An Open Letter to Ralph Nader
Published on Friday, November 21, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
An Open Letter to Ralph Nader
by Greg Bates
I am writing to tell you the obvious: you have to run for president. Let me lay out a few of the issues I am sure you are reviewing.
1. First, consider what happened when you ran in 2000. You changed the political landscape.
a. Along with Winona LaDuke, you and voters made clear that the Democratic Party's strategy of moving to the right-secure in the knowledge those on the left end couldn't go anywhere and would fall in line-was bankrupt. We had an alternative and we went for it.
b. Your run helped elect many Democrats. Exit polls in the 2000 election showed that 25% of Nader voters would have voted for Bush, 38% would have voted for Gore, and the rest wouldn't have voted. Therefore Nader brought more than 1 million new voters into the election. The Party should be grateful for this.
c. You changed the debate. Remember how Gore stole some of your rhetoric? You should view it as an important accomplishment.
d. The spill over extended beyond electoral politics. Your candidacy served as a huge billboard for change in many arenas and helped boost efforts in a variety of non-electoral sectors (e.g. organizing against the war in Iraq).
2. Second, consider what didn't happen in 2000. You didn't help George Bush win. Gore won. Just because the Supreme Court decided to appoint Bush to the Presidency doesn't mean you are responsible for the action of those 5 Justices.
3. Consider what your run in 2000 has already done to the contest in 2004:
a. Would Dean, Kucinich, and even Clark be mouthing the rhetoric they do if you hadn't run? I'll be kind to Kucinich and give him the nod, but as for the rest, I don't think so. They understand how much they need the constituency you helped define in 2000.
b. This effect is much broader than your impact on the candidates. Regardless of how much heat you are taking in the debate over your last run and over the prospects of another one, I am reminded of what this means: people of all stripes understand the left is developing real power. All of the debate about your past and possible future candidacy, painful though I am sure it is, is focused on this question: how should progressives best use their power? That wasn't even a question 6 years ago.
4. Consider the outcome if you don't run:
a. Your help to progressive Democrats that spills over from your run will be diminished. This could be devastating if it means the Republicans retain control of Congress. In this you have a responsibility here no other person can fulfill.
b. Not running sends the wrong message to voters: Our democracy isn't strong enough to support a plurality of candidates running for the highest office in the land. Dissent is only permissible when the Democratic candidate is a shoo-in for office. On the contrary-dissent and organizing are important to carry out especially when the stakes are high.
c. We send the wrong message to the Democratic Party: we will fall in line because we really don't have anywhere else to go-precisely the opposite message you worked so hard to send in 2000.
5. Consider the outcome if you do run:
a. There is a small chance that the Democratic nominee could turn out to be someone of your political stripe, making the same criticisms as you do of the corporate backers of the Democrats, and seriously challenging their choke hold from within. In that case, you might consider stepping aside. But I don't see that candidacy as very likely. However unlikely it is, the rise of such a candidate might be more likely if you did declare initially than if you didn't. A response by the Democrats designed to protect their left flank against you would be a good thing.
b. It is a well-understood political principle that those who articulate the clearest vision of what needs to happen don't always succeed, but they make it more acceptable to work toward those goals. They create a shift in the political spectrum. As you did last time, your run would provide a tremendous boost to 3rd party efforts at the state and local level.
c. Take as examples the legacy of those whose shoulders you stand on. I think of the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the union organizers, those fighting against racism, sexism, etc. They acted in the face of constant criticism that they move too fast, they rock the boat, they make "real change" impossible. But time and again they have proven that the arc of change bends toward those who demand what is right, not what is reasonable.
6. We need to stop debating strategy and get out there.
a. Recall the words of actor Richard Dreyfuss who in 2000 made a last minute speaking tour against your candidacy. He said, we need to send a message to the Democratic Party, but now is not the time because too much is at stake... Excuse me? I beg to differ-the time to send a message is the time when the Party is most likely to listen, during an election, when it can feel the pain of ignoring the message. We cannot let our convictions and our organizing be subject to fickle whims-is the president a nasty guy; did the Democratic candidate say something nice today?
b. Besides, the message isn't directed to the Democratic Party-it's a message of hope to the electorate, the only constituency that really counts.
c. Today's guess might be: Dean could win; let's rally around him. But what if the Party or the nominee stumbles in the next 12 months and there is no alternative to Bush? What happens if both Bush and the Democrats stumble and, had you been running, you would have won? Unforeseen stumbles by presidents and nominees are part of our history and likely to take place this time as well. From Ed Muskie to George McGovern, from Richard Nixon to George Bush Sr., the outcomes of elections have been surprisingly unpredictable.
7. A run for the presidency should communicate:
a. That the Democratic Party is structurally incapable of delivering what the people need, and that the electorate is not going to stand for palliative rhetoric as a substitute for real change. Those who run for president under the Democratic Party ticket are essentially conceding the status quo: corporations decide our fate. We disagree.
b. It should teach people to discern the difference between what the Democrats sometimes say they are offering and what is really needed. If that were all that got accomplished, it would be invaluable.
c. We will stand for nothing less than a REAL political debate regardless of the efforts by the Democratic and Republican controlled Commission on Presidential Debates to limit the spectrum of issues presented to the American people.
8. I think the long term view beyond the election is vital. The real issue is what contribution you make to the forces that are building for change. Are we going to have a society in which a critic of corporate power runs for office every 4 years or not? We need the answer to be yes. Do we need to build toward the day when you or someone like you can be president? Absolutely. Can that be done best by running only when a Democrat is already in office? We know the answer: We can't build an movement that will win the White House by putting forth a candidate every once in a while. We need to persistently field a real alternative at every opportunity.
9. Finally, to those who say the stakes are too high, I would simply agree-at no other time in our history has it been more imperative to have the real McCoy take office. Martin Luther King once articulated why we can't wait. Surely we have less time now. We need you to win.
Common Courage Press
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