Ralph Nader — that alternately beloved and begrudged gadfly — buzzed back onto the political scene Sunday with an announcement that he intends to mount yet another presidential campaign. Mainstream environmentalists, among others desperate to oust President Bush, were not amused.
Speaking on Meet the Press, Nader sounded a familiar battle cry when he vowed to take on the “two-party duopoly” and “corporate-occupied territory” in Washington, D.C., where donkeys and elephants “are ferociously competing to see who’s going to go to the White House and take orders from their corporate paymasters.”
But corporate-occupied as it may still be, that Beltway territory is a far more scarred and grizzly landscape than the comparatively green pastures Nader roamed in 2000, when, as the Green Party presidential candidate, he took 2.8 percent of the popular vote and, critics say, helped tip the scales toward Bush in the closest presidential election in American history.
Once a paragon of the progressive community, Nader is now being cast as its bete noire — even by liberal bulwarks like The Nation and The American Prospect, whose editors have pleaded with Nader not to run. In an editorial on Monday, the Prospect‘s editor-at-large, Harold Meyerson, called Nader’s move “a presidential bid of mind-boggling irrelevance — but with a potential for catastrophic mischief. … he still could have the power, in a very close election, to send the world straight to hell.”
Visit RalphDontRun.net to see the progressive argument laid out in simple electoral terms: Al Gore could have won with just three more electoral votes from swing states like New Hampshire and Florida, where a notable number of ballots were cast for Nader — the Supreme Court intervention and Florida voting fiasco notwithstanding. And while the 2004 election could be equally tight, the stakes are vertiginously higher, say Nader detractors.
Ever the ideological purist, Nader doesn’t give a damn. “We just can’t sit back like The Nation magazine and betray its own traditions, and the liberal intelligentsia, and once again settle for the least worst,” he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press.
These types of statements are particularly frustrating to environmental leaders inside the Beltway, who hardly see the future Democratic nominee — whether John Kerry or John Edwards — as a lesser of two evils. According to Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters, which has endorsed Kerry, “We see in John Kerry someone who could be the strongest president on the environment in American history — this is hardly someone we’re settling for! And where has Nader been for the last three years? We’ve been in the trenches, fighting every day to resist every [wrong] move of the Bush administration. But I haven’t seen him up on Capitol Hill doing the hard day-to-day work. Clearly his [presidential bid] is more to make a point than to make a change.”
Likewise, Sierra Club President Larry Fahn told Muckraker, “We are terribly disappointed in Ralph Nader’s decision because at this point he can only serve as a spoiler. The fact is, Nader’s argument that the Democratic and Republican candidates are Tweedledee and Tweedledum doesn’t hold water anymore. We have spent three years educating our members about how the Bush administration has been systematically dismantling decades of environmental policy, and now Nader could systematically dismantle our efforts.”
What concerns Rodger Schlickeisen, president of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, is that Nader’s run could not only damage the Democratic nominee, but also exacerbate mainstream antipathy toward the environmental movement: “Like it or not, Nader is associated with ‘green,’ and I’m afraid that when he runs this monumentally irresponsible campaign, America could misconstrue it as a radical, reactionary, irresponsible move supported by environmental activists.”
The Green Party is tied in knots over the issue. Though Nader is running as an independent this time, many Greens support his bid. Scott McLarty, a spokesperson for the Green Party, said there is even a movement to bring him back into the fold: “There is already a ‘Redraft Ralph’ campaign. If this can gain enough delegates and persuade Nader to accept our ticket, we will welcome him back.” Nader’s campaign team did not respond to Muckraker’s calls inquiring whether he would return to the Green Party.
McLarty rejects the criticisms of environmentalists, arguing that Nader outshines Kerry on plenty of environmental issues. “The biggest global environmental threats are a result of policies and decisions made by international trade cabals — NAFTA, WTO, FTAA, World Bank,” he said. “These are entities that Kerry has clearly supported in the past, and they have the power to override environmental rules. Also, Kerry voted for the war — which we believe was motivated by an oil grab — and meanwhile argues that we have to quit our addiction to fossil fuels.”
But there is also a growing contingent within the Green Party that doesn’t want to introduce any candidate whatsoever. Green Party member Pat LaMarche, who ran for Maine governor on the Green ticket in 1998, told Muckraker, “There are Greens who want Nader on the ballot so they can vote their conscience. But to me, voting my conscience is stopping George Bush — a cold, calculating, heartless man. If the only people who have the remote possibility of stopping him are the Democrats, they damn well better do it. I can vote for Nader if all I want is an attempt. I want a win.”