June 3, 2023

The Nader Nadir

Unsafe at any speed, Ralph Nader is ready to step up and gratify his ego once again and declare his candidacy this Sunday on NBC’s Meet The Press for President of the United States in 2008. About to be five election cycles strong, the Ralph Nader Campaign Declaration can now verily be called the preeminent masturbatory rite of the Presidential Election Year.

He’s doing it again. Ralph Nader is insinuating himself once more into what is this year the Democrats’ best chance of taking the office since the last two elections they should have won. With the conservatives unhinged at John McCain, and the presumptive GOP nominee already flailing as he renegotiates his position on every issue he’s ever talked straight about, in the interests of at least mollifying the Republicranks who are mourning the non-starter candidacies of Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, the outlook for the Democrats is as brilliant as any year since Barry Goldwater loomed on the autumn horizon.

But now, here comes Ralph once again to upset the applecart. Please, good sir, think of party unity! Let’s get down on our knees like Michael Moore and Bill Maher, in one of the great televised moments of 2004, and plead with him not to do the wrong thing and declare himself for the election, while he sits before us with a smug grin and his arms folded across his chest like Mussolini on the balcony, and says, “Well…nahhh. I think I’ll run.”

He’s been widely blamed for handing the 2000 Presidential Election to George W. Bush, but…no. That distinction belongs to the United States Supreme Court and its pro-States’-rights justices who chose to sit out their beliefs on this one and overrule Florida’s right to manage its own vote recount, but more than anyone else to Albert Gore, who not only should have won his own state of Tennessee, but should have included Bill Clinton in his re-election effort. All it would have taken were those two tiny little tweaks to his campaign.

I was mad at everyone I knew who threw their vote away for Nader in 2000 and swung the election to George Bush. They voted their conscience, which should be what democracy is all about, but I’m a registered pragmatist and a political bean counter, and it irks me to no end that voting one’s conscience almost always winds up with the bigger political machine winning the day.

Ralph Nader was a nuisance in 2000 and his votes may indeed have swung the election for Al Gore, but it shouldn’t have been that close, and in the end, the erstwhile Vice President has only himself and his brain trust to blame for that. Bill Clinton might be the unfortunate sideshow of Hillary’s campaign this year, but in 2000, he was the Mick Jagger of the Democratic Party. Al Gore was likely taking too much counsel from the finger-wagging harpie who shares his bed and kept a principled “moral” distance from the man who had given him a White House working address for the last eight years.

This year, there won’t be the ineptitude of the ticket-leaders of 2000 and 2004 (as long as no one hires Bob Shrum). Obama, at least, has run a nearly-flawless campaign. Chances are somewhere between wafer-thin and can’t-see-it-with-bifocals that he would so bungle the race that a hustings-lazy, self-indulgent wrench-thrower like Ralph Nader could swing it to McCain.

With this year’s declaration, Nader’s Presidential campaign forays will officially enter the gratuitous and amusingly futile realm of Harold Stassen and Lenora Fulani–and at least Fulani has spent her off-time actually trying to build an alternative political party. Nader jumps in every fourth spring, basks in the attention of the party insiders begging him not to be a spoiler, and then goes back on the lecture circuit.

Don’t get me wrong. We’d do well to have a President even half as intelligent and principled as Ralph Nader, and there was a time I thought his activism could be a big Vitamin B-12 shot for a flagging, anemic body politic. But he comes and then he goes. If he really had American Democracy’s best interests at heart, he’d be putting his proven energies into building a real third party. He’d be a real field general just like he was with Nader’s Raiders, building a party platform, doing voter registration drives, recruiting candidates, and sending his proxies and himself out on the road to campaign for every one of them, from Senate hopefuls down to Assistant Superintendent of Middle-School Transportation for the Weehawken School District.

But he doesn’t. He shows up on the scene every four years, declares his candidacy, does a rally or two, and then goes back to his Connecticut home to watch the excitement unfold on MSNBC, like a firebug who sits across the street and watches the firefighters arrive en masse to wrestle with the consequences of his impulses.

If there is one lesson that the voters are proving this year, it’s that democracy is a participatory sport, and fewer and fewer of them are going to buy his armchair candidacy. I realize that in 2008, political prognostications carry as much weight as “Official Bikini Inspector” tee-shirts did in the 1970s, but I would be astonished if the crowds at Nader’s rallies looked like anything more than those of a Kevin Federline motivational seminar.