I woke up sometime Sunday afternoon to attend to some serious business. I went to go see the man somewhat responsible for giving Starbucks employees a free joke when I tell them my name during my purchase of a certain blended coffee beverage. Ralph Nader came to Corwin Pavilion and spoke to students, supporters, and critics about his presidential campaign and his stances on current national issues.
I’ll admit, I went into this forum with what I’ve heard in the mainstream news media. While one should never just swallow what cable TV or talk radio news stations tell you, some of the talking points linger in the back of one’s head. Nader is too stubborn, Nader is a socialist, Nader gave us George W. Bush.
I had the options of either having my conditioned predispositions proven right or being quite pleasantly surprised if they were unfounded. I could safely say that, after the speeches and discussions I heard, I was pleasantly surprised.
Now, I don’t agree with Nader — God, I’m sounding like Bob Dole — on quite a few of the issues, but he made some very good points. Nader and his running mate Matt Gonzalez took on the issue of his weakening of the Democratic Party by “stealing their votes” head-on. Using a (non-sexual) baseball metaphor, Gonzalez explained that one should not have to settle for a candidate simply because they have a better chance of winning.
It is critical for representative democracies (or in our case, a constitutional republic) to allow the individual voter to support the candidate that best fits their interests. Unfortunately, there is no longer pluralism in the U.S. government, and there has not been for quite some time. The system strongly favors the two main parties, who no longer have to remain true to their stances. It has gotten ridiculous enough that the parties are no longer opposing each other on divisive matters, so it is difficult to find a candidate to vote for if one holds differing views. I could oppose off-shore drilling, but who could I vote for now who isn’t supporting it? What if I want the irresponsible mortgage companies to go down without taxpayers bailing them out? The options aren’t there right now due to a lack of candidate variance. The 2000 election’s backlash against Nader was not deserved, after all, since those voters chose him with their conscience. Every vote for him was a message to the main parties that they were not adequately representing those voter’s values.
OK, so perhaps we can theorize that the two-party system is simply more efficient. However, European nations function with multi-party systems, and are currently very successful. Political parties have to struggle for votes and are constantly kept in check. Could that work in the U.S.? Maybe, maybe not. However, we can see that a good amount of multi-party countries are successful, so the possibility of a multi-party system working for us is quite plausible.
So yeah, Nader is a tad too leftist for my political taste, but I left the room with a nifty T-shirt and a newfound respect for the guy who people think I’m named after (I’m not). He addressed questions well, gave direct answers and had a sense of humor I’ve missed from watching the hyper-sensitive media election circus. When a man from the audience called him a socialist, Nader asked if the man could define socialism. He couldn’t. Nader gave him a run-down. It was refreshing to see such openness coming from a politician. However, I realized Nader really isn’t much of one. He’s a consumer advocate and always will be. So when you go out and vote, don’t just choose who you think will win, choose who you think supports your values the most, whether it’s Obama, McCain or a third-party candidate.