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Let's hope Laurence Tribe has a finely honed sense of irony. It was nearly four years ago that Tribe, a Harvard University constitutional scholar, saluted the Florida Supreme Court for ordering a manual recount of our state's now-notorious presidential votes. The court had declared it was duty-bound to "safeguard the right of every voter to express his or her will," and in Tribe's eyes, that was a conclusion so "carefully reasoned" he went on to defend it before the U. S. Supreme Court, touting the wisdom of that legal decision as Al Gore's attorney in Gore v. Bush.
This past September 17, there was Tribe -- again addressing the Florida Supreme Court, again working on behalf of the Democratic Party. Yet now Tribe had a curious message: Yes, all voters still had the constitutionally protected right to express their wills -- unless they were audacious enough to want to vote for Ralph Nader.
Nader's Reform Party candidacy was a "sham," Tribe argued, and keeping the long-time civic crusader on this November's Florida presidential ballot would be not only "chaotic," but "worse than the butterfly ballot, you'll need a centipede ballot." Tribe added, maintaining a completely straight face, that allowing Nader's name to stand could eventually lead to "a Manhattan telephone-book ballot."
The Florida Su-preme Court was un-moved, and in a 6-1 decision, the same judges Tribe once praised sent him packing back to Cambridge. Tribe remained unrepentant: "For many years Ralph Nader was a hero of mine, but this offends me deeply," he told reporters afterward. "He toyed with the laws of Florida."
In fact the only one toying with Florida's laws was Tribe -- and behind him, the Democratic Party leaders so desperate to avoid a repeat of Bush's 537-vote victory they were willing to do precisely what they'd earlier accused Republicans of doing: Rig the ballot to ensure their man won.
"Laurence Tribe is not immune to the role of switch hitter," Ralph Nader explained to Kulchur while in Miami this past weekend, sounding less bitter than resigned to the situation. "I think he was trying to ingratiate himself with the Kerry campaign, possibly for a supreme court appointment if Kerry wins. If you scratch deep enough with these fellows, you hit their autocratic partisan core, which reveals the lack of depth of their principles of freedom."
Autocratic or not, there was plenty of fuming from Democratic Party officials. "This case will serve to further illuminate the fact that Ralph Nader is a tool for the Republican Party," declared Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox, pointing fingers of blame at Gov. Jeb Bush and the presence of GOP-aligned lawyers on Nader's side.
We also heard plenty of attacks on the Reform Party itself: It was a disorganized shambles, its national bank account held a meager $18.18, its dwindling membership was hopelessly riven by ideological disputes, having whipsawed between Ross Perot's 1996 candidacy (which drew more than eight million votes), the 2000 takeover of the party by arch-conservative Pat Buchanan (its national vote total plummeted to 448,895), and now the ascendancy of leftist Ralph Nader. Tellingly, it was the Reform Party's own treasurer who alerted the Federal Election Commission to that near-empty bank account, hoping to sabotage Nader's presidential bid.
All of this is true. With Perot having returned to doing what he does best, making money (his Perot Systems consulting firm looks set to top its 2003 revenues of $1.3 billion), the Reform Party undeniably wields a mere fraction of its former influence. To which the only proper response is: So what?
As Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Pariente explained in her court's decision to maintain Nader's ballot slot: "We've got a declining, almost dead party. And they see themselves revitalizing with Nader -- why is that not legitimate?"
Indeed why is the Reform Party no less legitimate than any of the other "third parties" that remain on Florida's presidential ballot? The Socialist Party has, according to its state chairman Steve Sears, a grand total of seven members in all of Florida. That's a notable increase over its 2003 membership, when only six stalwart comrades rallied to its call. Yet we heard not a peep from Laurence Tribe or Scott Maddox about the Socialists and their "sham" candidacy, how "chaotic" their inclusion on the ballot would be, or how Socialist presidential hopeful Walt Brown was little more than a Republican "tool."
Ditto for the Socialist Workers Party, whose 2004 presidential contender, Róger Calero, admitted to Kulchur that his group had only "a few hundred" members in the entire country. Moreover, lacking citizenship, Calero couldn't serve even if elected. Yet Calero's presence on the Florida ballot doesn't seem to bother the Democrats; neither does the Constitution Party, the Nader-less Green Party, or the Libertarian Party, all of whose candidates' names will appear right alongside Bush and Kerry throughout the state, and all of whose parties tallied more than those crucial 537 votes in 2000.
In the eyes of Kerry's strategists, apparently, the supporters of these other third parties are too alienated from the mainstream political process to ever contemplate voting for a Democrat. However, Nader's admirers -- the college students and grassroots liberal activists who were once thought to be a solid part of the Democratic base -- would seem to be viewed as a different breed, one best treated like small children too clueless to be left to their own devices. Put Nader's name on the ballot and they'll be lured away like errant toddlers enticed into a stranger's car by a piece of candy.Remove Nader from the picture and -- presto! -- his erstwhile boosters will come rushing back to the fold. What was that about respecting the voters' will?
"I wish Scott Maddox would tell the tens of thousands of Floridians who want to vote for us that they are ösham' supporters," Nader scoffs, "especially since those are the very supporters he wants to get for Kerry/Edwards by keeping us off the ballot." As for being a Republican stalking horse, Nader is equally dismissive, though clearly he'll take his votes wherever he can find them.
"We have rejected Republican help in the three or four states where it has presented itself," he says. "If the Republicans really wanted to get us on 50 state ballots, they could've done so spending a quarter of the money that the Democrats have spent trying to exclude us." It's this state-by-state struggle that seems to vex Nader more than anything else, particularly when he finds himself squaring off against the same quarters who have been using the 2000 election debacle and its recount irregularities as a rallying cry. "They all say ballot-access barriers shouldn't be burdensome," he gripes, "but when it comes to a cutting-edge partisan demand, they often shove aside their civil liberties philosophy in return for bolstering a form of political bigotry -- which is what the Democrats are directing toward us."
"I told Kerry nine weeks ago on the phone, there are a lot of dirty tricks being done in your name and you better look into it," Nader continues. "Terry McAuliffe" -- the Democratic National Committee chairman --"told me he was going to fight me in the close states and get me off the ballots. Right off! This isn't hearsay -- he said it to me personally!"
Sure enough, Nader adds, he's seen what he terms a "mini-Watergate" unfold, with the Democratic Party or its thinly veiled surrogates employing every tactic imaginable to challenge his ballot status nationally. And just like Richard Nixon, he believes "Kerry is going to pay a bigger price after the election.... The phony lawsuits were unbelievable. I mean, arguments like 550 signatures were gathered by an ex-felon who hasn't paid a $400 fine to the State of Arizona. Therefore, strike the signatures!" Evidently Democrats believe the civil rights of ex-felons should be restored, unless they're working for Nader. "Some 1400 signatures in Arizona didn't have the county listed, although they had their name, street address, and city. So strike 'em! Can you believe these people? They're tools of corporate supremacists, just as much as the Republicans."
Nader's favorite example? When the Democratic Party hired a Michigan company to check the validity of thousands of his ballot-petition signers, the company outsourced its phone-bank work to India.
Any conversation with Ralph Nader ends with a reminder of hard-nosed electoral math. Consistently polling at two to three percent across the nation, Nader's chances of stepping forward to take the presidential oath of office on January 20, 2005, are slim to none. Nonetheless the Republican and the Democratic Party's leadership are taking actions that indicate they believe Florida's final results will be just as close as in 2000: Both parties not only have large, experienced legal staffs in place across the state, they've already quietly begun fundraising for the inevitable recount effort. In that light, might a Nader vote actually be, in the words of Scott Maddox, nothing more than "a vote for George Bush"?
If George W. Bush is re-elected by a handful of votes in Florida, will your campaign still have been worth it?
"Oh, yes!" Nader thunders back without missing a beat. "We're pushing the Democrats to take better positions --- a living wage, health insurance for all, getting out of Iraq. The old Democratic Party wouldn't have to be told."
You won't mind being blamed for having caused a second Democratic presidential nominee to go down in defeat?
"Of course not. If Kerry doesn't win, it's because Kerry blew the election six different ways when he should've landslided the worst anti-people, pro-corporate president in modern American history."
With a sigh of exasperation, Nader flips the script: "The press keeps saying to me: 'Why are you running?' I say, öBecause at your finest moments, I take you seriously.' The same media that has meticulously documented corporate crimes, the defrauding of consumers, corporate welfare abuses, environmental damage, and the outsourcing of jobs deserves to be taken seriously by at least one campaign. Why else are you writing these exposés? Are your stories just for your own edification? Nothing happens after you write them. Our democracy is so weakened that you don't get prosecutions, hearings, or regulatory actions. The least you should be grateful for is that we're trying to change the dynamics of the political system so that it can deal with the corporatists who have taken over."
To be sure, there are plenty of good reasons not to vote for Ralph Nader on November 2. Perhaps you feel that ousting Bush is an immediate priority second to none. Or perhaps -- and here's a truly radical notion -- you just believe that Ralph Nader wouldn't make a very good president, regardless of how admirable some of his positions are. No thanks to Laurence Tribe and his ilk, Florida's voters can still take the revolutionary step of deciding for themselves.