“Muckraker,” “Consumer Crusader” and “Legal Agitator,” are all words that have been used to describe the man who rose from being an automobile safety critic to consumer advocate and most recently to the Green Party’s presidential hopeful.
Although he remains low on opinion polls, Ralph Nader’s political stances and his candidacy have generated much debate and public scrutiny. Much attention has been paid to the fact that he is a third party candidate in a two-party dominated system.
“I am a big supporter of Nader and a big critic of the two-party system,” said Prof. Theodore J. Lowi, government. “A vote for Nader is a vote criticizing the two-party system.”
According to Paul Glover, the contact for Ithaca’s Green Party, Nader is running to revive democracy. Glover says that more than half of the eligible voters did not cast their ballots in the 1996 elections because “people want real choices, not robot candidates who are owned by corporations.”
Antonella Romano, grad, of the Cornell Greens believes that Nader and the Green Party offer the voters a real alternative. “If the Democrats and Republicans continue to merge into one corporate party, people are going to be starving for an alternative, and the Green Party will be there,” she said.
“The general feeling, I think, is that we will either force the two major parties to reform or replace them completely. So even if we don’t rise to control the government as the Green Party, our positions and issues will most certainly become part of the mainstream political discourse.”
Others agree that a considerable amount of Nader’s support stems from discontent with Al Gore and the Democrats.
“The majority of Nader’s support comes from the disgust that many ordinarily democratic voters have with Al Gore. The rest of Nader’s support comes from his genuine environmentally-paranoid followers,” said Michael D. Schmidt ’04, Cornell’s second vice chair of the College Republicans.
The Green Party’s issues have also been highly discussed this election. Nader’s main issues are ecology, social justice, grassroots power, nonviolence, challenging abuses of power by government and corporations and campaign finance reform, Glover said. Although some voters feel these issues are very important, others are questioning the strength of his platform. Since he still remains low on opinion polls, people are beginning to doubt his future impact.
“So far he has not shown strength generally, he does not have enough total support,” said Prof. Joel Silbey, history. “His issues, which are very important to some, are not important enough to other people.”
Not only has the strength of his platform been in contention this election, some also contend that the number of issues he brings to the forefront also poses a problem to his political potency.
“When looking at presidential candidates, I look for a candidate who has proven themselves on numerous issues. Ralph Nader is a two or three issue candidate. Nader only takes a strong stance on issues such as consumer rights, the environment and trade,” said Jeff Ehrenberg ’03, University Assembly representative.
“However, a president needs to be a person who takes a clear stance on numerous issues and has proven how they will act in a broad array of areas.”
Even voters who do agree with Nader’s platform have criticized him for being too extreme on these issues, thus making him potentially ineffective if elected to office.
“While I am personally liberal, and agree with him on much, his platform is geared more at pushing his own agenda, not at helping the American people,” said Mike Moschella ’02, Cornell Democrats president. “Al Gore’s platform takes smaller, yet still crucial steps to solve the same problems. The true difference is that if Nader was in office nothing would get passed, and Al Gore has the ability to [push through] his proposals.”
Another problem that Nader faces in relation to these issues is the alienation of a large portion of the population, specifically those more towards the center of the political spectrum because he is so left.
“[The Green Party’s] big happy idealistic portrait of the future presupposes a base of progressive voters that are just out there waiting to be activated. The Green Party, despite its rhetoric, is completely out of touch with America,” said Josh Glastetter ’01, 4th Ward Representative, a democrat who ran on the Green Party ticket.
Glover disagrees asserting that Nader is actually centrist. “He directly addresses the central concerns of average Americans: clean food, clean water, clean air, livable wages, job security, safe working conditions, good health care, honest government,” he said. “The Democrats and Republicans are dangerous extremists, indulging extremes of greed and corruption on behalf of corporations.”
Although many people do not see Nader as a strong candidate, some think it is quite possible that supporting Ralph Nader could be particularly important in influencing the final campaign results.
“In some areas, there is a possibility of Nader causing a state to go to Bush that would have gone to Gore. This would be interesting, because if it happens just once, that could be the balance in the election, and from a policy perspective, Nader would have reversed his desired course,” Moschella said.
Others do not see Nader as having much influence in affecting the election result.
“The contest between the two major candidates is so close that it doesn’t matter. Nader is just an extension of the stalemate. People are just trying to scare him off,” Lowi said.
Glover agrees that Nader will not upset the outcome of the election in terms of which candidate wins. Glover believes that Nader will be successful if he receives five percent of the popular vote because “this gives us easy ballot access in every state for thousands of Green candidates, who will raise issues of ecology and social justices. We also get $12 million of federal campaign money, with which to make these voices loud,” Glover said.
Archived article by Katherine Klein