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Nader and Progressives

by Steve Gorin
Canterbury, New Hampshire

As a long-time admirer of Ralph Nader, I find his decision to run for president perplexing. The rationale for his candidacy is that there are no significant differences between the two political parties. In a sense, this is true. The two parties have been dominated by the wealthy and powerful. Yet, Nader and his supporters also miss the forest for the trees. On the central domestic issue of our day, namely, the future of Social Security and Medicare, George W. Bush and Al Gore have taken diametrically opposed positions. Moreover, Nader himself has been relatively silent on this issue.

Bush, of course, has proposed partial privatization of Social Security. Although the specifics remain unclear, he would probably allow workers to divert 2 percent of their 6.2 percent payroll contribution to individual investment accounts. A study by several leading economists found that this would require benefit reductions of between 20 percent and fifty percent ( Others have come to similar conclusions. Governor Bush himself has acknowledged that reductions are likely. Al Gore strongly opposes Bush's proposal and promises to preserve Social Security's current defined-benefit approach.

The candidates' positions on Medicare are also different. Bush has expressed support for the premium-support approach of the National Bipartisan Medicare Commission. Premium supports would undermine fee-for-service Medicare and force older adults into HMOs. Gore strongly opposes this approach, and he has challenged Bush to state where he stands on the Commission's reactionary proposals (

Interestingly, a search of Nader's Web site turned up no recent references to Social Security and Medicare. In fact, in January 1999, Nader praised President Clinton's proposal to devote the budget surplus to the Social Security Trust Fund ( Either Nader believes Social Security and Medicare are of little consequence or he has become carried away with his own importance. Either way, one must seriously question his suitability as a candidate for president. While Nader can be eloquent, he remains on the level of generality and ignores the real issues facing working people (

Nader and his supporters are playing a dangerous game. His candidacy could take votes from Gore and give Bush the White House. Nader and his allies seem indifferent to this possibility. Yet, it is difficult to see how a Republican victory will advance a progressive agenda. It makes much more sense to work with Gore to build an anti-corporate, anti-privatization coalition. Gore's victory could open the door to a wide range of reforms, including national health care. Simply put, Nader's candidacy can only benefit conservatives and progressives should reject it.

Stephen Gorin is a Professor in the Social Science Department at Plymouth State College, Plymouth, New Hampshire.

Published in In Motion Magazine August 1, 2000.