Monday, February 25, 2008

Ralph Nader: The Don Returns...

Quixote, that is.  I agree with virtually everything he says.  I agree that we need more radical change than that offered by either Clinton or Obama.  I agree with him about the health care system and its cost in human life.  I agree with him about trade agreements and the loss of jobs and the shoddy imports that, again, cost human lives.  I agree with him about the stranglehold of corporations and their lobbyists and the influence of power and money on American politics and policies...

And yet... right intentions and right speech, it seems, do not always go hand in hand with right action.  I disagree profoundly with Nader's declaration of another quixotic run for the presidency.  I am among those who (dis)credit him with Al Gore's loss to the current incumbent of the White House in the 2000 election.  I believe we have Ralph Nader to thank, in part, for seven years (so far!) of the worst administration in the history of America.  Siphoning off precious votes from a serious contender was, in my view, a frivolous and self-indulgent act, and one which produced disastrously different results from those he claimed to intend.

There is some small part of me that is still idealistic in the face of practical reality.  One member of our meditation group yesterday was quietly insistent in his support for Nader.  Realizing, of course, that this old crusader has not the remotest chance of being elected, this friend feels that the time for what he sees to be timid steps is past.  We have reached such a critical state in the world, he believes, that only the most radical change can save us from irreversible disaster, and only Ralph Nader and the Green Party envision such change.

He may be right.  I hope not, because America is very far, still, from embracing the need for such a change.  I take the practical view, that we must do everything we can to assure the success of the electable candidate, and that to support the unelectable is to court the very opposite of the kind of change on which we certainly agree.  I believe that Barack Obama embodies the greatest possibility for a radical change of course in America and the world, and that his emergence as a political leader is powerful testament to the growing awareness that we cannot persist in the old ways and expect, as a species, to survive our own voracious greed.  

I believe, too, that those people I know who voted for Nader in 2000 are confident enough in the candidacy of Obama not to vote for him again in November.   They came too soon to regret their vote, and have had ample time since then to observe its results.  There is, this time, an option to cast a vote without sacrificing one's ideals.  Ralph Nader, I predict, will attract even less support this time than last.   But we can still ill-afford to lose even a single vote to him in November, and I'm hoping he will stick around only for long enough to make his point before urging his supporters to cast a more practical vote. 

He did not, in any event, make a big splash in the news this morning.  Nothing on the front pages.  A column on page 15 of the New York Times and another on page 10 of the Los Angeles Times.  And not a word, that I've heard, on television news...


robin andrea said...

Yes! That's exactly how I see it, Peter. While I agree with Nader on exactly what needs to be done to get our country back on track, I never agree that he is the one to do it.

Jay Andrew Allen said...

Agreed. But Nader's rhetoric toward both of these candidates - who are each beloved by their bases in the Democratic party - will be self-defeating. This isn't 2000; this is an energized Democratic party, ready to fight to take its country back.

We need Nader as a media and consumer critic. Not as a Presidential candidate. What a waste of his energies.

David said...

Peter, I voted for Nader in 2000, but as I remind any friends who tell me I helped elect Bush, we are still suffering under the 18th century pre-electicity winner-take-all electoral college system, and Gore was pretty much guaranteed a win in California. So my vote was for the purpose of helping to promote the Greens. If my vote had actually counted in the national election, I would have voted for Gore.

I also don't buy the assertion I keep hearing that Nader was somehow responsible for giving us George Bush. That gift was given to us by Bill Clinton. If Bill had been able to keep his fly zipped, Gore wouldn't have been in the awkward position of having to distance himself from the otherwise successful administration he'd been part of for 8 years. I agree that the whole Lewinsky thing was trivial, and in any other country it would have been laughed off by the public. But this is America, and there are a lot of Puritans out there who vote. Bill knew that. He's not naive. No one did more to help the Republicans in 2000.

And what happened in 2004? People watched the debates, such as they were, between Bush and Kerry, and half of them decided to vote for the dumb guy?

I'm voting for Obama in November (or, if not him, then for Hillary). It seems encouraging that so many more people are voting in the Democratic primaries this year than the Republican ones. I'm hopeful, but I won't go so far as saying I'm optimistic.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I used to consider Ralph Nader a hero, and he certainly has brought attention in the past to consumer safety issues that needed to be addressed.

Nevertheless, when I heard of his candidacy yesterday, I was disappointed and concerned that it would dilute Obama's support base as his entry into the race did Gore's, and must conclude that he is running on ego now.

howws said...

I have long felt mixed as you do and couldn't put my finger on it. Then I figured it out.

I agree with Nader's goals. But I see his strategy as at best flawed, and at worst evidence that his goals aren't even as he claims.

When Ralph wanted to reduce car accidents, he did it by focusing on promoting changes to the fundamental design of the car. But when he tries to reduce the dysfunction of our political system, he fails to focus on the fundamental design of the elections. Instead he hops in the poorly designed system again and again and takes it for a drive, as if to show us, through repeatedly crashing it, how bad it is - all without offering the necessary fundamental solutions like he did with cars.

I've written about this in a very short piece called The Key Issue Suspiciously Missing from Ralph Nader's "Table".

Hope you'll check it out and it helps clarify the mixed feelings as this all did for me.

No More Empty Fortune Cookies said...

Well said! I agree with you. My heart goes to Ralph Nader, but my vote will not. I could say I am opposed to his inflated ego, but what presidential candidate doesn't have a robust ego? I could say it's because he doesn't propose meaningful or effective strategies to "fix" our political system, but I honestly don't see any candidate doing this. Everyone says they will, but no one demonstrates how. My one and only reason to forgo Ralph Nader or Hillary for that matter and vote for Obama? A vote for Nader would be a throw away vote. It would only give more weight to the Republican candidate, and I sure don't want to see what happens to my country after another 4 years of them.

Cardozo said...

Just one thing to add. If the Greens (or Nader) were to build a broad, grassroots movement - and start electing folks to city councils, state legislatures and (eventually) Congress - they would have much more luck in pushing the Democratic party to the left.

I think they've been trying to do just that for years, and need to keep at it. But throwing up a presidential candidate every four years just makes people unsympathetic.

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. . . said...

"I believe we have Ralph Nader to thank, in part, for seven years (so far!) of the worst administration in the history of America."

Maybe it also has something to do with all the folks who actually voted for Bush? Just a thought. (I know that is the standard reply, but thought I would mention it anyway.)

If Gore couldn't defeat someone like Bush, even with Nader in the picture, it says something about the American people more than anything else.

A people gets the leaders they deserve, especially in a democracy.