by TJ Moore

The presidential campaign of 1992 brought a rather uninspiring group of candidates to the nation's attention. President Bush was not interested in talking about the hard issues that faced the nation, nor about bold, innovative solutions. At the time, candidate Clinton appeared promising, but there were nagging concerns about his character and leadership abilities. Of course, we also had that "dynamic" outsider -- Ross Perot. With a message centered on changing the corrupted processes inside the Beltway, Perot captured the imagination of a sizable portion of the electorate.

This year we have a "new" crop of major party candidates. Now we have President Clinton -- a man who's character and trustworthiness are even more questionable today than in 1992. He will abandon his so-called "core beliefs" in a wink of an eye if it is in his best interests politically. In fact, the Clinton flip-flops over the last three years leave many of us wondering whether Clinton really has any convictions worthy of his leadership. Did I say "leadership?"

Candidate Dole is no more inspiring than President Bush in 1992, and no more of a leader than President Clinton. Mr. Dole appears unfit to lead this country toward the fresh changes that are needed; the direction of his campaign sends strong signals of an unimaginative and passionless man who is grabbing for political power, yet again. Are massive tax cuts the answer when we have big problems with the federal budget deficit? Does Bob Dole think that the extremist, pro-life wing of the Republican Party speaks for most of America? In a recent essay -- "Will Dole Fight?" -- William Safire warns Dole not to back down on pro-choice and other issues because "scrappiness in good causes -- is the route to upset victory."

Interest-group and big-business politics have blinded our national leaders from the concerns of mainstream America on issues as diverse as abortion, anti-terrorism, campaign financing, and welfare. Let's take welfare reform as an example of how political posturing is driving the agenda on important national issues that face this country.

Many Americans believe that welfare reform is needed. The Republicans should be applauded for raising this issue into the national spotlight. However, it is clear that the Republicans are willing to ignore weaknesses in welfare reform legislation so that they can win a quick political victory that helps them on the campaign trail into November. And where is Bob Dole? He's not leading the Congress on this, and other matters, because he's busy . . . campaigning . . . as a Washington outsider.

Then, of course, there's President Clinton. He said he would reluctantly sign the welfare reform bill (and he did). What does that mean? If he is truly concerned about the potential harm to millions of children that this proposed legislation may cause, then he shouldn't sign it -- no matter what the political consequences might be. In fact, we now hear the President saying that we should re-elect him so that the problems with the current direction of welfare reform can be better addressed in the next four years. I defy anyone to explain to me how Clinton's actions are not driven primarily, if not solely, by political motives.

What is the alternative to Bob Dole and Bill Clinton? Ross Perot . . . again? We must be joking. His "leadership" of the Reform Party is manipulative, at best, but often quite frightening. Although Perot does outline many of the problems with our government and political system today, often that's where he stops.

While the focus of media attention was on San Diego, Long Beach, Valley Forge, and Chicago during the month of August, I would like to remind everyone that another presidential candidate spoke that same month. He's a visionary with leadership that epitomizes "scrappiness in good causes." The Green Party held their Green Gathering '96 on the UCLA campus in Westwood and Ralph Nader, the Green Party presidential candidate, spoke on August 19th.

Nader is not a one-dimensional environmental candidate. Yes, he has received the nod from David Brower. Anyone who cares about the environment and the future of our children on this planet should give Mr. Nader serious consideration. But he has carefully considered positions on many issues: consumer protection, information and telecommunications policy, democracy and government, civil rights, energy policy, health care reform, campaign finance reform, term limits, labor rights, trade, economic growth, and income tax reform, to name a few. The careful voter looking for a discussion of the real issues, with an engaging voice of reason and fairness, will be prudently advised to investigate Nader's refreshing proposals. America may be delightfully surprised by the broad appeal of this man's message of change.

What is even more impressive about Ralph Nader is that he leads by doing. He remains above the level of discourse the others seem so happy to continue -- that twisted American soap opera that we call presidential politics. While the others play political games with the voters, the pollsters, and the media, and while they pretend to speak about the issues, Nader is practicing what he preaches. Nader's campaign is living tomorrow's dream of campaign finance reform. Nader has the nerve to talk about real issues AND real solutions. He has an established record of bringing real change to government. In short, he is the kind of innovator and outsider, with a vision, who wants to bring change that will let citizens have a greater voice in government.

The other candidates would like you to believe that a vote for Mr. Nader is a wasted vote. Leon Panetta, White House chief-of-staff, came right out and said so. Is this the rhetoric of issues or the rhetoric of winning? Is each and every one of us "wasting a vote" if we vote for the only person who seems committed to intelligent and fair discussion of the issues, and to the spirit of participatory democracy? Does it seem that a person like that would really waste your vote?

I think this rhetoric is another indication that the major party candidates prefer to minimize all challenges to the status quo of presidential politics and national leadership and, in so doing, prefer not to speak to the real issues. Only time will tell us if Mr. Nader is given a chance to debate the other candidates and present his alternative vision of America. For the good of our country and the future of democracy, let's at least give the man, and those scrappy words of Westwood, a fair chance. Let's bring on the presidential debates, gentlemen!

T.J. Moore is currently a research associate at the University of Washington. Email address: