When Democrats discuss Ralph Nader’s new presidential bid, the conversation is usually studded with emphatic assertions of what the aging activist surely “must realize” and what he “couldn’t genuinely believe.” It seems as though liberals with memories of the 1960s and of Nader’s glory days as a consumer advocate can’t bring themselves to believe he is consciously doing this to America, and to himself. He must have something else in mind. But the discussion is a dead end. Nader knows what he’s doing, and he means what he says.
Nader, we tell ourselves, must surely realize by now that his 2000 presidential run went a long way toward making George W. Bush president. He couldn’t genuinely believe, after eight years of Bush, that there is no difference between the two main parties. He must realize that his latest candidacy threatens to return a Republican to the White House, at a time when America and the world badly need change. He couldn’t possibly believe that he is advancing his issues or building a real movement for change.
Nader says he is entering the race because the big parties are dominated by corporate interests and deliberately ignore the issues. He has spelled out a daunting list of issues that he thinks he needs to bring from the darkness into the open: the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lack of universal health care, Bush’s tax cuts, energy policy, union rights, the Enron and Katrina scandals. “You have to ask yourself as a citizen,” he said to NBC’s Tim Russert, “should we elaborate the issues that the two are not talking about?”
In fact, almost every single issue on his list has faced exhaustive scrutiny during the course of this campaign. On nearly every score, the Democrats promise to move the country closer to the position that Nader and his acolytes favor. True, as Nader complains, Barack Obama has an imperfect health plan that could leave as many as 15 million people uninsured. Nader thinks the Democrats should be advocating a state-sponsored single-payer system. We’d like to see that happen someday. But the current reality is that Nader’s plan would leave 47 million uninsured, because it wouldn’t get through Congress. In fact, even the most timid Democratic plan won’t become law unless a Democrat is elected next fall.
If Nader proceeds with his campaign, he’ll add nothing to the public debate. He’ll merely siphon off votes from the Democratic candidate, making progressive change just a tad less likely. But Nader doesn’t seem interested in the harsh realities of politics, any more than he cares about the realities of legislating or diplomacy. He likes to look at problems, come up with the ideal solutions and then attack anyone who doesn’t recognize his wisdom.
He has a right to run, but he ought to recognize how destructive it is.