Ralph Nader looked vigorous, sharp and confident when he appeared on Meet the Press to announce that he was running for President. I hope I’m that full of beans when I’m 74, not that that will be anytime soon, but sheesh! man, I wanted to shout at the screen, where’s your dignity? Do you really want to go down in history as the world’s most irritating vanity candidate? It’s getting hard to write those pieces that heap praise on Nader for all his great service to humanity–safer cars, safer water, safer factories–and beg him to please, please stick with his day job. Every time he runs, those glory days are four years longer ago. Those students from Prairie View A&M in Texas, who walked seven miles to their Republican-gerrymandered polling place in order to early-vote for Barack Obama, weren’t even born when Nader was in his prime.
Ralph Nader has a perfect right to run for President. And anyway it’s hard to imagine that he will have the same effect in 2008 he had in 2000–which, he told Tim Russert, was very little, because the Republicans stole the election, which Gore rightfully won. Be that as it may, we’ve all had a seven-year crash course in just how much difference there can be between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. In 2000, Nader got 2.7 percent of the vote. In 2004, he got 0.36 percent–that’s fewer than four voters in 1,000. If Hillary gets the nomination, Ralph might pick up the hard-left sexist vote, always a valuable demographic, but if it’s Obama versus McCain? Not enough difference between the candidate who opposed the war from the start and the one who wants to stay for 100 years? Between the one who wants to insure everyone (well, almost everyone) and the one who doesn’t see much of a problem with healthcare as is? The prochoice one and the one who voted 113 out of 117 times against reproductive rights? Oh, I forgot, Naderites never denied that the parties differed on abortion. They just didn’t care, and they probably still don’t. These people wouldn’t vote Democratic if Nader wasn’t running; they’d choose another protest candidate or stay home.
Here’s what I don’t like about Ralph running: his run is all about Ralph and his right to run. In the eight years since 2000, he’s built no movement and mobilized no support. As I write, the Green Party nomination is up in the air–Nader and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney are the top contestants. But the Green Party today is embroiled in factional feuds and backbiting: it’s hard to imagine it could provide Nader with even as much backup as it did in 2000. What is the point of popping up every four years to tweak the noses of the Dems? Beyond scoring him a few extra invitations from the Sunday talk-shows, it’s hard to see how Ralph’s Lone Ranger candidacy is going to reach the citizenry. Compared with John Edwards (whom Nader liked enough to support in the primaries), Nader is invisible. If he had wanted to reach a mass audience he could have run in the primaries like Dennis Kucinich–or, for that matter, Ron Paul–and gotten a ton of free airtime and a chance to show directly his superiority over the other candidates. That he passed up that opportunity but will howl if excluded from debates between the eventual nominees makes him seem vain and petulant.