If Ralph Nader is for the oppressed, why aren’t the oppressed for Ralph Nader?

Here’s a piece that’s just begun its whiz around the Internet. It’s by Keith Boykin, who, as an African-American gay man, may know as much about oppression as multi-millionaire Ralph Nader. (I happen to think it’s fine to be a multi-millionaire. But as one whom Ralph’s people have attacked over and over again for having financial security, I do think it’s fair to point out that Ralph has never had to worry about his own rent or heat or health insurance. Nor his physical safety.)

Keith is brilliant and handsome and a powerful advocate. Consider his analysis, which I have taken the liberty – I hope not too much liberty – to excerpt here.

Why I’m Voting for Gore
By Keith Boykin

I’ve decided to support Al Gore for President. Because I believe that Al Gore has a distinguished record of public service, the experience and qualifications to be president, and the right positions on most of the issues, I will cast my ballot for Gore.

First, let’s look at public service. Ralph Nader has dedicated his life to public service as a consumer advocate. George W. Bush has led a more itinerant life, drifting from oil to baseball and finally (only in the past 6 years) to government. Al Gore, on the other hand, has served the public for thirty years, first as an enlisted man in the Vietnam War (which Bush avoided), then as a newspaper reporter in Tennessee, then a congressman, a Senator, and now as Vice President. With a Harvard degree and an influential U.S. senator for a father, Gore would have been assured a life of leisure had he pursued a career to accumulate wealth. Instead, he devoted his life to his country and his family. Bush talks a lot about character and integrity, but public service is a character issue too. On the issue of public service, Gore and Nader win easily over Bush.

Second, let’s look at qualifications. George W. Bush has no experience in federal government, but this alone is not disqualifying. Bill Clinton, after all, had no federal government experience prior to his election. What distinguishes Bush from Clinton is the Texas Governor’s apparent lack of intellectual curiosity. Instead, Gov. Bush’s approach to policy seems hopelessly parochial and based on his limited experiences in his home state. He claims to be a “uniter, not a divider” who has bridged the gaps between Democrats and Republicans in Austin. This may be true, but a Texas Democrat is nothing like a Massachusetts Democrat or a New York Democrat, and Bush will have to work with all of these factions in the sharply divided Congress. Charm may get Bush an extended honeymoon, but as soon as checkout time arrives, both parties will be filing for divorce.

Ralph Nader, for all his knowledge of government, has never served a day in public office. He has never had to cast a public vote, answer to an angry constituent, or be accountable to compromise with his colleagues. For all he has accomplished, Nader has nevertheless enjoyed the luxury of being an outsider and the privilege of uncompromising certainty it affords. If elected, Nader would face a legislature with no members of his own Green Party to call on to introduce legislation, support his appointments, or sustain his vetoes. Presidential gridlock would reach new heights.

Al Gore has not only served in federal government, but he has served in both of its political branches. He would bring to the White House a vast knowledge of federal government policy and procedures in the executive and legislative branches. In addition, his role as an active participant in the Clinton Administration has given him unprecedented access to the inner workings of the presidency. On the issue of qualifications, Gore wins handily over Nader and Bush.

Finally, let’s look at the issues. George W. Bush is on the wrong side of nearly every progressive issue, including campaign finance reform, gun control, capital punishment, rising incarceration rates, affirmative action, civil rights for gays and lesbians, labor issues, health care reform, arms control, and the environment.

The choice for many progressive voters comes down to Gore or Nader.

But let’s be honest. Nobody, not even Ralph Nader, thinks he will win the election. The question is whether he will cause Bush to win the election. Last week on ABC’s “This Week,” Nader said, “Even if Roe v. Wade is reversed, that doesn’t end it; it just reverts back to the states.” Nader seems to acknowledge that a vote for him may help elect Bush. Rather than deny this reasoning, he simply suggests it doesn’t matter who wins the election or who controls the Supreme Court. Maybe it doesn’t matter for Ralph Nader, but it does matter for many others.

Nader, as a straight white male with the privilege to be principled without consequence, will be fine no matter who wins. But if you’re a black teenager in Florida trying to get into college, it matters. If you’re a gay man in New Jersey who wants to serve in the Eagle Scouts, it matters. If you’re a Latino youth in New York who doesn’t want to be harassed by the police, it matters. If you’re a lesbian in Georgia who has been fired from your job because you’re gay, it matters. If you’re the mother of a black gay man in West Virginia who can’t get justice for your son’s murder, it matters. If you’re a resident of the District of Columbia who pays federal taxes but has no representative in Congress to decide how those taxes are spent, it matters. If you’re a poor woman in rural Kansas who simply wants to control your own body, it matters. And if you not only care about, but are affected by, real life policy, it matters.

The argument that Gore is “the lesser of two evils” has it backwards. Actually, I see Bush as the evil of two lessers. Nader and Bush both lack Gore’s experience, but Nader at least has good intentions. Bush, on the other hand, is dangerous.

If you trust a man who supports zero tolerance laws for minor drug offenders but refuses to discuss the significance of his own past drug use, then you deserve the hypocrisy that you will get the next four years in a Bush Administration. If you think a politician can unite the country by using vicious codes words like “quotas” and “special rights” that offend blacks and gays and making visits to Bob Jones University, then buckle up for a rocky four years. If you believe Bush will appoint fair-minded Supreme Court Justices without concern for their opinion on abortion, then be prepared for the religious right to take control of the judiciary. And if you think the nation’s leading executioner will somehow “restore honor and dignity” to the White House, then we have a different view of morality.

Bush condemns affirmative action for the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and yet he has benefited from affirmative action all his life and may likely win the presidency because of his ability to meet our country’s low expectations of him. His closeted, code-worded “compassionate conservatism,” masked behind his Reaganesque charm, is far more dangerous than the open bigotry of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson.

Gore is not the lesser of two evils. He is a highly qualified lifelong public servant committed to many of the ideals of the progressive agenda. Both of the other candidates have their virtues. Like Gore, Ralph Nader offers a long track record of public service, and unlike Gore, George W. Bush offers a friendly warmth. But as Al Gore himself has said, “the presidency is not a popularity contest.” On the question of experience and ability to lead on progressive issues, Al Gore would make a better president than either of the other two candidates.

Gore is not perfect. No candidate is, nor ever, will be. He is, however, the best of the three plausible candidates. I have no reservations in supporting him. That’s why I’m voting for Gore.


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