Is Ralph a Spoiler? Or Are We a Banana Republic?

The day after CNN reported that “Nader takes steps towards another White House bid,” I had an exchange — it was a month ago — with Henry Kisor, an old friend from former years at the Chicago Sun-Times. Citing that report, I said in a comment on one of Henry’s blogposts, None of the above, “Go, Ralph, Go!”


The rest of the exchange went like this:
Henry said,
January 31, 2008 at 10:58 am

It’s a good thing that Nader admits that he’s a minor candidate, the representative of a fringe. But it is appalling that he refuses to admit (maybe even to understand) that a candidacy such as his can result in the election of the worst alternative. He makes his point, but the rest of us have to live with the results.

Jan Herman said,
January 31, 2008 at 12:01 pm

If Nader does run, and if the contest between the two major candidates is close enough for him to actually be a spoiler, then we who have to live with the results will get what we deserve.

Henry said,
January 31, 2008 at 12:05 pm

And we got what we deserved because Ralph ran? I don’t see the logic there.

Jan Herman said,
January 31, 2008 at 12:51 pm

That’s not what I mean at all. I don’t believe Ralph was the spoiler in 2000. Gore should have won going away. It wasn’t Ralph that stopped him. There were many other, too many other, factors involved to blame that catastrophe on him. The Supreme Court, for one. What I’m saying is that the upcoming election shouldn’t be close enough for him to be a spoiler.
(If McCain is the Republican nominee, the electorate ought to reject him overwhelmingly for, among other things, his war-mongering triumphalism. And if it’s Romney, it ought to reject him overwhelmingly for, among other things, his democracy-needs-religion crapola. If the Democrats don’t win by a landslide against either of them, it will show just how much of a Banana Republic we’ve become.)

Then, on Feb. 26, Nader announced on “Meet the Press” that he will run, and yesterday NY Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote:

When asked about the possibility of being a spoiler, of tilting the election to John McCain, Mr. Nader replied: “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.”

Herbert, who obviously admires Nader, gently but firmly rebukes him: “He won’t countenance the idea that there might be something destructive about his candidacy.”
Well, have a look at a video clip of Nader’s statement. It’s only three minutes long and gives his full reply. See whether Nader makes sense or if he is, as his critics claim, merely an overweaning egotist who can’t resist putting himself at the center of public attention.
Prefer to read what Nader said without having to watching an ad on the way to the video? Or because you’re deaf and NBC, like all the networks and all the Internet sites for news or entertainment, fails to offer audio captioning? Here’s the text of the full reply to Tim Russert, excerpted from a transcript of the program:

MR. RUSSERT: Will you run for president as an independent in 2008?
MR. NADER: Let me put it in context, to make it a little more palatable to people who have closed minds. Twenty-four percent of the American people are satisfied with the state of the country, according to Gallup. That’s about the lowest ranking ever. Sixty-one percent think both major parties are failing. And, according to Frank Luntz’s poll, a Republican, 80 percent would consider voting for a independent this year. Now, you take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut, shut out, marginalized, disrespected and you go from Iraq to Palestine/Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bungling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts, getting a decent energy bill through, and you have to ask yourself, as a citizen, should we elaborate the issues that the two are not talking about? And the–all, all the candidates–McCain, Obama and Clinton–are against single payer health insurance, full Medicare for all. I’m for it, as well as millions of Americans and 59 percent of physicians in a forthcoming poll this April. People don’t like Pentagon waste, a bloated military budget, all the reports in the press and in the GAO reports. A wasteful defense is a weak defense. It takes away taxpayer money that can go to the necessities of the American people. That’s off the table to Obama and Clinton and McCain.
The issue of labor law reform, repealing the notorious Taft-Hartley Act that keeps workers who are now more defenseless than ever against corporate globalization from organizing to defend their interests. Cracking down on corporate crime. The media–the mainstream media repeatedly indicating how trillions of dollars have been drained and fleeced and looted from millions of workers and investors who don’t have many rights these days, and pensioners. You know, when you see the paralysis of the government, when you see Washington, D.C., be corporate-occupied territory, every department agency controlled by overwhelming presence of corporate lobbyists, corporate executives in high government positions, turning the government against its own people, you–one feels an obligation, Tim, to try to open the doorways, to try to get better ballot access, to respect dissent in America in the terms of third parties and, and independent candidates; to recognize historically that great issues have come in our history against slavery and women rights to vote and worker and farmer progressives, through little parties that never ran–won any national election. Dissent is the mother of ascent. And in that context, I have decided to run for president.

Continuing right along from the text transcript, which is on this video clip:

MR. RUSSERT: As you know, Ralph Nader, they’ll be Democrats all across the country who are going to find this very disturbing news, and they’ll point again to 2000. This was the vote count. Al Gore winning the popular vote, but you’ve got 2.7 percent, nearly three million votes, in 2000. Then Florida, Florida, Florida. As you remember, George Bush won Florida by 537 votes. You’ve got 97,488. Democrat after Democrat says to this day, Ralph Nader, if your name had not been on that ballot, Al Gore would’ve carried Florida. Exit polls show he would’ve carried Nader voters 2-to-1. Gore would’ve been president and not George Bush. You, Ralph Nader are responsible for what has happened the last seven years.
MR. NADER: Not, not George Bush? Not the Democrats in Congress? Not the voters who voted for George Bush? But there were Democrats in Florida, 250,000 of them. You know, I wish we’d have Al Gore on this program someday Tim and ask him, “Why did you not become president in 2000?” And I think what he’s going to tell you is he thought he did win Florida, but it was taken from him before, during and after the election from Tallahassee. Katherine Bush — you know the secretary of the state…
MR. RUSSERT: Katherine Harris.
MR. NADER: Harris, rather, and Jeb Bush, all the way to that terribly politicized Supreme Court decision. But the, the political bigotry that’s involved here is that we shouldn’t enter the electoral arena? We, all of us who, who, who think that the country needs an infusion of freedom, democracy, choice, dissent should just sit on the sidelines and watch the two parties own all the voters and turn the government over to big business? What’s really important here is, if you want to look at it analytically, is there–Mr. Gore would, would tell you if he won Tennessee, anything else being equal, he would’ve been president. It’s his home state. If he won Arkansas, everything else being equal, he would’ve been president. The mayor of Miami sabotaged the Democrats because of a grudge, didn’t bring thousands of votes out. Quarter of a million Democrats voted for Bush in Florida. There is all kinds of thievery in Florida.
So why do they blame the Greens? Why do they blame the people all over the country who are trying to have a progressive platform, not just the environment. What was their crime? Why, why, why isn’t there tolerance for candidates’ rights the way there is a building tolerance over the last 50 years for voter rights? Because without voter rights, candidate rights don’t mean much. And without candidate rights–more voices and choices — voter rights don’t mean much. I — I’m amazed at the liberal intelligencia here. They are analytic and they deal with all kinds of variables, but when it comes to 2000 election, it’s just one variable.
And I might add that Solon Simmons and other scholars — he teaches at George Mason — have shown that by pushing Gore to take more progressive stands, he got more votes than the votes he allegedly — were withdrawn from for the Green party. Twenty-five percent of my vote, according to a Democratic pollster, exit poll, would’ve gone to Bush. Thirty-nine percent would’ve gone to Gore and the rest would’ve stayed home. Every major — every third party in Florida got more votes than the 537 vote gap. So let’s get over it and try to have a diverse multiple choice, multiple party democracy the way they have in Western Europe and Canada. This bit of, of spoiler is really very astonishing. These are the two parties who’ve spoiled our electoral system, money, they can’t even count the votes, they steal–the Republicans steal the votes, and the Democrats knock third party candidates off the ballot. That’s their specialty these days.

And now — for the sake of completeness — the text (coming about three minutes into this video clip) cited by Bob Herbert:

MR. RUSSERT: How would you feel, however, if Ralph Nader’s presence on the ballot tilted Florida or Ohio to John McCain and McCain became president, and Barack Obama, the first African-American who had been nominated by the Democratic Party — this is hypothetical — did not become a president and people turned to you and said, “Nader, you’ve done it again”?
MR. NADER: 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, as, as, as a fellow in Long Island said recently, Mr. Sloane, he said, “These parties aren’t speaking to me. They’re not speaking to my problems, to my family’s problems.”

So, yeah. “Go, Ralph, Go!”
Postscript: “Well. I’d say, ‘Go back, Ralph, go back!'” (Henry’s riposte. And, he insists, “Waving my arms wildly, too.”)

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