By Steve Conn
Where is "Ralph Nader country?" We know that "Marlboro Country" is a lung cancer ward and "Countrywide" is a landscape of empty and boarded up homes as far as the eye can see, but where is Nader Country.? If I were presumptuous, I would say, behind every seatbelt. In 2008, after his third, serious, Presidential campaign, Nader Country is both where people voted for The Man and His Program and in the hearts and minds of his campaign staff, the alumni of 2008. Both deserve attention.
In 2008 Ralph Nader ran an independent 45 state Presidential campaign and earned 695,817 votes (and counting) on 45 state ballots and the District of Columbia. Not included in this total are semi-disenfranchised write-in Nader voters in Texas (3,053), Georgia (1,091), Indiana (300), and North Carolina, where13,942 total write-ins were not divided by candidate, except by chance for 22 Nader voters in Rowan County, broken out in a local news report .American democracy’s ultimate, electoral black hole, Oklahoma, does not allow write-ins.
With his typical Lou Gherig approach to civic engagement, Ralph Nader moved relentlessly through the fifty states, dragging along a new legion of twenty-something’s, who could barely keep up with his seven decades’ sprint, full of righteous indignation and a commitment to win votes for a progressive program ignored by the major party candidates. Boot camp for another generation of citizen activists was nearly over when I flew down to the 2008 Georgetown headquarters to check out his new crew, take their political temperatures and feel their pain. Sure enough, they had the look of combat veterans. I could only imagine what they had expected when invited on to the team and how bright and shiny they were then.. The grind of a Presidential campaign, weathering the attacks from armchair liberals who expect to be spoon fed progress without effort and Nader’s lead by example style had all done their jobs. Where else could these young adults experience this test of fire and a consistent demand that they use their own talents and initiative to make up for scant resources, while enduring consistent abuse by major party sycophants? The graduating classes of the 2000 and 2004 Presidential campaigns were already out there somewhere raising hell on other issues and other campaigns. Each campaign leaves this enduring residual legacy of new people who finally understand what Nader means when he challenges his audiences to act on their rights and duties as Public Citizens.
The staff was battle-hardened from an experience rare for their time and circumstance in America. No fire hoses in Birmingham had quickened their maturation Each drew on talents and strengths which while newly discovered by them, had been anticipated by Nader when he brought them on. Any organization could use Ralph Nader to vet its new hires. So could President-elect Obama.
The 2008 Ralph Nader campaign showed its verve in production of its video, photo art and web postings, all the work of the class of 2008. Funny and serious stuff. Now the graduates were ready to try their newly discovered strengths and talents to other places and take on other issues- once they got some rest. Nader, of course, was ready to plunge back into his normal grind. Plans were discussed among alumni to work within home Congressional districts.
People who think they matter are angry at Nader now as others were at Martin Luther King when he broadened his agenda to matters of the war and the inequities of economic class. The attacks on Nader are always personal. He has a personality defect that makes him speaking out instead of going with the flow, his critics content. Critics never complain explicitly that he is raising issues excised from the campaign debate of that moment by corporate funders and party operatives, pre-screened, you might say. That he is off script. That would be too honest. Progressives from the old days who broke with the 2000 and 2004 campaigns have only admitted privately in later years that their patrons demanded these public breaks with Ralph Nader and they meekly complied, throwing Nader under the bus as Obama did his pastor. Again, they never say that Nader campaign is bringing up issues not to be talked about except in smaller, liberal circles in nostalgic moments. While Nader demands, like clockwork, a repeal of the Taft -Hartley Act of 1947 in every Presidential run, union membership is in single digits and union demands for card checks as an organizing tool are all that’s left in labor’s collective memory of an organized labor movement before Taft-Hartley. But some of the graduates from the 2000 campaign are ensconced in the labor movement and have memories longer than their ages. So their time will come to press for more. Others from the 2000 and 2004 campaigns worked for Obama and the Greens or now focus on issue advocacy. They work on single payer health care or variants of the Equal Rights Amendment, the sleeping giant. Alumni are everywhere with their Nader campaign experience not always listed on their resumes, but imprinted indelibly on their psyches.
One of Ralph Nader’s strengths is his ability to spot talent and potential in unusual places. He found campaign staff all over the country. The days when he recruited from Ivy League Schools are over. Since his staff came from everywhere and his travels were
Ubiquitous, it is no surprise that his votes were clustered in places of similar diversity. So where -geographically- was Nader country in 2008?
Nader won more votes than any other third party or independent in his 45 states, except in Montana where Ron Paul beat him. In aggregate numbers available to date, he got something over 700,000 votes in all or more than the population of Alaska. In the 45 states, where his name and that of Matt Gonzalez appeared on the ballot, he averaged about .63 percent of the votes cast. But he took at least one percent of the votes cast in Maine (1.5), North Dakota (1.3), Arkansas (1.2), Alaska (1.16), South Dakota (1.1), Connecticut (1.1), Idaho (1.1), and one percent each in Wyoming, Minnesota, Vermont, Oregon, West Virginia, and Rhode Island, according the Associated Press.
Clusters of counties in Arkansas, South and North Dakota, Maine and West Virginia registered Ralph Nader vote totals of 2 percent or more. In Arkansas: Lawrence (3.3), Jackson (2.9), Newton (2.7), Poinsett and Woodruff (2.6), Clay (2.5), Montgomery (2.3), Van Buren and Sharp (2.20), Cleveland, Logan, and Sevier (2.1)) and Stone, Pike, and Greene (2). In South Dakota: Perkins (2.3), Sanborn (2.2) and Turner (2.) In North Dakota, Towner (2.8), Cavalier (2.6), Logan (2.5), Bowman and Kidder (2.3), Emmons, Divide and Renville (2.2) and Griggs, Grant and Mercer (2).In Maine: Oxford and Franklin (2).In West Virginia, Gilmer County (2.1).
A bevy of counties from all over the country, among them Wahkiakkum, Yell, Scott, Randolph, Swift, Bon Homme, Oliver, Walsh, Foster and McIntosh counties, all finished with 1.9 percent for Nader. People in these counties know where you are. In 2012, if they get one or two more voters to go Nader’s way, they’ll hit two percent. Note: Alaska has no counties to divide up its 3460 votes (and still counting).
Nader Country and, at least, 700, 580 recorded Nader voters (as of this writing) have spoken. The 2008 alumni will be heard from, you can be sure.
-Steve Conn is a retired professor at the University of Alaska. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.