Several media sources have been reporting that Ralph Nader, who had suggested that he was likely to stay out if Dennis Kucinich (who, like me, shares much of his agenda) or Howard Dean (who shares, at least, his critique of Democratic party elites and his call for a renewed progressive populism), will announce in the next one or two weeks his decision about whether or not to run as an Independent candidate for President in November. The New York Times, never a friend of Nader’s, pointed out yesterday that the response to Nader’s website, naderexplore04.com, seems to have generated an underwhelming response, and cancelled a virtual referendum on a 2004 run after Nader started losing. Two weeks ago the editorial board of The Nation, whose perch well to the left of the Democratic party and ongoing criticism of the two-party system made its message weightier and more credible, printed a masthead editorial, “An Open Letter to Ralph Nader,” which pleaded, “For the good of the country, the many causes you've championed and for your own good name--don't run for President this year.” The piece made the basic point which has become gospel in some circles over the past three years: Drawing votes away from the most viable non-Republican candidate in the short term has costs which no long-term benefit can justify. This is a point with which, perhaps reservedly, I agree. The editors as well made the optimistic assessment that the Democratic party of 2004 is a different, and better beast than the Democratic party of 2000, more angry, more grassroots, more progressive. Here too I concur that four years under a Republican President spent (with notable exceptions) throwing red meat to his base, as supposed to eight years under a Democratic President spent (with fewer exceptions) selling his base off, has left a Democratic party which is, at least, that much lesser a lesser of two evils. Finally, and perceptively, the editors argue that the embarrassing returns, given his lack of support even among progressives, likely to meet a Nader candidacy – well below the few million votes he received the last time as a Green – would be wrongly perceived by the media and some in the public as a rejection of the vision he’s rightly articulating. For these reasons, I was one of those who filled out the form on Nader’s site a few months back urging him not to run. That said, I feel equally – perhaps more strongly – compelled to urge the Democratic party to avoid the hypocrisy, mendacity, and bile which have characterized much of its leaders’ approach to third party candidates, and voters, over the past years. As Sam Smith has frequently observed, the Democrats seem to think that the Greens are the only constituency in history which can be won over by insulting them. The fact is that many more Democrats voted for Bush than voted for Nader in 2000. And they didn’t do it because they were turned off by the radical liberalism of the Clinton years (Halvai, as we say in Yiddish – if only – the Clinton years offered radical liberalism to be turned off by). They did it because the Republican party learned to organize at roughly the same time that the Democratic party forgot how. It’s not the Greens’ fault that the Democratic party presided over the removal of the death penalty, of the drug war, of disarmament, of countless other issues, from the discourse within the two parties, or that the progressive taxation and universal health care preached from Nixon would today be disavowed by Democratic party leaders, while his politics of racial division have been mastered by the Republicans and copied when convenient by the Democrats as well. Democrats looking to win the Nader voters – and the far more numerous non-voters – of 2000 in 2004 will have to do so not with the Democratic strategy of 2002 but with the Republican strategy of 1994: by offering a substantive, vivid, and passionate alternative. Trotting out Nader, whether he runs or not, as a convenient scapegoat for the failings of the Democratic party won’t win over his supporters – or anyone else.


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