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An Open Letter to Ralph Nader

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Dear Ralph,

As an active and engaged American citizen whose political views run to the left of center, I have something to tell you.

Get out. And stay out.

Sorry to open so bluntly, but I believe that anything short of a clubbing on the head will have no impact on you whatsoever. Certainly, reality doesn’t.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Democrats aren’t perfect. I’ll be even faster to concede that Al Gore was an uninspiring candidate in 2000. But there is a reality of the American political scene that I believe you’re (deliberately?) overlooking. Greens, Libertarians, and the Natural Law and Reform parties aside, we live in a two-party system, Ralph. Whether it’s right or wrong, there are only two major political parties in our country, and with a few notable exceptions during the 19th century, it has been that way in America for 220 years. Your quixotic tilting at that windmill isn’t going to change it – at least any time soon.

But Ralph, my point isn’t to try and bury the idea of a third party; I’d actually like to see a viable one emerge. Rather, my point is to question why you would entertain the notion of running again in 2004. You’re a smart man – or I assume smart enough to be able to read history books, polls, and assessments of political reality – so you must know that you can’t win.

If you know going in that you can’t win, then there must be another reason you’re running. I can only think of two: either you are trying to “get your issues on the table,” or you are arrogantly making a vanity run for office with no regard for the consequences of your self-serving actions. I believe it’s the latter; but let me address the former.

Getting your issues on the table and into the scope of the public debate is an admirable goal, whether I agree with you or not (often I don’t, but that’s beside the point). But running an outsider campaign for the Presidency that is destined only to siphon 3 or 4 critical percent of the vote from the non-Republican candidate is a folly that harms the chances of any candidate not named Bush from winning in November.

And don’t hand me the crock you fed people the last time about the Democrats being no different than the Republicans… like I said at the beginning, the Democrats are admittedly not perfect, but given a choice between someone I agree with 70% of the time (or 50%, or 40%, or even 20%) is better than someone I agree with 0% of the time. And the political reality of America dictates that those are my two choices – never mind the idealistic arguments about the choices I ought to have, because we need to deali in reality, not the Perfect World. Voting for anyone else is simply throwing my vote away.

So let’s get to the other possibility – or in my view, the probability. You’re running for President as some kind of vanity project.

What did that get us in 2000? Well, it got you 3 whole percent. And it gave the rest of us George W. Bush. Yes, I know that Gore ran a remarkably lackluster, uninspiring campaign, and that he & his people frankly just flat out screwed up in 2000, blowing a race that should have been theirs to win. And I will always believe that the Bush machine engaged in some level of fraud in Florida… and that Antonin Scalia chose the President in 2000, not the American people.

But… they wouldn’t have had the chance in Florida if Al Gore had received even half of the 97,000+ votes you siphoned. And Florida itself wouldn’t have mattered if New Hampshire had gone to Gore in 2000. You siphoned off 22,188 votes in New Hampshire – a state Bush won by a scant 7211. Even if only a third of the Nader voters had chosen to vote Gore, New Hampshire would have been Democratic – and we’d all have been spared George W. Bush.

Gore, in my opinion, would not have been a great president. But he would have to have been better than Bush, who has given us a $500 billion budget deficit that threatens to balloon to a trillion plus; the first administration since Herbert Hoover to preside over an overall loss of jobs during a four-year term; statements about job creation that are so misleading that even the president has to scramble to disassociate himself from them; tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans under the tired old theory that if the rich are given more, they’ll spend enough to provide better table scraps for the rest; no-bid contracts being given to private sector bedfellows like Halliburton; denials of scientific proof of global warming that are so out of step with accepted research practices that 12 American Nobel laureates signed a letter accusing the president of politicizing scientific research at the expense of American scientific credibility; invasions of civil liberties under the guise of national security (the Patriot Act); and of course, the invasion of Iraq and the great hunt for WMD that was undertaken under pretenses that were at best incorrect, were most likely exaggerated, and at worst were a direct lie.

Bush has $150 million in the bank and is adding to it every day. It’s going to be a formidable challenge to defeat him in November. So why are you helping him? Do you want to see four more years of the same – with the added side benefit that whoever wins in 2004 will likely select the next two or three members of the Supreme Court?

Like I said at the beginning, Ralph… get out. And stay out.

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About The Chronic Curmudgeon

  • Nader sucks.

    Something about him also bugs me. Something about his aural gives me the heebee geebees.

  • I find this post disturbing. You should be encouraging people to run for president, not disuading them. I must say though that I find it strange that Arab-American Nader is sabotaging Jewish-American Kerry. We’re importing trouble.

  • Hi Ricky,

    While I respect your right to think I’m wrong, I have to ask what Nader or Kerry’s ethnicity have to do with anything.

    My point was on the impact of a fringe candidate (Nader scored only 3% of the vote in 2000, and 3% puts any candidate outside the mainstream, I’m sorry) in a dynamic where it’s reasonable to expect that the final could come down to less than a percentage point separating the two main candidates.

    If Nader runs, he’s going to siphon 3% or maybe 4% max. What bothers me is this: no Bush voters are going to be tempted to switch and vote for Nader. Whether it’s Kerry or Edwards (I don’t happen to think the race is over yet), Nader’s run will come at the expense of the Democratic candidate opposing Bush. It happened in 2000, and I don’t want it to happen again.

    The law of unintended consequences is a bear… but after having seen the impact of his candidacy in 2000 (throwing the election to Bush), if Nader runs again despite knowing he won’t break out of single digits, then I’m left to assume that he doesn’t mind if Bush wins again. And since I would personally mind that a great deal, I want to discourage Nader from running.

  • Eric Olsen

    Very well-written and thoughtful post, Christopher. You highlight the conflict between theory and reality well. In theory, everyone who wants to should run, and voters should express their preferences by voting for the candidate that most closely reflects his/her own beliefs, but can we, should we, pretend to be blind to foreseeable consequences of that vote? I don’t know.

    BTW, I think Nader served a very important service with his consumer advocacy back in the ’60s and ’70s, but I haven’t agreed with him on much since. And he is creepy.

  • THANK YOU!!!

    I am not the only one who thinks hes kinda WIERD in a BAD WAY!

  • Be careful what you wish for. Trying to do away with one evil without caring about what replaces it is potentially reckless. Yes, you may care about Kerry or Edwards, but you shouldn’t encourage the “anything but Bush” mentality.

    If Kerry (or Edwards) is so worried about losing votes to Nader, then as a strategy, he should attempt to address some of the issues that Nader presents. We have had a long progression of presidents who were corporate shills. Kerry is a corporate shill, too. Edwards might be a better alternative, but I’m not sure about him–I am a lot more certain about Nader. An effort to end the corporate control of our government is a worthy one. If you want to do away with corporate control and corruption, then you have to start somewhere. “Nader for president” is a good place to start. Getting Bush out of office would be a good start, as well, but I don’t think that Kerry will be much of an improvement.

    As a counter to the Nader draw, maybe you should encourage Pat Robertson to run as an independent.

    As for Nader’s creepiness, I don’t see it. Honesty is not creepy, is it? This is a selfless man dedicated to making the world a better place. He is an anti-politician in that he doesn’t talk out of two sides of his mouth, and he doesn’t sell out. How often do people complain about how phony and shallow politicians are–that they say one thing and then do another? I find politician slimes like Bush and Kerry (and Clinton and Reagan and. . .) to be creepy.

    People will vote for Nader because he represents a solution to a corrupt system that does not work in the interests of the people, but rather it works in the interest of special interests. What frustrates me is that more people don’t consider voting for Nader. I don’t hear many people arguing against Nader’s points and goals. Please, consider them. If you like what he says and represents, then vote for him. If you confine yourself to thinking within the two-party system and the idea of “the lesser of two evils,” then that system will never change.

    Lastly, if it turns out that the majority of Americans decide that they want Bush, then they deserve him.

  • My problem with that assessment of Nader is that he’s not what he pretends to be. If your issue is with pols who say one thing and then do another, Nader should be at the top of your bad guy list.

    He claims to be the true representative of the working class, saying that the Democrats are too wealthy to represent working people… yet his own stock portfolio is well into the seven figures. How is it not hypocritical to say that millionaires can’t represent the people when he’s a millionaire himself? He criticzed others in 2000 for their ties to oil companies… yet he owned shares in Fidelity Magellan, which invests in Occidental Petroleum, BP-Amoco, Chevron, Texaco, and Exxon-Mobil. He argued that Dick Cheney’s ties to Halliburton make him a tool of the oil industry, but he owned shares of Halliburton through the Magellan fund when he ran in 2000. He railed on the stump and for the cameras that the defense industry is bad, but he owned shares of Raytheon and General Dynamics through his fund investments. He argued that big pharmaceutical companies subvert the health care process in this country, but who showed up in his investment portfolio? That’s right… Bristol Myers Squibb.

    I’m not attacking Fidelity; their job is to make money for their shareholders. I’m attacking Nader for being such a hypocrite while trying to pass himself off as some Great Left Hope. It won’t work. He’s a phony.

    And while I agree with the ideal of having someone taken more seriously as a third party candidate, the reality is, Ralph Nader caused George Bush’s “election” in 2000. The reality is, a third party candidate that takes votes from the Democratic candidate helps George Bush.

    And no one on the right will run as a “counter” to Nader – they are smart enough to deal in reality, and know that even 1% of the vote could decide the winner this year. Why take that away?

    Dirtgrain, are you telling me that you would rather see George Bush win in 2004 than see Kerry or Edwards or whomever? If you care about the issues you say you do, I can’t imagine that you could be thinking that another Bush term is a good thing.

    To your last point… a majority didn’t decide the last time, and in fact hasn’t decided an American presidential election since 1988. Bill Clinton never got 50% of the vote; Bush received 47.9%. There’s every reason to believe that it won’t take a majority again in 2004.

    And one last thing… in 2000, the people selected Gore over Bush by 543,985 votes. The reason Bush is in the White House today anyway? Ralph Nader. So the plurality of Americans decided that they didn’t want Bush… but the 2.7% of Americans who voted for Nader managed to thwart that will.

    So I ask again… should Nader run again, knowing the consequences?

  • Wait, listen: Ralph Vader SPEAKS!

  • Hi Al (no relation),

    I don’t like Nader, but calling him a Nazi? Uncalled for, I’d say.

  • Then again, perhaps I should take my own advice about recognizing sature… still. Oh well.

  • Christopher, don’t lean on the “nazi” thing there too heavily. The term was “safety NAZI (National Alliance for Zero Imperfections),” which isn’t quite the same as calling him Hitler- though I appreciate the sensitivities involved.

    Also, it’s a comedy bit. Like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, I keed. I just make a little joke.

  • Christopher says: “My problem with that assessment of Nader is that he’s not what he pretends to be. If your issue is with pols who say one thing and then do another, Nader should be at the top of your bad guy list.”

    Hardly! Your entire argument against Nader’s character is that he has money and invests it in the stock market, and, therefore, he has no right to criticize corporations. Balderdash. I just bought something from K-mart, the corporation. By your reasoning, I must be a hypocrite when I decry the corrupt role of corporations in our government. Furthermore, when did Nader ever lie about his financial situation? You should research what Ralph does with his money. He is not living it up like John Kerry. He has given a large part of it to charity. Check out all that he has done at Wikipedia. A liar? A hypocrite? Perhaps you are the dissembler. For refutation on the issue of Ralph’s finances, see Why I Still Support Nader.

    Please, address the validity of any of Nader’s 2004 issues:

    1. Full public financing of public elections with the necessary, broad changes for a more fair and representative election process, replacing present charades;
    2. A responsive political system to expand the civic energies of the American people by, among other ways, facilitating the banding together of workers, consumers, taxpayers, small investors, and communities.
    3. A serious drive to abolish poverty using long-known policies;
    4. Universal health insurance — single payer embracing prevention, quality and cost controls;
    5. A living wage for the tens of millions of workers making less than $10 an hour — many full time workers at $5.15, $6, $7, $8, and long overdue labor rights reform;
    6. An adequately funded crackdown on corporate crimes, fraud and abuse that have cheated trillions of dollars from taxpayers, investors, pension holders and consumers, plus specific corporate reforms;
    7. A comprehensive and determined nurturing of the physical and educational needs of children;
    8. Reform of the criminal injustice system and defense of the precious pillars of our democracy — civil liberties, civil rights and civil remedies for wrongful injuries — which are under relentless assault by corporate interests and the present government;
    9. A multi-faceted foreign policy to wage multilateral peace and promote arms control, plus utilizing the many assets of our country’s knowledge base to lift prospects for the impoverished people abroad;
    10. A redirected federal budget for the crucial priorities of our country and away from the massive waste, fraud and redundancy of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex,” as well as the massive costs of corporate welfare;
    11. The crisis of commercial food, water, and diet policies, in addition to agribusiness domination over dwindling, rural, small farm economies;
    12. The need for renewable energy and energy efficiency, instead of costly oil, gas and nuclear boondoggles;
    13. The housing problem for the millions of households who can’t afford the rents or can’t escape gentrification and sprawl;
    14. The relief of highway congestion and the promotion of modern public transit;
    15. The pull-down effect of corporate globalization on labor, the environment, consumers and our democratic processes.
    16. The consequences of media concentration over our public airwaves.

    These are issues that need to be dealt with. Also see Nader 2000 Issue Summaries and also Green Party Platform 2000.

    I despise Bush and what he represents. But I realize that he is just a part of a bigger wrong: the corporatocracy. There are plenty of corporations supporting Kerry–and he will support them likewise if elected. Tom, you say, “Dirtgrain, are you telling me that you would rather see George Bush win in 2004 than see Kerry or Edwards or whomever? If you care about the issues you say you do, I can’t imagine that you could be thinking that another Bush term is a good thing.” There is an assumption that Kerry is the anti-Bush and that he stands for the same issues as Nader. It’s not true.

    Oh, and technically, it was a majority. You are talking about an absolute majority, which is a number greater than half of the total. Nader isn’t the reason Bush is in the White House. Gore is. And the American people are. And the campaign system is. To single out Nader as the culprit seems unfair to me. I suggest that you focus your energies on trying to sway Bush’s supporters.

  • Check out Run, Ralph, Run, a response to The Nation’s An Open Letter to Ralph Nader.

  • Ralph wrote his own response to The Nation’s open letter to him: Whither the Nation?

  • Even I will defend Nader against charges of financial corruption. He’s not out extorting money like Jesse Jackson, or taking big corporate payouts or any such.

    He’s made good money as an author, and some more as apparently a good investor in the market. To me, that market success would be the best hint of an argument that the guy might actually have enough sense to run something, since he’s wanting to be president and all.

    Nader apparently lives like a monk, though. He ain’t flashing the bling bling. He’s not indulging in a lavish lifestyle. He has said in the past- and his actions seem to back him up- that he regards his personal fortunes as essentially a trust fund to salt his ongoing causes.

    In short, Ralph’s real. Real what exactly might be another question, but give the man some credit for his basic integrity.

  • Hi Al,

    Your point on the Nazi thing was well taken – I realized almost right after I commented that I’d taken it too seriously. Sorry if I was playing the oversensitive boob there.

    As for Nader’s investment acumen, I’m not criticizing him for making money or having market success. I’m not one of the “all those who attempt to make a profit are bad” way-out-there lefties. And no, DirtGrain, nmy entire argument against Nader is not that he has money or invests in corporations. I work for a Fortune 500 – I’m well aware that corporations aren’t the huge evil that the Naderites often try and turn them into.

    My problem with Nader (well, besides his self-serving, snowball-in-hell candidacy that has now doomed this country to four more years of Bush) is that he’s a fraud. It’s not that he makes money… it’s how he makes it while saying something entirely opposite that in public. He tells his followers that oil companies and pharmaceutical companies are evil, and then he makes millions in the market investing in those same companies. If he were a man who meant what he said (as opposed to merely exploiting the deeply felt concerns of those who follow him, simply for vanity’s sake), he would do more careful research into the holdings of the funds he invests in. If he really believed that oil and pharmas were so evil, he wouldn’t make money off them. On the other hand, if he were a charlatan trying to keep his name in the papers, he’d do exactly what he’s been doing.

    Since Nader has jumped back into the race again this morning despite knowing what happened in 2000, I have no choice but to believe that his true agenda is to ensure the election of George Bush. What a proud legacy that will be for the far left, huh?

    And by the way, as to the suggestion that the Dem nominee try to address Nader’s issues in order to win in 2004? Nader attracts 3% of the vote. That makes him the fringe… and you don’t win national elections by appealing to the fringe. To get Nader’s 3%, the Democrats would lose twice that percentage from the middle.

    Hope you enjoy the Halliburton Presidency, Naderites… because your boy just guaranteed us all for more years of it.

  • If Nader really wanted to do something about the issues you list, Dirtgrain (nice work, by the way), Nader would not have announced his run for the presidency a few minutes ago.

    A solution to the items listed requires removal of the current administration.

    Nader’s candidacy may make that more difficult (it certainly won’t make it easier).

  • New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, quoted on MSNBC.com about Nader’s run:

    “It’s his personal vanity because he has no movement. Nobody’s backing him… The Greens aren’t backing him. His friends urge him not to do it. It’s all about himself,” Richardson told “Fox News Sunday.”

    “Now, Ralph’s made some great contributions to consumer issues over the years, but clearly it’s not going to help us,” he said. “I don’t think he’ll have a sizable impact, but it’s terrible if he goes ahead because it’s about him. It’s about his ego. It’s about his vanity and not about a movement that supposedly he headed for many years very effectively.”

    What he said, man. What he said.

  • Eric Olsen

    I don’t care if he runs or not, and if you don’t have a huge-ass ego, you better not run for anything. ALL politicians have big egos, so Idon’t fault him for that.

    My main problem with Nader is the inherently contradictory nature of his agenda: if he really wants to “lift prospects for the impoverished people abroad” then he should be for free trade and economic growth, which will inevitably be driven, at least in part, by the large corporations he so despises. The best way to life people out of impoverishment is to give them jobs, exactly what protectionism and efforts to prevent the “outsourcing” of jobs would contradict.

    I agree totally with #7, am sympathetic to #1 but it appears to be contradicted by guarantees of free speech, as for a steady, longterm increase in the minimum wage, and agree with the last point.

    Much of the rest is vague and platitudeness – it’s how he would go about achieving these goals that counts. I also do not agree that corporations are inherently the enemy – the guy is essentially an anti-globalist, protectionist, socialist – that’s a lump that a very small percentage of Americans are ever going to be willing to swallow.

  • Crystal

    The solution to a third (or 4th or 7th) candidate pulling votes away from those with better winning prospects: voting ballots that allow the candidates to be numbered in order of preference. Similar to a runoff election except people don’t have to go to the polls a second time. In this scenario, someone who votes Nader as their first choice, Kerry as their second, and Bush as their third, does not waste their vote if Nader does not win enough votes for a required majority.

    I would never want to live in a country where people are discouraged from running for president. In my opinion, the more candidates, the better.

  • Adolph

    Only two points on the letter.
    There have been jobs creations. And the budget deficit had not soared as much as you foresaw. The overall loss of jobs shown at the beginning of the Bush administration was actually a legacy of the Clinton era. Tha tax cut policy actually got the economy on the move.
    So all in all Nader did a good job stopping the Dems cold.
    Remember the even though there have always been two Parties, America is more than being Democratic or Republican. No matter what Party you give your support to you should recognize that Bush administration had done a decent job. No matter what forecaster said.

  • Adolph

    Oh I am so sorry I got so bored by your anti-Bush diatribe I overlook something I should also have corrected: The Patriotic Act would not be in place if it had not been approved by the House (which approved its renewal also this year 2005) and the Senate. Why do you blame Bush for it? Do you think a Democratic President would have overturned the Patriotic Act? Or dared to veto it?
    Both the House and Senate have passed bills to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act.
    I love the passion your Open Letter shows but it also deals with facts unnaccurately. Take care.