The Green Party and Ralph Nader still rival the U.S. Supreme Court for blame among some for the election of George W. Bush in 2000.
That long memory helps to obscure the contributions Nader has made to the national dialogue on politics and government.
He doggedly presses his points at a time when corporate power and money threaten increasingly to consume our democracy.
It’s not only money and corporate power, of course. What amounts to a fear of ideas is also to blame. Our brand of politics does not promote ideas or thoughtful discussion.
This is why we shouldn’t dismiss third party candidates in local elections. To be sure, they are not all worthy of much time. Those who think the nation needs very little government — or support wholesale re-structuring — are probably safe to ignore.
Some, on the other hand, speak directly to the anger and disappointment many in America feel. The tea party, perhaps already absorbed by big-money Republican interests, has garnered much of the media interest. It’s not because of tea party ideas or candidates but because of real grievances many Americans rightly feel.
Making government work
For example, take Maria Allwine, Green Party candidate for governor of Maryland.
Her percentage of votes in this year’s race is likely to be no more than single digits — less than a candidate like her would have gotten pre-Nader. And we don’t appear likely to become friendly to a third party or even a robust two-party state anytime soon.
All the more reason to applaud candidates like Alwine.
She’s saying some things — agree or not — that ought to be said. She’s broaching subjects that have little attention — or none at all. The tighter the races, the more cautious the candidates.
In an election where the Democratic and Republican candidates seem to avoid almost any comment on society’s needs, Allwine makes government spending a priority in her campaign.
Candidates or incumbents, she says, are not being honest when they say, “‘We have to shrink services. We have to cut, cut, cut.’ But government will not function [if we keep cutting.] We’re down to the bare bones here in Baltimore: water main breaks, rough roads, failing schools, buildings that desperately need capital improvement.”
She rejects the Libertarian and tea party arguments.
“It’s not no government or less government,” she says. “We need to make government work for us. “
The major party candidates, eager to guard against a gaffe or an idea that doesn’t stir support, give the voters little to think or talk about. To a large extent, voters get almost nothing more than negative ads on television. Ideas are almost toxic in the current political environment.
Bumper sticker ideas
Not to Allwine. She knows that spinning out detailed arguments is likely to avail her nothing, though she is willing to do so. Here she offers her bumper sticker version of several ideas:
– State-run banks: If Marylanders had their own bank, they could invest in projects of importance that commercial banks might be unwilling to fund.
– Medicare for all: This alternative to President Barack Obama’s plan — taken off the table as unpassable in the current Congress — is the smartest, most democratic, community-minded and probably most efficient way to go, she says.
– More progressive income tax: Corporations should pay their taxes and wealthy people should pay more, she argues, because they have prospered in this society under this government. They should invest in the community that supports them.
– Marriage equality: It’s a civil rights issue that should be recognized as such.
– Responsible farming: If we’re not serious about industrial farming, the bay will be in more trouble than it is already.
None of these issues is being discussed as thoroughly as they should be, she says.
“I think people are so intensely angry they don’t know what to do with their anger,” Allwine says. “Look, I feel that way, too. I’m very angry, but I know where my anger should be directed. And it’s at the wealthy special interests and the people in government who serve them.”
C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His e-mail address is email@example.com.