I don’t know why there’s such a hullabaloo about Ralph Nader’s announcement that he’s running for President again.
I know a lot of people hold grudges against Nader for Gore’s defeat in 2000, and I’m not going to deny he played some role. But so, too, did Gore himself. So, too, did Katherine Harris. So, too, did the Supreme Court.
(Full disclosure: I was co-treasurer of the Draft Nader campaign back in 1992 and personally supported him in 2000.)
I don’t want to rehash 2000, though.
Let’s turn the page, as Obama says.
And what’s happening this year is that it’s really unlikely that Nader is going to make any impact on the outcome of the race whatsoever.
In 2000, he got 2.7 percent of the vote. In 2004, he got one-tenth that.
And I doubt he’ll even hit that low-water mark this time around.
He’ll barely be an asterisk in the almanac.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a right to run.
And it doesn’t mean he can’t possibly do some good by running.
One function he could play is to point out how undemocratic our two party system is, how rigged it is against third party or independent challengers. He’s doing that already.
Another, even more important function, is to raise issues that no other candidate is raising, and he’s started to do that already, too.
Nader’s presence is a reminder that Obama doesn’t represent the left pole in American politics, and it is salutary to call Obama on his support for a bloated Pentagon budget, or his reluctance to lead on the issue of Israel and Palestine, or single-payer health care.
To be sure, the rationale for Nader running this time is not nearly as great as it was in 2000, when he held out the promise of actually building a third party, the Greens. But
he seems to have lost interest in that.
So when it’s over this time, the institutional base won’t be there.
Nor will the movement for such a third party be there. To the extent that there is a movement going on right now, it is foursquare with Obama.
For Nader’s sake, I also worry that he is marginalizing himself and tarnishing his legacy. But as he said in the great documentary, “An Unreasonable Man,” when asked about this: “My Legacy? Are they going to turn around and rip out seat belts?”
Ralph Nader is perhaps the most counter-suggestive man in America. And he won’t be dissuaded from his lonely course.
But there’s no reason to abuse him for it if you’re an Obama supporter.
I barely know anyone who has voted for Nader in the past who will vote for him this time.
And hardly any of the tiny few who may vote for Nader would otherwise go to the Democrats in the fall, anyway. They’d vote for Cynthia McKinney or some other third party candidate, or they would write someone in, or they wouldn’t vote for anyone for President.
Still, Nader serves as a reminder that the Democrats don’t automatically own the votes of those who disagree with the Republican agenda, and that Barack Obama is not as progressive as many of his supporters would hope.
Such awareness is not all bad.