Readers trade blows over Ralph's right to run. Plus: Why abstinence programs funded by the Bush administration may actually increase certain X-rated activities.

By Salon Staff
February 27, 2004 1:00PM (UTC)
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[Read "From Tragedy to Farce," by Todd Gitlin, and "Nader's Nadir," by Eric Boehlert.]

I was completely disgusted after reading Todd Gitlin's article on the decision of Ralph Nader to enter the race for President.

Shame on anyone, especially the "liberal intelligentsia" (Nader's wonderfully candid words), who discourages anybody from rocking the boring, stupid, duopolist, rich-man's boat. The arrogance and hypocrisy of "Democrats" who lament Nader's run for presidency as a "spoiler" is palpable. Clearly, they do not understand, let alone believe in, the meaning of the word "democracy."


-- Klayton Kaspar

Ralph Nader has every right to run for the presidency, and I have every right to despise him for doing so.

It is more than a little bit whiney for Nader to complain when some call him egomaniacal, demagogic, selfish, self-inflated, boneheaded, hypocritical, a traitor to the issues he claims to care about, a pawn of the Republicans, an enabler of extremists -- and worse. Wasn't it the physicist Albert Einstein who said that, in nature, for every action there is a reaction? Did Nader think, despite all the desertions by his former supporters and admirers, that we would thank him for running again?


-- Lois Erwin

Is it just me, or does the criticism of Ralph Nader's decision to run for president this year have a truly Karl Rovian ring to it? Virtually every liberal pundit I've read on the subject attributes Nader's motive to vanity or narcissism or ego or monomania. This sounds suspiciously like a talking point, the source of which appears to be the demonstrably unprogressive Democratic National Committee. Additionally, it sounds, stylistically, more and more like the bleating of their conservative counterparts.

I'm an independent voter who voted for Nader in 1996 and 2000 (granted, I had the luxury both times of knowing the Democrats would carry my state by a comfortable margin). But after three years of the ills wrought on the world by George W. Bush, I fully intend to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee this November. Moreover, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Nader's former supporters feel as I do. Consequently, his presence in the race will most likely be insignificant.


Ill-timed though it is, Nader's decision is completely consistent with his 40 years of activism. It is no more egotistical than any of his previous work. He is merely using his access to the national stage to voice his deeply and sincerely held position on campaign financing: The increasingly important role of money in electoral success is having a debilitating effect on democracy. Every genuine progressive knows this opinion to be true. I challenge anyone to name a more corrupt person active in national politics today than DNC chair Terry McAuliffe.

Liberal media critic Norman Solomon recently wrote, in reference to the criticism aimed at Nader, that personal invective is frequently counterproductive and should be avoided. This is advice the Democrats and their supporters should heed. The only thing that will cause me to cast my vote for Nader this year would be a sustained mudfest directed at him.


-- John Manning

Why is Nader being accused of being a "spoiler" for the Democrats? By not appealing to voters on the far left in the first place, the Dems have not earned those votes -- those votes are the Dems' to lose. By ignoring and marginalizing their own base, they are simply reaping what they have sown.

My household was for Nader last time, and Dean this time. However, when Dean dropped out, we chose to give our support to the Democratic candidate -- Nader or not. We loathe Bush. We absolutely do not want him to be reelected. But we still believe that Nader has the right to run, if only to remind the Democrats to quit taking their base for granted. Republicans rarely do, because they know that pandering to their base means that base will give them their vote. That's important, because four more years of mediocrity under a Democrat will only cause more disillusionment. And what will happen in the election after that, when more Dems are apathetic and more Republicans are energized?


According to Todd Gitlin's article, "Florida, New Mexico and New Hampshire are only three of the states where even a weakened Nader might make a difference comparable to his decisive margin in 2000. Accordingly, John Kerry has shrewdly said that he wants to appeal to those who followed Nader in 2000."

This is precisely the result that Nader's candidacy should bring about. So why doesn't that please liberals?

-- Danielle Taylor


[Read "Bush's Sex Fantasy," by Michelle Goldberg.]

I'm not generally an angry person, but this is a subject that still, at age 27 and a good 10 years after my last sex-ed class, has the power to make me really, deeply angry. My anger is not directed at either the abstinence-only supporters, nor the condom contingent -- but at both. The "shut up and listen, we know best" attitude from adults on both sides of the debate still seems to be endemic.

I had both: the emotive "save yourself for marriage" from church, and the clinical "just put this on and you'll be fine" from school. My church teachers, though well-meaning, I'm sure, were so scared to talk about sex that aside from the abstinence emphasis, little else was taught. We walked away thinking that sexual intercourse was the problem -- and everything else in between -- who knew?! Not exactly the healthiest or most informed attitude to have toward sex. As for school, what no one told me or my friends, as I've come to discover, was, while they did mention the slight chance you could still get pregnant or catch HIV while using a condom, that you could also pick up quite a few nasty little life-changing bugs whether you used a condom or not, like herpes, or genital warts.

What I still can't understand is that if this is such an important issue -- enough that it engenders a national debate every few years -- why on earth is everyone still so afraid to tell teenagers the truth. All of it: that abstinence is great for some people but we can't all do it and it's not the end of the world if you don't; that frequent checks at the clinic won't deal with the emotional baggage that often accompanies sex; that condoms don't always work and sometimes break; that no matter how many precautions you take, you can still catch things that you can never get rid of. That sex isn't just about regular checkups and pregnancy and AIDS. That it can be fun, but can also suck. And then let them decide.


-- Anna Lee

I have recently heard and read a similar observation from more than one sex educator: One of the consequences of "abstinence only" programs has been a dramatic rise in the rate of oral and anal sex between teenagers. It turns out that many of these kids have decided that oral and anal sex don't count as sex, and so are safe to do in the context of an "abstinence only" program.

Something tells me that Bush and friends were not trying to increase the amount of teenage anal and oral sex; but anecdotal evidence suggests that is exactly what they are doing.

-- Aran Johnson


As a medical doctor and someone who served on a sexuality education task force for the Austin Independent School District with Joe McIlhaney in the early 1990s, I have to take issue with my friend Fred Peterson's description of McIlhaney as "a nice man and a gentleman."

In one particular meeting, I kept refuting McIlhaney's contentions that abstinence was the "only" way to prevent STD transmission, and telling him he knew that statement was false. The mainstream members of the committee were willing to agree that it might be the "best" means for teens to prevent infection, but it was not scientifically accurate to say it was the only means.

McIlhaney's response to my challenges was to tell me to "shut up," effectively ending any hope for a consensus in Austin on this contentious topic. I applaud the author of this article for refusing to let the Bush administration continue to tell the adolescent health promotion community that it must shut up in providing teens with the information they need to achieve a healthy sexuality.

-- Scott Spear

Salon Staff

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