By Martin Bosworth
So by now you’ve probably heard that Ralph Nader is once again making a third run for the presidency. It pains me to have to say it, but Nader is making a terrible mistake and further tarnishing his legacy. He should not run.
Let me begin by emphasizing how much I admire Nader and all he has done. As a consumer advocate myself, I probably would not have the career I do if it wasn’t for him. His work on everything from auto safety to the corporate takeover of modern politics should be an inspiration to anyone who wants to stand up for the little guy. I read his book, supported his presidency, and when compared to the stiff mannequin that was Al Gore in 2000 and the incipient stupidity of Dubya, I pulled the lever for him.
But this isn’t 2000. It’s a very different world, and Nader simply refuses to recognize that.
First there’s his age. At 73 (soon to be 74), Nader is even older than John McCain, a man for whom his age has become a vital consideration as to whether or not you can expect him to go the full eight years. If Nader were elected and served two terms, he’d be 81 by the time he left office. Given that the youthfulness of Barack Obama and the vitality he brings with him has so successfully captured the ever-elusive youth vote, what can Nader really bring to the table to appeal to them by comparison?
Second, there’s accomplishment. What has Nader really done in the intervening eight years since his first run, and the four years since his second run, which was even more of a blip on the radar screen? Robert Scheer asked these questions in 2004, after Nader’s abortive second run:
Nader is not responding to a grass-roots demand that he run but rather is stoking his celebrity as a media curiosity. He has no mandate from those who care deeply about the causes he has championed. His sudden cameo appearance over the objections of many who have followed him, bypassing existing Green Party organizations, smacks of overwhelming elitism. Nader has done nothing of significance since the last election to organize popular opposition to the disasters of the Bush government, yet he now deigns to assert that he alone can save us.
That’s truer now than it was then, and it leads into my third point–timing. Why has Nader waited until now, when we’ve pretty much nailed down who the nominees will be for both parties? Why didn’t he start his run last year, building a grassroots initiative to get on the ballot on all 50 states? Why not appeal to second-tier candidates like Kucinich, Gravel, or even Ron Paul, to work with him and get behind him–and bring their disaffected constituencies with him?
The answer is Nader isn’t running to win. He’s running to be a spoiler, to draw attention–and possibly votes–away from the Democrat and Republican alike. Unfortunately, Mike Huckabee was very right when he said that Nader “usually pulls votes from the Democratic nominee. “So naturally, Republicans would welcome his entry into the race,” Huckabee said–and if he’s saying that, it’s something for us to worry about.
Mike says in his post that if Clinton gets the nomination, he’ll vote for Nader. I’ve had similar statements levied to me by friends of mine who are so far left they make me look like Mark Penn–the idea that anything to the right of, say, Dennis Kucinich, is a corporate tool and not worth voting for. Maybe that’s true.
But what will this concretely accomplish, besides giving votes to McCain, whose supporters will probably not be voting for the Nader/McKinney ticket? Nothing. It will enable people who pat themselves on the back for being principled to absolve themselves of any responsibility for what will happen with what is, essentially, a third term of Bush. It’s the same kind of solipsistic self-aggrandizement that Nader himself is tremendously guilty of. It’s a very cynical, passive-aggressive, mealy-mouthed sort of stance-“I don’t care if the country is going to hell in a handbasket as long as I stay true to my principles.” Nader exemplified this back in 2000 when he flat-out said that he’d rather have Bush win:
When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: “Bush.” Not that he actually thinks the man he calls “Bush Inc.” deserves to be elected: “He’ll do whatever industry wants done.” The rumpled crusader clearly prefers to sink his righteous teeth into Al Gore, however: “He’s totally betrayed his 1992 book,” Nader says. “It’s all rhetoric.” Gore “groveled openly” to automakers, charges Nader, who concludes with the sotto voce realpolitik of a ward heeler: “If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win.”
Well, thanks, Ralph. You got what you wanted. So why, then, are you running again? What can you possibly hope to accomplish this time that you didn’t before?
Matt Stoller is absolutely right when he says that Nader has a lot of things to say that need saying, but that he himself is part of the problem. It’s the same type of phenomenon as Edwards’ populist message pushing Clinton and Obama further left, even though he himself didn’t benefit from it. Hell, you can say it’s the same as bloggers on Daily Kos being more left-tilted than Markos himself. The simple truth is that the movement is bigger than the man–than any man–and those who would try to make it all about them are doomed to failure.
Just as the Obama movement evolved and took form beyond the influence of the movers and shakers in the blogosphere, so too has the populist movement grown and eclipsed many of its standard-bearers. Nader should realize this and have the dignity to step aside quietly, so as not to sully his many considerable accomplishments any further. We need victories, not ideological martyrs. We need Presidents, not kings. And we need someone who is truly out for the welfare of the country, rather than for themselves.
I used to think Nader was that man, but not any more. It saddens me tremendously, but there it is. He needs to go, and he needs to take the army of disaffected whiners who would assure four more years of Republican domination through their vote for him along as well.