Nader’s candidacy was widely rumored in both 1972 and 1980 (during the latter race he groused that he would rather have Ronald Reagan elected than return President Jimmy Carter to the White House, if only because “Reagan is going to breed the biggest resurgence in nonpartisan citizen activism in history”), but not until 1992 did he take much active interest in running, finally putting himself forward as a write-in candidate in the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary elections. And it wasn’t until 1996 that this King of Consumer Protection allowed himself to be drafted as the Green Party’s informal presidential nominee. Four years later, though, Nader launched a more vigorous grab for the Oval Office keys. Under the Green Party banner, he campaigned for universal health care, free college educations for all, and a heavy shift of tax burdens onto corporations. Nader was also running to “punish the Democrats,” acknowledged his nephew and advisor, Tarek Milleron, “we want to hurt them, wound them.” Nader certainly did that. By campaigning on many of the issues important to Democrats, and by denouncing Vice President Al Gore as no different from George W. Bush, Nader captured 5 percent of the vote in several key states (New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Minnesota among them), and helped ensure a Bush win.
Four years later, Nader wasn’t so successful. He lost the Green Party’s endorsement to attorney-activist David Cobb, but still tried to make an independent run, eventually appearing on the ballot in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Democratic charges that he ruined Senator John Kerry’s chances of beating Bush held less weight in 2004 than the accusation that he’d thrown the 2000 race to Bush. However, his 2004 candidacy did nothing to help Nader’s reputation. The “spoiler” label stuck to him, and it remains there.
So it was infuriating to read in The Politico yesterday that Ralph Nader is “seriously considering running for president in 2008.” He complains that Democrats and Republican’ts are interchangeable in their philosophy today (“they don’t even debate the military budget anymore”), and claims that the country needs a serious third-party candidate to emphasize the weaknesses of the other contenders. At 73 years old (two and a half years older than GOP “war candidate” John McCain), Nader knows he can’t win, that he can only disrupt the 2008 race, and that he will undoubtedly be used by the Republican’ts as a wedge to divide a likely strong Democratic vote--and thereby ease the election of some empty suit like ex-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (the perfect pretty-boy GOP candidate, after his predecessor for that title, U.S. senator and presidential-wannabe George “Macaca” Allen, imploded last year). Yet Nader doesn’t care. His ego is way out in front of both his common sense and any interest he may have in restoring U.S. credibility abroad or economic strength at home.
It’s telling that Nader’s most vitriolic attacks are leveled not at Republican’ts (despite his insistence over the years that his quixotic campaigns are more damaging to the GOP than to Dems), but at First Lady-turned-Senator Hillary Clinton of New York. The Politico quotes him as calling her “a political coward. She goes around pandering to powerful interest groups on the one hand and flattering general audiences on the other. She doesn’t even have the minimal political fortitude of her husband.”
(Gee, Ralph, are you really so naïve or deluded as to believe that Hillary Clinton is the only presidential contender who curries favor with both deep-pocketed movers and everyday voters? That shortsightedness alone should disqualify you from entering the coming contest.)
And none of the issues Nader emphasizes seems unique to him. The Politico explains:
If Nader runs, he would emphasize the “ever-increasing corporate power in our society” and “the expanding disconnect between the growth of the economy and the distribution to people who work hard but don’t get the fruits of it.”Indeed, all those issues are already being brought up by the declared Democratic candidates, and they’re pretty much the foundation of John Edwards’ campaign. On the basis of those causes, Nader can’t expect to find sympathetic ears among the Republican’ts vying for the presidency in 2008. So why doesn’t he simply endorse one of the Dems, any of whom is more likely to win the presidency than he is? Nader contends that he has an important role to play the next White House race:
Nader also believes the United States should withdraw from Iraq over a six-month period, have the United Nations sponsor new elections and leave no U.S. forces behind.
“What third parties can do is bring young people in, set standards on how to run a presidential election and keep the progressive agenda in front of the people,” he said. “And maybe tweak a candidate here and there in the major parties.”“Tweak a candidate here and there”? That’s the reason you want to run for president a fourth time? Gimme a break. Nader has become the William Jennings Bryan of the 21st century, only without the silver tongue or the party imprimatur. He has far exceeded his 15 minutes of fame, and is now motivated into these quadrennial courtings of the American electorate by ego alone. The same sort of ego that leads George W. Bush to throw more valuable young men and women into a civil war abroad, even when that conflict cannot be won simply by force and by the constant repetition of hollow reassurances that things are getting better in Baghdad. Bush the egotist thinks that if he can only sacrifice a few more hundred, perhaps thousands of American lives in Iraq and maybe Iran next--the numbers don’t matter, since he’s convinced that he’s on a “mission from God”--the wisdom of his choice to invade Iraq under false pretences (whatever happened to those “weapons of mass destruction,” anyway?) will suddenly become clear, and he will be hailed as a visionary. Equally deluded is Nader, who seems to believe that, having ruined his reputation by delivering the United States into the hands of an incompetent like Bush Jr., his best course of action is to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, criticizing the Democratic presidential candidates for losing, while simultaneously doing everything he can to provoke their losses.
The smart man (or woman) knows when his time is up, and leaves the stage. The pragmatist weighs the wisdom of a course of action, and if he sees that the costs outweigh the benefits, he chooses a different direction. The egotist does whatever the hell he wants, and lets others pick up his mess. I suspect that, in the long run, New York’s multibillionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg--having ditched the Republican Party (into which, as a lifelong Democrat, he never fit, anyway) and enjoyed recent speculation regarding his running for the White House as some sort of “purple party” moderate--will ultimately abandon such a campaign, reasoning that the costs of splitting the Democratic electorate and in the process electing a Bush-like Republican’t to the nation’s highest office would be detrimental to all. Better to take a pass and let the United States resuscitate its optimism, restore its financial wherewithal, and rebuild its international relations after years of Bush-Cheney fear- and warmongering, than to launch a bid for the presidency because he wants to be a power player. Bloomberg might be able to set aside his ego and bow out of a bid he’s not confident he can win. We’ve seen no proof that Nader can exercise such mature restraint.
READ MORE: “If Bloomberg Runs, Who Will Run with Him?” by Steve Kornacki (New York Observer); “Ralph Nader’s War,” by Peter Dreier (The Huffington Post).