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An Open Letter to Ralph Nader

Go Ralph!
Published on Friday, November 21, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
 http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1121-12.htm

An Open Letter to Ralph Nader
by Greg Bates

Dear Ralph,

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.

Best,

Greg Bates
 gbates@commoncouragepress.com

Publisher
Common Courage Press

homepage: homepage: http://www.commondreams.org

Well what makes Nader so great? 23.Nov.2003 04:08

Brian Smith

I think Nader is awesome in what he does, but he's never held a public office. I would think Kucinich would be a clear decision, I pretty much view him as just as progressive. If Nader joined now it would just be a mess in my opinion.

How are Bush Sr and Kucinich alike? 23.Nov.2003 08:30

anti deffamatory laws

Kucinich is like Bush Sr. How? Bush Sr was pro choice but to run for the Republican vote he became a pro lifer. Kucinich became for the democratic party pro choice. It's a religous thing he has said to brush off criticism. Now look what happened to Bush Jr. The consequences of trading in your values are too high. Let my vote be for Ralph. I'm not trading in again...

Ralph, please don't 23.Nov.2003 09:57

GPFX

Look, the "political landscape" only changes to favor republican candidates when Nader runs. Nader needs to stop feeding his ego with failed presidential bids and start using his party's funds to elect mayors, state representatives and city councilmembers. Build the party from the ground up and it might actually work.

Sure, by the time the Greens have enough votes to make a Green president even remotely viable, Nader may be to old to run, but that is what is called "self sacrafice for the common good." It is either fail or plan long-term; everything else is just ego-fodder.

-GPFX- Voting third party locally where votes count, supporting the opposition fromt runner at the presidential level. No wasted votes here.

not wasting votes 23.Nov.2003 10:35

anti deffamation

hmmm, your logic:

Two candiates. Hitler and Mussolini. Who should I vote for?

I vote Mussolini becuase at least we will get to string him up.

My logic: A vote for evil is a vote wasted. Period.

bogged down in muckiness 23.Nov.2003 10:38

shop-vac

Nader voter here, or should I say former Nader voter. I will not support any Nader campaign this time. I want to see a change in the white house, Nader has always been a protest vote, no one in their right mind believed he could/can actually win. I have no misgivings of my Nader vote in 2000, I truely believed there was no choice between the stepford wived demos and the don't have a clue repubs. Of course 20-20 hindsight and all that, we see what a load this bush shit turned out to be, but the election was Gore's to lose and he did. The 2004 election is night and day from the 2000 election. I am not voting for the lesser of two evils when I vote for Dean/Kerry/Clark, I will be voting for advancement of America to the present time as opposed to 1958 where America is now.

I want my MTV! 23.Nov.2003 11:01

american voter

I don't care if teh Democrats support the murder of Iraqi families in order to protect our troops (from the very Democrats that PUT our troops there), I need to beat Bush! I don't care if all teh Democratic candidates except Kucinich and Sharpton support PRE-EMPTIVE WAR just like the Rethugs, I need to beat Bush! I don't care that the Democraps were just as responsible (in fact lead the way in some cases), for the latest 20 years of legislation that has given unprecedented legal protections to corporations so that we can all be sucked dry and have ZERO recourse, I need to beat Bush! I don't care that Democraps like Gephart - who CO-SPONSORED and CO-WROTE the legislation that allowed Bush to go into Iraq are now saying they're against the war, I need to beat Bush!

Man, you Nader folks are a bitter, 23.Nov.2003 14:37

nope

hostile bunch. I wouldn't join you people if my life depended on it--if this is what Nader is about, you can have it.

message for nope-- 23.Nov.2003 14:58

umbra

and precisely what is it that *you* are "about", mr nope?


dear nope 23.Nov.2003 15:08

napes

au contraire! you non nader folks are bitter and hostile. I wouldn't join you folks if my life depended on it- if that is what being a non naderite is what that was about you can have it.

A status quo vote 23.Nov.2003 15:25

is a vote for death

If you speak of leading this country or administering its policies with out talking serious reform in the realms of government accountablity and the removal of corruption (if you havn't looked into this, do so now) then you have a corpse in your mouth. Vote your conscience! This nation is truly at war and in crisis. I think you can really "imagine" ways of changning this. There are very rational and real alternatives to war, misrepresentation, unemployment and isolationist based "community." Brothers and Sisters (a way of referring to you!) haven't we learned! We can organize! Participate in media, government, and community, because it is participating in you!

Life after Ralph 23.Nov.2003 17:50

Jeff

I've got a different approach to the issue of whether or not Nader should run for President.

First, there's a big distinction that needs to be made between Green Party members and Naderites. Obviously Greg Bates, the author of the "open letter," is a Naderite. There is not a SINGLE mention of the Green Party in the entire thing. This guy supports Nader's strengths, which involve inspiring legions of people to become involved in political action and bringing up the important issues that the Dems and Republicans try their hardest to ignore. He unfortunately ignores Nader's biggest weakness, which is his lack of conviction for building a vibrant third party movement.

Bates (and Ralph) believe that the solution is to put pressure on the Democrats to reform themselves. They're not about building a new progressive political party; it's actually about trying to "save" the Democratic Party. I've talked with some of Nader's advisors, I know that that's the uppermost thing in their minds. Many of us believe that the Democratic Party is beyond reform, because people have been trying, and failing, to do that for over a century now. America needs a growing third party movement to raise the important issues, keep them in the public's mind and eventually have candidates elected to office to achieve them. The Green Party is the best possibility to achieve that. The only way to make that effort successful is to build a base through local elections, and work toward systemic electoral reforms such as proportional representation, campaign finance reform and instant runoff voting.

Nader has little interest in actually working with the Green Party, and abhors the thought of adopting strategies developed by the Green Party's leaders. He wants to do his own thing in his own way, which often conflicts with Green ideals such as decentralization and eliminating hierarchy. He can rally huge numbers of supporters to campaign on his behalf, but that's about the extent of it. Most of them become involved because of Ralph's "Cult of Personality" and then lose interest in the tedious and lengthy (but incredibly important) process of building a new political movement.

I should qualify this with a couple of statements - I have the utmost respect for Nader's numerous non-political achievements, and became involved with the Green Party because of my respect for him. I also think that the "spoiler" argument about the 2000 election is pure Democratic propaganda and no informed person should take it seriously.

Regardless, the Green Party needs to move beyond Nader for the next election. He should focus on his civic activism instead, which is his greatest strength and accomplishment.

Ralph supports Greens 24.Nov.2003 14:29

Green1

I respectfully disagree with Jeff's comments. I have heard Ralph Nader speak many times about supporting the Greens. His two presidential runs in 1996 and 2000 helped to bolster support for the Greens across the country including significantly increasing Green Party membership. If he does not work in exactly the way some Green Party members would like, I think you could say the same for others who are registered Greens. Working together and utilizing all the Green Party values, as stated in the Mission Statement, is something we all strive for, but do not always succeed in doing. If Ralph were to choose to run again, I think this is a subject to cover with him, and at least give him a chance to agree to work in what Jeff or others consider a more cooperative manner. The past is the past. I say let's build from our positions of strength for the future. A Ralph Nader candidacy would garner support from disparate groups from around the country. Right now, however, I believe he is supporting Dennis Kucinich. He will probably make a decision about running after the Democratic primary. The whole issue about Nader being a spoiler has been covered well by Jeff and others who posted here. I absolutely concur that it is the system that is spoiled and what needs to be fixed--even Ralph has said that simply changing who is president will not automatically fix the problem. One of the things he does by running is to highlight how and where the system needs repairing and transformation.

I'd rather rubber bullet myself than 24.Nov.2003 23:37

Green THUMB

Vote for the democratic party. Doesn't anybody remember the democratic convention in LA were the police beat the shit out of protesters? Or how about when the democrats helped to hush up the problem with choice point and then got Cynthia McKinney out of office for attempting to look into it? Or how about our democratic congressman stopping the fillibuster, or how they voted for this war despite massive protests around the globe? Or how Hillary Clinton was the lawyer for walmart while waqlmart was employing chinese prison labor, Clinton is making welfare cuts, giving walmart corporate welfare to train people, laying them off after several months, and the people relying on our tax dollars for medicare that is being cut. Walmart makes more money than the country of Sweden. THIS IS THE FIRST LADY OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY!!!