Don’t Run, Ralph

Guest Commentary: Peter K. HarrellAn opportunity to vote for our candidacy?

Ralph Nader announced yesterday on NBC?s Meet The Press that he will run for President as an independent candidate. Presented with a strong argument against his running in 2004 this is how Nader responded.

>>> (Videotape):

Announcer: The 2000 presidential race was the closest in American history, a swing of just three electoral votes anywhere in the country and George Bush would never have become president. You can blame Gore’s mistakes in the campaign, the Florida recount debacle, the Supreme Court intervention, but after all those events, one fact remains: Ralph Nader’s candidacy tipped the balance to Bush. With just 1 percent of the votes cast for Ralph Nader, Gore wins Florida and the election. Netting a third of Nader’s votes, Gore takes New Hampshire as well. The simple fact is if Nader had not run, Gore would be president, not Bush. Today, Ralph Nader is thinking of running again, and he says he’ll announce his plans in the next few weeks. This time, in 2004, the stakes are far too high. This time, we need Ralph Nader with us, not against us. Here’s how you can help. Visit Ralph Nader’s Exploratory Committee Web site and send the message: Ralph, please don’t run.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: There’s real passion in that. What do you say to those people?

MR. NADER: That’s the liberal intelligentsia that agrees with almost all our positions. That is a contemptuous statement against democracy, against freedom, against more voices and choices for the American people. You’d never find that type of thing in Canada or Western democracies in Europe. It is an offense to deny millions of people who might want to vote for our candidacy an opportunity to vote for our candidacy. Instead, they want to say, “No, we’re not going to let you have an opportunity to vote,” for our candidacy.
The hysteria and politics of abuse too often practiced by Democrats in that past few years are not in evidence here. Yet, Nader speaks of contempt for democracy and a desire to deny millions an opportunity to vote for his candidacy.

The New York Times today described Ralph Nader as “one of the giants of the American reform movement”, which is true. But Nader has never been an effective advocate for voting and election reform.

When asked on Meet The Press to respond to the charge that he may again be a ?spoiler? in 2004 and that his desire to run for President is simply a matter of ego, Nader describes his critics as ?hostages to an antiquated Electoral College winner-take-all system?.

But Nader does not seem to understand that his “Electoral College winner-take-all system” argument is really just another variant of his “opportunity to vote for our candidacy” critique.

Neither the abolition of the Electoral College nor the implementation of a proportional scheme in the selection of each state’s Electors will resolve the “spoiler problem”. Nader should realize that putting his opponents on the defensive and inspiring the public to support voting and election reform will require much more than appeals to open up the system so that voters can “support our candidacy”.

The “spoiler problem” which Nader fails to address arises out of the extreme censorship that Plurality Voting imposes upon each and every voter in the voting booth. But Ralph Nader does not appear to understand this. Despite so many opportunities to use a focused and serious critique of our voting and election systems in his own defense, Nader has repeatedly failed to make empowering and protecting the constitutional rights of voters the center of his campaign strategy.

Sure, Nader supports adding a “None of the Above” option to the ballot and the implementation of Instant Runoff Voting, at least superficially. But Nader is more concerned about the partisan nature of the Commission on Presidential Debates (Open the Debates – Ralph Nader, Common Dreams) than the way in which voters actually express their opinions and excercise real political power.

Given the unusual political circumstances of the 2004 campaign, if Ralph Nader truly understood voting and election reform and the charges against him, he would have carefully structured his campaign strategy around reform.

Nader would have sought the Green Party nomination while pursuing the option of running as an independent. Nader would have encouraged Greens to make overtures to Democrats. Nader would have left the possibility of reaching a deal with Democrats in swing states open by clearly making Democratic efforts on behalf of voting and election reform critical to any deal. Nader would have stated that obtaining and retaining Green Party ballot assess in states dominated by Democrats or Republicans was as important to him as using his own candidacy as a platform for a discussion of the issues. Finally, Nader would have clearly made the case for empowering the American people through voting and election reform.

Instead when asked if he would consider stepping out and endorsing the Democrat if the election were close Ralph Nader tells Tim Russert of Meet The Press:

>>> MR. NADER: First of all, there are 40 slam-dunk states where either the Republicans or Democrats are going to win handily; that’s number one. Second, I think there’s a very good chance that President Bush is going to start declining in the polls. He’s making a lot of mistakes. People are beginning to realize that he doesn’t care about the American people, although he says he does; that as a conservative president, he’s presiding over and encouraging the shipment of industries and jobs to the despotic Communist regime in China; that he fabricated the basis for the war in Iraq, which is now a quagmire. And if President Bush doesn’t trust the American people with the truth, why should the American people trust George W. Bush with the presidency?

Now, you gave me a hypothetical, all right? You know how Arnold [Schwarzenegger] answered that hypothetical. When that and if that eventuality occurs, in the rare event that it occurs, you can invite me back on the program, and I’ll give you my answer.
So does Ralph Nader really want our support or just another moment on stage?

And just who does Ralph Nader really think he is dissing here?

The liberal intelligentsia or the voters?

On Meet The Press Nader claimed that his candidacy is the “inside” complement to the “outside” approach to election reform taken by the Center for Voting and Democracy.

The New York Times attributes Nader’s candidacy to anger rather than ego.

But either way, anger or ego, Ralph Nader just doesn’t get the full implications of voting and election reform for an independent or third party campaign for President.

If Nader expects voters to take him seriously, he needs to respect their concerns and present a credible campaign strategy that consists of something more than just another round of disaffected pontification.

How does Nader expect to convince the American public that he can see the forest, when clearly he can even see the trees?

Personal note: A week or two ago I indicated that I would discuss Yes No “Maybe So” Voting and Proportional Representation. I still intend to do so in an upcoming post. But I came down with a flu-like cold followed by a case of appendicitis which required surgery. So, I wasn’t able post as I intended.

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