Pennsylvania supporters of Ralph Nader -- all 2 or 3 percent of you -- unite. As your candidate has said, it's time to send a message that you'll no longer stand for politics as usual. It's time to stand up and oppose a decrepit political system in which votes can be bought and sold.
It's time, in other words, to lodge a vote in protest -- against Ralph Nader.
I've been tempted to vote Nader too. Few of those pulling the lever for John Kerry this November will feel much enthusiasm, and we'll envy the self-satisfaction Nader backers feel. Voting for Nader, in fact, will feel a lot like voting for President Bush -- and not just because that's what you'll actually be doing. I mean you'll have the same feeling that Bush supporters get. After all, Nader and Bush supporters both celebrate their candidate's allegedly strong principles, his refusal to compromise. Both snicker at Kerry for his own supposed lack of resolve. And voting for Bush or Nader might even make one feel pure somehow, as if some of the candidate's virtue might rub off.
Of course, up until now, Nader's campaign posed that old dilemma for lefties disenchanted with the Democrats: Could voting for Nader make things worse by ensuring the election of Bush? Can we afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good? Fortunately, though, that's no longer a problem. Nader, it seems, is far from perfect. He's not even adequate.
Adequate candidates, after all, don't submit tens of thousands of fraudulent signatures on their election petitions. They don't hire homeless people to circulate their ballots. But judging from the outcome of a court challenge to Nader's election petitions, that's just what Nader did in Pennsylvania.
In an Oct. 13 ruling that followed a massive statewide review of those petitions, Commonwealth Court President Judge James Colins found that "thousands of names were created at random and then randomly assigned either existent or non-existent addresses." Among the signatures were those of Mickey Mouse and Fred Flintstone, not to mention those of Ralph Nader and John Kerry. (He may be a flip-flopper, but come on.) In all, Colins, wrote, "[T]his signature-gathering process was the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this Court."
Though Nader campaign officials did not return calls, none of this could have surprised them; a friend who worked on Nader's signature verification in Philadelphia warned me in August that the petitions were a farce. But on the campaign Web site, at least, Nader is spinning the facts like a Beltway pro. The site offers a "special thank you to all who took part in the signature verification process in Philadelphia." (Yeah, bang-up job, guys.) It also faults Colins for "refusing to count registered voters who have moved in-state...and other instances of clearly eligible voters." Strangely, there's no mention of the injustice done to disenfranchised cartoon characters. Neither does the site laud the election efforts of Philadelphia's homeless, who apparently forged many names in response to Nader ads promising they'd be "paid by signature!"
But the biggest victims are Nader's real supporters, the 18,818 people whose signatures were genuine. Nader promised to give them a voice, then drowned it out with 32,455 forged or improper signatures. He called on them to vote their conscience, and in return gave them an unconscionable campaign.
So I'm urging those true believers to do what Nader himself would do: Don't suffer in silence. Get angry. Get involved. Nader is, apparently, just another politician willing to do anything to get elected. But that should be a liberating thought. Turning your back on Nader allows you to rejoin the real world of grubby election-year politics...because Nader's shoddy campaign tactics prove you never really left it. Acknowledging that Nader never abandoned "politics as usual" means you can actually have an impact on the political system.
In one sense, Nader was right: You can make a difference this year. You can make a vote to protect the environment, to roll back foreign aggression overseas. If you have to, vote for Kerry and don't tell anyone. It will be a more realistic choice than backing Nader would have been. And a more honest one too.