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Holtzman, Ehrenreich on Nader and Women's Rights

Monday, November 6, 2000

We present today two strong viewpoints on the controversy over Ralph Nader's position on abortion. The views expressed are those of the authors and not of Women's Enews, which is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates for public office.

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Elizabeth Holtzman

Nader's Desire for Power Endangers Women's Rights

Ralph Nader's candidacy could elect George W. Bush. I know the consequences of a third-party candidacy, like Ralph Nader's, because I was a victim of one.

In 1980, after a hard-fought primary, I won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. I had been a U.S. Congresswoman for eight years with a strong progressive record and had won national attention for my work on the House Judiciary Committee during the Richard Nixon impeachment hearings.

At the same time, Alphonse D'Amato, a little-known town supervisor from Nassau County, whose Republican political machine had come under federal investigation, won the Republican primary, trouncing the incumbent, Sen. Jacob Javits.

D'Amato, a conservative Republican, succeeded by viciously attacking Javits' age and health.

Right after the primary, the polls showed me way ahead of D'Amato. All things being equal, I would have won in a landslide.

But all things were not equal. Jacob Javits had the Liberal Party line. He decided to stay on the ballot and in the race. He raised money, kept his union endorsements and never withdrew. On election day, Javits took 11 percent of the vote--most of which, it was generally acknowledged, would have gone to me. Because Javits siphoned off all those votes from me, D'Amato won, with barely 1 percent of the vote. It took 18 years to oust him from the Senate.

Liberal Javits Refused to Release Supporters--And Elected D'Amato

D'Amato was the antithesis of Javits in many respects: Javits was a liberal Republican while D'Amato was anti-choice, anti-gun control and anti-environment. But, Javits refused to pull out of the race and tell his supporters not to vote for him. Javits knew exactly that staying in would elect D'Amato--and he did just that.

Javits couldn't possibly win the race for Senate on the Liberal Party Line, but he could make me lose. And he wouldn't give up that power.

Nader is acting in exactly the same way; his power is to defeat Al Gore, and that is exactly what he is setting out to do. Although some supporters claim that Nader told them he would not campaign in states where his vote could cause Gore to lose, Nader has ignored those promises, setting out deliberately, it seems, to defeat Gore.

As Javits did, Nader can usher us into a long, right-wing national nightmare. But cynically and deceptively, Nader is downplaying those consequences. For one thing, Nader pooh-poohs the harm that a Bush-appointed Supreme Court majority could cause. Overruling Roe v. Wade, which guarantees the right to an abortion, is nothing to get upset about, says Nader. After all, states could still protect those rights. You can watch him say it on his web site's video.

This statement is, of course, nonsense, a kind of consumer fraud that a consumer advocate, such as Nader used to be, would have attacked mercilessly. As we all know, many states would not protect women's right to choose. (Of course, Nader would never leave the safety of trees in the hands of state legislators. For trees, but not women, Nader insists on strong federal protection laws.)

'Cavalier' Nader Dismisses Constitutional Right to Privacy

As far as Nader is concerned, the constitutional right to privacy--which protects more than abortion--can go down the drain without a twinge of conscience.

But for America's women, the right to privacy is not marginal. Nader's cavalier comments about the abolition of the constitutional right shows a deep contempt for women.

A Bush-appointed Supreme Court would undermine civil rights, environmental rights and consumer rights.

Nader's supporters claim they care about these things. If they do, they can't vote for Nader.

Nader's voters remind me of Javits' voters. They like their candidate and are wearing blinders to the consequences of their votes. Very few Javits voters wanted D'Amato; very few Nader voters really want Bush. But they are rationalizing like crazy to avoid facing reality.

Regardless, as I know from my own experience, those consequences are clear. Just as a vote for Javits was a vote for D'Amato, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. A vote for Nader is a vote against women; a vote for Nader is a vote for a Supreme Court that is likely to restrict civil rights, reproductive rights, environmental rights and other precious rights--and turn this country's laws backwards for a long time to come.

This, at a minimum, is the choice facing Nader supporters. Given the values they say they endorse, the choice is easy: Vote Gore, not Nader-Bush.

Elizabeth Holtzman is a former member of Congress and a practicing attorney in New York City.


Barbara Ehrenreich: Attacks on Nader Unfair, Unwise

By Barbara Ehrenreich
WEnews contributor

Barbara EhrenreichAs the election grows closer, I am increasingly dismayed by the nasty rhetoric deployed by some feminists against Ralph Nader and his supporters, of whom I am one.

Yes, the choice between Nader and Gore was a difficult one, and I retain my respect for those of you who have come down on the Gore side of it. The risk to abortion rights, in case of a Bush victory, is a real one, and an understandable reason to choose Gore.

But I wish to remind you: First, feminism is not and cannot become a single-issue movement.

While we retained abortion rights under the Clinton-Gore administration, we lost welfare--a blow not only to the about 4 million women who depended on it in 1996, but to uncounted others who would have turned to it as an escape from a violent relationship. For this and other reasons, political scientist Gwendolyn Mink has called welfare reform "the most aggressive invasion of women's rights in this century." The extent of the damage--in increased hunger, homelessness and possibly infant mortality--is just beginning to emerge.

In the meantime, Gore boasts of welfare reform and even claimed, in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, to have been the major force behind it. There are, in other words, feminist reasons to reject Gore and to fear a Gore administration.

Second, while some prominent feminists are insisting on loyalty to the Democratic Party as if it were a feminist principle, they forget that only eight eight years ago, NOW announced a tentative plan to launch a new feminist political party. I was at one of the meetings to discuss the new party, as was Patricia Ireland, and the feeling at that time was of disgust for the Democrats and weariness with being taken for granted by them.

In that year the Republican candidate, Bush Sr., was far more openly aligned with the Christian Right than his son is now. So, even by NOW's standards, rejection of the Democratic Party is hardly treason.

Finally, our movement needs both its pragmatists and its dreamers, its inside players and its utopian outsiders. We would never have begun without the dreamers, and never have lasted without the pragmatists. I believe our movement derives strength from the creative tension between the two groups, and that it would be suicidal for one side to write off the other.

Whoever wins the election, we will need to pull together, both to protect women's reproductive rights and advocate for economic advancement. If you have contributed to the divisive rhetoric about Nader supporters, I ask you to stop. If you are in touch with others who have contributed to it, I ask you to urge them to stop.

Barbara Ehrenreich is a political essayist, columnist and social critic, and is the author of the upcoming book, "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in Boom-time America".

 
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