Woman in T-shirt: Bush & Gore make me wanna Ralph

(WOMENSENEWS)–Feminists and progressives, alarmed at the virtual dead heat of the major party candidates, are turning up the rhetoric on likely third-party spoiler Ralph Nader, challenging his progressive credentials and his commitment to women’s reproductive rights.

Fear that Green Party Presidential candidate Nader could draw votes away from Democrat Al Gore and propel Republican George W. Bush into the White House has led to a stepped-up attack and charges that Nader’s Green Party is really a party of and for young white males.

Nader, gaining in the polls, is unmoved by appeals for him to support Gore, lest Bush be elected. If Nader’s Green Party wins 5 percent of the popular vote, the party for the first time will qualify for federal matching funds in the 2004 election.

While there are few doubts about his effectiveness as a consumer rights activist, a growing number of progressives are suggesting that Nader’s Green Party is really not committed to women. And they are criticizing his platform, which has few proposals specific to women.

When Nader announced his candidacy, he “did not mention any explicitly feminist issues, not birth control or abortion … and not violence against women,” NOW President Patricia Ireland told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not just indifference. It’s an ignorance that’s almost willful.”

Nader Says He Supports Feminism, Nonviolence–Women Not Convinced

Nader has taken umbrage at the criticism, particularly feminist contentions that he is not a strong pro-choice candidate.

Nader’s web site says that he endorses the 11-point NOW platform, a position he announced months ago, according to his campaign manager. The site also lists “feminism” and “nonviolence” as two of the 10 “key values” of the Green Party.

The NOW points are: feminization of power, economic rights, equal rights amendment, homemakers’ rights, reproductive rights, older women’s rights, lesbian/gay rights, eliminating racism, early childhood development, violence against women, education discrimination.

“Ralph Nader has said over and over again that for American women, the right to a safe, affordable and legal abortion is a legal right and that the government has no business telling a woman to have or not to have a child,” campaign manager Theresa Amato said on Wednesday in a statement.

Feminists are particularly concerned about Nader’s recent comments that it doesn’t matter who is appointed to the Supreme Court. Even if a conservative Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Nader said on Sunday, that would not necessarily mean the end to abortion in America. He said that Republican appointees in the past have been more progressive than their party affiliation indicated they would be. He added, however, that the Supreme Court issue was just a scare tactic being used by the Democratic party because, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the issue “would just revert to the states.”

Women’s advocates and progressives say the election is crucial because the next President will make court appointments that could lead to overturning the landmark decision that legalized abortion. Gore supports Roe v. Wade, Bush opposes it.

The mere thought of a Bush victory sends chills through most abortion rights supporters. Further, it is in the individual states where anti-abortion activists have been most successful in chipping away at Roe v. Wade–a 24-hour waiting period here, a parental consent requirement there, a ban on certain abortion procedures elsewhere–all making abortion less accessible.

Without Roe v. Wade, 16 States Likely Would Ban All Abortions

Absent a federal standard ensuring that abortion remains legal, NARAL believes 16 states would move to immediately ban all abortions–Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

“Imagine that reasoning (of Nader’s on the right to choose) applied to any other basic right,” NARAL President Kate Michelman said in a statement on Wednesday. “Surely he would not argue that repealing the Constitutional protection for the rights to worship, speak or vote was acceptable on the grounds that their regulation would be left to the states.”

The progressive backlash is ironic for two reasons: Nader’s own mantle of progressive politics and his female running mate.

He has portrayed himself as the only true liberal in the race and has hammered away at his theme that there is little difference between Gore and Bush.

And he has Winona LaDuke on the ticket as his vice presidential running mate. The Harvard-educated LaDuke, who also ran with Nader in 1996, is a feminist and a registered member of the Mississippi band of the Anishinaabeg. She is also a co-founder of the Indigenous Women’s Network, a nationwide support and advocacy group for Indian women now based in Minneapolis.

According to a statement posted on the Nader website, LaDuke said in June that the major party candidates “like to talk about women during an election year, but they actually don’t seem to represent that (women’s issues) through public policies that consider the long-term conditions of women and children–whether it is on those basic levels or on the more insidious levels of the militarization of the society, violence against women and the chemicals that are in our ground water and in the air now.”

National Gore-Nader Vote-Swappers Avoid Helping Bush

Since the outcome is too close to call in many states, a movement of Gore-Nader vote swappers has arisen. It appeals to those who would like to strengthen a progressive third party, while not strengthening Bush in a close race. Web sites, such as nadertrader.org, urge Nader supporters in those states at risk of going Republican to contact Al Gore supporters in states where the electoral votes are sure to go for George W. Bush, like Texas, and offer to “trade” votes.

The swing state voters can vote for Gore in exchange for the Bush state voters casting their ballots in favor of Nader. The goal is to give Nader’s Green Party that critical 5 percent of the popular vote without risking electing Bush in the process.

Polls show that Nader’s support is growing. Although he has virtually no chance of winning the presidency, he has not endorsed the so-called strategic voting effort. In a campaign swing through Chicago on Wednesday, Nader suggested that four years of a Bush presidency might be just what the progressive movement needs to ratchet up election efforts in 2004.

Cindy Richards, a professional journalist in Chicago for 20 years, has worked for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times where she wrote the Working Women column. She has covered health care, children’s issues, education and women’s issues. In 1991 she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.