Barbara Ehrenreich: Don't Blame Me

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The death threats keep pouring in. There are rumors that Gloria Steinem wants me to turn in my "Sisterhood Is Powerful" T-shirt, that Jesse Jackson says my soul is toast. They didn't even notice us Naderites for months - until, of course, their candidate decided to prove he isn't "wooden" by demonstrating how fast he could sink. Then, quicker than you could say, "Florida's electoral college votes," that great, flabby, inchoate entity, the Democratic party, morphed into a disciplined Leninist organization, dispatching its leading cadre with the message, "Vote for Nader, and you'll never eat lunch in this country again."

I know there's not much point arguing with a party spurned. Scapegoating is, after all, so much easier than thinking. But, dear disappointed Dems, why not vent your rage on, for example, the union guys who voted for Bush because of his easygoing attitude toward firearms? (Oh, yes, I forgot, they're armed.) And before beating up on the Democratic defectors to Nader, wouldn't it be a good idea to pause for a little numerical perspective? According to exit polls, Gore lost 11 pecent of Democratic voters to Bush, compared to only 2 percent to Nader, who also drew votes from Independents and Republicans.

One of the major charges leveled against Nader voters is that we pretended - in some perverse kind of optical malingering - that we couldn't see the difference between the major candidates. Well, I'm capable of making fine visual distinctions. But a lot of people who probably never wandered near the Nader camp kept muttering, "Bush, Gore? Gush, Bore?" right up to election eve. This was, after all, the year the parties did their utmost to resemble one another. Recall that in August, after a Republican convention full of "compassion" and black gospel choirs, the pundits gave Bush high marks for making the Republican party look more like the Democratic party. But how hard was that? He wouldn't have been able to make the Republicans look like the Democrats if the Democrats had not already spent most of the past decade making themselves look like the Republicans - embracing capital punishment, unrestricted trade, welfare reform and the need to abolish the deficit. You call this a two-party system? I demand a recount.

The staggering thing about the Democratic party's sense of entitlement - as in, "We own your vote" - is that it has made so little effort to hold on to its base. Labor, for example. Would there have been any worry about union members' defecting to Nader if the Clinton administration had spent even half as much time fighting to raise the minimum wage as it spent on pushing free trade with China?

So back off, Democratic avengers. Nader didn't steal Gore's election; he just mobilized some of the mounting disgust for money-polluted politics, with its battery-operated candidates and look-alike, corporate-welfare-state policies, whether they're labeled Democratic or Republican. All right, maybe the Republican disguise worked for the Democrats in 1992. But if you go around long enough in camouflage clothes, you're eventually going to be mistaken for, well, a bush.