The detractors on the left are weighing in. Ralph Nader must be sidelined. I wonder if Nader’s current detractors are the same people who argued for his participation in the presidential debates of 2000.
Harry Lonsdale of Sisters, Oregonis a member of the Pacific Green Party, in an “urgent plea” asking Ralph Nader not to run writes, “I’m a huge Nader supporter. I voted for him in 2000 and sent him money…But I’m one of the ABB persuasion — Anybody But Bush — and so is just about every progressive I know. Maybe we’re all overreacting by talking about leaving the country if Bush is re-elected. But the Bush imperial presidency has shaken us down to our heels. This is no longer the country we thought we knew and loved.”
Lonsdale’e advice to Nader is not to run and to put his energy into other activities like starting a “grassroots democracy organization” or raising money for a TV or radio show. I would like to ask Lonsdale when the United States was the country we knew and loved. Under which imperial presidency was the American mission acceptable? Was it under Woodrow Wilson who argued that, “a universal dominion of right by…a concert of free peoples…shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”
Or was it during the depression years when a fractured economy, mass unemployment, and a burgeoning communist party allowed for a measure of progressive politics and a retreat from aggressive foreign intervention? Was it during the Second World War when fascism was defeated and the Atomic Bomb unleashed? Was it during the Kennedy days as America prepared for war in Vietnam? Or perhaps the Age of Clinton was a time when we knew and loved our country.
The editors of the Nation, who argued for a just war in Afghanistan, have also asked Nader not to participate in the political process for the good of the country and for his own sake. They do so in an open letter that fails to make the case for voting democrat beyond the desire to defeat Bush. For many this is enough. As long as a democrat enters office the primary objective of the 2004 election will be fulfilled. The Nation editors write, in perhaps the most banal sentence of the entire letter, “Ralph, this is the wrong year for you to run: 2004 is not 2000.”
They argue that, “there is a level of passionate volunteerism at the grassroots of the Democratic Party not seen since 1968”, and therefore the democratic party will be forced to confront the conservatism of the Bush administration and perhaps even itself. I think this unlikely and would rather the Nation editors and its devotees admit that they would be satisfied with a tepid, middle of the road democrat as long as Bush is removed from office. They certainly would support a more “progressive” candidate but if Lieberman or Clark happened to get the nomination they would throw their weight behind him regardless of foreign policy positions, trade and labor (see Kerry) and so on.
The art of letter writing deserves a brief comment here as well. A certain intimacy is inherent in the form as it depends on a particular relationship between the writer and the recipient. Form letters and cover letters do not depend on a relationship of any substance and therefore reflect in their form a different tone, a different objective. The open letter is a peculiar breed of letter writing. It rests on an internal contradiction. The attempt to communicate with a person or group in a written form that depends on trust, while at the same time revealing the contents to a large and impersonal public. In a sense it betrays itself. Nonetheless, an open letter can strike a balance between the two and be a passionate appeal as well as an honest engagement with friend or foe. The open letter to Ralph Nader is addressed to Nader with the Nation readership looking on, biting its nails at the prospect of once again having to vote for a Democratic Party they know has moved too far to the right. The letter is awkward in its effort to reach out to Nader, to congratulate him and make it clear that he is part of the Nation family (this is evident in the use of his name instead of the pronoun you a number of times to affect a neighborly rapport) and at the same time to convince him that running for president is a fatal mistake.
The editors profess to sympathize with Nader and his attempt to broaden the political debate but argue that the reality of electoral politics and the need to depose George Bush override the merits of running an independent campaign that may pull votes away from the democratic contender.
Nader as the fundamental cause of Al Gore’s demise is again brought to the fore. In an email campaign organized by John Pearce and Kathy Cramer Gore’s ineptitude as a politician, the Florida recount debacle, and Supreme Court intervention are cited in a flash video asking Nader not to run. “But after all those events one fact remains,” they say, “Ralph Nader’s candidacy tipped the balance to Bush.” “The simple fact is if Nader had not run Gore would be president not Bush.” A comforting thought.
The flash video finally ends with an appeal reminiscent of the Bush administration’s war on terror. “This time we need Ralph Nader with us not against us.” Or to rephrase it in an open letter, “Ralph, you’re either with us or you’re against us.”
Nader has yet to make up his mind, though, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune he says he is “itching to run again.”
It’s also not clear what kind of an impact he would have on the campaign. It could in fact be minimal. If, as the Nation editors suggest, “the odds of this becoming a race between Bush and Bush Lite are almost nil,” and that most progressives are interested in only one thing, defeating George Bush, then what kind of threat does Nader pose?
But if the democrats again fail to build a persuasive case against Bush and his administration and Nader runs, he will surely be castigated for plunging the country into another four years of Republican rule.
ADAM FEDERMAN can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org