The Nadir of Nader

BY Laura S. Washington

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In a perfect world, there would be room for debate about the role of independent parties. But thanks to Bush, this world is far from perfect.

He’s back. And he’s got your back.

Yes, Ralph Nader has thrown down that withering, raggedy old gauntlet in one more tiresome bid for the presidency. Our modern-day Don Quixote will mount his high horse, yet again, to announce why he believes he is the only true independent candidate for the White House.

Following Nader’s Feb. 24 announcement that he is running as an independent candidate, the New York Times noted that “reactions from the Democratic candidates on Sunday ranged from disdainful to dismissive.”

To say the least.

Nader. The mere mention of that particular n-word gives me the heebie jeebies.

For decades, Nader was a hero to progressives who cherished consumer and environmental rights. He was the advocate extraordinaire, revered for his attacks on cutthroat corporate interests that were stealing the American dream and soiling the environment.

At 74, he has launched four runs for the presidency. That’s at least two too many.

In 2004, he ended up with about 1 percent of the vote.

Nader’s insistence on hogging the electoral limelight in 2000 siphoned off crucial support from Democratic nominee Al Gore and helped sweep in our most disastrous president ever. Can you say Halliburton? The Iraq invasion? No Child Left Behind? The Patriot Act? The attorney general witchhunt? The subprime mess?

No doubt Gore deserves a good dose of blame. He ran a mediocre and schizophrenic campaign. He shunned the best thing he had going–Bill Clinton. Still, the former vice president went on to tell us some Inconvenient Truths and win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nader says he’s got your back. He is doing this for you. He says the other candidates are not talking about our “bloated” military budget, corporate criminals and the leading political parties’ abuse of the electoral system.

But it’s really all about Ralph, who has emerged after four years in the wilderness to discover that Democrats may have the best shot at complete control of D.C., in a long, long time.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), for his part, is not the messiah–despite his cult-like following. Obama, once a solid progressive, is now running at breakneck speed toward the center. At the Feb. 26 debate in Cleveland, he cheerily told voters that he is no liberal. Yet Obama is the only wall between 100 more years in Iraq and economic disaster at home.

Meanwhile, Nader is trying to hold on to that miniscule pinpoint of limelight and just a few more headlines.

It’s pathetic.

Yes, maybe I’m mean and unfair. The 2000 election debacle was mean and unfair too, and Nader had a hand in it. Yes, maybe marginalizing Nader goes against the grain of America’s democratic traditions of inclusion and independence. As a progressive, I am generally sympathetic to those arguments.

But in a perfect world, there would be room for a spirited and substantive debate about the role of independent parties in American politics today. Thanks to George W. Bush, however, this world is far from perfect.

The day after his announcement, Nader appeared on Ron Silver’s daily talk show on Sirius radio. He told Americans that we must “remember our history.” “The best ideas in American history have come from small parties,” he intoned. “Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party, he ran for president five times, he put forth social security, unemployment compensation, the progressive income tax, labor standards … .”

My friend, the late Jim Weinstein, could tell Nader a few things about history. In fact, he did. In 2001, Weinstein, the founder of In These Times and an astute historian of the left, drew a barrage of brickbats with his piece, “Let’s Crash the Party (Instead of Throwing Our Own).”

Revisiting the 2000 debacle, Weinstein wrote that, “instead of building a constituency for his ideas, as he claimed to be doing, Nader divided an already existing one and did a terrible disservice to progressives. Clearly, the constituency for Nader’s ideas is much greater than his following. For every person who cast a vote for Nader, there were at least 10 who shared his views on many issues but voted Democratic.”

Nader created a gulf among progressives that led his followers “up a blind alley, where they may be lost for some time to come.”

Jim was so right then–and now.

Nader, get lost.

Laura S. Washington, an In These Times contributing editor, is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and political analyst for ABC 7-Chicago.

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