An open letter to Ralph Nader voters

You were right -- you did change history!

Published March 16, 2003 12:45AM (EST)

Dear Nader Voters,

How are you? It's been a long time since we've talked. Almost two-and-a-half years, back during that whole Florida mess. I was pretty nasty to you at the time, complaining about your lack of foresight, your shunning the potential consequences of voting for Nader, your insistence that there would be no difference between a President Bush or a President Gore. I was particularly critical of one Nader voter who, hearing about the Florida voting stalemate, exclaimed "I'm part of history!"

I was wrong. She, and all of you, are indeed part of history. I realized that when I picked up this morning's New York Times. Story after story sang out with examples of the way you've made American history.

Like this one: "Lopsided Vote by Senators Against Type of Abortion." The Senate went and voted against what they call "partial-birth" abortions again. You all know they did it twice before while Bill Clinton was president and he vetoed it. History might not have changed if you didn't help George W. Bush get into the White House. But now, with an anti-choice president, we can count on the bill being signed into law after the House passes it next month. The procedure won't even be allowed when the health of the mother is in danger. If Al Gore had been in the White House, he probably would have upheld Clinton's veto. Thanks to you, history will change.

And that's not all you've done. With a Republican president who you all did so much to elect, we can now look forward to a judiciary packed with conservative zealots. Like Priscilla Owen, the Texas Supreme Court justice who is now going to get a second chance at federal appeals court thanks to the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. Justice Owen is another example of how much you've managed to change history for women's reproductive rights. In Texas, she dissented from the state's law that a teenager can obtain an abortion without notifying her parents because the teenage girl in front of her had not shown she understood the religious objections to abortion. Not only will you have a chance to change reproductive rights, but you may have made it easier to get around that pesky old church-state separation.

There are still other things to thank you for, like the likely passage of a bill that would cap all pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases at $250,000, a bill Bush wants to sign. I sure hope the family of that girl who died after having the wrong organs transplanted into her gets to thank each and every one of you for that. I know the HMOs and the pharmaceutical companies sure must be grateful -- and who'da ever thunk they'd have reason to feel grateful to old Ralph?

But let's face it: The place where you've made the most difference is Iraq. I know, I know, you don't want to claim credit because there's no difference between Republicans and Democrats on this issue. In fact, only two of the declared Democratic presidential candidates oppose the war. But now isn't the time for false modesty. We all know that if Gore had become president and continued the Clinton policy of containment, that Saddam would just be a peripheral pest and your biggest claim to changing history would never have happened. (We in New York especially acknowledge your actions as we await the home-front consequences of an invasion of Iraq.)

Now I know we've had our differences, but I know that you acted out of a genuine desire to be progressive, out of a genuine concern for the direction of America, and out of a belief in the importance of not compromising your ideals. You're all so idealistic that you believe a new progressive movement can be built without significant support from African-Americans, women, gays, or organized labor. If that isn't idealism, I'd like to know what is.

And I know you've been chastised by those old-style Democrats like me for being blind to the consequences of your actions. But a unique chance exists right now for you to show your true colors, to prove that you are entirely aware of the consequences of your actions and are willing to face them: Volunteer for the invasion of Iraq.

The news in the past few weeks has been showing us tearful separations of reservists and their families. Many of the men and women going over to the Gulf are ambivalent about the necessity of war, but they feel obligated by a sense of duty. They've even been honest enough to admit they are frightened of possibly facing biological or chemical weapons.

Wouldn't it be great if just one of them didn't have to go, didn't have to separated from their sweethearts or families because all you Nader voters put Bush in office and helped pave the way for the invasion of Iraq? Wouldn't it be great to show America your guts by taking one of these brave soldiers' place, by declaring that you're not willing to let anybody else die for your actions?

I sneered in 2000 when one of you guys said on CNN that you were willing to risk a Bush victory because you believed "things have to get worse before they get better." But I'm not sneering now. Now's the chance for you overwhelmingly white, middle-class, college-educated Nader voters to show that you really do care and aren't just willing to let someone else do the dying for you. You put Bush in the White House, so why not sign up for his invasion -- what better way to "make things get worse"? In this time of uncertainty and fear, your country salutes you.

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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Al Gore Iraq War