City Paper is not for tourists
D.C. lefties should have an easy time being Green this November. Too bad the Nader campaign’s not doing more to bring them along.
Only one presidential candidate this fall has taken the District of Columbia’s 340,000 voters and accompanying three electoral college votes seriously.
He has devoted an entire day of campaigning on city streetsnot K Street or Massachusetts Avenue NW, mind you, but Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and W Street in a section of Southeast that isn’t on Capitol Hill. He has declared unflinching support for congressional voting rights for the District. And he has vowed to make D.C. statehood an issue in the nationally broadcast presidential debates.
Pity he hasn’t received an actual invitation to any of them.
No matter. Our momentor, at the very least, a momenthas arrived: It’s time for D.C. to spurn the Democratic party and vote Ralph Nader for president.
This is no simple protest vote. It’s a pro-D.C. vote, which sends a clear message to the White House, Congress, and the rest of America that residents of the District have broken out of their self-loathing and have taken firm control of the city’s destinyand it’s a damn rosy one, thank you very much.
Nader has earned our support. The Green Party presidential nominee has made D.C. statehood a plank in his platform, albeit somewhere in between tort reform, Makah whaling, and the death penalty, according to his official www.votenader.org Web site. “One reason to run for president of the United States is to make sure that democracy spreads throughout its entire borders and to make sure that it’s a deep democracynot just symbolic,” he told a packed auditorium at the University of the District of Columbia on Sept. 16. “More than 500,000 people in the District of Columbia don’t have thateither symbolically or actively.”
What thoughts have his presidential rivals expressed on the subject? Think back long and hard to the last time you heard Vice President Al Gore speak, mutter, or write anything about D.C. statehood. Republican nominee George W. Bush doesn’t have much compassionate conservatism for D.C. at all. And Reform Party candidate and D.C. native son Patrick Buchananwell, he hasn’t lost that self-loathing yet.
A vote for Nader will be our Boston Tea Partyand, arguably, a stronger statement to the country than simply driving around Greenbelt or Lincoln, Neb., with “Taxation Without Representation” license plates. It says that the Democratic Party shouldn’t take D.C. for granted any longer. “There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and that D.C. will vote Democratic,” explains WAMU political analyst Mark Plotkin. “We settle for crumbs. We have a colonial mentality….Nader should be getting 20 to 25 percent of the vote in the District.”
Nader really needs only 5 percent to declare something of a victory. Five percent of the national vote, that is, which will qualify his party for federal election matching funds in 2004 and make the Greens a viable third party for years to come. His task, then, is quite different from that of major-party rivals Gore and Bush. While they skirmish in battleground states to win the presidency via the electoral college, Nader’s success comes directly from the people.
Which presents a perfect opportunity for residents of the Districtwho are written off by the major partiesto flex some muscle.
To accomplish his task, Nader needs to persuade progressive voters, who more often than not vote Democratic, that he’s the candidate more in tune with their politics and values. He’s traveled the country, trying to connect with Americans who are concerned about the increasing gap between rich and poor, the lack of universal access to health care, the substitution of corporations for government in civic life, and the failure of both Democrats and Republicans to effectively address these issues.
It’s easy enough to say. But when left-leaning voters in other liberal towns, such as Madison, Wis., contemplate pulling the lever for Nader, they have to grapple with the knowledge that doing so could throw their closely contested stateor even the whole electionto Bush. D.C. lefties have no such trouble.
Don’t think of a D.C. vote for Nader as a vote for Bush. Think of it as an especially big vote against Bush. If the Texan finishes third in the District, even die-hard Democrats will be thanking you for voting Green.
“D.C. is a wonderfulthe quintessentialbattleground for Nader to promote his ideas into the mainstream,” argues Bernard Demczuk, assistant vice president for government relations at George Washington University, a former consigliere to Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. and an omnipresent force in D.C. politics. “Why not agitate here for your ideas….This is the place to take the debate. I think [Nader’s] spending too much time in the hinterlands.”
Nader’s made a special effort this year to overcome impressions left by his lackluster performance four years ago. Unlike Gore and Bush, Nader campaign staffers point out, Nader has touched ground in all 50 states this campaign season. But in the last month of the campaign, Nader needs to strategize where to concentrate his efforts. And one of the places he needs to focus on is the District.
Which is why it’s too bad that Naderhis one-day September visit notwithstandingisn’t making a bigger effort in the only place he could possibly beat at least one major-party candidate.
Even though his national campaign office is on 15th Street NW, near Thomas Circle, Nader has had very little visual presence in the city.
“My first comment to you would be: What campaign?” asks Demczuk when I first ask him about Nader’s chances in the District.
“What campaign?” echoes Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, in whose ward Nader received 1,043 votes in 1996. Without even campaigning, Nader actually beat Republican nominees Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in six Ward 1 precincts, though the GOP ended up placing second overall in the ward, with 1,384 votes.
“What campaign?” repeats Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, in whose ward Nader received his highest ward tally, 1,307, four years ago.
Under the two-party system, it’s been said that D.C.’s presidential vote has little consequence. But a large turnout for Nader would refute that argument quite soundly. “A big vote for Ralph will focus attention on the District,” argues Nader campaign spokesperson Jake Lewis. “This will not be lost on Congress.”
Or on the residents of the White House, Nader argues. “The Clinton-Gore administration mouths support for the District of Columbia, but it never makes an effort to provide full local control and statehood,” Nader reminded the audience at his Sept. 16 rally. “Instead, it uses its schools and nursing homes as props for too-little-too-late national initiatives. Under the Clinton-Gore administration, the District of Columbia continues in a colonial state.”
“Right now, the Republican Party takes advantage of us, and the Democratic Party takes us for granted,” argues Plotkin. “Being accommodating and appropriate has gotten us nowhere.”
On Nov. 7, it should be easy to be Green. CP