Consumer advocate Ralph Nader's supporters collected more than 4,000 valid signatures in their drive to secure the independent presidential candidate a place on Wisconsin's Nov. 2 ballot. They did so by showing up with their clipboards at the Dane County Farmers' Market, on State Street and in communities around the state.
Nader's enthusiastic young backers, many of whom are allied with the International Socialist Organization, did not rely on help from Republicans or conservative activists who want Nader on the ballot because they presume the independent candidate might draw votes away from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Rather, Nader's supporters collected signatures from Wisconsinites who worry that Kerry is too cautious when it comes to opposing the war in Iraq and standing up to corporate power.
Of course, many Democrats are furious with Nader and his supporters for pursuing this independent candidacy. They are now attempting to get Nader knocked off the ballot. But the complaints from the Democrats about Nader's petitions don't sound very credible.
Besides, unlike states that are less respectful of democracy, Wisconsin errs on the side of ensuring that campaigns that make a sincere effort to get on the ballot end up there. Thus, it is extremely unlikely that Democratic grumbling will knock Nader off the ballot in the Badger State, as has happened in other states.
So does Nader's ballot status pose a serious threat to Democratic candidates in Wisconsin this fall?That's doubtful. There does not seem to be the same energy surrounding this year's Nader candidacy as there was for him when he ran as a Green Party candidate in 2000. There may not even be as much energy as there was for Nader's Green Party candidacy of 1996.
Only if the Wisconsin presidential vote is exceptionally close this year could Nader matter to the final outcome.
And Democrats could even avert that prospect.
Nader's appeal, to the extent that it can be measured, is rooted in the fact that he takes tough stands and sticks to them. He wants to find a quick conclusion for the war in Iraq, so that U.S. troops can come home. He wants to hold accountable the corporations that do wrong. He wants to prevent the World Trade Organization from promoting a free-trade agenda that harms U.S. workers, farmers, communities and the environment.
Nader may not be the most dynamic candidate, but he has taken some extremely attractive stands on issues ranging from the war (which he opposes) to the Patriot Act (which he criticizes thoughtfully and thoroughly) to fair trade (which he supports) to the reform of this nation's archaic drug laws (which he supports).
Instead of trying to tear Nader down personally or politically, Wisconsin Democrats - and their national cohorts - ought to try borrowing a few of his ideas.
Nader is not going to be elected this year. He may not even poll as many votes as he did in 2000. But that does not mean that his ideas should be dismissed. Wise Democrats, such as Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, have long understood that Nader's greatest contribution to the political process is his willingness to speak up fearlessly when others lack the vision or the wherewithal to do so.
Nader will be making that contribution as a candidate running in Wisconsin this fall. Democrats should not try to prevent him from doing so. If they fear Nader's appeal - as, clearly, some Democrats do - they can lessen it the old-fashioned way: by taking his best ideas and making them their own.
Copyright 2004 The Capital Times