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My own thoughts--for me.
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Sunday, January 11, 2004

Bush v. Nader 

It was a mistake to vote for Ralph Nader in 2000. OK, I mean I made that mistake. A lot of democrats are pretty angry at Nader and his supporters. There's a lot of debate about whether they might have actually made the difference. I doubt it, but it's hard to say. I am interested, though, in whether it was a mistake only in retrospect. Did the people who counseled against voting for Nader really have a sound basis for that advice? The fact that Bush has turned out to be such a disaster does not address that question.

Political judgment depends on a lot of facts and experience, but people who are good at it also throw in a dose of intuition, like a good doctor might bring to bear on a unique set of symptoms. So when someone gets it right, one has to allow that maybe they really had a handle on the truth. But it is still fair to ask whether the reasons they gave were enough to justify their position.

In the case of Bush/Gore/Nader, I'm not at all sure the Gore people had a good enough reason for saying it was dangerous to vote for Nader, for two main reasons. The idea that the election might be close enough for Nader to be a spoiler was always fairly unlikely. Of course, some people predicted it. But some predicted it wouldn't happen. The fact of a prediction isn't enough. But I admit I never ruled that out. The second point is the more important one. People who said Bush would be a disaster compared to Gore did not, I think, have a strong basis for that. The Gore record was a centrist one, by which I mean one that nudged up to the line between Democrat and Republican. His ties to big oil and his relatively hawkish past made the choice between them less interesting. Alexander Cockburn's, "All Gore: A User's Guide" told this side of the story. (The pic links to a sympathetic review.)

It is an impossible question to answer, but I often wonder what Gore would have become in the aftermath of 9/11. The political imperatives that have pushed Bush's approval rating so high would have been about the same, and I'm guessing that he would have aimed at a second term. Plenty of things would have been different. The war in Iraq seems to have stemmed from a long-standing pre-911 hunger in the Bush team, so that debacle might not have happened. That's an enormous matter, of course, but it isn't anything that Democrats knew in 2000. In fact, the worst things about Bush and his administration were not, I believe generally predictable. His appointment of Ashcroft, his aggressive interventionism, his extreme ideological approach to taxes and government, were more or less surprises. This, to repeat, is not to say that nobody predicted them. People predicted all kinds of things, and some of them were bound to be right. That doesn't mean they had, or gave, good reasons for believing their predictions.

My point isn't to debate the merits of voting for Nader in their entirety. It is just to point out that the horrendous performance of George W. Bush was not foreseen, and so it is not available to support the charge that Nader and his supporters were out of touch with political reality; and to register some doubts about how ideal Gore would have been under the unforeseen circumstances that have surrounded the events of 9/11.

We would have been better off with Gore than Bush-- not as well off as many liberals seem to think, but far better than what Bush turned out, more or less surprisingly, to be.

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