When Al Gore’s supporters blamed a third-party candidate, Ralph Nader, for his narrow defeat by George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, the renowned consumer advocate quipped that Mr. Gore had taken votes away from him.
Democrats didn’t find Mr. Nader’s rejoinder very funny.
In the 2000 election, his Green Party ticket collected enough votes in New Hampshire and Florida to depress Mr. Gore’s numbers and enable Mr. Bush to carry those states, elevating to the presidency a man who would go on to leave no billionaire behind with his humongous tax cuts for the rich and undertake the Iraq War, one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in American history and one for which we are still paying every single day in the Mid-East.
With this year’s campaign in mind, it’s instructive to remember that Mr. Nader likened Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore, all too successfully, to two peas in a pod whom voters should reject in favor of him. “Tweedledee and Tweedledum,” Mr. Nader called his rivals.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — who are about as different as different can be — do have at least one thing in common: They both lack credibility with a remarkably high percentage of the electorate, suggesting that, at least on the trust issue, voters view them as “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” They are anything but.
Just as Ralph Nader created a false equivalency between Messrs. Gore and Bush, so, too, many voters with the mighty assist of some media organizations— that’s you, Fox News, Wall Street Journal and New York Post — have constructed a false equivalency between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump on character and trustworthiness. Yet she, most assuredly, can claim the higher ground.
Ms. Clinton speaks to our better angels. The same cannot be said of Mr. Trump, whose M.O. is to go to the darkest corners of the American psyche and to do it by spreading lies (let’s be blunt about it).
Ms. Clinton has declared that “instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers.” Mr. Trump not only wants Mexico to build a real wall along our mutual border, he seems bent on constructing figurative walls to divide America along racial lines. How else to explain his circulation of grossly inaccurate statistics on the percentage of whites murdered by blacks?
Last November, Mr. Trump re-tweeted an image of a dark-skinned masked man with a handgun along with the information that, in 2015, 81 percent of white homicide victims were killed by blacks.
Besides noting that 2015 was not then over and that the source cited for the information was non-existent, PolitiFact, the Pulitzer-winning fact-checking service, reported that FBI statistics for 2014 showed that just 15 percent of whites were killed that year by blacks — less than a fifth of the number Mr. Trump used.
And how else to explain his leading role, starting in 2011, in trying to sow doubt about the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency by questioning whether the nation’s first black chief executive was born in America? (Not until two weeks ago did the Donald acknowledge that Mr. Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen, although, characteristically, he didn’t apologize.)
Now Ms. Clinton is hardly a model of transparency. Whether it’s her use of a private email server, the still-undisclosed contents of her extremely lucrative speeches to Wall Street banks or even her troubling delay in acknowledging a recent bout of pneumonia, her penchant for protecting her privacy doesn’t serve her (or us) well.
But notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s ceaseless characterization of Ms. Clinton as “crooked,” she has never been prosecuted, let alone convicted for a crime.
While FBI director James Comey has called her handling of her emails “extremely careless,” recommending criminal charges against her was “not a cliff-hanger,” he said in an agency memo made public this month.
“Despite all the chest-beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn’t a prosecutable case,” wrote Mr. Comey, who served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and contributed to President Obama’s Republican opponents in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
Ms. Clinton has also come under scrutiny for apparently granting major donors to the Clinton Foundation easy access to her while she served as secretary of state, creating the appearance of “pay to play.”
Although the optics are unsettling, there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo warranting prosecution. Bill Clinton has pledged to quit the foundation, which by all accounts does outstanding work, and also have it stop taking foreign donations if Ms. Clinton is elected.
Compare these missteps with those of Mr. Trump, who has no record of public service (not even military service). His sole work experience has been in business, and what an experience it’s been!
Mr. Trump’s companies have declared bankruptcy no fewer than six times, says PolitiFact. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican turned independent who knows a thing or two about making money, was spot on when he told the Democratic National Convention, “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us. I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.”
Then there’s the Donald J. Trump charitable foundation. “Trump’s campaign says he’s given ‘tens of millions’ to charity but offers no details and no proof,” read a headline over a recent Washington Post story.
It came two days after the paper ran a superb investigative story reporting that unlike other foundations, almost all of its gifts have been made with other people’s money; the last donation from Mr. Trump himself, The Post found, was in 2008.
Of course, we’d get a clearer picture of his business performance and charitable giving if, like every other major-party presidential contender of the past 40 years, Mr. Trump released his tax returns, something he refuses to do.
“If Clinton fails the transparency test,” opined The Baltimore Sun last month, “her opponent is more like the lead-lined door that even Superman’s X-ray vision can’t penetrate.”
There’s no equivalency between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump on trustworthiness and character. She’s all that stands in the way of his becoming president. This election will be a time when not voting for president or opting for a third-party candidate just won’t cut it.
Remember Ralph Nader and President Al Gore.
The author lives in Orient.