OK

I want to make the case for Nader’s candidacy. This is not an endorsement of the man or his program. His decision to run urges consideration of structural ‘democracy problems’ in America.

Ralph has decided to run again, and he’s getting a beating for it. The argument goes like this: Green-leaning candidates "take" votes away from Democrats. This particular election is so critical that "we" can’t afford to lose. Nader therefore should do the "right" thing and withdraw.

I want to make the case for Nader’s candidacy. This is not an endorsement of the man or his program. His decision to run urges consideration of structural ‘democracy problems’ in America. 2008 may be more critical than 2004, 2000, 1932, 1896 or even 1796, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore our democracy problems. Run-of-the-mill condemnation of Nader reflects a choice to do just that.

The Democratic Party would benefit from three reforms that Nader’s run brings to mind. A direct election for President would decrease third party "spoiler" impact by taking the emphasis off battleground states. Remember Florida 2000. Second, instant runoff voting would translate most votes for Greens into votes for Democrats. Third, proportional representation would undo the conservative bias in Congressional elections that inheres in the nexus of our partisan geography and winner-take-all elections. In a sense, PR would unpack the packedness of those population-dense districts Democrats tend to inhabit.

The absence of each reform is a democracy problem. The electoral college1 silences voters in "safe" states and sometimes crowns the wrong winner. Plurality elections force voters to support candidates they don’t like and candidates to pay lip service to those voters, lest they defect to a spoiler like Nader. And the only real diversity of opinion in our two-party Congress comes from members’ personal predispositions. These old institutions diminish democracy for everyone.

If bad institutions hurt more people than Democrats, why the concern with Democrats? They are the likely agents of change. Politicians don’t improve institutions out of commitment to democracy. Reforms are self-interested. Nader’s candidacy underscores Democrats’ overall vulnerability in the present party system-cum-electoral system. As the vulnerable camp, with majorities in both houses and a prospect for united government in 2009, Democrats are best positioned to effect electoral reform.

Yet they don’t take their vulnerability seriously. Hence the case for Nader.

Two scenarios confront the Democratic Party. One is to learn the hard way. Nader costs the Dems another election, they make the institutions-outcomes connection, and they become a party of reform. The other option: skip step one, make the connection, and become a party of reform.

To blame Nader is to shoot the messenger. The conversation should be about lasting solutions. Browbeating Greens to depress their turnout, if doable at all, is not a lasting solution.

Originally posted to jackms on Sun Feb 24, 2008 at 04:04 PM PST.

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