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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Learning from Nader

Ralph Nader’s announcement of his presidential candidacy on ‘Meet the Press’ yesterday included an insightful critique of the Democratic Party, but clouded by a kind of big-picture myopia Nader-watchers may find familiar. There were several Nader nuggets worth quoting in the MTP interview. Asked by Tim Russert how he would feel if his candidacy handed the presidency to the GOP this year, Nader responded:

Not a chance. If the Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form. You think the American people are going to vote for a pro-war John McCain who almost gives an indication that he’s the candidate of perpetual war, perpetual intervention overseas? You think they’re going to vote for a Republican like McCain, who allies himself with the criminal, recidivistic regime of George Bush and Dick Cheney, the most multipliable impeachable presidency in American history? Many leading members of the bar, including the former head of the American Bar Association, Michael Greco, absolutely dismayed over the violations of the Constitution, our federal laws, the criminal, illegal war in Iraq and the occupation? There’s no way. That’s why we have to take this opportunity to have a much broader debate on the issues that relate to the American people…

I doubt Nader will make a difference in the ’08 outcome this year, given the ’04 vote. What I find exasperating is that he could have made a difference for the better as a presidential candidate — if he would have campaigned within the Democratic Party. Certainly he would have gotten more media coverage for the causes he cares about. But it will never happen, since Nader harbors an almost splenetic contempt for the Democratic Party and the two-party duopoly in general. Also, he may figure that if Edwards and Kucinich couldn’t get much traction with an anti-corporate message as Dems, he wouldn’t either. Still, Nader’s speechmaking and debating skills are a match for any Democratic candidate and are instructive for our future candidates. For better or worse, he could do more to push the party leftward from the inside.
There’s a lot more Dems can learn from Nader, including the paramount importance of doing the homework and the way he marshalls his arguments and commands facts. There’s also his integrity, energy — still remarkable at age 74 — and his work ethic that sparked critical reforms like OSHA, EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.. Few Dems can match his record as a reformer. Yet today he choses to be a fringe figure, rather than an influential force in defining the national debate in one of the leading parties.
Ralph Nader has earned respect and admiration for his numerous accomplishments as a ‘public citizen.’ But he hasn’t made the case that a large number of votes for him wouldn’t help the Republicans. He ignores the fact that the aforementioned reforms were enacted by Democratic leadership. Given the choice of voting for a candidate for President who can actually win and provide some real world change, I think I’ll hang with the donkeys.

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