Why I'm Voting for Nader
My name is Kathleen Juergens, and this article consists of my response to an online "Nader Voter Survey" conducted by Greg Bates of Common Courage Press. I am posting it as a contribution to the public discourse around the election, not as an attack on anybody who is voting for Kerry, a decision which is their right to make. I request that anybody who is forwarding or republishing these remarks do so in their entirety, and not quote me out of context. Blessed be!
1. Do you live in a swing state? Which one?
I live in Oregon.
2. Are you still planning to vote Nader? Why?
Absolutely! For me, voting for Nader is not about
philosophical purity, making a statement of protest or
salving my conscience (although it's true that I
couldn't live with myself if I voted for Kerry). If I
were going to vote for the candidate who best
represented my positions on the issues, it would be
one of the smaller socialist candidates, not Nader.
For me, voting for Nader is first and foremost about
Voting for Nader is not just a symbolic gesture, it is
a concrete exercise of political power--in this case,
the power to withhold my vote, which is the only real
power the electoral system gives us lowly citizens.
Using this power is the only way I can impose real
consequences on the lily-livered, Republican-wannabe
jackass-party guys who have sold me down the river
far, far too many times. And as anybody who has ever
dealt with an alcoholic or parented a toddler knows,
the only way to get someone's negative behavior to
change is to make sure they experience negative
consequences for it. Not "punishment," but the
natural consequence that the misbehaver has brought
upon him or herself, as the Democrats will have
brought it upon themselves if they lose this election.
I have heard lots of arguments for voting against Bush
(no argument there--I don't plan to vote for Bush!)
but I have not yet heard anybody make the case for why
voting for Kerry makes sense strategically. "Anybody
but Bush" is not a strategy, it is an abject and
complete surrender, an unmistakeable message to the
Democratic party that there are now no limits to the
amount of abuse we will accept from them. The idea
that we should unite to elect Kerry now, and hold him
accountable once he's in office--this is not a
strategy either, but a ridiculous and dangerous
fantasy. I say this as a veteran of 8 years and 3
jail terms protesting Clinton, during which time he
did not once listen to us, ever.
Strategic withholding of one's vote can work with any
third-party candidate, but Nader's candidacy promises
to have the most impact. Sad to say, he continues to
be the only political figure who has both nation-wide
name recognition AND an unimpeachable reputation for
personal integrity, not to mention almost a half
century of real public policy experience. Plus he
scares the liberals to death, which means he must be
doing something right. Michael Moore didn't get down
on his knees to beg Roger Calero of the Socialist
Workers' Party not to run.
3. If Nader wasn't running, would you vote for Kerry?
No I would not. I would write in Nader anyway, or
vote for one of the socialist candidates. I do not
think I could vote for David Cobb, although I agree
with him on most issues, because a vote for him would
be an endorsement of his capitulatory strategies,
which he doesn't even have the guts to admit outright.
(I'm already regretting my vote for Kucinich in the
primary, for just this reason.)
Forget holding your nose and voting for Kerry--there
aren't enough clothespins in the world. To vote for
Kerry I'd need strong tranquilizers and a barf bag.
4. Assuming you plan to vote Nader, do you think your
vote could help tip the election to Bush by taking a
vote from Kerry?
My vote belongs to me, not to John Kerry! The idea
that my vote is somehow Kerry's rightful property that
I am "taking away" from him is insulting and degrading
to me and to the idea of democracy. Plus it is
factually untrue. Kerry being who he is, my vote
would not go to him no matter who else was running.
That being said however, should Kerry lose to Bush by
a margin that is less than the votes Nader gets, this
will be PERCEIVED as "tipping the election," and this
perception is precisely what gives the
vote-withholding strategy its power. For crying out
loud, people, why are we so afraid to USE this power?!
Yes, we disaffected progressives have (potentially)
the power to grant or deny this election to Kerry.
Why are we not using this leverage to demand
concessions from him? A REAL exit strategy from Iraq.
REAL universal health care, not that warmed-over
HMO-fest from the Clinton years. Repudiation of
NAFTA, GATT and the WTO. Repeal the PATRIOT Act, and
an end to racist targeting of immigrants. These
should be the bottom-line conditions we are DEMANDING
from anybody who would claim to be the alternative to
George Bush, not pie-in-the sky pipe dreams that we
plan to ask for very politely after the election.
Using our power as potential spoilers is a strategy
that WORKS! We know it works, because the right wing
uses it to great effect. The religious right, in
particular, is not afraid to torpedo any conservative
politician who doesn't toe the line on their pet
issues (abortion, guns, prayer in schools, etc.)
allowing this constituency to exercise power greatly
out of proportion to their actual numbers. Do you
think George W. Bush really gives a rat's ass about
abortion or gay marriage, or anything except making
money for his corporate buddies? No, but he feels the
need to placate the religious right on these issues.
Why? Because they've made it a non-negotiable
condition of their support. Meanwhile, we give our
support away for free, settling for empty promises and
the shaft every time. As they say in AA, you keep
doing what you always did, you'll keep getting what
you always got.
Then we don't even have the good sense to be mad at
our sell-out politicians who put us in this position,
but we take it out on our fellow sheep who won't go
quite so meekly to the slaughter. Of the many bad
effects of the stolen election of 2000, one of the
worst (which has gone unremarked by any published
commentator, as far as I can tell) was the way the
massive electoral fraud worked to obscure the actual
effect of the Nader candidacy on Gore. We on the left
have spent the last four years having a pointless
argument amongst ourselves about whether Nader REALLY
cost Gore the election. No he didn't, all on his own,
unambiguously cost Gore the election. But by God I
wish he had! The last four years would have been
5. Are you aware of the costs of another Bush
presidency? If yes, what accounts for your
determination to vote Nader?
I find it very ironic that the current ABB crowd
accuses ME of not fully appreciating the costs of
another Bush presidency. Where were all these people
over the last four years when I was out in the streets
getting tear gassed? In January 2002, not 4 months
after the 9/11 attacks, I was one of the organizers of
a protest against a visit by the Commander in Thief to
my hometown of Portland. An ABBer I work with
attended the same event--except that he had a ticket
to Bush's speech, sat in the audience, and politely
applauded to show his support for Bush's "war on
terrorism." He told me afterwards that there were a
few points where he withheld his applause to make a
point. Yeah, some point! Three years later, he now
thinks voting for Kerry is a good way to make his
There is a fundamental incoherence in the ABB mindset,
which is the proverbial elephant in the living room
that nobody wants to talk about during this election.
On the one hand, we're supposed to believe that George
W. Bush is the Worst President Ever, qualitatively and
quantitatively worse than anybody who has gone before,
and single-handedly responsible for everything from
global warming to the heartbreak of psoriasis. On the
other hand, we're supposed to accept that it's OK for
the Democrats to have supported 90% of the Bush agenda
over the past four years. Now, which is it going to
be, guys?! If Bush is as bad as the Democrats say, it
should be absolutely unacceptable for ANY politician
to have supported him or voted with him, EVER. Bush
collaborators should be ostracized from public life
like the plague carriers that they are. On the other
hand, if most of his agenda is something the Democrats
are comfortable supporting, then perhaps they should
go ahead and admit that the sky won't fall if we have
another four years of him.
The Kerry campaign tries to take advantage of this
incoherence by playing both sides of the issue. When
they aren't lying about his record, or engaging in
ridiculous hair-splitting, Kerry's supporters frame
his support for most of the Bush agenda as a GOOD
thing. He's "moderate." He's "electable." He can
appeal to those quasi-mythical "swing voters." At the
same time, I'm supposed to believe that not voting for
Kerry is tantamount to heresy, because Bush is poised
to become the next Hitler. Well, which is it?!
A realistic appraisal of the consequences of another
Bush term starts with an accurate understanding of the
last four years. The last four years have been VERY
frightening, no question about that. But these
frightening developments have all been logical
developments of late-stage imperial capitalism, and
have all followed on very specific foundations laid
during the Clinton years, with welfare reform, NAFTA,
his 1996 "anti-terrorism act," etc. (Not to mention
Clinton's Iraq policy, which killed 6,000 innocent
people per month for 8 straight years.) Bush is not a
historical aberration, nor is he a mad emperor. He
did not, and could not have, accomplished any of his
nefarious deeds without a huge degree of Democratic
collaboration. If we want to defeat Bush's AGENDA, it
will not suffice to replace him with another
carbon-based life form who supports that agenda. We
need to hold the Democrats accountable.
Should the progressive vote for Nader indeed prove to
be the decisive factor in this election (very unlikely
to happen, but I can dream) the next four years might
see some significant brakes being put on the Bush
agenda. Democrats in Congress would see the writing
on the wall, and realize that from now on, being a
real opposition party will be a condition of keeping
their jobs. Bush's next war resolution won't sail
through nearly so easily. His next violation of our
civil rights won't pass nearly-unanimously. His next
grossly inflated military budget won't be
Compare this with the likely scenario if Kerry wins,
with no more of a mandate from us than to be a
"better" version of Bush. The former scenario might
actually be preferable.
6. Various organizations opposed to Nader's run have
been running ads and broadcasting petitions to
convince people such as yourself to vote for Kerry.
What impact, if any, have these efforts had on your
These ads and petitions have made my anti-Kerry case
for me. Even the people who are working themselves
into the biggest lather trying to guilt-trip and
brow-beat and fear-monger me into voting for Kerry
cannot give me one good reason why I should vote FOR
him. Instead, they give me reasons to vote AGAINST
Bush, while admitting that Kerry's positions on the
issues are unacceptable. The phrase "damning with
faint praise" comes to mind.
7. Is there something those groups could tell you that
would sway your vote?
If they could tell me that Kerry had a real exit
strategy from Iraq, and make me believe it, I'd grab
that barf bag and vote for the guy. But this is about
as likely as pigs flying. Some of Kerry's supporters
are trying to claim that he DOES have an exit
strategy, although when you examine the details, it is
actually a strategy for continuing the war. They
don't seem to have convinced even themselves.
8. How have the efforts to keep Nader off the ballot
affected your decision?
If I weren't already going to vote for Nader, I would
vote for him for that reason alone. The Democrats'
anti-Nader efforts are despicable and beneath
contempt. They might as well just come out and admit
that their candidate can't compete in a fair fight
against Nader, because he offers no real alternative
9. Some of Nader's allies from 2000 have said his
candidacy this year is a strategic mistake. Do you
I have no good explanation for why so many good, smart
people have fallen victim to the incoherent logic of
"anybody but Bush." The best reason I can think of is
that these are indeed very, very scary times, and fear
makes people abandon reason. Plus, Kerry has some of
the most brilliant and highly-paid PR minds in the
world working around the clock to manipulate our fears
into a vote for him. It has already been exposed in
the pages of Counterpunch.com how groups like "United
Progressives for Victory" are creations of the
Washington corporate lawyers.
10. Let's suppose that you and others vote Nader in a
swing state, Kerry loses that state which he would
have won if the Nader voters had backed him and that
loss costs Kerry the election. What is your thinking
about this outcome?
First and foremost, I will continue all of my
anti-Bush organizing activities from the previous four
years, and I hope the "anybody but Bush" crowd will be
joining me. Second, I will not be afraid or ashamed
to claim the power that comes with being one of a
small handful of people who "cost Kerry the election."
I will not hesitate to use this power against any
other sellout Democrats who happen to cross my path,
particularly some especially gutless members of the
Oregon congressional delegation. If other
progressives are not afraid to join me, we could see
some really interesting changes around here....
11. Any other relevant thoughts?
Yes, on a more personal note. This election has been
emotionally much more draining for me than the 2000
election. And it's not the fact that the Democrats
have taken the gloves off and made their real
anti-democratic agenda quite clear. It's seeing so
many good, smart people around me give into the
fear-mongering and turn into Stepford voters. It's
trying to debate Kerry voters, and hearing them
acknowledge every single point I'm making, hearing
them ADMIT that their candidate doesn't have anything
to offer me, but then they still denounce me with the
kind of fervor the Inquisition used to reserve for
heretics. It's having it made very clear to me that,
for mainstream Democrats, I am more "the enemy" than
an actual Bush voter would be, and seeing supposed
"friends" of mine buy into this scapegoating rather
than question the system.
Yes, it's been a long, lonely, scary, confusing
election year. All you other Nader voters out there
(and the socialist comrades too), you're not alone,
and you're not wrong to insist on your sacred right to
vote your conscience. Hang in there, keep the faith,
and above all, KEEP THINKING FOR YOURSELVES! From
here in the lovely Pacific Northwest, I salute you
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