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Gore Or Nader? A Debate Between John Conyers and Manning Marable

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A lot of people today may make their final decision behind the curtain of their voting booth, especially if their choice is between voting for Ralph Nader or Al Gore. Many in the West Coast and those in swing states who are concerned that supporting Nader might ensure a Bush victory may even wait to hear about exit polls in the East before deciding which way they will vote. [includes rush transcript]

Here on Democracy Now we have given a lot of attention to this issue, and what the implications would be. Joining us today are two people who have made different choices: Professor Manning Marable supports Nader and was at the Green Party convention in Denver this past June, while Rep. John Conyers of Michigan was at a Gore rally yesterday in Detroit.


  • Manning Marable, Professor of History and Political Science, and the Founding Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University in New York City. He is the author of thirteen books, including ??Black Leadership, ??Black Liberation in Conservative America and ??Speaking Truth to Power: Essays on Race, Radicalism and Resistance.
  • Rep. John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, member of the Progressive Caucus and senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I bet a lot of people today will make their decision behind the curtain — that’s right, behind the curtain in the voting booth — especially if their decision is between voting for Ralph Nader or Al Gore. Many on the West Coast and those in swing states may even wait to hear about exit polls in the East before deciding which way they’re going to go, whether their final vote may help Bush win these elections. Here on Democracy Now!, we have given a lot of attention to this issue and what the implications would be.

Today we’re joined by Professor Manning Marable, who has supported the Ralph Nader and Green Party initiative throughout this country, and Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan, who was until late last night at a Gore rally. Congressmember John Conyers wrote a piece in The Nation magazine of this week, “If You’re Talking Politics,” that begins, “As I’ve traveled the country in this election year, many progressives have asked me whether I believe a vote for Ralph Nader is justified to promote the longer-term goal of a truly representative democracy in which progressives would have a larger piece of the governing pie. My answer to them is no.”

Congressmember John Conyers, welcome to Democracy Now!

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Great to be with you again.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s good to have you with us. Where are you now?


AMY GOODMAN: Have you voted?


AMY GOODMAN: Have you taken your kids to school?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: I’m waiting for my kids to get out of school so that I can take them with me. But I’m going to be visiting the polls all morning and afternoon. I’ll be out on the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in a piece that Manning Marable recently wrote, it says, “The vast majority of African Americans who vote in the November 2000 presidential election will undoubtedly support the Democratic ticket. The national black political establishment, including more than 10,000 elected officials, the Congressional Black Caucus, key black leaders of the AFL-CIO and paid operatives within the Democratic National Committee have for months spoken with one voice, unanimously praising Al Gore.” Congressmember John Conyers, why?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Why do we support Al Gore?


REP. JOHN CONYERS: We don’t have any other alternative. And by the way, Manning Marable is a person I read and enjoy constantly here across the years. But what are we to do with the newfound power and empowerment of the Congressional Black Caucus? I was the seventh African American member when I came in 1965. It’s now 38, and there is a woman in Louisville, Kentucky that might make it 39. What am I to do with the new power of the Progressive Caucus, now numbering 58 members, incidentally all Democrats, and the same with the CBC? For me to try to decide something different would be a no-brainer. I would be throwing away not only the potential that I may have of becoming a chairman of the Judiciary Committee that handles all the kinds of issues that you and Marable and progressives are interested in. For the first time, an African American of progressive persuasion could be there.

And if I’m working with a Bush administration, where is it going? I wouldn’t expect a Bush administration to take my phone calls, much less seriously negotiate with me about all the issues, ranging from reparations to racial profiling to affirmative action to watching these judicial nominations, which have been just ghastly with Senator Hatch sitting over there blocking and stopping the diversity that Clinton/Gore have tried to bring to the court scene. Altogether, outside of the trade and global questions, we’re on different sides of the fence.

And to talk about my conscience is going to limit my pragmatism, is the most romantic kind of thing I’ve ever heard, that a 4% or 5% of a fractured Green Party — which whether it can even stay together is in question — with my friend Ralph Nader supposedly going to stay in politics and go to the head is not even a close call for me. I don’t even pause over it. And so I’ve been urging my progressive friends not to toss over the progress we’ve made in terms of a romantic perfection that rarely occurs in any political scene, much less the American.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Manning Marable of Columbia University, is this just a fantasy?

MANNING MARABLE: Well, I think that first we have to emphasize where Congressman Conyers and the entire progressive community agree. We agree that the priority should be to defeat the right in this election. Where we disagree tactically is how best to turn out progressive voters to make a real difference.

We first have to recognize that in reality the national election is really 50 separate state elections based generally on the winner-take-all principle. The Electoral College technically chooses the president, not the popular vote. And, in fact, there have been several instances in U.S. history, most recently in 1888 with the election of Benjamin Harrison, where the person who became president lost the popular vote and won the Electoral College. And, in fact, I think this may happen this time. I don’t think Gore’s going to win the popular vote, but he very well may win the Electoral College if he carries Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania.

So, in practical terms, that means the presidential election is really already over in about 2/3 of the states. In New York, it’s over with. In Massachusetts, in the bulk of the South and in the West other than the Pacific states, Bush already has those. One could argue that in a state where there’s at least a ten-point margin between Gore and Bush, people sympathetic to Nader can and should vote for him, because it makes a politically progressive statement to the Democratic Party. In those states where — such as Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Washington, where there is less than a ten-point margin, I would argue progressives should vote for Al Gore. And the formulation that I’ve been writing about is “Gore where you must, Nader where you can.”

I think that the entire political system is held hostage to corporate power. There’s only one solution: the need to build a mass democratic movement to drive big money out of the electoral process and to put on the map the agenda of progressives. We need to democratize the electoral rules of the game to permit alternative voices and perspectives at the ballot. We need to move away from these winner-take-all elections. And, in fact, actually if Gore does win and defeat the right and Bush, and he wins the Electoral College and not the popular vote, we may finally at long last put on the table the need to abolish the Electoral College, as well as to implement electoral — democratize the American electoral system. So there are real reasons why in a proactive way supporting the Nader candidacy in those states where the election has already been decided does advance the progressive cause.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Could I add an additional comment?

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman John Conyers.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Because I quite agree, Manning. I’m so happy that you’ve made this formulation. Campaign finance reform is the first thing — or second thing. I think education is first. Campaign finance reform is the second thing on the progressive Democratic agenda. And it’s been enunciated by Al Gore repeatedly. We have a bipartisan beginning to take the money out. It isn’t that the Democrats are trying to sustain raising money. We lose at this business. I mean, we’re outspent from margins of two to one on up. And so, we’re happy to try to close this off. And that’s the first thing that we’ve got to do, because it increases the inequality when everything else is equal. So I agree that we must defeat the right.

Now, the formulation that you put forward is one that has been suggested repeatedly to Ralph Nader, and he — I suppose he can’t acknowledge it or won’t accept the legitimacy of it. But I have no problem with that formulation. The problem that I have is when anybody of reasonable intelligence, much less super intelligence, tells a search that it’s okay to vote your conscience because there is no difference between the party. Now, either I’ve been fighting smoke battles and don’t know what I’m doing and I’ve been putting out all this energy, especially since the Newt Gingrich era — there are tremendous differences.

Bush is going to take us back. All of the people that will be running government have conspicuously been absent from the Republican ranks ever since the convention. Nobody’s seen Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, Orrin Hatch, and you won’t see them until they finally get this little guy with the twisted smile into the White House. And then they’ll come back with a vengeance.

But we’ve got literally all the progressive issues, including the advancement of collective bargaining on the table. So to me, this is not a time to be telling me about my conscience. I mean, my conscience tells me that we better keep moving forward and slipping backward. And the ability of all those who feel and think like I do, that are in the Congress or will be elected, we can mount an argument to Al Gore. We’re electing him. We’re holding him accountable. I want somebody in the room when we pick the next Attorney General. I can’t say I voted my conscience, and sorry about that. It may be a few years or a decade or more before we get it all together. But —

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember John Conyers and Professor Manning Marable, we have to break for stations to identify themselves, but we’re going to come back to this discussion. Then we’re going to be talking about money in politics with Professor Tom Ferguson at University of Massachusetts, provost there, and Common Cause. And then we’re going to hear people from outside this country talk about our elections, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, author of Open Veins in Latin America; the premier photojournalist perhaps in the world today, Sebastião Salgado, we’ll talk about his views as a Brazilian looking at this election of the president of the planet, as he puts it. And then we’ll hear from a new foreign minister, this of East Timor, and the prime minister in exile of Burma, what elections means to him. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about today’s election. Yes, today is Election Day. And we’re talking with Michigan Congressmember John Conyers and Columbia University Professor Manning Marable about who they’re voting for and encouraging people to vote for.

I’m wondering, Congressmember John Conyers, on the issue of at least you have him in room with you if you vote for Al Gore. What about when it came to NAFTA? World Trade Organization basically came out of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, and they’re pushing for these international trade organizations. Did it matter if you had them in the room with you, the tremendous lobbying campaign to push NAFTA through, despite the objections of the constituencies that elected them, like labor?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: No, it probably wouldn’t have mattered, because we had them in the room. The first time Governor — ex-Governor Clinton hit Detroit, he’s been besieged by that ever since 1992. And we did not succeed. But the proof of the failure of NAFTA and WTO is now becoming more clear. And the support is becoming larger and more effective within the Congress and particularly the progressive Democratic community to begin to make some change. Its failures are now — are the best arguments we could put forward, which we weren’t able to do then. So I think that we will have even more success with Al Gore than we did with Bill Clinton.

AMY GOODMAN: Manning Marable?

MANNING MARABLE: Well, I think that even though the outcome of the election is in question — and clearly, from the progressive standpoint, Gore would be preferable in the White House than George Bush — we have to ask ourselves candidly: how did we get to this situation where millions of progressive people would willingly defect from the Democratic ticket?

I think that Gore — you know, there are many ways in which Gore is to blame in this formulation. I mean, take the issue of capital punishment. Gore easily could have sent a message to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party by taking a position that was as enlightened as the Republican governor of Illinois, who called for a moratorium on the death penalty. But Gore didn’t do that. Basically, the Democratic Party platform of 2000 rejected liberal positions on literally every major issue — not just capital punishment and globalization, but healthcare and military expenditures, so that the selection of Lieberman, for example — Joe Lieberman was one of only ten Democrats, including Gore, to support former President Bush’s war on Iraq. He has flirted consistently and promoted voucher schemes to divert money from public education. Back in '89, he supported a capital gains tax cut. He embraced Clinton's brutal 1996 Welfare Act. You know, so that, in effect, the Democratic Leadership Council’s politics are really represented by this ticket. And to progressives, the selection of Lieberman indicated that the Democratic Party was moving even further to the right. If Gore had sent not just rhetorically a kind of populist-sounding rhetoric, but had there been some recognition that the base of the Democratic Party, which is, after all, African American and labor and women’s organizations, feminist organizations, had acknowledged some of the positions that they had taken, Gore would not have been in this position.

And the last thing — and this is something I’m wondering if Congressman Conyers could talk about — the irony is, is that Gore ran a campaign running away from Clinton. Now, lord knows, Clinton has been in many real ways a deep disappointment, not just for progressives, but people across the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, he has a 60%-plus approval rating. And consequently, by running away from Clinton, he can’t claim that the good economy is his own. And he runs away from the accomplishments of the administration. And I’m wondering why Gore has run the kind of campaign that he has.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, I’m happy to try to respond to that, because we wanted President Clinton more in the mix. But what we found out that the Bush campaigners were cleverly doing is that anywhere Clinton showed up in a state, they would tear up Bush’s schedule and schedule him in another part of the state in which we were trying to take over a competitive congressional seat or that the pollsters showed that there were enough uncommitted and undecided that that would undo building our — reinforcing our base where Clinton is so powerful. And I argued strongly for the same strategy that Professor Marable has indicated, until I talked with Al Gore and found out that it wasn’t a matter of ego or trying to distance himself from the accomplishments. If you’ve listened to Gore on the stump, he takes full measure for the support for his contribution there.

But let me just point out about — I agree with you that there should have been a statement about the moratorium, that even a person supporting the hate crime — supporting the death penalty have been doing that. But here is a vice president and a president that have come out behind hate crimes. That’s the anti-lynch law that DuBois and the early NAACPs of the 1930s were trying to get through. They’ve come out against racial profiling, which has long been a sensitive point. President Clinton actually implemented racial profiling among all the federal police forces that he could put into effect a executive order that would have some effect. They’ve come out against secret evidence. The President vetoed yesterday the Official Secrets Act, which would have brought about great penalties and prison sentences for those who were possibly working as whistleblowers or people trying to bring forward evidence.

And on healthcare, good night, here we have Gore saying we should have universal health coverage for all children. That’s the first step toward the kind of healthcare program that we’ve all been talking about. A patient’s bill of rights, we’re the ones that can’t get it even when there’s bipartisan support. I mean, the Republicans are determined because they’re in the hands of the insurance companies, the HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry. And, of course, drugs for seniors under Medicare is a Democratic alternative. So we’re inching toward to me, and I’m very pleased with it.

Now, Lieberman was the smartest choice that Gore made. And it was the beginning of the resurgence that was one of the several things that happened at the convention that, in my mind, was a brilliant stroke, to take out this fanatical hatred of Clinton that exists among the ranks, not because of some moral question that they like to use as the scapegoat, but because he created more diversity than any other president in history.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Marable, we just have 30 seconds. Your final response?

MANNING MARABLE: Well, I think we may not agree on Lieberman. I mean, this is a guy who was co-founder with the notorious Lynne Cheney, former chair of the NEH and wife of Dick Cheney, of this organization, the American Council on Trustees and Alumni, that opposes affirmative action so-called and political correctness and defends Western civilization.

I think the real issue here is to defeat the right. I think it’s important for us in those states where we can to support a progressive politics as represented by the Green Party. It has real problems. It has not made adequate efforts to reach out to black, Latino and poor communities. And we are the greatest victims of corporate power, and as long as the Green Party remains overwhelmingly white, they will lack the capacity to build or even maintain a truly democratic movement. Nevertheless, a vote for Nader in those states, where we can, can make a real difference in building a progressive movement outside of the Democratic Party. And I think that’s important.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Professor Manning Marable, professor of history and political science and founding director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University, and Detroit Congressmember John Conyers. This is your, what, tenth term?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: No, that was a long time ago. Let’s see, this is probably my 17th, 18th term.


REP. JOHN CONYERS: I’m the second most senior member in the House of Representatives.

AMY GOODMAN: And if the Democrats were to take power, you would become chair of what committee? Can you say?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: The Judiciary Committee that controls the constitutional amendments, the Department of Justice, immigration, criminal law, drug disparity issues and intellectual property.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us.

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