The last few months have seen a spirited exchange (continued in Ronnie Dugger’s column this issue) in these pages concerning Ralph Nader’s candidacy and its putative effect on the Democratic Party. Texas progressives do not have to wrestle with this dilemma, since they cannot harm Gore’s chances regardless of how they vote on November 7. Texas’ thirty-two electoral votes are already in Bush’s pocket, so Texans are free to vote Green with a clear conscience. Swing states are a different matter. Voting Green in those states could very well split the liberal vote and give the election to Bush.
Voting Green under these circumstances, one common argument goes, is a luxury of the middle class, who will more or less fare equally well materially under either major party. Yes, there are social issues to consider, abortion rights chief among them. It’s a genuine issue, but keep in mind that Bush was chosen as the GOP’s dream candidate in part because he is soft on abortion. Middle-class women are the key swing voters in this election, and there are a lot of pro-choice soccer moms who lean Republican. The most active segment of the GOP base is pro-life, but the majority of people in this country are not, and the Republican thinkers and money-men know it. Bush is not a “stealth” candidate; he comes from Eastern moneyed Republicans; his dad despised the Christian GOP activists (and the feeling was mutual). Gore knows this, which is why he feels the need to protest (too much) that Bush really is pro-life–it’s been the Democrats’ hole-card for so long, he can’t bear to feel the tactical advantage slowly slipping away from him.
It’s the working class and the poor who will really suffer if the Greens hand the presidency to a Republican, the argument goes. Thus, in the weeks leading up to the election, responsible middle-class liberals will urge one another, in the interest of working people, to vote Democratic. And what do the working people themselves say? Surprisingly little: roughly two in three in this demographic are not expected to vote in the election at all. If there were a movement afoot in the Democratic party to champion the working class, surely the workers themselves would have heard about it by now, and responded accordingly. Is it a secret? Go back and watch the debates again and focus on Gore: does he mention the decline of unions? The rights of welfare mothers? Insurance redlining, which is as bad as it’s ever been? Last year saw the highest number of layoffs in the last decade. Is Gore even aware of that fact? Go over the transcripts: amidst all those promises to the middle class: does he even once utter the phrase “working class?”
Give working people credit for understanding where their own interests lie. They can spot a movement when they see one. In the last twenty years, a grassroots uprising of evangelical Christians took over the GOP from the precincts on up. They came close with Buchanan’s candidacy in 1988, but thankfully they never brought their dreams to fruition; Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Bush this time around was quietly seen as a sellout by the rank and file. But at least they made a go of it; at least they made the party into a genuine movement. The Democratic Party has not been a movement for a long time, and no quadrennial ad campaign, test-marketed and tightly focused on swing voters, is going to convince the stay-at-home majority of erstwhile Democratic soldiers otherwise. NB