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George and Ralph

Separated at Birth?

by BRUCE JACKSON

In his fifteen minutes or so on 22 February Meet the Press with Tim Russert, Ralph Nader (who with ever-increasing frequency refers to himself in the first-person plural) used some variant of the word "corporation" twenty-one times. Except when referring to someone else, he never used the phrases "civil rights" or "women’s rights" or the words "education" or "jobs" or "environment." Those issues don’t seem to matter or exist for him. He is the same monomaniac and ideologue he was four years ago. His hatred of corporate America and the two-party system is boundless and unabated, and the passion and dedication with which he entertains that hatred anaesthetizes him to everything else. He does not live in our world.

He remains in total denial about his contribution to the election of George W. Bush and still insists his deflection of votes in New Hampshire and Florida made no difference in the outcome of the election. This is lunacy. Bush won Florida by 537 votes; Ralph Nader got 97,488 votes in Florida. Nader says Libertarians, the Socialist Workers Party and Pat Buchanan got votes in Florida too, so his deflection of those 97,488 votes didn’t matter. But the Libertarians, the SWP voters, and the people who meant to vote for Buchanan wouldn’t have voted for Gore anyway, and their total is a fraction of what Nader had. Every study done since that election shows that most of the votes cast for Nader would have gone to Gore or they wouldn’t have been cast at all. If Nader had not run, Gore would have won New Hampshire and Florida, either of which would have given him the election. Nader keeps coming up with reasons why Gore didn’t have enough votes to overcome the votes Nader deflected, but that does not negate the fact that Nader did deflect votes from Gore and those votes were enough to have made the difference in the outcome of the 2000 presidential election.

Nader doesn’t give a hoot. He can dispense even with simple arithmetic when simple arithmetic doesn’t give him the answers he prefers. Ralph Nader sees only what he wishes to see; he ignores what doesn’t fit his design for the destruction of corporate power and the two-party system. His mantra might be a parody of Johnny Cochran: "If the fact doesn’t fit, pay no attention to it." Nader is unmarried and he has no children, which perhaps explains his disinterest in education. His disinterest in civil rights and health care, gender and environmental issues is harder to explain. Of course large corporations exert undue power in Washington. Of course Republicans and Democrats suck up that money. Of course the two parties dominate politics in America. But is helping George W. Bush and John Ashcroft get four more years of nearly-unlimited power a rational way to deal with those problems?

Nader raises serious questions, for which he should be honored. But his mode of dealing with those problems is that of the religious fanatic who cares not a bit for real people living life in real time. For him, as for most fanatics, the attack is what matters, not the consequences of it. His mission is to expose and assail what he perceives as evil. The harm caused by him in the process is always someone else’s responsibility, never his. He takes responsibility for nothing other than his own infallibility.

He still insists there would have been no difference in a Gore presidency and the Bush presidency he helped create. For him, Democrats and Republicans are exactly the same because they do not differ on the issue of corporate influence and because they both take corporate money. He gets evasive when asked if a Democrat president would have taken us to war in Iraq, given Charles Pickering and William Prior interim appellate court judgeships, handed a huge tax cut to the rich, mutilated Medicare or appointed that fiend John Ashcroft attorney general. His enemies, he told Russert, are from the "liberal intelligentsia"–presumably people concerned with what he considers peripheral issues, such as civil rights, the environment and education. For him, anyone not dedicated primarily to the destruction of corporate influence and the two-party system is an enemy, and therefore disposable.

If he were driven more by principle than ego, perhaps he’d end all this posing and weaseling and (emulating Buddhist monks in Saigon and a Quaker on the Pentagon porch during the Vietnam war) he’d go sit on the capitol steps, douse himself with gasoline and exit this world of imperfect humanity in a blaze of protesting glory. He could even wear a monkish robe. But he is not driven more by principle than ego. He knows what is right for you and if you’re not going to do what he believes is right for you to do, then he believes you should damn well suffer the consequences. Why should he suffer anything when he’s been right all along, when he’s right now, and when he’ll be right in the future? In his heart he knows he’s right, and that knowledge frees him of any responsibility for the consequences of any of his actions.

Religious fanatics like Nader live in their minds, not in the real world; the rest of us live in the real world, a place where our choices and actions do matter. In his relentless, arrogant way, Ralph Nader isn’t merely the spoiler everyone but he and his dwindling circle of supporters say he is. He’s as destructively righteous and tunnel-visioned as George W. Bush, the man he–as much as Justices Scalia, O’Connor, Thomas, Rehnquist and Kennedy–helped make president of the United States.

BRUCE JACKSON, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo, edits the web journal BuffaloReport.com. His most recent book is Emile de Antonio in Buffalo (Center Working Papers). Jackson is also a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: bjackson@buffalo.edu