It’s rather astounding to observe with what ferocity and volume so many self-proclaimed progressives, liberals and professional Democrats have joined the chorus of condemnation of Ralph Nader. The horrified reaction to Nader’s announcement that he’s running for president as an independent is more fit for something like Schwarzenegger decreeing the Anschluss of Santa Monica.
It’s way over the top. Near hysterical. And more to the point, it’s unseemly that leftists and progressives of all people should be party to any move that tends to close down rather than open up our already corporate-corseted political process. And I say this as someone who will NOT vote for Nader in November.
For months now, a “Don’t Run, Ralph” campaign from the liberal left has relentlessly underlined all the reasons why a Nader candidacy would be doomed. Elsewhere in these pages, my colleague Doug Ireland, indeed, astutely lays out a compelling scenario of how Nader is most likely running into an immeasurable void (and in doing so how he’s made some unjustifiable accommodations with a splinter group of cultists). Add to that the perhaps insurmountable obstacles Nader will encounter in just trying to get on the ballot in any significant number of states. (In Florida, for example, he’d have to gather 93,000 signatures by July 15 — he only got 97,000 votes there in 2000). As an independent, Nader will have no federal matching money. His highest-profile supporters have abandoned him. Most of his already tiny base was sopped back up long ago into another of this year’s Democratic candidacies (including the equally hopeless and dead-ended Kucinich charade).
In other words, Ralph is cooked before he begins.
So why all the vehemence in demanding he not run? The only conclusion I can draw is that the Don’t-Run-Ralphers simply must think they are smarter than everyone else. They, alone, are apparently bright enough to understand that taking votes away from a Democrat might elect a Republican (provided of course that those votes were ever going to go to a Democrat). But they’re obviously worried that you, on the other hand, might be too stupid to figure out such a complex formula, that you might have to take your shoes off to do the math. In fact, you are so goddamned-dumb that these folks believe you shouldn’t even be offered the option of making such a hare-brained mistake. Better not to tempt a fool like you with too many ballot choices.
Trying to keep anyone off the ballot, of course, is fundamentally anti-democratic. It betrays a bottom-line distrust of the voters. And while voters often are untrustworthy, I’m afraid there’s no acceptable substitute.
The bosses and the bullies of the two major parties would have otherwise. The money- marinated chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McCauliffe, concocted this year’s radically front-loaded primary system, precisely to guarantee that only the candidates with the most cash, the most name recognition and the best-developed establishment network could prevail the fastest with the least interference from actual voters. I see no reason why progressives should contribute to this skunk’s quest to shut down the system.
If they are so worried that Nader will spoil their Anybody But Bush candidate, then why even have open primaries? Why not just let the DNC and the AFL decide who is Most Electable and just get on with it? Where are the calls that the Republican-run huckster Al Sharpton or the embarrassing Dennis Kucinich also withdraw, lest they also leech delegates from whatever pre-anointed front-runner?
Americans approach politics diffidently. Stock car races draw much bigger audiences than candidate debates. Yet, every four years, for a few months preceding the presidential election, some public attention is finally distracted away from the trivias of the entertainment culture to ponder — albeit temporarily — the greater issues that confront us.
Taken together, the two major parties do a piss-poor job of offering much substance on those matters. This time around, in their rush to unify behind the Anti-Bush, Democrats have already started to muzzle themselves and narrow the debate.
Ralph Nader will now make use of what little public space his anemic campaign will be offered. He won’t be a viable choice. His campaign will offer no practical route whatsoever other than into a political wilderness. But what he will actually say will be as trenchant as ever, bracing antidotes to the pap that will pour from the official stumps. Nader will be there to remind us that Bush might be impeachable — as he said Sunday on Meet the Press; that Washington, D.C., is, indeed, “corporate-occupied territory”; that for whatever their partisan differences this campaign year the Republicans and Democrats retain frighteningly similar souls; and that, ultimately, American democracy rests not on the campaign promises of this or that candidate but rather on the willingness of the citizenry to exercise its rights.
Most important is the right to vote. And if you don’t want Nader to take away your vote against Bush, then I have a radical notion for you: Don’t vote for him. But don’t tell him or anybody else not to run.
Copyright 2004 LA Weekly