dirty rag

Election 2000 - In Response to Mr Toledo - Carlton Alabaster

In his article for The Dirty Rag entitled "Spolier Nader Hurts Liberal Cause", Matt Toledo goes about predicting the political death of Ralph Nader by pointing to the folly of Perot's candidacies of '92 and '96. In so doing, Mr. Toledo engages in some creative history, claiming that Perot ran on a platform championing a flat tax, thus drawing a significant number of conservatives away from George Bush (Senior), and allowing Clinton to take the White House in '92. He then goes on to discuss Perot's doomed campaign in '96 as proof of conservatives abandonment of the Reform Party.

While I don't doubt that Mr. Nader took crucial votes from the Dems in a hotly-contested election and that in so doing he allowed George Jr. (Shrub) to take the White House (probably), I must take issue with his example of Perot, and the uselessness of Perot's candidacy. On the contrary: Perot was extremely effective in '92, so effective that he negated his own purpose as a politician.

Perot's candidacy was not based on the issue of the flat tax. That's Forbes. Perot's issue was with government spending, the deficit, and the national debt. Before Perot entered the race in '92, nobody was talking about the issue that had most disgusted voters for years -- that taxes were high, but government couldn't manage to balance its budget. Neither candidate was promising to balance the budget or to curb spending. Perot spent considerable millions of his own money to purchase air time on the major networks to explain how the national debt would eventually cause a meltdown in the economy, and how future generations (ours, for example) would be paying off that debt through our taxes and high interest rates for the rest of our lives if the government didn't put together a plan to become fiscally responsible. Perot attracted moderates, and people completely disenfranchised by both parties. He did not, however, attract the traditional conservative Christian voters, since Bush was Pro-Life, and an incumbent. Conservatives liked Bush, but moderates swung to Perot. His candidacy was based solely on government spending. With that message, Perot garnered 19% of the vote in '92, and swung the election to Clinton, who came into the office with only 43% of the popular vote -- far from a mandate, or even a majority, Clinton was elected president with the smallest portion of the American populace behind him in history.

As a result, Clinton knew that to get re-elected in '96, he would have to court Perot-voters by addressing their primary issue -- deficit-spending, and the national debt. And that he did. He put Al Gore in charge of "re-inventing government" in order to cut government waste. (He also turned Gore loose on the other Perot campaign plank, the anti-NAFTA stance on Larry King, whcih Gore won handily). When the Republican Congress came into office in '94, the tussle between the two branches resulted in tight-fisted Republicans forcing major budgetary concessions out of Clinton, (including the Welfare Reform Act), and a balanced budget. Perot's candidacy forced both parties to end the years of pork-barrel politics which was the lifeblood of legislation through the 80's -- higher defense spending for the Republicans, higher domestic spending for the Democrats, tax loopholes for the rich, tax credits for the middle class.

By the time the '96 campaign rolled around, Perot was without his major issue. Deficit spending was ending, and would be buried over the course of the next fiscal year. Perot got fewer votes accordingly. Now, Perot isn't even running for precisely that reason -- we now have a surplus (or, if you ask a Republican, an "overtax") instead of a deficit. The debate this year has been about how to spend that money, in tax breaks, paying down the debt, or on new social programs. Whichever side you're on in this debate, you owe the debate itself to Perot's "failed candidacy".

Nader's failure to draw more than 4.95% of the vote is due to several factors: first, he didn't have a stand-out issue that wasn't being addressed by either candidate, unlike Perot. Yes, Nader stands for lots of issues and good causes and he's as honorable and decent a man as you'll ever find in politics -- but he did not have a stand-out issue, other than to complain about big business, and to label Bush And Gore "Corporations disguised as humans running for President."

Cute. Really.

But Nader never managed to explain exactly what a Green President would do that the others weren't capable of doing themselves. He never had an issue.

Second, Nader didn't attract voters from the center. Most people don't see big business as an enemy. They see big business signing their paychecks.

Most people don't see a problem with free trade. Most people don't see how a Green Party President could effectively deal with a hostile Congress. By positioning himself farther left than Gore, Nader placed himself at the fringe, and ran dangerously close to allowing himself to be labelled a socialist. And that will not ever attract voters from the center.

Nader's candidacy affected the outcome of the elections. It drew the far left away from the Democratic Party, and drained just enough votes to put Shrub in the White House. But to claim that his candidacy will doom his issues is wrong -- Democrats must take him and his issues seriously, or the Green Party will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come, federal funding or not.