MAXWELL: Serious blacks know a vote for Nader is a waste

10/22/2000 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


I have engaged in heated discussions with friend and foe who say they are voting for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for president. All are white, most are either wealthy or have good jobs and nearly all are liberals of one stripe or another. Many are young college students. They are afflicted with naivete and hauteur.

I heard somewhere that some black college students support Nader. They would, of course, because they have not had to face the real world as parents, homeowners and nine-to-fivers. Neither have they experienced the old racism and discrimination that make politics and voting serious to older blacks.

Supporting Nader, I argue almost daily, is a luxury that African-Americans cannot afford. A vote for Nader is a wasted vote.

To vote for him is to stuff ballots into a black hole. His candidacy is frivolous. He gets serious about the presidency occasionally. Rarely does he discuss how he would lead the nation during any other time. Although we admire Nader’s consumer advocacy, serious blacks will not vote for him. His supporters argue that a vote for him is an act of principle, that choosing between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush is a Hobson’s choice, like trying to pick your favorite Menendez brother.


The simple truth is Nader will not win the presidency _ not now, not ever. Because so many serious problems face black communities and because we have gains to protect, we would be unprincipled _ even stupid _ to waste our vote.

In its October issue, Essence, a magazine for black women, published an excellent guide stressing the importance of voting for the right candidate. The article, written by Farai Chideya, analyzes the promises of Gore, Bush, Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan and emphasizes the significance of not wasting our vote.

“Four men, four agendas, four messages,” Chideya writes. “That’s what your future and your children’s future come down to on November 7. Whom will you choose for president, and why?

“What’s at stake? The next president will have a major impact on the Supreme Court _ he nominates justices, who serve a lifetime. The president also nominates federal judges, sets the national tone on issues such as diversity and determines how responsive we are to affairs in Africa and Latin America, Asia and Europe. That’s why we must stay on top of the issues and make sure we’re able to vote. Our next commander-in-chief may be the leader of the free world, but remember: He still works for you. Be informed and be active.”

Indeed, this election poses issues that concern blacks. Doubtless, the next president will, for example, appoint at least one Supreme Court justice. I, along with most blacks I know, do not want another right-winger on the court who will try to reverse hard-won civil rights victories.

Nader will not become president, so why vote for him? Although Bush claims otherwise, he would nominate another Antonin Scalia. Gore will seek a more liberal justice.

On another front, black women may not say so publicly, but they do not want to see Roe vs. Wade overturned. Bush would vigorously support such an effort. Gore would not.

Because they have less money than most other groups, black parents enjoy fewer choices in secondary and primary education and must send their children to schools they may dislike. But most blacks continue to support public education and do not want to see money taken away by vouchers that will aid a handful of students. Bush wants vouchers. Gore wants to improve public schools first.

Nader is a non-factor.

Most blacks also are concerned about gun control, racial profiling, hate-crime legislation, inequities in the so-called war on drugs, health care, tax cuts, Social Security, the military.

Blacks are wary of Bush’s Draconian approach to fighting drugs and prefer Gore’s more holistic method that includes effective treatment and education along with punishment.

Why should African-Americans waste votes on Nader when the consumer advocate will never reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?

The overwhelming majority of blacks believe that Gore will protect gains such as the highest number of homes and businesses owned by blacks on record and the lowest rates of unemployment and poverty in history.

On the purely political level, African-Americans believe that they will gain cabinet posts and other high-ranking positions in a Gore administration. Will Bush appoint and nominate a reasonable number of blacks? Most blacks do not think so.

Nader will not be in the White House to do anything for blacks. His candidacy is a luxury that certain white people can afford to take seriously.

Because African-Americans face big problems, the important question is why would they vote for Nader? Rest assured that African-Americans are rare among that group called the “undecideds.” I cannot recall another time when so many blacks cared so much about who wins the presidency.

And, by the way, serious blacks give no real thought to the other candidates, the Harry Brownes and John Hagelins.