When Ralph Nader announced his presidential candidacy on Meet the Press, that he’s running wasn’t as surprising as his rationale for doing so. Nader offered as his principal reason his “desire to retire” George Bush. Just how did Nader assert his candidacy would do that? Why, because he’ll take votes from “conservatives furious with Bush over the deficit” and “liberal Republicans who see their party being taken away from them.” The notion that Nader this year could ever peel off enough right-wing votes from Bush to tip the election against him is, quite simply, delusional. Pretending he could do so is only the latest evidence that Nader has completely lost his judgment.
Full disclosure: I wrote columns in support of Nader’s 2000 candidacy, and I was one of just two dozen hardy writers and intellectuals who signed a New York Times ad supporting him in 1996, as my personal protest against the Clintons’ destruction of the New Deal heritage. But the political context this year is dramatically different.
Four years ago, there was a genuine progressive base for a protest candidacy, and the similarities in the positions taken by Gush and Bore were quite striking. Today, progressive rank and filers see Bush as a dangerous president whose radical reactionary governance has given the lie to his infinitely more moderate 2000 promises of “compassion.” Nader’s audience has already left the theater. John Kerry, for all his flaws, is far from an enforcer for reaction — as Nader conceded: He said “yes” when asked if there would be a significant difference between another Bush administration and a Democratic one. He made it explicit the next day, admitting to Chris Matthews: “Kerry and Edwards would certainly be much better than Bush.”
Four years ago, Nader was the candidate of the Green Party. This year, Nader has brushed off the Greens because he finds the need to cooperate with others outside the circle of his unconditional venerators too constricting. So, Nader’s loner candidacy this year builds nothing — especially when one remembers how, in the wake of his 2000 campaign, Nader retreated into silence for months afterward, blowing the opportunity to crystallize his non-Green troops into some sort of permanent electoral fighting force for change. Nader’s ’04 candidacy, since it will inevitably be perceived as aiding Bush’s re- election, will alienate the widest swath of progressive voters from any future consideration of a viable independent or third-party politics.
Worse, Nader has now jumped into bed with the ultrasectarian cult- racket formerly known as the New Alliance Party and its guru, Fred Newman: Ralph was the star attraction at a January conference of “independents” that was just a front for the Newmanite crazies. By rejecting the Greens’ ballot line, Nader will have huge difficulties getting his name on the ballot. So he went shopping for help in ballot access from the Newmanites. The New York Times reported Nader says he’ll “link up” with existing “independent” parties in New York and elsewhere — which can only mean the Newmanites (who control New York’s Independence Partyand similar remnants of the Reform Party in manystates).
This cult is the antithesis of every value Nader holds dear. A Maoist grouplet in the ’70s, the Newmanites morphed into supporters of Pat Buchanan in the Hitler- coddling commentator’s 2000 takeover of the Reform Party. Newman recruits and controls his followers through a brainwashing scheme baptized “social therapy,” designed to create blind allegiance to Newman. He has frequently dipped his rhetoric in the poisonous blood-libel of anti-Semitism, denouncing Jews as “storm troopers of decadent capitalism.” By French- kissing the cultists to get on the ballot, Nader has allowed himself to be used as bait to lure the unsuspecting into the Newmanite orbit, where they risk being sucked into the cult. That’s a betrayal of the many young people to whom Nader is still a hero. And an acid commentary on Nader’s judgment.
The groundswell of support Nader claims exists only in his mind. When the Times asked him if he wasn’t troubled by the fact that, on Meetup.com, only 375 people had registered for him — compared to 188,000 for Dean 45,000 for Kerry, 23,000 for Kucinich and 9,000for Edwards — Nader’s mind-boggling response was: “I really don’t deal with the Web. There isn’t time in the day to go into virtual reality.”
That doesn’t wash with former Dean supporters whose votes Nader hopes for. As Matt Stoller, one of the more thoughtful pro-Dean bloggers, put it, “Nader has lost the audience he needs most . . . because he isn’t talking to them, but at them. His dismissal of the Internet is a case in point — he has lost touch with what drives the American conversation and [so] is less and less relevant.”
Nader did not have to run for president to pursue the issues he cares about. Large contributors associated with MoveOn.org had offered to raise money for a travel/research operation for Ralph as an alternative to running — mobilizing broader public sentiment for Nader’s issues by reaching ears closed to his candidacy.
But Nader rejected the MoveOn folks’ offer, since he considers any opposition to his running “censorship.” Nader, of course, has a perfect right to run for president if he wants to. Those of his friends and former supporters who like myself urged him not to run were not exercising any power of censorship, but deploying wisdom in the service of shared political goals. And it is wisdom and a sense of American realities that are absent from Nader’s decision to run again this year.
Doug Ireland is a New York-based media critic and commentator whose articles appear regularly in The Nation, Tom Paine.com, and In These Times among many others. This article first appeared in the LA Weekly