Michael Wolraich's picture

    4 Nader Myths

    When Nader announced his candidacy yesterday, I expected a stream of Nader-hate to come down the TPM wire, and there was certainly plenty of that. I did not, however, expect the eruption of Nader support that followed. I had been under the impression that, other than a few kooky left-wingers, everyone who supported Nader in 2000 had come to regret it. But here were TPM posters, young and old, with whom I had been bantering the last few months over the relative merits of Obama, Clinton, and Edwards, defending Nader's candidacy. I think that Nader is unlikely to be a serious threat to the Democratic candidate this year for a number of reasons, but I believe that a Nader candidacy will nonetheless accomplish more harm than good. I further believe that many of those who support him have fallen under the sway of several myths, which this post will attempt to debunk.

    Myth #1: It's not Nader's fault that Bush won in 2000


    dhs: Gore won the election in 2000 (I voted for him); but he lacked the courage and tenacity to challenge the situation in Florida. He lost Tennesee. He ran a lackluster campaign. The Republicans stole the election in 2000, with the help of the Supreme Court, and the Democrats have never challenged that. Instead they blame Nader.

    davidco: The Dem. campaigns in 2000 and 2004 were slovenly run so all this anti-Nader projection has become the conventional wisdom by way of misdirection. The real culprit in Democratic defeats is corporate control of the two major parties. In every election, the most complicit candidate (from either party) wins.

    Kcm: The scapegoating of Nader for 2000 is beyond ridiculous, and speaks very poorly of Democrats -- including Josh and Eric -- who engage in it. Quick question: Even notwithstanding all the folks who backed Dubya in 2000, why would you blame Gore's loss on the 2% of voters who followed the process enough to vote third-party, rather than 40% of Americans who didn't even bother to vote?

    Homelesseus: ANyone who blames Nader for the loss in 2000 is just another ostrich.

    There are several versions of this argument, but they all share the same premise: It was someone else's fault. Nader himself has blamed Bush for stealing the election, Gore for losing it, the Supreme Court for deciding it, Democrats for crossing party lines, and other players like Katherine Harris, Jeb Bush, and the mayor of Miami for their parts.

    This argument is fallacious because the fact that others share the blame does not diminish Nader's own responsibility. I'll offer an analogy to make this clear. Let's suppose that a man, we'll call him "George", asks you for ammunition so that he can shoot people. If you give him one bullet, and he kills someone, you are an accomplis, even if 100 other people also give him ammunition and weapons that he uses in his shooting spree. Moreover, to continue the analogy, you should ask yourself, what kind of man would express no remorse for lending that bullet and then would go so far as to give the guy another bullet four years later.

    Of course Democrats do blame Bush for stealing the election, Gore for losing it, and the various other players for their parts, but Nader stands out from the crowd particularly because of his hypocrisy and lack of remorse. Gore made mistakes, but he was at least trying to beat Bush and regrets the loss. Nader is the most prominent progressive to purposefully take actions that contributed to Bush's win. It may be that the he didn't know that his campaign could make a difference in 2000, but clearly, the more votes that Nader received, the fewer (by a 2-1 ratio) Gore received relative to Bush, which means that Nader's success was directly proportional to George Bush's success. Or more simply, every vote for Nader was half-a-vote for Bush. And again, even if Nader didn't see it coming in 2000, he didn't learn the lesson, and ran again in 2004.

    Myth #2: The Democrats and Republicans are the same


    oleeb: Nader's entire case is simply that there isn't a significant difference between the outcomes of electing a Democrat versus a Republican. There's quite a bit of truth to that given the historical record of the past 30 years or so and particularly what we've seen Democrats do (or consistenly fail to do) since the 06 election returned them to power.

    terryhallinan: Nader was right. Both Bush and Gore ran as
    anti-environmentalist, anti-union, anti-working class, anti-civil
    rights conservatives.

    Homelesseus: Obama is as much of a hawk as Clinton or Bush. Don't worry, we're never leaving Iraq.

    Ellen: But was there a dime's worth of difference between Lieberman and Cheney?

    Busdrivermike: But Obama, Clinton, and McCain....those corporate hacks deserve our vote?

    Nader declined to state this myth explicitly on Meet the Press, but he declined to state a preference for Obama versus McCain, and many posters directly pushed the claim that the Democrats and Republicans are the same. This fallacy here seems to be of a dogmatic kind: "If you don't hold sufficiently progressive positions, then you are no better than the Republicans". I'm surprised that anyone still holds this position after Iraq, the Bush tax cuts, and the Cheney energy policy, but let's take it seriously for a moment. One of Nader's biggest concerns is the impact of corporate interests on Washington. Obama has also cited this issue as one of his biggest concerns, and he has proposed reforms to make corporate lobbying more transparent. Now it may be the case the Obama's proposed reforms don't go as far as Nader would like, but as long as they go further than what McCain would do, and what George Bush has done, there is improvement. The same for health care. Obama's plan may not be universal, but as long as it increases coverage, it's an improvement over the status quo which would continue under McCain. Therefore, the positions are not the same.

    I've seen at times an almost a willful blindness to the differences that exist. Consider this comment by terryhallinan: Consider that Al Gore was a tool used by Clinton to help destroy the most important environmental legislation ever passed - the Protection of Species Act. What sort of environmentalist is that? His renewed interest in global warming is mighty fine but even now he ignores the most efficacious remedies in favor of those measures that are least likely to help.

    Al Gore was the most passionate advocate of the environment that has ever run for President under one of the major parties. He was awarded a Nobel prize, he wrote his first book on the environment, Earth in Balance, in 1992, and has been a global warming activist long before that. From Wikipedia:

    According to The Concord Monitor, "Gore was one of the first politicians to grasp the seriousness of climate change and to call for a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases. He held the first congressional hearings on the subject in the late 1970s." During his tenure in Congress, Gore co-sponsored hearings on toxic waste in 1978–79, and hearings on global warming in the 1980s. In 1989, while still a Senator, Gore published an editorial in the Washington Post, in which he argued, "Humankind has suddenly entered into a brand new relationship with the planet Earth. The world's forests are being destroyed; an enormous hole is opening in the ozone layer. Living species are dying at an unprecedented rate."

    Terry's quote is a classic example of a warped perspective which views small policy differences as more significant than massive philosophical differences.

    Myth #3: Nader's campaign will help to raise national consciousness of important issues

    pfb: America's political history is full of third party candidates that raise issues that are often ignored by the two major parties that would rather have people vote based on whether candidates wear lapel pins. Nader was right in his interview on Sunday that issues like women's right to vote, the environment, and countless of other "crazy" ideas that were ignored by the two major parties for years were only adopted into mainstream politics after successful third-party runs.

    lordjellyroll: He's a valid voice of dissent and that makes our country stronger!

    I haven't the studied the issue enough to make a general argument that a third party candidates cannot bring issues to the mainstream, but pfb does not cite any specific examples. I do not deny that non-mainstream activists play an important role in raising political consciousness, and indeed, Nader's early work on product and labor safety was very successful at that. But activism and third-party presidential candidates are not the same. Nader's most successful campaign in 2000 did not move Democrats to the left; Kerry was nominated, not Dean. And after Anderson's independent run in 1980, the Republicans and the Democratic party moved to the right. Ross Perot's campaign also seem to accomplish little for his objectives, which I barely remember, other than to help Clinton win the Presidency.

    But I would argue more strenuously that Nader is no longer the right person to lead the voice of dissent. First, his egoism and lack of integrity in failing to acknowledge the consequences of his 2000 campaign do not make him a good spokesman for the left. Second, his personality-driven politics has become such that the media focuses on him, not his message. Despite two Presidential campaigns, I was not even sure what Nader's positions were before I looked into them, and I'm someone who pays attention to politics. I was familiar only with his anti-corporate positions, due mainly to his early activist work, not his campaign. I've got no pole data, but I'm willing to bet that if you ask people who don't follow him what his agenda, they won't be able to offer any more than his anti-corporate position.

    Myth #4: A Nader run won't hurt the Democrats

    athenian stranger: I don't think Nader would be such a bad thing for us this time. Insofar as he can help rhetorically position Obama as the centrist, he may actually help. Especially if he hangs around for a while but drops out before the election. It almost sounds like that's what he's planning. Even if he doesn't, I don't think he'll hurt anything. There will be a counterbalancing effect if he stays in as everyone tries to avoid a repeat of history.

    minoxidil: I doubt that Nader will have much impact in 2008.

    featherfamily: a lot of this kerfluffle is pretty useless, he's not going to have any impact in the environment of Repub. fascism and no ballot access ...

    These posters are not all Nader supporters, and I don't entirely disagree with them. Nader will never again draw the vote that he did in 2000. But even if doesn't directly spoil the race, he will be a distraction for the Democratic candidate and the party, as he was in 2004. He will attack the Democratic candidate, as he has done in previously elections, and has he did yesterday. There will be more diverting lawsuits over ballot signatures which the Democratic party will pursue, rightly or wrongly, for fear of a repeat of 2000, and the Republicans will encourage with financial support as they have done in previous elections. There will be continued divisiveness between the left-wing progressives who support Nader and Democratic partisans who despise him.

    In summary:

    The U.S. is a democracy, so it is of course Nader's right to run, and anyone else's right to vote for him. But insofar as he interested in pushing progressive causes, another campaign will be counterproductive. In order to justify their support, many of his supporters have subscribed to a set of myths which do not represent the reality of what Nader has done and the man that he has become. Therefore, I urge all liberals, lefties, and progressives to be active in the causes in which they believe but not to support another Ralph Nader campaign which can do little good and much harm to these important causes.


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