mishandling matters and would like 20,000 more troops in the region), and both supported the Patriot Act (arguably the worst attack on civil liberties this country has seen in the last half-century). Both opposed the Kyoto Accords, which would have begun to address global warming, and both supported the World Trade Organization agreements, which subjugate our national and local interests to international commercial ones. Neither supports gay marriage, and even concerning the abortion question, Kerry says he’ll appoint anti-abortion judges to the federal courts (but he says he’ll make sure they don’t want to repeal Roe v. Wade).

Peter Camejo and Ralph Nader, 2004.

So, who is kidding whom? The progressives who are self-righteous in their condemnation of Nader, or those who believe the Democrats are not an opposition party?

Continuing to excuse the Democrats for not addressing the spoiler problem only ensures that the problem will not get fixed. Excusing Kerry from making concessions in this regard before you vote for him likewise ensures that the problem will not get fixed. Participating in attacks on Nader for running only props up an undemocratic system that must be reformed.

The stakes are not one presidential race, but rather whether a diversity of ideas will ever reach Congress. Without this reform there will only ever be one congressperson with the courage to oppose the war in Afghanistan. There will only be one senator to vote against the Patriot Act. This state of affairs is so bleak that pretending there is an opposition party in our two-party system can only charitably be called foolish. I hate to say it, but it’s true.

Those who continue to say that Nader ruined the 2000 election ignore that over seven million Democrats voted for Bush — 250,000 of them in Florida. They ignore that 6,600 votes in Palm Beach were spoiled by a butterfly ballot designed by a Democrat. Instead, they attack Nader, who has dedicated his entire adult life to fighting for consumer and civil rights. He has been a stalwart against growing corporate power. His running mate, Peter Camejo, has written on post-Civil War Reconstruction and has been a pioneer on socially responsible investing. The Nader/Camejo ticket offers voters something very different.

Attack them all you want, but years from now Nader and Camejo’s effort will be remembered with Upton Sinclair’s “End Poverty in California” campaign for governor of California and with the presidential efforts of Norman Thomas, Henry Wallace, Eugene Debs and Bob LaFollette. They will be remembered as men who fought to make this a better democracy.

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