National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  March 12, 2004

Ralph Nader is right to challenge one-party game


“In a world of fugitives, the person taking the opposite direction will appear to be running away.” --T.S. Eliot

In the fugitive world of comfortable liberalism -- tack to the center when expedient, steady the boat, don’t rock it -- Ralph Nader is said to be running away from reality. His trying again for the presidency, this time as an independent, has old allies on the left either shaking their heads in dismay or pointing their fingers in wrath. “Please be honest with yourself,” said the editors of The Nation in “An Open Letter to Ralph Nader” when calling on him not to run because “this is the wrong year.”

Without offering a date on when it might be the right year -- for Nader or for Libertarian, Socialist, Natural Law, Communist or any other third-party candidates -- The Nation’s plea represents frightened liberals in a state of forgetfulness.

It wasn’t Nader who caused the defeat of the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 2000. It was the latter’s own compromised campaign that, first, gave progressives no choice but to give 2.7 million votes to Nader and, second, was unable to win Gore’s home state of Tennessee (or Bill Clinton’s beloved Arkansas), which would have negated the decisive Bush electoral win in Florida. By repeating it to the point of a mantra -- “Nader put Bush in the White House” -- centrist Democrats, ones who saw the corporate-friendly and military-supportive Clinton years as objects of pride, have bullied progressive Democrats to denounce Nader as a spoiler, a show-stealer, a sour-grapes loser and an egomaniac -- the latter from Al Sharpton, no less.

Nader is problematic because he persists in trying to replace tactics-based politics with conscience-based politics. Accept the lesser of two evils, he is being told, and forget about the victims of the lessened evil. Be tactical, be a middle-of-the-roader, just this one time, and forget, presumably, that the middle of the road is where the head-on crashes are.

Had a genuine difference existed between Gore Democrats and Bush Republicans in the 2000 election -- and not stump speech differences -- the public would have noticed and the nation would have been spared a Supreme Court decision. The closeness of the popular vote prompted Gore’s campaign chairman, William Daley, to say to a reporter after the election, “To tell you the truth, I think they [the voters] never really liked either one of them.”

A favorite argument is that another four years of Bush almost assures more Antonin Scalias and Clarence Thomases on the Supreme Court. If that’s a possibility, it’s because Senate Democrats were part of the unanimous 98-0 vote that originally put Scalia on the court, and 11 Democrats were part of the 52-48 vote for Thomas.

Then there’s the legacy argument: All the noble deeds of Ralph the Good Guy getting us safe cars, clean air and better toasters will be forgotten because Ralph the Bad Guy wouldn’t calm down and join the team. If anything, this should be a moment when it’s seen that Nader has been right all along: He can’t join the team because it isn’t playing against another team. In Crashing the Party, Nader’s memoir of the 2000 race, he listed 20 major positions taken by the Clinton-Gore administration -- from supporting a bloated military budget to backing dictatorships -- that have been faithfully carried on by Bush-Cheney.

Nader is a team player. He’s captained for decades a team that would offer true political competition to the Democrat-Republican team that plays the same one-party game on the same field with much the same result.

Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington.

National Catholic Reporter, March 12, 2004

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