I've been reading a number of pieces, both before and after, on the evil of Ralph Nader running for office. The arguments for the harm that could come to Nader's cause if
he "spoils" the election are possibly quite valid. I doubt Nader is
unaware of them; perhaps is he more aware of them than anybody.
But I continue to find great dismay in those who tell him not to
run. Perhaps it is my perspective as a non-citizen of this fine
country, since in my country, and many others, strong third parties
are common, and it is common for them to change the outcome of
The argument to Nader seems to say, "You should not run because you
might make a difference." In this case a difference other than the
one he wants to make.
But with this philosophy, that third voices may only be heard in
U.S. politics when hearing them won't actually make a difference, the
U.S. will never hear more than 2 voices, and indeed 2 similar voices.
(There was a nice paper on Dave's mailing list not too long ago which
demonstrated how a 2 party system pushes both candidates to the middle.)
Exercise your political will, you tell Nader, only when it can make
no difference. If you ever get popular enough to actually alter the course of
an election, back off.In this circumstance a third party can never rise, for it seems impossible
to move from "fringe" to "having a chance at winning" without moving
through that middle ground of "spoiler."
Why do people run who never have a chance? Because every party that
eventually became credible had to start without a chance, or adapt an
existing power base.
As the few percent who cast their votes Green or Libertarian or Natural
Law or whatever actually grow, it doesn't cause those parties to win.
It causes the other parties to move their own platorms. Casting hard
votes has a message no ad campaign, no poll can match.
Of course, there is another solution, namely preferential balloting.
This does not require any federal change. States control their own
voting systems. Florida could (though it's unlikely) decide to use it
to assign their electoral votes. Vote-splitting is extremely difficult in
a preferential ballot. Of course, in every close race there is some
powerful force who got their power because there _wasn't_ a preferential
ballot. Right now it's Bush. Not long ago it was Clinton, who was
elected as we'll recall with a far lower percentage of the electorate
than "W" was. Did those asking Nader not to run ask Perot not to run?
That's the thing to push for. Saying "now that you make a difference,
butt out" says we will never let you make a difference.