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In telling Ralph Nader not to run for president, your fretting over "tangible costs" that "may" be imposed on interest groups he champions is both your letter’s strongest point and no reason to write it. Arguing against the threat of too much too fast is an ancient and dishonorable tradition that ignores the space for change created by those who rock the boat.
Long ago, the anti-slavery abolitionist movement was told it threatened the greater cause of freedom. In the 1960s, card-burning draft dodgers threatened to antagonize reasonable debate on the Vietnam War. Though no one knew it at the time, these and other positions turned out to be essential to their struggles. Continuing this liberal tradition, your frantic worry that Ralph’s run could create "risks, antagonism and contortions" coupled with the hackneyed invocation to desist "for the good of the country," represents a low point in the history of your magazine.
You yourself demolish the argument that there are risks by citing polls showing Ralph would garner far fewer votes than in his 2000 bid because Democrats and Greens are focusing on ousting Bush. The dynamic actually goes back to 2000 when many Nader sympathizers, realizing the election would be close, switched in the final days to vote for Al Gore. This successful attempt to save Gore from his own bungling campaign was then dashed by Gore himself, who blew the final phase by failing to demand that Florida do a state-wide recount. Progressives are united: never again.
But if Ralph’s minuscule impact is so obvious, why not let him have his fun?
A run by Ralph does entail real risk, however. The Democratic effort to retake the White House could collapse due to the personal vagaries of the nominee, vicious Bush attacks, and the likely return of jobs to an already recovering economy. Few incumbent presidents have lost re-election on the heels of brightening economic times, even if it’s clear the tab for purchasing economic vigor will later come due. As Democrats warm over the rhetoric that it’s the economy, stupid, they are likely to get burned.
Ralph’s risk to the Democrats then, is this. Where once voters didn’t want to waste a ballot on him in the close race of 2000, they might today, in the event of a commanding Bush lead, wish to avoid wasting it on the Democratic nominee. If there’s no strategy in it, why vote against your principles for a hopeless Democrat who, to cite just two similarities to Bush, doesn’t favor gay marriages and favors keeping troops in Iraq? Especially when you could vote with integrity for the one person who’s actually worthy of the job?
No candidate has chalked up the nearly half a century of public service that Ralph has. A solid showing by Ralph risks driving a stake in the Democratic strategy of mimicking the Republican platform. No doubt striking fear in the hearts of many liberals, it could also be the best chance in the long run to put a sinking ship on a more just keel.