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This past Friday a dozen former "Nader's Raiders" held a press conference and told Ralph Nader to drop out of the presidential race and throw his support to Vice-President Al Gore. Concerned about Gore's faltering numbers in the polls, they argued that votes for Nader might well lead to the victory of George W. Bush. It is not an original argument. But the problem with it is that they are asking the wrong candidate to quit the race. Had they thought it through, they would have demanded that Al Gore quit the race and throw his support behind Nader.
Think about it. Vice President Al Gore has now had three 90 minute mano a mano debates with George W. Bush. His campaign and related soft money groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political ads to convince Americans to support him. He has received an overwhelming amount of press coverage, much of it sympathetic. He is a household name across the nation. Yet here we are less than two weeks from election day and Al Gore still is not ahead of George W. Bush, arguably the least impressive and most unqualified candidate for president in U.S. history. Many polls find him trailing Governor Bush. And there is little hope for a turnaround, as Bush has twice the money Gore does to bombard the nation with TV ads. Were a politician the caliber of Bill Clinton running against W., he would mop the floor with Bush's carcass, and lead him by 15 points in the polls.
Al Gore has failed. For whatever reason, people just don't like the guy, and the more they see him, the less they like him. The voters have made it clear they might not elect him even over such a numbskull as George W. Bush. It seems pretty clear why Gore cannot expose Bush for the fraud he is. Bush is owned lock, stock and barrel by the huge corporations and the wealthy. As president, Bush will reduce the tax burden on the wealthy and eliminate those remaining regulations that protect the environment, consumers and workers.
He will also give the green light to anti-competitive corporate mergers and consolidation. A Bush Administration will make the Republican administrations of the Gilded Age and the Roaring 20s look like socialist states, insincere focus group tested sound bites or a lot of mumbo jumbo on a bunch of incomprehensible policy programs. No one is advocating positions that tackle the extreme inequality of wealth and power in the United States directly, and the total corruption of our governing system by big money. Since there is little of substance to debate between them, those voters who haven't fallen asleep are making their choice between Gore and Bush on the basis of which they think has a better personality. On that score, whether it is fair or not, Gore is a sure loser.
Ralph Nader is not the reason Gore's campaign is struggling. Gore has had ample opportunity to make his case before the American voters. Gore had a ten point lead in some polls in September. As that lead disappeared, most of the votes shifted to Bush, not Nader. In fact, surveys show that a significant percentage of Nader's supporters -- perhaps a majority -- either would not vote or would vote for someone other than Gore were Nader not in the race. Most of those sympathetic to Nader but scared about a Bush presidency have already decided to vote for Gore.
Al Gore, and Al Gore alone, has blown his golden opportunity. In fact, that Gore has laid such an egg is damaging Nader's effort to reach the five percent threshold and earn matching funds for the Green party in 2004. If Gore were doing as well as he should be doing, he would win the election handily and Nader could get 7-10 percent of the vote with little effect on the outcome. But Gore has indeed laid an egg, and party hacks are desperate to find a scapegoat. If Democrats are truly concerned about the fate of progressive politics, the rational solution would be for Gore to quit and throw his support to Nader.
Gore can't win. Nader can. Without hardly any money and worse media coverage than Andrei Sakharov got from Pravda in the 1970s, Nader has drawn the six largest crowds in the campaign -- ranging from 10,000 to 15,000 people -- and these were paying audiences no less. When people actually hear Nader's message they respond, and they respond favorably. Nader can galvanize the citizenry in a way Gore cannot. He is the smartest, most competent, and most honest figure in public life today. He is a national treasure. In leaving the race, Gore should demand that George W. Bush have three 90 minute debates mano a mano with Nader in the final 10 days of the campaign. Without Gore's dreadful semi-Republican record, Nader will easily expose Bush for the ignoramus that he is. Let's see Bush serve up his banalities about favoring "small government" and "returning power to the people" in the face of Nader's command of the real record of massive corporate welfare that Bush supports. Vice President Gore should withdraw from the race immediately.
Only Nader can defeat Bush. All that progressives stand for -- the Supreme Court, a woman's right to choose, the environment -- is on the line. The sad truth is that on November 7 a vote for Gore is a vote for Bush.