I just glanced at a headline about a poll of Nader supporters (I don’t care for polls, so I won’t bother with a link or with the specifics). It will suffice to say that the language of the headline was in tune with the rest of the discourse that I usually see about Nader and his supporters in the progressive media: the assumption is that they are delusional cranks and misfits who are sucking votes away from this cycle’s Democratic hopeful. I am reminded of the vitriol heaped upon Nader and Nader supporters since the 2000 debacle in Florida (“He gave the election to Bush!” “Are you Naderites happy now? You put Bush into office!”)

Though I will not vote for Ralph Nader this time, I must give the man his respect (as I do to all who would still vote for him this time). First of all, Nader supporters didn’t ‘give’ the election to Bush. Gore won the election, and had it stolen by both the Bush campaign crew (that story is now public record) and the right-wing-dominated U.S. Supreme Court. For Gore supporters– and Bush nay-sayers alike– blaming Nader and his supporters for the 2000 debacle is a supreme cop-out. It allows them to conveniently ignore the fact that they accepted the stolen outcome of the 2000 election. They may not have liked it, but they accepted it. Blaming Nader and his voters for ‘giving votes to Bush’ is easier than admitting that you live in a corrupted democracy, and it is easier than admitting that all the horrors visited upon us and the world by the Bushies are partly your responsibility, because you sat on your ass and did nothing while the highest office in the most powerful country ever was wrongfully and illegally handed to the worst possible group of thieves and corporate murderers.

I share this culpability, because I didn’t do more to agitate with my then-congressmen and senators to fight against Dubya’s coronation. However, for what little it is worth, I have never accepted the legitimacy of the Bush administration, and I have never taken anything they have offered up at face value. “Cheater’s proof,” indeed: if 9/11, the skyrocketing budget deficit, the debacle in Iraq, and the giveaways to the superwealthy aren’t enough to make you doubt the validity of the Bushies, then I don’t care what would.

Another point about Nader that seems to escape those too focused on the Bushies’ myriad transgressions is this: in spite of the bipartisan efforts– largely successful– to tarnish and marginalize Nader, ol’ Ralph actually tries to represent an honest chance for change from the usual downward spiral of forcing ourselves to choose between two evils. For those who were willing in 2000 to give their Clinton love to Al Gore, keep in mind that Clinton didn’t exactly push the country toward a progressive nirvana. I like to think of affable old Bill as the most effective Republican president to ever enter the White House. Clinton successfully sold right-wing policies– ‘welfare reform’; expansion of government police powers; generous, corporate-friendly ‘trade’ arrangements; etc.– by skillfully adorning his administration in a veneer of rainbow populism. Ralph Nader, though not exactly a progressive in every cultural sense, saw through the Clinton sham. He tried to do something about in the most dramatic way available to him. What thanks does he get? For all his faults, I think Nader deserves better than to be reduced to the caricature of an election spoiler. That reduction, though, says a lot more about the reducers than the reducee.

Thanks to our thoroughly corrupted political process, we are now herded toward the possibility of a John Kerry presidency based on the now-proven-faulty logic rationalization that because the Republicans are worse, we must accept that the Democrats are bad. Instead of picking on Nader and his supporters, perhaps we should all try and catch their thunder after Nov. 2. If we are fortunate enough to get rid of the Bushies by 2005, then we should lean really hard on the Kerry administration to try not only to undo the damage done by the neocon fascists, but also to try and get this country to live up to its more lofty ideals (for a change). I’m not holding my breath on any of that, of course.

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