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Run, Ralph, Run

We need his voice in the presidential election.
Common Dreams

Published on Friday, February 13, 2004 by CBSNews.com

Run, Ralph, Run
by Dick Meyer

Public Enemy Number One for the vast majority of Democrats is George Bush. Ralph Nader, liberal icon, occupies the second slot on the enemies list. Something is wrong with that picture.

Nader is thinking about running for president again. That has provoked a nasty, vehement, righteous barrage of opposition from liberals, progressives, Democrats and assorted Bush-haters afraid a Nader campaign could help re-elect Bush. Their anxiety may be understandable, but the shut-Nader-up campaign is appalling.

I say: Go for it, Ralph.

Why? Because Nader is not to blame for the fact that Al Gore is not president. Because I believe vigorous, high profile third-party candidacies (as high profile as third parties get in this country, that is) are good, even crucial for the political system. Because skilled political mischief-makers capable of occasionally piercing the homogenized, focus group tested, corporate sponsored claptrap of the two big parties are a rare godsend. Because more voices are better than fewer voices.

If people oppose Nader and are committed to Anybody But Bush, they should give money or time to the Democrats. People who complain about the rightward drift of the Democratic party shouldn't and the importance of free, diverse political speech shouldn't be working to keep Nader off the ballot and the big stage.

After a long conversation with him, I believe Nader wants to run. He says he'll decide by the end of February. He won't hook up with the Green Party this time. The key factors in his decision are whether he thinks he can get the volunteers and money to mount a 50 state campaign. "The money is a problem," he said. Backers in 2000 have abandoned him, with a vengeance.

Money is a problem not just for Nader but for the network of public interest and consumer groups he invented. Public Citizen, the biggest group Nader founded, lost 20 percent of its membership and $1 million in donations after 2000. (Full disclosure: I worked for Public Citizen writing a book on federal tax policy in 1984.) That's a sign of just how thoroughly some people blame Ralph Nader for the sins of Al Gore, George Bush and the United State Supreme Court.

But this is pure scapegoating. It's emotional.

Blaming Nader for 2000 is like blaming Steve Bartman for the Cubs failure to get in the World Series last year. Sure, if Bartman had not innocently tried to catch that foul ball headed for Moises Alou's mitt, the Cubs might have won Game Six. But if the Cubs had won four previous games, they would have made the Series. They could have come back from that freak play and still have won Game Six. They could have won Game Seven. There are lots of "could haves."

In 2000, Gore could have won his home state like almost all the other candidates in U.S. history have. He could have waged a semi-competent campaign and won New Hampshire, Ohio, Arkansas and Florida, handily. The Supreme Court could have ruled for Gore. Nader spent two and a half days in Florida in 2000, but it's his fault we went to war in Iraq? Right.

Nader says the "liberal intelligentsia touts itself as the most tolerant voice in America." But with their rabid demand for him not to run, "They're crossing from opposition to censorship." He understands some of this. "They are desperate to replace Bush, " he said. But he is mystified as to why their opposition is so, well, rabid. He is particularly dumbstruck by an open letter in the Nation magazine, supposedly the leading voice of dissent and civil liberties in the leftie world, commanding him to not run. There's a Web site devoted to keeping him out of the race. A Stanford law professor and blogger named Lawrence Lessig likens Nader to the tobacco and auto executives he's famous for attacking. He's being vilified.

I don't understand the degree of the hostility. Nader doesn't seem to either. He thinks it has something to do with the Left's inferiority complex. Fear of a Nader run, he speculated, shows "how low liberalism's self-esteem has sunk, how low its expectations are."

Nader believes that his campaign would help unseat Bush. Go ahead, chortle dismissively. I think he 's right. Nader talks about "field testing" lines of attacks, rhetoric, issues that the Democrats are too timid to use.

Perfect example: A few weeks ago Michael Moore, appearing with the dearly departed General Clark, called Bush a "deserter." This was deemed not kosher; Clark was urged to denounce the gadfly and apologize to his Highness. Well, it might not be by the Marquis of Queensbury's rule of politics, but President's Bush National Guard service is now a huge issue and it has tapped into some people's concerns about his moral authority to be a "war president."

Nader believes another campaign would bring some people into politics, perhaps into the Democratic column in November, and wouldn't scare any voters off. He wants attention focused on issues he thinks Democrats are too cautious on: poverty, corporate crime, minimum wage, regulation, campaign finance reform and media consolidation.

Fundamentally, Nader believes that ballot-access and campaign finance laws that discourage third parties are a serious civil liberties issue, an issue not close to the radar screens of the established civil liberties groups. He is outraged the big boys kept him and Pat Buchanan out of the debates in 2000. They will do so again if he runs this year. It simply galls Nader that only two teams get to play in the big tournament. It's not in his nature to just take it without a fight.

I think the zealousness of Nader-phobia reflects a larger rage and ugliness that has infected both sides of this narrowly and bitterly divided electorate (an infection I have written about ad nauseum, I know). If you're not with us, you're against us and we hate you. Clinton-haters. Gore-haters. Bush-haters. Not opponents, haters.

But it is precisely in times like these when dissident voices -- Right, Left, Radical Center -- are especially important. The electorate is divided, yes, but a huge slice of the population is simply alienated from politics and government altogether. And these voters, or non-voters, are better served when they can cast loud protest votes. Sometimes these votes are so loud that a Jesse Ventura becomes a governor. Minnesota survived.

In response to Lessig's insults on his blog, someone posted a message supporting Nader that said many people "feel betrayed, abandoned, and utterly unrepresented. I refuse to turn the act of voting into a choice between the lesser of two evils. That's exactly what the 2000 elections appeared to be, and I pray that the 2004 elections will be different." Two parties, nearly as similar as Coke and Pepsi, don't satisfy all consumers.

Third parties and independent candidates have served the country pretty well over. If John Breckinridge hadn't run as a Southern Democrat in 1860, Abraham Lincoln might not have been elected. I think Perot, Buchanan, John Anderson and Nader spiced up the national debate.

I hope Nader runs. I hope someone to the right of Bush runs too. More is better. Run, Ralph, Run.


Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, has covered politics and government in Washington for 20 years and has won the Investigative Reporters and Editors, Alfred I. Dupont, and Society of Professional Journalists awards for investigative journalism.

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

Go Ralph, GO! 16.Feb.2004 05:48

bvc

We have to realize that we, as a nation and a peoples, have gone off the deep end. We are no longer and example for the rest of the world, all to the contrary we have become the bufoons of the planet - we think that, like our pResident, are high and mighty kings while reality shows a petty, stupid, racist, blind sheeple that is too cowardly to even face the fact that its leader is the antichrist. WE NEED RALPH!! He is the only person who has spoken truthfully during the last 4 years while Democratic imbeciles voted tos upport a war created by a madman that engineered 9-11 for political gain. Maybe Nader can help us to look back into a regular mirror and see what ugly Dorian Greys we have become thanks to the media and the antichrist bush.
AT LEAST HE WILL MAKE SOME PEOPLE THINK FOR THEMSELVES INSTEAD OF BEING SPOONFED BY THE SATANIC NBC, FOX, CBS AND ABC TROLLS.

It could be really interesting. 16.Feb.2004 07:26

Tony Blair's dog

Nader is the one the corrupt people in both camps are
afraid of since he knows his stuff and can stand
ground against any of the scumbags.

If Ralph didn't run Gor would be PRes 16.Feb.2004 08:05

He diluted the vote

Ralph got Prince George elected last time around

C'mon 16.Feb.2004 08:12

glassguy

I voted for Ralph in '96 and '00. No way I'd do it this time around.
Kucinich is equally qualified at telling it like it is. Kucinich is equally trashed by corporate media for doing so. What can Ralph bring to the debate that Dennis isn't already being slammed for?
If your memory hole were a little smaller, you might recall that bushco was paying for Nader ads in fla. in '00. They will do so again.
We all know the corporate media is lying about Nader costing Gore the presidency, but with the crooked voting machines and karl rove's bag of dirty tricks, we can't get rid of bush unless we all hold our noses and vote for bush lite.
You want bushco out of office? Concentrate on the voting machines.

Paying for Nader ads? 16.Feb.2004 08:33

gerry

I think you're mistaken about the ads. In another Rethuglican dirty trick they ran some of their own ads that looked like Nader ads, as if to suggest Nader was on their side. Nader publicly disavowed the ads and they stopped running. Go research it again. You're spreading disinformation

Nader is senile 16.Feb.2004 08:42

former Nader voter

Have you listened to Nader talk any time recently? His voice is slurred, his mind wanders, he rises occasionally to the old passion and then mutters some embittered non-sequiter. He sounds like another older friend of mine, who is, quite frankly, losing it, though he (my friend) sounds fine at other times.

I think Nader has passed his peak, and certainly is in no shape to be president.

When I hear people talk about "voting for Nader", I can't help but think they are voting for the idea, not for the man.

Bush/Kerry in 2004! 16.Feb.2004 09:45

unelected

Re: He diluted the vote

If you still believe that fantasy, go check out "Unprecidented" at the Hollywood Theater on Thursday night.

Re: former Nader voter

Nader with advanced dementia would still be a noticable improvement over our current Commander in Chimp, however, I have not seen the behavior that you describe.

Nader's website 16.Feb.2004 11:36

Adammonte9000 adammonte9000@aol.com

www.naderexplore04.org

WORTH LISTENING TO! GREEN DEBATE ON 2004 16.Feb.2004 11:59

green

Debate between two Greens on public radio in California regarding the 2004 election: "to run, or not to run?"

Best damnable description of the two party duopoly of 'love/fear' I have ever heard, good points on all sides.



Forum 2004 -- Independent Election Coverage
Debate between Peter Camejo and Norman Solomon
Last Thur. evening, 1/29, KVMR broadcast a debate between media critic/author Norman Solomon and recent Green Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo, Crest Theatre, downtown Sacramento

 http://www.kvmr.org

When Nader STAYS serious 16.Feb.2004 19:20

I'll vote for him

When Ralph decides to quit dabbling in politics, I will not only vote for him, I will campaign for him.

Ralph: Don't do it, for your own good! 16.Feb.2004 22:24

B.A.M.

I love Ralph Nader. He is one of my journalistic icons for his consumer activism (if it weren't for him, we probably wouldn't be wearing seatbelts now), and I've loved everything about his politics since I saw him speak at Lewis and Clark College. I would love more than anything else to see him as president, which is exactly why I say: not right now, Ralph. If he were to run, he would suffer the worst political backlash imaginable. Which is why I say, wait, this is not the time, soon it will be, but if he runs and Bush wins, he WILL get blamed (even though I don't believe 2000 is his fault, it was rigged, and I am one of the people who fiercestly defends Ralph on this matter), and never be able to show his face in the political world again. So for his own sake, I hope he doesn't run.

peace, love, revolution
-ben

Backlash? 17.Feb.2004 15:47

George Bender

From whom, you? Why should we care? Democrats are a cheap date. They will always sell us out.