by Alexander Cockburn
rage against Ralph Nader for cutting into Al Gore's vote. They stigmatize his supporters as irresponsible spoilers. If it hadn't been for Nader, they say, Gore would have romped home in Florida, New Hampshire and still-contested Oregon, and thus captured the White House.
Insults about "irresponsibility" and "reckless sabotage" don't get us very far. What were the big issues for greens in Florida? The Everglades. Back in 1993, the hope was that Clinton/Gore would push through a cleanup bill to prevent toxic runoff from the sugar plantations south of Lake Okeechobee from destroying the swamp that covers much of south-central Florida. Such hopes foundered on a "win-win" solution brokered by sugar barons and the real estate industry and accepted by Clinton and Gore.
Another issue prompted some of those 97,000 to defiantly vote for Nader: the Homestead Air Force Base, which sits between Biscayne National Park and the Everglades. The old base had been scheduled for shutdown, but then Cuban-American real estate interests concocted a scheme to turn the base into a commercial airport. Despite repeated pleas from biologists inside the Interior Department, as well as from Florida's Greens, Gore refused to intervene, cowed by the Canosa family, which represented the big money behind the airport's boosters.
One final reason for the Nader vote in Florida? Try the death penalty, for which Gore issued strident support in that final debate. Florida runs third, after Texas and Virginia as a killing machine, and for many progressives in the state, it's an issue of principle.
Other reasons many Greens nationally refused to knuckle under and sneak back to the Gore column? You want an explanation of why he lost Ohio by four points and New Hampshire by one? Try the WTI hazardous-waste incinerator (world's largest) in East Liverpool, Ohio. Gore promised voters in 1992 that a Democratic administration would kill it. It was a double deception. First, Carol Browner's EPA almost immediately gave the incinerator a permit. When confronted on his broken pledge, Gore said the decision had been pre-empted by the outgoing Bush crowd. This, too, was false, as voters in Ohio discovered a week before Election 2000. For many greens, the disclosure was far more momentous than Bush's DUI.
William Reilly, Bush's EPA chief, finally testified this fall that Gore's environmental aide Katie McGinty told him in the 1992 transition period that "it was the wishes of the new incoming administration to get the trial-burn permit granted. ... The vice president-elect would be grateful if I simply made that decision before leaving office."
Don't think this was a picayune issue with no larger consequences. Citizens of East Liverpool, notably Terry Swearingen, have been campaigning across the country on this scandal for years, haunting Gore. So, too, has Greenpeace. They were particularly active in the Northeast, during Gore's primary battles with Bill Bradley. You can certainly argue that the last-minute disclosure of Gore's WTI lies prompted enough Greens to stay firm and cost him New Hampshire.
And why didn't Gore easily sweep Oregon? A good chunk of the people on the streets of Seattle last November come from Oregon. They care about NAFTA, the WTO and the ancient forests that Gore has been pledging to save since 1992. The spotted owl is now scheduled to go extinct on the Olympic Peninsula within the next decade. Another huge environmental issue in Oregon has been the fate of the salmon runs, wrecked by the Snake River dams. Gore thought he'd finessed that one by pretending that unlike Bush, he would leave the decision to the scientists. Then, a week before the election, Gore's team of scientists released a report saying they thought the salmon could be saved without breaching the four dams.
Yes, Nader didn't break 5 percent nationally, but he should feel great, and so should the Greens who voted for him. Their message to the Democrats is clear. Address our issues, or you'll pay the same penalty next time around. Nader should draw up a short list of Green non-negotiable issues and nail it to the doors of the Democratic National Committee.
By all means credit Nader, but those reviling him should understand Gore has only himself to blame. He's a product of the Democratic Leadership Council, whose pro-business stance was designed to regain the South for the Democrats. Look at the map. Bush swept the entire South, with the possible exception of Florida. Gore's electoral votes came from the two coasts and the old industrial Midwest. The states Gore did win mostly came courtesy of labor and blacks, who have learned to expect little or nothing from the Democrats they put into the White House.
Greens aren't so tractable as those endlessly betrayed AFL-CIO chieftains and black leaders. They have issues and principles they won't abandon as soon as Democrats try to whistle them back into the big tent. That has been Nader's point all along. When he marches down to the Democratic National Committee and nails his demands to the door, maybe the Democrats should dream up a better response than screaming about betrayal and hollering for revenge.
November 13, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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