‘The Ralph Nader Problem’ --- A Re-run plus

Column No. 17 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH -  June 17, 2004

“The Ralph Nader Problem” is well-known to most readers of The Political Junkies.  I considered it in one of my first columns in this series, No. 3, published on March 11, 2004.  TPJ, “A Word (or two) on Ralph Nader”

In the course of this Spring, Mr. Nader seems to have mellowed somewhat, politically.  He still will not recognize, publicly at least, that he bears any responsibility for the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election.  However, he does seem to recognize that the re-election of George Bush would be a catastrophe for our nation, to say nothing of the world as a whole, that Sen. Kerry is truly different from Bush, and that he, Ralph Nader, has a positive role to play in the prevention of that occurrence.  .

Mr. Nader has met with Sen. Kerry on at least one occasion.  They have had kind words to say about each other.  Mr. Nader has recognized their mutual interest in the defeat of George Bush.  At present, it is unclear as to how many states will have Mr. Nader’s name on the ballot.  Nevertheless, unlike Dennis Kucinich who is still running for the Democratic nomination, Nader is still running for President.  Thus, his candidacy still may, in the end, constitute a major obstacle to achieving the objective of sending the Georgites home in November.

Among Bush opponents an increasing amount of attention is being paid to “The Nader Problem.”  In fact, there is now a website devoted entirely to dealing with it.  In this column, I am first revisiting the analysis and recommendations that I made in March.  Then I will introduce you to “TheNaderFactor.com.” In my view, its website is very well worth visiting.

As I said back in March, how should progressive Democrats react to the continuing Nader candidacy?  Yes, we could talk about why, if one is really interested in changing the Democratic Party, one didn’t do what Governor Dean and Rep. Kucinich did, enter the Democratic primaries?   Yes, we could engage in an analysis of Nader’s ego needs. We could ask if, regardless of any other considerations, is it really helpful for progressive politics and policies for Nader to be doing what he is doing?  Apparently he really, really, deep down thinks that it is, and so that is that.

It should be noted that Nader hardly gives one the impression that he is easy to negotiate with.  However, he at least is talking with Sen. Kerry, and that kind of personal reaching out is new for him.  One still has to wonder how much change in the Democratic Party, in the current historical context, would be enough for him?  It has already changed a great deal in the last nine months, due in large part to the early efforts of Dean and Kucinich, and the more recent ones of Kennedy, Gore, and even McAuliffe.  As one observer of the latest Nader raid said, the Democratic Party “needs to grow up.”  Well, yes, if “grow up” is taken to mean really differentiate itself from the Republicans, shed the DLC, return to its 20th century, Progressive Era/New Deal roots, and focus firmly on its fundamental differences with Bush on everything from what Constitutional Democracy really is to the role of government in ours.  That process is, finally, underway.

In my view, trying to change Ralph Nader’s behavior is a truly difficult task.  This man is totally convinced of his own rightness.  He finds it hard to listen to leading Democrats who agree with him on many of the issues, and even to a number of his own advisors, former and possibly even present.  He marches to his own drummer, whose drumbeat is so loud in his ears that other sounds seem to have difficulty getting through.  In my view, that task is best left to Sen. Kerry and his advisors, in private conversations with Mr. Nader and his advisors.  So, as I said back in March, what we on the outside need to do now is ignore Ralph and aim rather at getting through to the Nader voter, past and potential.  Here are a few suggestions for how to do that.

1.    Don’t run guilt trips.  Don’t focus on the 2000 election.  Focus on the 2004 election.  Focus on what happens if the Georgites (as I like to call them) get re-elected.  Focus on the need, therefore, for every possible Democratic vote, in every single election district no matter Democratic it is.

2.    Point out that while neither the Democratic candidate (whomever it might be, most likely Kerry) nor the Democratic platform is or will be perfect, on many of the major issues, both are and will be certainly a lot closer to the interests of the potential Nader voter than are those of the Georgites.  And on some of them, like the principles on which health care and environmental policies should be based, it is virtually the same (unless I have missed something and please, don’t swamp me with detailed differences).

3.    Point out that if Nader voters and especially activists get involved in the Democratic primaries and the Democratic platform-building process now, they will have much more influence than they could have as outside voices, which many Democratic voters and most of the Democratic leadership would look upon with scorn.

4.    Point out that (as mentioned above) because of the efforts especially of Gov. Dean and Rep. Kucinich, both of whom have pledged to support the eventual Democratic nominee even though they won’t agree with him on every issue, the Democratic Party has changed, significantly.  As late as last fall, the message coming from both the DNC and the Congressional leadership, to say nothing of certain prominent candidates, was a primarily DLC-accomodationist, “let’s-not-offend the [supposed] ‘center’” one.  It has now become a full-throated roar from virtually all sectors of the Party (note the absence of the DLC from the chorus) to throw out the Georgites and replace them with radically different people and policies.

5.    Please, please, please, we should say to these folks, if nothing else, don’t ignore what has happened to the Federal judiciary under the Georgites, how that process would be compounded many fold should they be re-elected, and what impact that outcome would have on so many interests that progressives have in this country.

And so.  Let’s focus on the Georgites, let’s focus on the issues, let’s focus on potential Nader voters and what their concerns are, and let’s just forget about Ralph.  If you happen to be interested in payback (not an interest of mine), the worst thing that could happen to him personally is to be finally ignored, and to go down in the history of Presidential campaigns as just another Ralph Stassen/Lyndon LaRouche.

In aid of focusing on the Nader voter, there is this new website, brought to my attention by Democrats.com.  The web address is TheNaderFactor.com.  Here is what they have to say about themselves at the beginning of their Home Page:

What is TheNaderFactor.com? Karl Rave’s greatest dream is for Democrats and progressives to be divided. Let's give Karl Rove his greatest nightmare - a united front of progressive Democrats, former Nader voters and Nader supporters ready to take on the right wing in Washington and put an end to the destructive policies of the Bush agenda. The Nader Factor is dedicated to building a dynamic grassroots community of former Nader voters, Nader supporters, progressive Democrats and others who understand what's at stake and are uniting to change the Democratic Party and take this country back from the right-wing in Washington.

As Bob Fertik, founder of Democrats.com, said in endorsing TheNaderFactor.com:

Every poll shows the race between John Kerry and George W. Bush is neck-and-neck. As in 2000, the election of 2004 could be decided by Ralph Nader, and this would be a catastrophe in every way imaginable.  While many of us - and many of his 2000 supporters - have tried to persuade Nader to pull out of the Presidential race, these efforts have failed. We therefore believe we must reach out to Nader's supporters, in an effort to persuade them to vote for Kerry.  By working together, we hope to build a relationship of trust that will make it possible for Nader supporters to feel good about voting for John Kerry in November.

Couldn’t have said it better myself!