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Ralph Nader's Serious Campaign

by John Nichols

Ralph Nader is making every effort to be the most serious candidate for president this year, and he is succeeding despite the dismissals of the political class and the media that sustains it.

Watch Nader today, as he lays down his marker on behalf of presidential accountability and you will see why.

The notion that Nader is serious runs against the narrative that has developed in regard to the pioneering consumer activist who in recent years has turned his attention toward presidential politics. Nader has not run enough time for president to be treated with the respect that was accorded Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party stalwart who after six runs for the nation's top job was ultimately accorded a the respectful "elder-statesman" status that the political class bestows upon candidates who are seen as thoughtful but harmless.

Nader is thoughtful. But he does not choose to be harmless. And that leads to dismissals of his candidacy by journalists and political commentators who can't stand the notion that America politics is something other than a narrow two-party duopoly.

The independent candidate scares tacticians in both parties -- not merely because he has upset their calculations in the past but because he continues to campaign with a boldness that draws attention and opens fundamental debates about the direction of the campaign and the country that insiders work very hard to avoid.

Nader will do so again today, with a press conference outside the White House at which the candidate -- who has been using Washington as a backdrop for a series of challenges to official secrecy and wrongdoing -- will call on President Bush and Vice President Cheney to resign.

The candidate will cite the long list of failures, neglected duties, corruptions, high crimes and misdemeanors that have attached to the lame-duck administrators of a nation that is stuck in a Middle East quagmire, descending into recession and seemingly incapable of addressing even the most pressing human needs -- a nation now so badly off course that three-quarters of its citizens tell pollsters "America is headed in the wrong direction." And, of course, Nader will suggest that if a Republican president and vice president choose not to resign, then a Democratic House and Senate should impeach and try them -- moves that substantial pluralities, and in some cases majorities, of Americans tell pollsters are now appropriate.

For his trouble, Nader will be portrayed as unduly radical or, worse yet, out of touch with the political zeitgeist of a moment in which we are supposed to be talking about candidates and their pastors.

But Nader will still be heard by enough Americans -- thanks to his current campaign's dramatically more media-savvy approach than those of his 1996, 2000 and 2004 efforts as a Green and independent presidential contender.

A good many voters will find themselves to be more in tune with Nader's Constitutional urgency than with the more cautious constructions of Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton or Republican John McCain. And, despite the dismissals of his candidacy by most of the media, a decent number of those voters appear to be considering casting a ballot for the independent candidate.

The latest Zogby poll has the consumer advocate at four percent nationally (in a contest where Obama beats McCain 47-37) and a recent California survey has Nader at five percent in the vote-rich Golden State (again in a race where Obama dominates).

Nader may not be seriously in the running for the presidency.

But he is running seriously, and his challenges to Bush and Cheney, to a sputtering two-party system, and to the media that maintains failed presidents and failed politics are not nearly so radical -- or so off-putting -- as his dismissers would have Americans believe.

John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press and the co-author with Robert W. McChesney of TRAGEDY & FARCE: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy - The New Press.

© 2008 The Nation

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