LilaTovCocktail: Ingredients: one part NE Ohio; two parts politics; two parts media, and one part each: culture, family & the Jewish community. Directions: Shake well.

Go back to sleep, Ralph Nader!


Today's really really Bad Idea of the Day:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ralph Nader is entering the presidential race as an independent, he announced Sunday, saying it is time for a "Jeffersonian revolution."

Here's what I can't figure: Does Nader really picture himself in the White House next January?

OK, the image of Nader replacing all the incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, exchanging the White House linens for those made from organic unbleached cotton, and ordering in a four-year-supply of recycled toilet paper is delightful, I know, but not too plausible.

Whatever Nader once achieved in the field of consumer protection pales beside the destructive effects of his 2000 presidential campaign. Although he hasn't seen fit to admit it, Nader does bear significant responsibility for George W. Bush's 2000 victory.

Now, as then, we have to ask what Nader could possibly offer voters that could outweigh the risk of another Republican president?

Nader's like a bear -- a very egotistical bear -- who has emerged from hibernation without noticing that the forest is on fire.

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Christine February 27, 2008 at 7:00 AM  

I think it's interesting that whenever an "unlikely" candidate emerges -- particularly one who's taken stances that other "likely" candidates are a bit soft on -- commentators blame his or her ego, as if ego wasn't a big part of any elected official's personality.

Is it so radical to think there are voters who agree with Ralph Nader in that they're unconvinced that either Democratic candidate is going to do much to put out the forest fire?

Lila Hanft February 27, 2008 at 2:27 PM  

Good point, Christine. I completely agree with you that neither Democratic candidate is capable of bringing about a sea change. Nader's term "corporate Democrat" nicely expresses the way economics -- and not politics or philosophy -- is what moves America. (There's a lot of truth in this Onion parody.)

My point is really that a single candidate running as an independent will only draw support from the existing candidates who are most like him.

A viable presidential candidate has to be backed by a substantial power base, unified by some commonality willing to put money behind it. That power base can be united by just about anything -- financial interests, economic philosophy, environmental concerns, pacifism, isolationism, the spirit of populism, common racial, cultural or political histories, religious beliefs -- whatever, so long as it attracts a lot of people and, given our current electoral process, lots of money.

Even the wealthiest third party presidential candidates haven't pulled this off. Most 3rd party candidates, including John Anderson in 1980 and Nader in 2000, never win more than 3% of the popular vote. The exception is Ross Perot, who won 19% of the popular vote in in 1992 and 8% in 1996. The last third party candidate to win any electoral votes was George Wallace in 1968 -- he won 13.5% of the popular vote and 45 electoral votes.

While they can't win, third party candidates can still effect the outcome of the election, particularly a close one. In 2000, Nader won 2.8 million votes -- a mere 2.7% of the popular vote -- but significant in an election won by a margin of less than 2%.

I do think that the Republican and Democratic party candidates are more alike than they are different. But having lived through the miserable domestic social policies implemented by the Reagan administration, and now the disastrous foreign policy implemented by the current administration, I am certain that a Republican president can always find a way to make things (at least the things I care most about) worse.

Christine February 29, 2008 at 6:04 AM  

I understand why you might think that Nader is going to draw votes away from a Democratic candidate, but I'm not really torn on this decision at all. It made me sick to think I might have to choose between two candidates who don't actually offer what I'm looking for -- someone who'll step up to the plate with single-payer healthcare. And it made me sad to think I just might not vote. Before Nader entered the election, I'd been planning on just writing in Kucinich on the November ballot. So I'm not really drawing a vote away from anyone, am I?

The Democratic party has totally lost my respect for its attempts to "stop Nader" rather than just embrace its disillusioned members. Lawrence O'Donnell said it best in "An Unreasonable Man": if you want the Democratic party to change, you have to show them you're capable of not voting for them.

I'm also surprised that you would suggest third party politics is impossible in this day and age, yet cite Ross Perot's 19% turnout in 1992. To me, at least, that signaled a huge potential for third party politics.

I think it's also important to remember too that despite Bush's mess (which we can agree on, surely!) he failed to enact the two things that worried me most when he was elected: a constitutional ban on gay marriage and a sweeping ban on abortion. I make this point not to congratulate Bush, but to show that even an unpopular Republican president can't mess up everything.

Lila Hanft February 29, 2008 at 6:38 PM  

Hmm, you make some really good points, Christine.

I have to admit that after I wrote my own post, watching Democratic party muckety-mucks jump up to attack Nader left a bad taste in my mouth. Both Obama and Clinton were so quick to dismiss Nader and the interests he represents.

I just wish I was as optimistic as you are. When I think of Ross Perot and his admittedly impressive 19%, I don't think, "Wow, perhaps it really might be possible to break through the two party system." I think, "See, even a guy that rich, who appealed to so many people (and coined the vivid "giant sucking sound" phrase to boot) couldn't ultimately make much of a dent in the dominance of the 2 major parties."

But the optimism of your last point really brought a smile to my face. It never occurred to me to be glad there haven't been federal bans on abortion and gay marriage. I brood over the infringement individual states have made in both areas.

There's something very comforting in the thought that "even an unpopular Republican president can't mess up everything." I think I'll make it my mantra for the next few months. Thanks for sharing it.

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