Ralph Nader says he is seriously considering running for president in 2008 because he foresees another Tweedledum-Tweedledee election that offers little real choice to voters.
"You know the two parties are still converging -- they don't even debate the military budget anymore," Nader said in a 30-minute interview. "I really think there needs to be more competition from outside the two parties."
Even the possible entry of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg into the race as an independent might not dissuade Nader.
"He is interesting (but) unpredictable," Nader said of Bloomberg. "I really like the stand he took against smoking, but he goes along with corporate welfare in New York and tax-funded stadiums. So he is unfinished in that way."
Nader would have little or no chance of winning the presidency should he run, but he doesn't need to win to affect the outcome: Many Democrats still blame Nader for draining enough votes away from Al Gore in Florida in 2000 to elect George W. Bush.
And while Nader, 73, realizes he might once again be accused of being a "spoiler" candidate, he says the Democrats could win in 2008, unless they spoil things for themselves.
"Democrats have become, over the years, very good at electing very bad Republicans," Nader said. "Democrats always know how to implode, how to be ambiguous, how to waver, how not to be authentic."
While Nader praised two candidates who have almost no chance of winning their party's nomination -- Republican Ron Paul and Democrat Mike Gravel -- he was severe in his criticism of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
"She is a political coward," Nader said. "She goes around pandering to powerful interest groups on the one hand and flattering general audiences on the other. She doesn't even have the minimal political fortitude of her husband."
Chris Lehane, who worked in Bill Clinton's White House and Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, said of a possible Nader candidacy: "His entry into the race, even to those who voted for him in 2000, would be just another vainglorious effort to promote himself at the expense of the best interests of the public. Ralph Nader is unsafe in any election."
Nader's book "Unsafe at Any Speed," on the deficiencies of American automobiles, catapulted him to national fame in 1965. Since then, he has authored several more books, founded dozens of consumer-interest organizations, run for president three times, hosted "Saturday Night Live," appeared on "Sesame Street" and was a character on "The Simpsons."
He has, in other words, considerable name recognition and is an experienced organizer.
And when I asked him if he saw any major candidate in any party forestalling his own run for president in 2008, he replied, "Very unlikely. Very unlikely. The requirement is almost logistical. It requires tens of thousands of volunteers."
The volunteers are needed, Nader says, to gather signatures to get his name on the ballot in the 50 states, an arduous and expensive proposition. Nader also said he would need a "network of pro-bono lawyers to fight for ballot access."
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Nader admits that Mayor Bloomberg's wealth could make it far easier for him to get ballot access. "A multibillionaire like Bloomberg could immediately turn it into a three-cornered race," Nader said.
If Nader runs, he would emphasize the "ever-increasing corporate power in our society" and "the expanding disconnect between the growth of the economy and the distribution to people who work hard but don't get the fruits of it."
Nader also believes the United States should withdraw from Iraq over a six-month period, have the United Nations sponsor new elections and leave no U.S. forces behind.
In Nader's scenario, the "bottom falls out of the insurgency, the U.S. brings the Kurds, Shias and Sunnis together, and all you are left with are criminal gangs, and criminal gangs can be dealt with."
When Nader ran as the Green Party candidate in 2000, he got only 2.74 percent of the popular vote. But in Florida, Nader's votes may have been critical. Gore ended up losing the election to Bush by 537 votes in Florida, a state where Nader got 97,448 votes. Many believe that had Nader not been on the ballot, Gore would have gotten thousands of those votes and become president.
Nader is unrepentant, though he says people still stop him on the street to berate him about it.
When they do, Nader tells them: "Why don't you blame the thieves? Why don't you blame Tallahassee and the Supreme Court? Bush's people stole the election!"
Nader calls the attacks on him "political bigotry."
"What was our crime? We used our constitutional rights to run," he said. "We had proposals that if Gore had picked up on, he would have landslided Bush."
Among the proposals, Nader said, was a "living wage, cracking down on corporate crime against consumers and pensions, not to mention an authentic health insurance agenda."
Nader says, however, that he and Gore have patched things up.
"Yeah, he is very friendly," Nader said. "You wouldn't believe what he wrote when he autographed his book ('An Inconvenient Truth') to me when I stood in line at the bookstore. It was like, 'To my good friend, with great respect.'"
Nader says that if they don't implode, the Democrats are very likely to win the presidency and retain control of Congress in 2008.
So why would he run at all?
"What third parties can do is bring young people in, set standards on how to run a presidential election and keep the progressive agenda in front of the people," he said. "And maybe tweak a candidate here and there in the major parties."
© 2007 Politico.com