Mar 082004
Authors: Brent Ables

Last week, we witnessed the culmination of a long and

interesting Democratic primary race. With his sweeping victories on

“Super Tuesday,” John Kerry was able to claim with virtual

certainty the Democratic nomination for president. His closest

competitor, John Edwards, has resigned from the race, and no

remaining candidates have even a remote chance. To most mainstream

voters, therefore, it seems that only two candidates – Bush and

Kerry – matter now.

But those who remember the photo-finish 2000 election know that

there is another candidate who cannot so easily be dismissed. Ralph

Nader, icon of the populist left and longtime figurehead for the

Green Party, became notorious in 2000 when he was accused by

Democrats of being the “spoiler.” Nader primarily received votes

from those who would otherwise have supported Democratic candidate

Al Gore. Had those votes gone to Gore, it is argued, Bush’s thin

margin of victory would have disappeared and Vice President Gore

would have been President Gore.

Now that Nader has announced his intention to run for the

presidency again (this time as an Independent), the “spoiler”

argument is back in full force. Moreover, it is safe to say that

there is a much broader base of support for Kerry than there was

for Gore in 2000. This is not because of Kerry’s virtues, but

because of the current administration’s (alleged) defects. Poll

after poll has demonstrated that liberals are primarily concerned

with one thing this election year: evicting Bush from the White

House. By standing in the way of this goal, Nader is likely to draw

much criticism from Democrats (and, ironically, praise from

pragmatic conservatives.)

Now, I’ll be the first to praise Ralph Nader’s career. He has

been a tireless and selfless advocate of the democratic process and

the rights of citizens. He has adhered to his left-of-Democratic

values for over forty years, through all the controversy that such

reformers face. He was a key advocate for the creation of the

Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Health and

Safety Administration. A large part of the environmental and

consumer advocacy movements of the past few decades can be traced

directly back to his activism.

Furthermore, Nader’s present concerns are just as incisive and

relevant. He calls for the investigation and elimination of

corporate crime in the period of Enron and “outsourcing.” He calls

for electoral reforms – such as full public funding of elections –

that go far beyond anything Congress has done to bring the

electoral process back to the common citizen. It is concerns like

these that drew 3 percent of voters in 2000 to the Green


The problem with all of this, of course, is that such proposals

are so far removed from the mainstream that Nader has little to no

chance of ending up in the White House. Thus, his campaign in such

an important (to Democrats) election year can be interpreted in one

of two ways: as an admirable display of principle or as a selfish

and antagonistic ego trip.

For me, it is hard to see Nader’s campaign as anything but the

latter. As one of those who thinks that the critical goal this year

is the defeat of the Bush/Cheney behemoth, I find that criticism of

Nader is, in such a year, all too valid.

Judging from a recent AP poll, voters are as divided between

Kerry and Bush as they were in October of 2000 between Gore and

Bush. While much can happen in the next seven months of

campaigning, it is unlikely that there will be a dramatic change in

this split and therefore the election will probably be very close.

Now in that same AP poll, about 6 percent of respondents said they

would most likely vote for Nader. Assuming that most of this 6

percent would vote Kerry if Nader was not in the race, it is easy

to see why fears of Nader “spoiling” the election again are well


It is true that John Kerry is not exactly the ideal candidate

for those of us left of the center. His support for the PATRIOT Act

and the war in Iraq along with his endorsement of Bush’s tax cuts

(among other things) show that he is unlikely to bring any radical

proposals to the table in his bid for the presidency. Nontheless,

it is agreed Kerry is “better than Bush” and this is really what

liberal voters are looking for so desperately in 2004.

So what do I propose Nader should do? He could drop out, but I

think the more effective use of his appeal would be to campaign for

Kerry. This would involve some ideological compromises, surely, but

by throwing his support behind Kerry, Nader would not only direct

his loyal voters to a more practical means of effecting change but

he would put pressure on Kerry to consider proposals outside of his

present platform. The combination of the two candidates would be a

formidable obstacle for the Bush campaign, and might just be the

only thing that will give liberals the edge in November.

Brent is a freshman is studying philosophy. His column runs

every Tuesday.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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