Democrats, Blame Yourselves
by John Turri

February 24, 2004

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Democrats have no one to blame but themselves.

 A year ago, you might have thought that the Democrats would at least nominate someone who hadn't voted in favor of the PATRIOT [sic] Act and for giving George Bush carte blanche in Iraq.  Sadly, you would have been wrong.

If enough Democrats had really wanted Ralph Nader to not run, they could have prevented it. They should have thought twice about throwing their support behind Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, Clark, or "Republicrat" Joe Lieberman. If Kucinich or Dean were poised to win the nomination, Nader would have chosen to sit this one out. After all, Nader virtually endorsed Kucinich, and expressed admiration for what Dean was doing.

If Nader ends up "throwing the election to Bush," which seems monumentally unlikely at this point, then I will blame the Democrats for pursuing the wrong strategy, namely, selecting a nominee and platform unfit to ward off an independent Nader candidacy on their left flank.  It's not as if universal healthcare is an unpopular proposal.  It's not as if fully funded post-secondary education for young Americans (or child care, or even decent preschool for that matter) would turn people off. And it's not as if people wouldn't want to stop global warming if they were told the truth about the threat it poses to them. If the Democratic party would just make these sorts of issues central to its platform and nominate a candidate who would make them a centerpiece of his or her campaign, it would surely make Nader more amenable to deferring to the Democratic nominee if things are looking bad come November. More importantly, it would make a Nader candidacy that much less attractive to progressives and other decent folk, and hence that much less threatening to the Democratic nominee in the first place.

In other words, now that they know Nader is going to run, the Democrats have ample time and opportunity to do what needs to be done between now and November to make sure that Nader does not pose a serious threat to their chances of taking back the White House.  It is perfectly obvious what needs to be done.  There is no excuse for being unable to see this right now and to start taking the necessary precautions right now.  If they fail, they have no one to blame but themselves.  And it's difficult to overestimate the potential costs of failure this time.

Being a thoroughgoing pragmatist about matters political, I'm perfectly willing to throw my support behind the Democrat, and encourage others to do the same, if circumstances dictate. For example, if (when?) Karl Rove decides that it's time to yank Bin Laden out from his mountainside abode in Pakistan, all bets are off.

Setting aside such possibilities, as things stand right now, I intend to vote for Nader if his name is on the ballot (unless Kucinich somehow ends up as the Democratic nominee). I intend to support his candidacy unless and until the following scenario presents itself as likely: the election comes down to who wins Rhode Island (where I live), and Rhode Island is not clearly in the Democratic column. Needless to say, this is also monumentally unlikely, so I don't foresee myself donning "Kerry '04!" or "Edwards for President!" paraphernalia anytime in the next 8 1/2 months (or anytime thereafter, for that matter).

In the meantime, I urge Ralph Nader and those of us supporting him to keep the following principle in mind, proposed of late by a respected political philosopher.  Let's call it "the spoiler principle":  "Progressive challengers should run with vigor, but throw their support to the Democrats if it becomes too likely that they could swing the election (in this case, to Bush) without any serious chance of winning."

John Turri is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at Brown University.  He can be reached at: John_Turri@Brown.edu or through his blog.

Other Articles by John Turri

* A Progressive Case for Dean? Not Yet, Kucinich Is Still Our Man







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