So far, I’ve bought into two arguments that complicate my inclination, as a Democrat, to vote for Gore: 1) Gore plus a Democratic Congress might produce more mischief (e.g., sabotaging welfare reform, suffocating school choice experiments) than progress; and 2) a victory for Gore would inevitably be a victory for the paleoliberal wing of the party, whose votes he has courted, whose rhetoric he has spouted, and whose lobbyists he would owe.
Both lines of reasoning leave me open to the charge of perversity. The first argument means that any general body blow to Republican chances–such as Bush’s DUI arrest–makes me, counterintuitively, more likely to support Bush (because it increases the chance of a Democratic Congress). I stand by this perversity, however. Bush’s ancient arrest doesn’t change my opinion about his capacities, but it does increase the risk of creeping Rangelism. Even if I did care about the arrest, I care more about welfare reform. Sorry!
The second argument produces queasiness, though: There’s something Leninist about voting for your own party’s defeat, even if your party is making a public appeal–to self-pitying fears of “powerful forces,” to racial identity and victimhood, to middle-class victimhood–that repels you. The screw-your-party tactic is devious and Machiavellian, sort of like calling in a bomb strike on your neighborhood in the hope that your rival’s house will be destroyed.
But it’s not really as complicated as that, I now realize. It’s more complicated!
The complicating factor, of course, is Nader. Until now, I’ve been assuming that a Gore defeat would also be a defeat for his hackneyed Old Democrat populism. But that depends on how Gore loses, doesn’t it? What if–a distinct possibility–he loses because the Nader vote denies him a plurality in key states like Oregon and Wisconsin? Wouldn’t this outcome strengthen the left rather than weaken it?
That certainly seems to be Nader’s conclusion, since (as Jacob Weisberg has observed) it’s the outcome he’s trying to achieve. True, Nader might be miscalculating. Maybe those who abandon Gore for the Green Party in 2000 will be ostracized and purged from party influence, leaving a stronger, more purely centrist Democratic body (“Barbara Ehrenreich, traitor, begone!” etc.). But that’s not very likely. Parties sometimes get strengthened by a purge of ideological extremists–as the GOP has arguably been strengthened by the departure of Buchanan. But Buchanan was electoral poison. Nader is not–it’s not as if the Democrats have previously been tarred by their association with the Naderites in their ranks.
More important, party loyalty isn’t what it used to be; voter identities are fluid. Democrats wouldn’t react to a decisive Nader vote by telling Nader’s supporters “good riddance.” They’d try to woo them back–that’s what modern parties do. They’d be told the way to win them back would be to move the party left on free trade, welfare, the “living wage,” and a whole host of issues. The press, always fascinated (if not dominated) by the left, would egg this process on. In short, a New Democrat’s nightmare.
Such a nightmare, in fact, that for my own sectarian New Democrat purposes it’s more important that Gore not lose because of Nader than that Gore lose. In other words, under some circumstances this perverse Democrat might actually want the Democratic candidate to win. How perverse can you get!
But what are those circumstances, exactly?
Not if Nader is doing terribly: No less than The Nation’s Eric Alterman, I’d prefer to see Nader get “not one vote.” If Nader’s percentage shrivels to Buchananesque levels in the last hours of the campaign–a possibility–he won’t provide a reason for supporting Gore.
Not if Gore is doing terribly: If by Monday Gore has collapsed to the point where not even Nader’s vote can possibly save him, then it’s unlikely that Nader will be able to claim there are enough lefties left to elect a president (if only the Democrats would mobilize them). Of course, if Gore does somehow crater, a Republican Congress might be in the offing as well, and my preference for a divided government–Gridlockism!--would indicate a pro-Gore vote. Given Thursday’s revelation, though, a Gore collapse seems unlikely.
Not if Gore is ahead: If by Monday evening Gore’s so far ahead he doesn’t need Nader, then I’m back to my original pre-Nader dilemmas, especially this one: How likely is it that Gore would sweep in with a Democratic Congress? It’s not inevitable that Gore will bring Gephardt with him, and it’s less inevitable today than it was two days ago–for example, Gore could win simply because the DUI incident somehow tweaks doubts about Bush’s personal character and not because of any generalized rejection of Republicans or their policies.
It’s only in the middle ground–in which Gore is behind but the combined Gore-Nader vote is ahead–that a Gore defeat threatens to hand the Naderites a club with which to bash the Democratic Party into “progressive” shape. Unfortunately, that seems to be the middle ground we are occupying right now. [Why not vote for Bush in this situation to help him beat the combined Gore/Nader total?–Ed. Because a) a President Gore would be much better able to hold off the Naderite assault on the party, and b) the relative size of the Gore vote versus the Nader vote will help win that battle.]
Will the messy middle ground still be where we are Monday evening (or Tuesday morning, when I have to decide)? Good question. The Nader Complication provides yet another reason to postpone my decision until the last minute. In the meantime, though, the current possibility that Nader will indeed hold the balance of power means that Gore rises 10 points.
A case study in crisp decision-making: As numerous Kausfiles readers have noted in e-mails, I’ve been ignoring the issue of the Supreme Court (and who I want choosing the next few justices). Why? I’m procrastinating, that’s why! Not as a writer, but as a voter. Like nearly every other policy issue this year, the Court question is complicated. I’m not sure what I think. But I will obviously have to confront this question very soon.
Voting’s a bitch.