Nader Targets Democrats


Richard W. Crockett


Without apology, 73 year old Ralph Nader seems to relish in the possibility—even hope--that the Democratic Party will lose the election of 2008, and paradoxically while knowing that he would be the cause, he publicly denies that he would be the cause of their loss, which would also deny them the opportunity of electing either the first African-American or the first women as President of the United States.  Although he is clearly a candidate of the political left, he seems specifically to be targeting the Democratic Party. Nader’s interest in running seemed to perk up upon the suspension of John Edwards’ campaign for the presidency, and he made his own announcement of his candidacy for the general election in November on Meet The Press on Sunday, February 24.     He contends that the two remaining Democrats are “not addressing the issues” that he wants to address, most of which previously had been addressed by John Edwards.  Nader said he intends to “elaborate the issues they are not talking about.” By “they,” he meant both Democrats and Republicans.   


He defends his decision in terms of his right to run a “third” party candidacy, by invoking democratic theory.  “Dissent is the mother of assent,” argues Nader. He characterizes the opposition to his candidacy on the left as “political bigotry.”  He talks about “candidates rights” versus “voter rights,” and argues that the country needs “multiple party democracy.” His point is that “third” parties often introduce America to ideas that are not discussed by the major parties, perhaps because of major party timidity and fear of the alienation of some voters.   But he also responds with irritation when asked if he believes that his candidacy might help to elect the Republican candidate. Nader responds, “if Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form.” Aware that a Nader candidacy would likely hurt the Democrats, Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate, commented, “Republicans would welcome his entry into the race.” Nader is often confronted with questions in which the premise of the question blames him for the election of George Bush in 2000.  Indeed, Gore’s campaign manager in New York State during the election year 2000, Robert Zimmerman, is recently quoted in as saying, “Ralph Nader’s legacy is the criminal negligence and corruption of the Bush Administration.”  Most Americans remember that the margin of victory in Florida was approximately 350 votes, allowing Bush to defeat Vice President Al Gore in the Electoral College, even though Gore had won the popular vote nationally.  Nader’s total was just over 90,000 votes in Florida, and the conventional wisdom is that Gore would have gotten most of these had Nader not been in the race. Nader contends that twenty-five percent of these would have voted Republican and many of the rest would have stayed home.  He is defensive about this charge and claims that Gore lost the election because he did not carry his own home state of Tennessee and he did not carry Arkansas, and because of Democratic Party problems with the Mayor of Miami. He further contends that the Florida election was stolen, as was Ohio in 2004, and he blames the Democrats for doing nothing about it. 


It is true that some of the attacks on Nader’s candidacy are in some regard unfair.  He is entitled to run, if he wants to and if he can afford to. And it is true that he will bring issues to the fore that are often thought to be “Democratic” issues, and it is true that with the end of the John Edwards candidacy many of these issues are no longer part of the debate.  As an Edwards voter, I do regret that.  Nader wants to talk about a litany of things: Wasteful defense policy, labor law reform, cracking down on corporate crime, and corporate lobbyists and reform of the Electoral College.  Most important in his justification of his candidacy seems to be the question of a single payer health care system—a government run health care system. 


I find myself in personal agreement with Nader on virtually every issue that he advocates, but in spite of that, I cannot bring myself to support his candidacy. With respect to the war in Iraq and domestic policy, John McCain is likely to be a continuation of the policies of George Bush. One has to be particularly obtuse to not recognize that a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote to continue Bush Administration policies, recession and all. McCain accuses the Democrats of wanting to “run up the white flag of surrender” regarding the war in Iraq in order to whip up patriotic fervor and accuse the Democrats of disloyalty.  But, it is hard for the referee in a fight to surrender, and we have become a referee.   Further, it is a guarantee that the war in Iraq would grind on endlessly, as McCain has promised, in search of elusive victory in a war that can be neither won nor lost, but promises only to take the lives of more of America’s youth who have become the referees, and the innocents among Iraqis who have little control over their own destiny.  Further, the war promises to exacerbate the recession because there is little or no economically beneficial domestic multiplier from defense production, and most of the dollars are spent overseas. It is a trillion dollar millstone around the nation’s neck.  For Nader to ignore these things invites the suspicion that he is simply looking to carve out a place in history for himself along side of the likes of Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas, both perennial Socialist candidates of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but if he is not careful he will find his place along side of the pathetic Harold Stassen, Republican Governor of Minnesota who popped up in presidential races, a laughing stock of the electorate for a generation.  Progressive voters should not be diverted to the Nader candidacy lest we be saddled with continuing national disaster.