Make Your Vote Count

The Obama campaign just sent me another video, a 30-second TV ad they want to get around to all those erstwhile Democrats who are not engaged, or who have lost their enthusiasm for a candidate, now the president, who failed to live up to their expectations. It’s worth repeating:

Twelve years ago, George W. Bush became president by virtue of a 537-vote margin in Florida. Putting aside the likelihood of fraud, the razor-thin margin suggests that every vote does count in a close election. And when we look at how the Republicans have tried to stack the deck this year by making it more difficult for minorities and seniors to vote, your individual vote becomes even more important.

Believe me, I know: I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. My friends still hold it against me, as if my single vote in Virginia was critical to Al Gore’s defeat by 537 votes in Florida. Yes, Nader attracted 97,000 votes in Florida, running a campaign that insisted there was little difference between the two parties, because they both worshiped at the altar of corporate largesse.

Even today, there is a ring of truth to that claim. Still, we have learned after eight excruciating years with George W. Bush at the helm that there is a big difference in how leaders of the two parties ACT under the sponsorship of corporations. Gore may have been a bore, but he was not a whore. (Perhaps THAT bumper sticker would have worked.)

Romney is much more dangerous than Bush. He is bought and paid for by the oil and gas industries, leverage buyout artists and financial speculators. He made a fortune selling out workers and communities all across the country. He’s in the business of picking winners and losers. And his wealthy allies always win.

Ralph Nader is the opposite. He was a champion of consumers before consumer rights became fashionable and a hero through many generations, beginning when I was a kid. He challenged Detroit’s auto leviathans; “unsafe at any speed” defined not only Corvair, but many cars. Besides being a thorn in George Romney’s paw, he inspired a nationwide consumer crusade in communities and on campuses.

He was earnest and he was true. GM and the FBI spent millions looking into his background; he was bulletproof. In 2000, he ran as the standard-bearer of the Green Party, and was the darling of the California Nurses Association, my client at the time. We helped organize Nader events in D.C., which I covered for REVOLUTION, an international magazine for Registered Nurses. Nader was matter of fact: Yes, I don’t have a prayer, but we can make a statement, he said. Why pick between Tweedledee and Tweedledum?

But he has taken merciless hits for his decision to run for president in 2000, possibly costing Al Gore the opportunity to lead our nation in great challenges – through 9/11 and the morass of two wars. Would Gore have gone after Saddam Hussein on a trumped-up charge of harboring weapons of mass destruction? Not a chance. He would have found legitimate grounds to take him out, or more likely force him to change his posture, and saved thousands of American lives.

Nader represented radical change to me. If the parties are indeed hewing to the same line, then we need a radical departure from the status quo. Only if we allow the pendulum to swing fully toward the right wing, to its extreme, will we create the groundswell for real change, a countervailing power back to the left. We won’t get there incrementally.


There are socioeconomic theories that underlie this view – from Hegelian dialectics, developed from Plato, to the Chinese notion of Chaos. The two Chinese characters for chaos, Wei Ji, mean “danger” and “opportunity” consecutively. Or in the I-Ching, a single character, chun, stands for danger and opportunity, chaos. I have that character on the wall in my office, a reminder not to get too comfortable. “CHAOS: Where Great Dreams Begin” is the legend. Perhaps it was time for chaos to work its magic.

Voting for Ralph Nader was symbolically important to me then. Al Gore had done little to win my support, except by comparison. Nader denied he was siphoning votes — saying he was energizing disenfranchised voters. “If he can’t beat the bumbling Texas governor with that terrible record, he ought to go back to Tennessee,” Nader said. Instead, we suffered under the bumbling Texas governor for eight years.

Gore went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for sounding the alarm about climate change, not to mention an Oscar for his remarkable documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Obama also won the Nobel Peace Prize – based more on promise than actual accomplishments. He has not yet earned respect for his presidency, but I believe the promise is still there.

Obama could still be a great president. I give him the benefit of the doubt. Considering the alternative, George W. Bush on steroids, I’m not going to waste my vote this year.