Sunday, October 31, 2004


So remind me again: What exactly has Nader been doing to advance progressive causes in the four years since he last ran for president?

And what did he do in the four years before that?

Or in the four (ten? twenty?) years before that?

I'm asking because this is such a tight race and, according to the polls, he's still drawing about 1% or 2% of (presumably progressive) voters. And I know their explanation, because I heard it over and over from Nader voters in the last election: The Democrats think I owe them my vote, and they've done nothing to earn it.

Yet when I try to figure out what Nader's done to earn progressive votes, I hear a lot about seat belts, and about activism decades ago. Well, John Kerry was pretty hot stuff decades ago, too -- an extraordinarily articulate wounded veteran denouncing the war. Understandably, a lot of people think that was Kerry's finest hour, even though he's had decades to top it.

But whether or not that's true about Kerry, isn't it true about Nader?

I look at this biographical sketch of Nader. He has quite a record -- up to 1980. But in that year -- when he was only 46 -- Nader "resigned as director of Public Citizen in order to devote his energy toward other projects." Apart from the founding that year of a magazine called Multinational Monitor, it's not clear what those "projects" have been. The rest of the bio deals largely with Nader's "overriding concern and vision," his "agenda." Of his accomplishments since 1980, it says, essentially, nothing.

Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980; American politics has been dominated by conservatives ever since. That's nearly a quarter of a century in which Ralph Nader could have make a big difference. And, unlike Kerry, Nader was independent of the system. He was free to do what he wanted all that time without having to worry about displeasing this or that voting bloc.

So what's the result?

For Reagan, Nader was a non-issue. For Bush the Elder, Nader was a non-issue. For Gingrich, Nader was a non-issue. Nader has been a non-issue not only for George W. Bush as president, but for Republicans in Congress, particularly lobbyists' friend Tom DeLay.

Now, let's think about the last four years -- and the Iraq war in particular. The president of the United States spent months building up to a war that was a colossal blunder ... and in response, the Great Progressive Hope of 2000 did -- what exactly?

I know -- war is not his big issue. His big issue is government largesse to corporations and the rich. Well, I seem to recall there was a fair amount of that in the past four years. A big tax cut. Then another. A big bundle of corporate tax breaks just a few weeks ago.

Was there a peep from Nader? If so, I missed it.

Patriot Act? Federalist Society judges? Abu Ghraib? Nader, any thoughts from you?

I know I'm exaggerating somewhat. I know Nader gives interviews and says that, yes, these things are very, very bad. I know he touches on these and similar subjects in campaign rallies every four years. But where's the leadership? Was he the public face of the opposition on any of these issues? Or even one of the public faces?

He did less to try to stop the war than Janeane Garofalo, fer crissakes. Four New Jersey widows who reportedly started out not knowing the difference between the House and the Senate did more to break the veil of government secrecy on 9/11 than Nader.

And that pattern goes back years. A right-wing Texas billionaire did more to try to stop NAFTA than Nader did. A right-wing Arizona senator and a New Hampshire woman in her 90s worked harder for campaign finance reform.

I look at Al Sharpton, a deeply flawed man, spearheading a movement to oust New York City's police commissioner after the killings of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond and the police torture of Abner Louima. I think of GMHC, ACT UP, and other organizations working to reset the terms of the debate on AIDS at a time when there was talk of tattoos and quarantines. I think about MoveOn, before and after Soros. And I see no comparable leadership on Nader's part, nothing that shifted any significant part of the public's thinking on any issue, in the past quarter-century.

You want to turn the tables on me and say that the real issue is John Kerry's record? I'd respond that in one speech Kerry gave last month he did more to rattle the cages of the conservative movement than Nader's done cumulatively in a generation. Kerry shook the SOBs up more by nailing the first question in the first debate than Nader's shook them up since Reagan took the oath of office. And Kerry's continued to unsettle the right every day ever since.

Decades ago, Nader left the fray. Now every four years he wants back in -- and as soon as the votes are counted he disappears again.

Ralph, either retire or rejoin the fight -- for real this time, not just for ego gratification.

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