Why Nader—and the dream—still matter

In 1996, I wrote a story, “Fed Up? If Dole and Clinton Both Make You Sick, Join a Local Third Party,” that explored Nevada’s minority political parties. I called Dan Hansen of the Independent Americans, whose answering machine said: “There’s not a trillion dollars’ worth of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. God bless America. Send money soon.”

In 1996, I was a registered Republican, but the fierce allegiance I had to the party was on the wane. I’d gone back to college, ending my era of listening, three hours a day, to Rush Limbaugh.

I wrote about the Campus Greens at UNR, nouveau hippies and environmentalists who rolled a huge green ball representing Earth across campus. Their optimism was an attractive alternative.

“Vote your dreams and not your fears,” said the Greens.

So I did.

I voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 1996 and again in 2000. By that time, I was registered as a non-partisan voter.

But you can’t blame me for Bush’s win over Gore in 2000. In Nevada, voting for Nader wasn’t the crucial mistake it was in New Hampshire and Florida.

In 2000, Bush carried Nevada with 301,575 votes. Gore received 279,978 votes, so even if you added Nader’s 15,008, it wouldn’t have pushed Gore to the fore.

Then it turned out there was, in fact, a dramatic difference between Democrats and Republicans.

On Sunday, I watched Meet the Press as Nader announced he’ll run as an independent in this year’s presidential election. I’d read The Nation’s editorial urging Nader not to run. I’d seen Nader’s response.

Paradoxically, I found myself agreeing with both Nader and those urging him not to run or, as Ralph called them, “the liberal intelligentsia that agrees with most of our positions” despite making this “contemptuous statement against democracy, against freedom, against more voices and choices for the American people.”

On the show, Tim Russert of NBC News rolled a commercial from the Web site, RalphDontRun.net. Nader launched a bit of a tirade.

“There are conservatives who are furious with Bush over the deficit, over corporate subsidies, over corporate pornography directed toward children, over the Patriot Act, over many other issues,” Nader said. “And they may be looking for an independent candidacy.”

He continued.

“There are liberal Republicans who see their party taken away from them. They may be looking for an independent candidacy. There are a hundred million non-voters that no one has figured out how to bring back into the electoral system, which I want to try to do.”

Can you see liberal Republicans voting for Nader?

I can’t see myself voting for Nader a third time. I probably won’t.

I add that disclaimer because November seems far away. Because while front-running Democratic Party nominee John Kerry represents a break from the Bush administration, the JFK Kid doesn’t really represent me.

Yet Kerry seems able to tap into all our pent-up frustration with the status quo. It’s likely he’ll beat Bush.

Then we can get back to the dream of a third party, of voices and choices in 2008. By then, the U.S. Constitution will have been altered in order to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to run against Kerry.

(Insert long, pregnant pause.)

So anyway. It can’t hurt to nurture a fragment of Naderesque hope.

I’ve printed out the Langston Hughes poem: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—and then run? … Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”