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    Nader's wrongly imposed morality

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    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 25, 2000

    My Sunday column arguing that a so-called "principled" vote for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for president is a wasted vote is generating hot mail.

    I herewith take another swipe at the Nader Thing -- this matter of faux "principle" that supposedly sets Nader supporters apart from those who plan to vote for Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the traditional two-party candidates. Gore and Bush supporters are seen as the immoral and unethical canaille.

    I agree with Nader on most issues, including health care, Social Security, day care, gun control. Here, for example, is his position on using tax dollars to finance private schools: "I'm against any use of tax money for private schools. So no vouchers. We either improve public education or it's going to decay completely. Charter schools are all right, as long as they are not managed by corporate firms, and that's what's happening."

    Affirmative action: "You're talking about 200 years of white-male affirmative action. See, I went to Harvard Law School and there were only 15 women in my class (1958) and two African-Americans. The system was enormously imbalanced by affirmative action of white males, and now it has to be balanced by affirmative action."

    So why am I trying to dissuade Naderites? Simple: He can never win. Because I argued that position last Sunday, let us move on to the narrower issue at hand: the matter of so-called morality in voting for Nader (and other third party candidates for president).

    For me, politics and voting are essentially "amoral." Here is Websters's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary's definition of amoral: ". . .being neither moral nor immoral . . . lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply. . . ."

    Politics and voting are matters of practicality, brinksmanship, pragmatism. When people try to inject anything else -- religion or an extreme Weltanschauug or Weltschmerz -- things tend to fall apart. Look at Israel, where religion defines politics and everyday life. Look at Muslim nations, where religion defines politics, where iron-fisted dictators and kings rule. All are hot spots. In the United States, the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority have lost steam in national politics because sane Americans reject extremism and the very hint of a theocracy.

    In the Oct. 22 issue of the New York Times Magazine, ethicist writer Randy Cohen responds to a letter that asks this question about third-party candidacy: "So, which is better: to vote for good or against evil?"

    Apparently, the writer sees Gore and Bush as "evil" and a third-party candidacy as "good." Cohen responds by describing the common-sense amorality of voting:

    "Some will tell you that the duties of civic life, as much an ethical obligation as any, compel you to vote for the third-party candidate who has your heart. You'll lose in the short run, but in the long run you'll steer the country in the direction you believe is right: Popular third-party ideas often move into the mainstream. Others will argue that in politics there is no long run: The next president, for example, might appoint at least three Supreme Court justices and many more federal judges, so you should vote for the lesser of big-party evils.

    "My solution is, perversely, to vote for a third-party candidate only where he can't win. If you live in Texas, where Bush is way ahead, or in New York, where Gore has a solid lead, you can vote for your third-party candidate without fear of tilting the race to the big-party candidate you dread."

    My concern is that many Naderites see themselves as being too good for this world. Their self-righteousness and zealotry scare me. As a bloc, they are a secular version of the Christian Right -- hell-bent on imposing their morality on the rest of us.

    Politics and voting have no room for the gray areas. Either you win, or you lose. It's viability, Stupid. When Democrats ask Nader to drop his candidacy because he is hurting Gore, Nader and his supporters respond by saying that his campaign could help build a viable third party for the future.

    In presidential politics, the future is now.

    I worry, moreover, when words such as "evil" and "good" creep into political discourse. Gore is not evil. He is an exemplary father, husband, patriot and public servant. And although Bush is unqualified to be president, I see him as an exemplary father, husband and patriot.

    Neither man is evil. Is Nader so "good" that he and his supporters are willing to put an unqualified person in the White House, a man who will determine the future that they ostensibly put so much stock in?

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