I had mixed feelings when some friends of mine pointed out that Ralph Nader had mentioned me as an "independent military analyst" in his Sunday appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. In responding to a question from Tim Russert about why he was running yet again, he cited a recent article of mine about how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have not only ignored the Pentagon's record spending spree, but have adopted policies that may well involve increasing the military budget.
My point was that we need to get the Democratic frontrunners to address this issue in some fashion before they take office in 2009 (assuming a Democrat wins, which is not guaranteed by any means). It was NOT meant to suggest that we need a third party candidate in the race -- although obviously Ralph Nader is free to use the information as he sees fit.
A Democratic president would be so superior to John McCain in so many ways (most notably on Iraq, Iran, health care, and economic stimulus) that anything that risks helping McCain win the November election is irresponsible in the extreme. The only good news is that now that he is a perennial candidate (the Harold Stassen of the late 20th and early 21st century), he may draw relatively few votes. But given our winner take all system, even if the Nader vote were to tip one close state Republican it could make a difference for the worse.
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He's obviously his own person, and he certainly has the right to run. But towards what end? There are other ways to get progressive views across that don't involve risking a Republican victory in November.
The most important way forward is to build a movement that will press home issues like cutting military spending and seriously addressing climate change on whoever is in Congress and the White House (but as I've suggested, I think a Democratic president would be far more responsive to these demands). Building a movement doesn't mean one guy coming out to run for president every four years (this time around, he can't even argue that he's trying to build the Green Party, as they already have a candidate). It means electing progressives to Congress, to governorships, and to state and local office; reinvigorating the trade union movement; and making environmentalism and peace imperatives for all Americans, not just issues they can choose to address or discard as if they were deciding what to wear to work in the morning. Another Nader run for president will not forward any of these objectives, and it may well do them great harm.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Advisory Board of Foreign Policy In Focus.