Rebutting Gloria Steinem

B. Deutsch ennead at
Mon Oct 30 01:57:14 PST 2000

What follows is a different "Steinem rebuttal" I've seen, which I was more impressed with. --BD

Yet another person I admire has taken up the Gore cause, putting forth "Ten Reasons Why I'm Not Voting for Nader." I would like to share my response with you.
> 10. He's not running for President. He's running for federal matching funds
> for the Green Party!

There have been candidates throughout history who have taken up longshot races knowing that their election to office, while a desirable outcome, is not likely to be their most significant contribution. One of the primary reasons that Ralph Nader is running for President is to draw attention to vital issues that are being ignored by the two parties in power, to their benefit and to the benefit of interests they are beholden to. Another is, yes, to raise much-needed federal funds for the Green Party to really grow into a viable third party alternative.

> 9. He was able to take all those perfect progressive positions of the past
> because he never had to build an electoral coalition, earn a majority vote,
> or otherwise submit to democracy.

I think we can all agree that Ralph Nader, if nothing else, has worked hard all of his life and has done so out of genuine concern for the safety and well-being of the American people. Instead of doing so as a politician, he has used the legal process, and formulated sound cases for each and every battle he's fought. He's made concessions and bargained, but only when necessary, prudent, and to the benefit of those he fights for. To call into question Nader's abilities as a keen student of the democratic process is to ignore his life's work.

I do hope that the "submitting to democracy" you mention does not mean changing or lying about one's personal convictions to appeal to a broader base of voters. A President should not be a committee or a focus group, a President should be a principled individual with his or her own views. True democracy is about hearing from many diverse voices, not changing one's voice to get elected.

> 8. By condemning Gore for ever having taken a different position--for
> example, for voting against access to legal abortion when he was a
> Congressman from Tennessee--actually dissuades others from changing their
> minds and joining us.

Al Gore's positions, actually, have been rather consistent, with a strategic evolution toward more liberal policies. He did run for Representative in Tennessee on an anti-gay, anti-abortion platform, but switched to "pro-choice" before attempting a Presidential run in 1988. Regardless, he failed to fight for access to abortion, in fact voting in favor of waiting periods, parental consent laws, and denying federal funds for abortion services, all of which restrict a woman's right to choose.

In Wisconsin, for instance, there are only five locations where a woman can get an abortion, and one of them is slated to close because the community hospital will not renew the lease of the provider. Neither Al Gore or George W. Bush will attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade because it would mean political suicide for their parties, but what good does that symbolic gesture right to abortion do if you can't actually get one?

> 7.Nader is rightly obsessed with economic and corporate control, yet he
> belittles the movements against a deeper form of control--control of
> reproduction, and the most intimate parts of our lives. For example, he
> calls the women's movement and the gay and lesbian movements "gonadal
> politics," and ridicules the use of the word "patriarchy," as if it were
> somehow more less important than the World Trade Organization. As
> Congressman Barney Frank wrote Nader in an open letter, "your assertion that
> there are not important issue differences between Bush and Gore is either
> flatly inaccurate or reflects your view that...the issues are not
> important...since you have generally ignored these issues in your
> career...)"

Ralph Nader is blunt, sometimes to a fault, but his message is clear: while spending our time on these issues we have let other just as pressing issues go unexamined. His disdain lies not for the legitimate issues of homophobia, sexism and racism, but for their use for political purposes.

The Democratic party has been leaning further and further to the right while using the social issues as a wedge to differentiate themselves and the Republican Party. In actuality, there has been little muscle to back up the talk. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has been circulating in Washington in one form or another for almost twenty-five years, but has not passed, even when Democrats had the majority needed to do so.

President Clinton's campaign promise concerning gays in the military was to issue an executive order to lift the ban. One can forgive him for opting to try a more cooperative approach to see if it would work. It hasn't. In fact, it's made the climate for gays in the military even more hostile, and many lives have been lost and careers ruined. Never once did the administration return to "Plan A," and there is no Republican-controlled anything to blame for this broken promise. Now Al Gore is using it as an election tool, when it should have been resolved a long time ago. Has he promised to sign an executive order to get it done, or will he just ask the Pentagon nicely?

> 6. The issues of corporate control can only be addressed by voting for
> candidates who will pass campaign-funding restrictions, and conducting
> grassroots boycotts and consumer campaigns against sweatshops... not by
> voting for one man who will never become President.

The fact that Al Gore calls for campaign finance reform while raking in millions of dollars in essentially illegal money is patently offensive. He also knows that he can vote for a campaign finance bill and have it defeated by the other career politicians who are none too happy to end their romance with corporate America.

When it comes to this issue and many others, voting for President is actually one of the least important ways you can serve your country. Local and individual action are essential to a thriving democracy, and Ralph Nader and the Green Party know this. Those of us who are casting our lot with Nader are in for the long haul, ready for the uphill battle that awaits us in the next four years no matter which political son is elected.

However, the vote for Ralph Nader does send a clear message to the Democratic Party that it cannot put aside its progressive politics and expect long-term support. Many Nader voters have seen the Democratic leadership become more and more "centrist" while the center shifts further and further to the right. The Democratic Party proved, by ignoring Ralph Nader's candidacy and the ideas he represents until they saw an actual threat at the voting booth, that they will hear only one protest: the pulling of the lever for a different candidate.

Al Gore has had ample time to appeal to his progressive constituency and address these issues (through actual pledges instead of populist rhetoric), but he's seen fit to ignore the growing uneasiness with his "Demopublican" politics.

> 5. Toby Moffett, a longtime Nader Raider who also served in Congress, wrote
> that Nader's "Tweedledum and Tweedledee assertion that there is no important
> difference between the major presidential candidates would be laughable if
> it weren't so unsafe." We've been bamboozled by the media's practice of
> being evenhandedly negative. There is a far greater gulf between Bush and
> Gore than between Nixon and Kennedy... and what did that mean to history?

Of the over 1200 people who have been referred to as "Nader's Raiders," just a dozen have come forward to call for strategic voting and for voters to abandon their principles in the name of pragmatism. There are differences between Gore and Bush, but the major ones are ones of rhetoric, not of action. Both are supporters of global trade treaties that hurt American workers, record military spending in a time of peace, strategic bombing and economic sanctions which constitute war on civilian populations, the death penalty, the war on drugs, restriction of abortion and banning gay marriage.

Ultimately, the differences between Al Gore and George Bush are not the issue, the issue is that there are enormous differences between Ralph Nader and both Republican and Democratic candidates. People need to remember that just because the two parties have traditional bases of support that does not mean that those bases "owe" their votes to anyone. If Gore's record and his positions alienate progressive voters, it is nobody's fault but his own.

> 4. Nader asked Winona LaDuke, an important Native American leader, to
> support and run with him, despite his possible contribution to the victory
> of George W. Bush, a man who has stated that "state law is supreme when it
> comes to Indians," a breathtakingly dangerous position that ignores hundreds
> of treaties with tribal governments, long-standing federal policy and
> federal law affirming tribal sovereignty.

I am interested to hear more about Al Gore's famous strong stance for Native Americans. I have yet to hear it mentioned.

Not so long ago, federal agents came onto Indian land and seized an industrial hemp crop and destroyed it. Though the crop was essentially inert and could not be used as a recreational drug, the Clinton-Gore administration's adherence to the "war on drugs" apparently also spills over into a war on the sovreignty of indigenous people. Is this an example of the kind of respect the Gore administration will continue to show?

> 3. If I were to run for President in the same symbolic way, I hope my
> friends and colleagues would have the good sense to vote against me, too,
> saving me from waking up to discover that I had helped send George W. Bush
> to the most powerful position in the world.

As it is, you'll have to wake up and discover that you've helped elect Al Gore as President, and everyone will be so relieved (as they have been with Clinton) that they'll let him get away with just about anything because he's "on our side."

People who are eager to assume the worst of Bush are just as eager to assume the best of Gore, when in fact, most Democrats aren't too familiar with his voting record. Essentially, Gore was drafted by the Democratic Party because they needed to fight Republican with Republican, and their gambit worked.

For a long time, I labored under the misconception that Al Gore was just another Democrat who caved in to big money. The more I read about his voting record and his broken promises, and the fact that he's been consistent in his right-wing policies since the start of his career, the more shocked I became. I would advise any Gore supporter to inform themselves what they're casting their vote in support of.

> 2. There are one, two, three, or even four lifetime Supreme Court Justices
> who are likely to be appointed by the next President. Bush has made clear by
> his record as governor and appeals to the ultra-rightwing that his
> appointments would overturn Roe v. Wade and reproductive freedom, dismantle
> remedies for racial discrimination, oppose equal rights for gays and
> lesbians, oppose mandatory gun-registration, oppose federal protections of
> endangered species, public lands, and water--and much more. Gore is the
> opposite on every one of these issues. Gore has made clear that his
> appointments would uphold our hardwon progress in those areas, and he has
> outlined advances in each one.

The fact is that when Democrats have had the chance to vote not to confirm justices whose stances they disagree with, they often do not. Al Gore and every other Democrat voted unanimously to confirm Antonin Scalia, one of the most rabid opponents of abortion rights. The truth is that Ralph Nader's spirited bid for the presidency is bringing in new progressive voters and these voters will undoubtedly prove crucial in local races where the Democrat is not currently incumbent. After they choose Nader, they'll still have Senators and Representatives to select, and in the absence of any Green option, they're likely to go Democrat. With the majority power to review and reject appointees who endanger basic freedoms, the Supreme Court will not be in jeopardy.

> 1. The art of behaving ethically is behaving as if everything we do matters.
> If we want Gore and not Bush in the White House, we have to vote for Gore
> and not Bush... out of respect for the vote and self-respect.

Another art of behaving ethically is to realize when compromise serves and when it does not. Every election since 1980 progressive voters have been warned that "this time it really matters" and "this is not the year to vote your conscience." The result is that in this election, unfortunately, the candidates' differences have shrunken to the point that it matters less than it ever has before. I find it hard to believe that I will feel much self respect voting for a man who opposes the basic things I believe in. I find it hard to accept that I am respecting the voting process by not actually choosing the best man for the job.

I want to let you know that the whole Democratic scramble to encourage voters to abandon their only viable option this November has me more disheartened than ever about the Democratic Party. People like yourself, Ms. Steinem, and Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and even politically active artists such as Tim Miller and Melissa Etheridge, who whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration, are calling for me to shelve my ideals in the name of expediency. If it were someone as principled and courageous as Mr. Wellstone who was the Democratic candidate, my choice would not be set in stone. I can easily see the benefits of a progressive Democratic President, even one who isn't as forward-thinking or uncompromisingly honest as Ralph Nader.

But Al Gore has struggled all his career to be a centrist. He has succeeded to the point that the differences between himself and his opponent must be extracted by the debate moderator like stubborn teeth. I cannot swallow this jagged a pill.

As for the "lost Gore vote" idea: Polls are showing that half of Ralph Nader's supporters are people who would probably not vote at all if he weren't an option. 20% more are Republicans who subscribe to his views on world trade and American sovreignty. The remaining 30% are Democrats. So don't assume the Nader supporter you're talking to is a Democrat; I'm not. In the last Presidential election, I decided at the last minute to vote, and then I voted for the Libertarian Party candidate. I can't even remember his name. Maybe that election my vote could have been swayed with all this alarm about strategic voting, but now that I actually have a candidate I can believe in, it's not going to happen.

The vote for Nader is symbolic and it is important, but it is not as important as the movement that has grown alongside his campaign. If you vote for Gore out of fear and then get out of the political process until the next election, you are doing your country a disservice. Despite my disappointment with the Democratic Party, I feel more energized and optimistic about our political system than ever, and plan to extend my efforts well after November 7, both locally and nationally. Regardless of who is elected, there will be an enormous amount of work to be done in the coming four years, and we've all been complacent for too long.

People who will vote Gore in an attempt to stave off the Republicans won't get criticism from me for doing so. I understand your concerns, your anxiety, your fears. But do not presume to criticize me for not doing the same. I believe that the more we lend support to people who do not deserve it, the worse our choices will get. Whether foolhardy or courageous, futile or noble, I am voting with my heart and my conscience, and I am voting for Ralph Nader.

There's an interesting analogy: the way songs are picked to be on the radio. Market research firms play a 30-second clip to people over the phone and ask them to rate it on a scale of one to five. Without fail, the executives pick the songs that scored threes, simply because the odds are better that someone listening won't dislike the song enough to change the station. We're left with our airwaves filled to bursting with mediocrity, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Except turn the radio off.

Charles Christensen Chicago, IL

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