Sunday, February 24, 2008

Never say Nader

So, Ralph Nader has thrown his hat into the Presidential ring, with or without the backing of any political party. These selection procedures can be awfully cumbersome can't they? You can watch him make the announcement here.

In 2000 Nader, as the Green Party candidate, had a serious campaign, backed by many heavy weight political figures and up-beat monster rallies. He managed to accrue a respectable 2.7% of the national vote and the unjustified enmity of many Al Gore supporters, stung by George W.'s theft of the election.

In 2004, when the entire focus of everyone's minds was on whether incompetant war President Bush would be re-elected, he stood again against the advice of many of his former supporters - but this time as an independent as he felt the Greens were taking too long to go through their democratic selection process. Personally I think this was a mistake on a number of fronts and most of the American left agreed - his voted plummeted to a predictably risable 0.3%.

Most of all Nader's last run was damaging because whilst the 2000 campaign may have missed the 5% mark needed to qualify the Greens for public funding in the next election, it did manage to get the Greens ballot status in many new states. The 2004 campaign - even if it had been twice as successful as 2000 would not have fed into a living, breathing political movement or added much needed finances to a progressive political party (in this case the Greens).

For me this showed a lack of self awareness. It's one thing for someone to run for political office to advance their political ideals - it's quite another if it's combined with advancing their personal ambitions, and it seems to me that this is no small part of Nader's approach. He may argue this raises the profile of the issues he supports (and it's a nice list) but it tars these valid issues with a hint of his megomania.

Nader is not the first leftist to be blighted with an ego beyond his own historic importance, but that's no reason to encourage him. That said some of the criticism of Nader's previous campaigns have been little more than piffle. When asked whether he was responsible for George Bush's 2000 Presidential voctiry he replied reasonably;

“Not George Bush? Not the Democrats in Congress? Not the Democrats who voted for George Bush?,” before listing several other factors that would have led to Mr. Gore’s victory and accusing people opposed to his candidacy of “political bigotry. Let’s get over it and try to have a diverse, multiple votes, multiple choice ballot like they do in Europe.”

Then when asked if he could let the Republicans in again he said “Not a chance. If the Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just pack up, close down, and re-emerge in a different form.” You can't fault logic like that.

Demanding nobody to the left of Democrats run is essentially an argument against allowing voters any real choice at the ballot box. Nader explains that "Voting for a candidate of one's choice is a Constitutional right, and the Democrats who are asking me not to run are, without question, seeking to deny the Constitutional rights of voters who are, by law, otherwise free to choose to vote for me."

As far as this goes that's fine - but instead of trying to force the Greens to accept him as their candidate, by essentially saying that he'll run whether or not they select him, he's effectively cutting himself off from any democratic accountability in the political movement he claims to represent. He doesn't have to support the Greens, of course, I doubt I'd be a member if I lived in the US myself, but by constructing a network of sycophants around himself he is reproducing a top down structure well beyond anything the Democrats or Republicans possess. That doesn't impress me, the left has to be more democratic than the opposition, not less.

Whilst Nader will not achieve anything like the 19% of the vote the nutcase Perot once achieved as a third candidate he could run a campaign that at least feeds into grassroots movements and empowers the left to begin creating a more vibrant and united democratic culture - but his strategy cuts against this and frankly I doubt it's even on his agenda.


Chris Hyland said...

Is there any actual evidence that Nader took many votes away from Gore in 2000? It could well be true, but I haven't seen any data that suggests Nader voters would have voted for Gore if he hadn't run.

Jim Jay said...

Nader did an exit poll at the time and found that (from memory) something like 38% would have voted dem, 25% republican and the rest would not have voted.

This means in Florida - if these figures are correct - he did actually influence the outcome. Just.

But f- it in a two party system where both parties ignor the most basic needs of the population neither party has a right to the Presidency.

blackstone said...

Excellent essay showcasing how and why third parties do not work in America. I encourage all to read some if not all of this essay by G William Domhoff.

Chris said...

I'd say there's a lot can be gained. I'm not the world's greatest Nader fan, but at least his presence means that America doesn't spend the next year thinking "there is no alternative". Progressive politics needs to start from somewhere and if the Neo-Liberal democrats are able to ignore it that means third parties have to grow until they can't be ignored.
If you believe that the problem is the system and politics in general, rather than how politicians work within that system, then it's pointless supporting anything other than a third party

Jim Jay said...

But Chris it's one thing saying that its good to have an alternative its quite another to say that Nader is it and he's gone about it the right way.

If Nader was committed to building a real network that could have influence in every state in the US he'd commit to that project - and if he was committed to being part of that movement he'd seek its support before saying he's aPresidential candidate.

By by-passing any selection process and being unwilling to engage in any attempt to build something concrete on the ground this looks much more like an exercise in ego than putting forward progressive politics.

I agree with lots of what he says politically - but I don't agree with his view that he has a monopoly on the left liberal ticket - nor do I place the importance on particular individuals that he and his supporters clearly do.