It now appears that Ralph Nader's candidacy may indeed cost Al Gore the election. Gore is currently behind by about 2,000 votes in Florida; Nader received 95,000 there. During the campaign, when confronted with such scenarios, Nader argued that voters should still cast their ballots for him on the grounds that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Putting aside the odious assertion that Gore and Bush are evil and he's not, it should be noted that this posture, throughout history, has led to great misery.

When Adolph Hitler invaded Russia, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that he would align himself with, and fight alongside, Joseph Stalin, the extraordinarily evil leader of the Soviet Union. Churchill, an unremitting foe of both communism and Stalin, recognized that Nazism was the greater threat to the survival of the western world. Hitler's evil was such, Churchill declared, that if Hitler invaded hell, he, Churchill, would find something to say in support of the devil.

A second example: During World War II, the Allies learned that the Nazis were moving their only supply of "heavy water", a necessary element in the development of an atom bomb on a ferry through Norway. Learning of the Nazis' plans, the Allies chose to bomb the ship at a time when they thought the fewest innocent passengers would be on it. The bomb succeeded in thwarting any further Nazi development of an atomic bomb, and also killed 26 of the 53 people on the ship. Is it wrong to kill innocent people? Yes, but as a philosopher Jonathan Glover argues in his recent book, Humanity: the Moral History of the Twentieth Century, "it would be hard to argue that it would have been better to have risked the heavy water reaching Germany."

A third example is drawn from the Talmud, the preeminent Jewish legal text. The example is a hypothetical one in which the Talmud discusses what should be done in a case in which two men are in the dessert, and only one has water. If the one who has the water splits it, both men will die. If the water's owner keeps it, he will live and the other will die. The prevailing, but not exclusive, Jewish view is that it is better in such a situation that only one person die, not both (obviously, if one has more than enough water to survive, one is obligated to split it).

A final observation about Ralph Nader. I was struck by a comment of Nader's reported in this Tuesday's New York Times. Speaking of his opponents, Nader said of George Bush: "He's nothing more than a big corporation running for president disguised as a human being."

"Disguised as a human being?" This is Nader's campaign language, setting out to dehumanize his opponent. The rhetoric of dehumanization of those with whom he disagrees has long been associated with Communist and Nazi politicians. Lenin would speak of his opponents as "harmful insects," as did the Nazis. This sort of language we don't need in the United States.

Eight years ago, Pat Buchanan used to inject inflammatory, mean-spirited rhetoric into his campaign speeches. And you know what happened? The responsible right--and it turned out that most of the right was responsible--marginalized him to the fringes of American life. Thirty years ago, Ralph Nader did good in getting the car industry to make safer automobiles. But if the most liberal wing of Democrats does not act as most conservatives did and marginalize this man, they will be responsible not for a lesser evil but a great one.

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