It may be an inapt metaphor to use the same week as Mel Gibson releases his tribute to Franco Zeffirelli and Apocalypse Now, but what the hell: the die is cast. Ralph Nader, the man who invented consumer advocacy (he single-handedly killed not just the Corvair but, more inexcusably, the Volkswagen Bug), told Tim Russert Sunday that he will run for president as an independent candidate. The announcement came as a great big loud smack across the face to Democrats, who still blame Nader for scratching out Al Gore’s chances in 2000.
Republicans, for their part, were giddy as schoolgirls on prom night, though they made a real effort to muffle the giggles. The exuberance of bloggers such as Mark Shea (“exxxxxcellent!”; “Kerry’s Toast”) was met with faux adult Elephant voices. David Frum cautioned that while he’d like Ralph’s run to spoil this election for the Dems (deep sigh) he just didn’t see it.
That hasn’t stopped lefties everywhere from sweating this oldie. Even before Sunday’s announcement, some of Ralph’s long-time comrades had banged their shoes on the table and loudly ordered him not to run. The limousine liberal editors of the Nation issued one of those insincere “open letters” — speaking to the general audience rather than the person addressed — which displayed more annoyance than affection.
Though the lefty rag had cheered him on for decades — going so far as to label him “Public Citizen Number One” (!) — the “Dear Ralph” letter warned the seasoned legend, who becomes a septuagenarian this week, that that “hard truths must be faced” squarely. Though they gave him qualified support in 2000, a Nader candidacy this year would be unsafe at any speed.
All efforts to “raise neglected issues” will only run into a “deafening headwind” of charges that he’s trying to spoil the election — charges leveled by, well, outlets such as the Nation. (Here is a flash animation which makes the numerical case that this is precisely what occurred in the last go-round.) By running now, Nader would only hurt the Democrats in their efforts to unseat GWB. In fact, should Ralph attract less votes than last time — an outcome devoutly hoped for by the Nation editorial board — he could damage his own cause.
The exchange that followed was more fun than a barrel of flesh-eating weasels. Left standing was the charge, since repeated, that Nader’s decision to forgo the Green Party label, with the automatic ballot access, will turn his campaign into the equivalent of the three-legged dog with glass in one paw.
But Nader isn’t an egomaniacal kamikaze pilot, determined to take out the establishment at all costs but really, in the end, only pulverizing himself. This Ahab-like caricature ignores Ralph’s discipline and organizational skills, as well as his dedication to the cause of creating a more progressive politics (genuinely progressive — not phony Manhattan cocktail party style progressive). And he’s willing to pay a price for this commitment. After 2000, Public Citizen lost as much as $1 million, and 20 percent of its membership. Business Week reported that Nader’s Center for Automotive Safety had to lay off 40 percent of its staff as a result.
Without the Green Party’s backing, Nader will have to use his own network of contacts, and recruit boatloads of idealistic volunteers. A daunting task to be sure, but let’s not forget this is Ralph Nader we’re talking about. The man has established over 50 nonprofit groups over the years, and his rousing rhetoric about sticking it to our “corporate paymasters” often acts like a hot poker, kindling a thousand little fires in dedicated progressive souls.
In fact, it happens that a like-minded group is already primed and ready to go: the Deaniacs. At the Spectator offices, we have been consistently surprised by their persistence and dedication, and taken aback by their refusal to throw in the towel along with their candidate. It may take a bit for Ralph to get the whole online thing but by midsummer the two should be a match made in Terry McAuliffe’s hell.
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