Your decision to run for President as a third-party candidate in 2008leads me to resend our Open Letter to you, published in The Nation in2004.
As we wrote then, “you’ve been part of The Nation family for a longtime, from the day in 1959 when we published one of your first articles,the expose of “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy.” We think of you as PublicCitizen Number One–a courageous advocate for consumer rights who hasconsistently challenged predatory corporate power. But your greatstrength– and success–as a crusader has come from working outside ofelectoral politics.
Ralph, why run in 2008, when the stakes are clear, with John McCaincalling for continuing the war for 100 years and sustaining the Busheconomic policies that have ruined our country? To expose the issue ofballot access as a civil rights issue? It should be exposed. But why notuse your pulpit and street cred as Citizen Number One, not as acandidate, to drive this issue, and others progressives care about, intoour public debate and campaign? When the overwhelming mass ofprogressive voters have only one focus–beating back another disastrousfour or eight years of conservative rule–your perceived role as aspoiler is likely to attract far more attention than the valuable issuesyou raise. As we wrote in 2004, by running, “your efforts to raiseneglected issues will hit a deafening headwind.”
Then there is the generational issue. I suspect that millions,especially young people who have been energized and politicized byBarack Obama’s campaign, who might otherwise listen to (and benefitfrom) the issues you’ve championed as Public Citizen Number One will tune out andturn off Candidate Nader. For someone who inspired a generation ofNader’s Raiders and mobilized a new generation of voters to flock toyour “super rallies” in 2000, think of how much more you could do toinform and engage a new generation if you did not run for President thisyear.
Look around: no one, including former strong supporters, called on youto run this year. Doesn’t that deafening silence say something? In 2004,the last time you ran, in a year with the largest turnout of voters inrecent history, you received only 0.3 percent of the nationwide vote–down from 2.7 percent in 2000. And this year, as a result ofbeyond-the-beltway progressives driving their issues to the forefront ofthe Democratic agenda, both candidates pledge to bring the troopshome,to push for national health insurance, to reinvest in America, rollback tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and use that money inthe drive for new energy, affordable college, investment in education.The stakes in 2008 are clear.
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You, above all, understand that until we bust open this duopoly–and its barriers to candidate access and citizen participation–your candidacy may appear to millions as having more to do with ego than changing this country. This country needs Ralph Nader to be Public Citizen Number One–not apresidential candidate after eight years of disastrous war and ruinouseconomic policy. Lead a Democracy Reconstruction project! Become acrusading duopoly buster–fighting to rewire the anti-democratichardwiring of our political system.
We respect the historic contributions you’ve made to make this a better and safer nation. We know you’ve never been one to back down from afight. But when devotion to principle collides with electoral politics,hard truths must be faced. This run may well jeopardize your legacy. Ifyou get even fewer votes than last time, the media may say it means yourissues were not important.
As we wrote in 2004, in our Open Letter below, “For the good of thecountry, the many causes you’ve championed and for your own good name,don’t run for President this year.”
An Open Letter to Ralph NaderBy The EditorsDear Ralph,
According to the latest newsreports, you’ve pushed up your self-imposed deadline for announcingyour decision about an independent 2004 presidential campaign fromthe end of January to mid-February. We’re glad to hear that, becausemaybe it means you’re still not sure about the best path to follow.For the good of the country, the many causes you’ve championed andfor your own good name–don’t run for President thisyear.
Ralph, you’ve been part of the Nation familyfor a long time, from the day in 1959 we published one of your firstarticles, the exposé of “The Safe Car You Can’t Buy.”Since then, you’ve been a consistent advocate for active citizenship,investigative scholarship and environmental stewardship. It wasn’thype when we called you Public Citizen Number One.
We knowyou’ve never been one to back down from a fight. When people tell youyou can’t do something, if you think it’s the right thing to do, youdo it anyway. That stubborn devotion to principle is one of yourgreatest strengths. It inspired a generation of Nader’s Raiders inthe 1960s and ’70s, it helped produce notable victories like thecreation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the OccupationalSafety & Health Administration, and it inspired a new generationof young people who flocked to your “super rallies” in 2000. Theissues you raise on your website, NaderExplore04.org–full publicfinancing of elections, new tools to help citizens band together,ending poverty, universal healthcare, a living wage, a crackdown oncorporate crime–are vital to the long-term health of our country.When those issues are given scant attention by major-party candidatesand ignored or trivialized by the sham joint candidate appearancesknown as presidential debates, we join in your outrage.
Butwhen devotion to principle collides with electoral politics, hardtruths must be faced. Ralph, this is the wrong year for you to run:2004 is not 2000. George W. Bush has led us into an illegalpre-emptive war, and his defeat is critical. Moreover, the odds ofthis becoming a race between Bush and Bush Lite are almost nil. For avariety of reasons–opposition to the war, Bush’s assault on theConstitution, his crony capitalism, frustration with the overcautiousand indentured approach of inside-the-Beltway Democrats–there is alevel of passionate volunteerism at the grassroots of the DemocraticParty not seen since 1968.
The context for an independentpresidential bid is completely altered from 2000, when there was areal base for a protest candidate. The overwhelming mass of voterswith progressive values–who are essential to all efforts to build aforce that can change the direction of the country–have only onefocus this year: to beat Bush. Any candidacy seen as distracting fromthat goal will be excoriated by the entire spectrum of potentiallyprogressive voters. If you run, you will separate yourself, probablyirrevocably, from any ongoing relationship with this energized massof activists. Look around: Almost no one, including former strongsupporters, is calling for you to run, compared with past years whenmany veteran organizers urged you on.
If you run, yourefforts to raise neglected issues will hit a deafening headwind. Themedia will frame you as The Spoiler. It’s also safe to predict thatyou will get far fewer votes than the 2.8 million you garnered in2000, and not only because your rejection of the Green Party raisesexpensive new hurdles to getting your name on state ballots. A recentonline survey by the progressive news site AlterNet.org found thatonly one in nine respondents said they’d vote for you if you run thisyear, a 60 percent drop-off from the number who said they voted foryou in 2000. If you run and get a million votes or fewer, the mediawill say it means your issues were not important. This can only hurtthose causes, not to mention the tangible costs another run mayimpose on the many public-interest groups tied to you.
Youhave said your candidacy could actually help Democrats by raisingissues against Bush that a Democratic candidate would avoid and byboosting turnout for good candidates for the House and Senate, wherethe slender bulwarks against Bushism must be reinforced. But thesearguments do not compel a candidacy by you. As a public citizenfighting for open debates and rallying voters to support progressiveDemocrats for Congress, or good independents or Greens for thatmatter, you can have a far more productive impact than as a candidatedealing with recriminations about being a spoiler or, worse, anegotist. And the very progressives distressed by the prospect of yourcandidacy would contribute eagerly to have that voiceamplified.
And if you think that this year you can help theanti-Bush cause by running and peeling off disgruntled Republicans,McCainiacs, Perotistas and the like while not disrupting theDemocratic charge, please be honest with yourself. Once upon a time,maybe as late as 1992, when you dallied with a “none of the above”campaign and got 2 percent of the vote in New Hampshire fromwrite-ins in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, yourappeal stretched across the political spectrum. No longer, alas. Yournephew, Tarek Milleron, wrote recently that if you run in 2004 itwill be “the year of the Elks clubs, the garden clubs, meetings withformer Enron employees, the veterans groups, Wal-Mart employees,” notprogressive super rallies. But how many Elks club presidents areinviting you to speak? How many veterans groups? Such relationshipstake time to build and can’t be conjured out of thin air in the midstof a presidential campaign.
You once told us you play chessat many levels at once. For all we know, you’re thinking of runninghard and then, if the race is close, throwing your support to theDemocrat in the final days. While such a tactic might make for asatisfying conclusion to an otherwise futile quest, we don’t think itjustifies the risks, antagonism, confusion and contortions that sucha run would entail.
Ralph, please think of the long term. Don’t run.