Ralph, Don't Run
Given the GOP sweep in the midterm elections, progressives and populists must position themselves to play a pivotal role in the next presidential contest. As we demonstrated in 2000, we are a fragmented political force, divided between those who supported, however reluctantly, the Democratic choice, Al Gore, and those who backed the Green Party's Ralph Nader. But the Bush disaster, compounded now by the meltdown of the Democratic Party on November 5, is an emergency. We cannot afford another division in our ranks that will bring about the election of George W. Bush in 2004.
His selection as President by the Supreme Court in 2000 was a presidential and judicial coup. Progressives may believe this coup stains his Administration as illegitimate, but apparently he and his inner group take it as leave to cast aside the Bill of Rights and international law. Now the President is out of control and threatens American democracy and the peace of the world. At home, there is mounting evidence that we are living in a land ruled by a crypto-fascist government: The FBI spies on law-abiding political organizations and churches, citizens are deputized to spy and inform on one another, an underground parallel executive government has been activated, lawyer-client consultations are bugged, the government keeps citizens locked up without lawyers or hearings and talks of using the military to police the United States, and the Pentagon is making a vast database of the American people. We are being cudgeled into agreeing to wars of aggression, to make first use of nuclear weapons and to put weapons in outer space. Setting a lethal example for other nations, the Bush government prepares to initiate an attack on a small nation 6,000 miles away and asserts the right to wage a war with no discernible end by attacking any nation that one man--an unelected President who has rarely traveled overseas--determines to be harboring terrorists or seeking weapons of mass destruction. This same unelected President schemes to exempt Americans from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court, which punishes crimes against humanity. The will to dominate the world is explicit when he tells Congress he will not allow "any foreign power to catch up with" or surpass "the power of the United States." If Bush and the Pentagon control the government through 2008 we will become a militarized nation bent on world domination, a third-millennium Rome. Intensified terrorist attacks on us and a series of widening wars can be expected. All of this is dramatically worse in kind and degree than what Al Gore would have done as President.
These are the realities that tell us Bush must be beaten in 2004. Not only the nation, but the world, depends on it. If we divide our votes for President again between the Democratic nominee and Ralph Nader, we will very probably help elect Bush. Therefore, Nader should not run for President as a Green in 2004.
I have played a role in supporting Nader. I presented him to the Green Party conventions that nominated him in Los Angeles in 1996 and in Denver in 2000. Although I knew that supporting him risked helping elect Republican Presidents in both of those elections, we who supported him and began to forge a third-party politics were acting within our democratic and idealistic rights, believing that the short-run damage to good causes that we were risking was outweighed ethically by the long-run damage to democracy and social justice that the capture of the Democratic Party by major corporations has caused and, if not stopped, will continue to cause. We were taking a calculated risk, but we underestimated what we were risking. The Bush presidency is worse than we could plausibly have imagined, and the run-up to 2004 is not just another election, it is a crisis that leaves us no more time or room to maneuver.
We, the Nader people, certainly put Bush close enough electorally for the Supreme Court to seize the presidency for him. Gore "lost" because of many factors--including his own empty campaign--but the fact that an event has a multiplicity of causes does not dissolve any of those causes or absolve any group of players of their responsibility. National exit-poll data published the day after the election suggested that Nader's candidacy cost Gore about three-quarters of a million votes, but even exit polls that Nader himself cites indicate that arguably we Nader voters made it possible for Bush to win New Hampshire's four electoral votes (remember, Bush "won" by just four) and clearly converted a Gore victory in Florida, with its decisive twenty-five electoral votes, into the mesmerizing seesaw that the Supreme Court stopped when Bush was allegedly up on Gore by 537 votes. It is very clear--who can persuasively deny it?--that the more votes Nader gets in 2004, the likelier it is that Nader and his supporters will elect Bush.
As obvious as all of this is to me--and to at least some others who voted for Nader--evidently it may not be obvious to him. This June I called on my friend Ralph in his offices at the Carnegie Foundation building in Washington to discuss with him why I believe he must not run again. A shocked conviction is growing among some people who backed him, I said, that as we love our country and care about the world, we must do everything we can to beat Bush.