Friday, June 22, 2007

Nader the Narcissist: Unsafe in any Election

Please note: This post has also been published at TPMCafe, and has received 25 comments as of July 3, 2007. I hope you are going to join the discussion at TPMCafe or continue it here.

The first half of this title is inspired by Tood Gitlin's criticism of Nader running as an independent in the 2004 election: From Tragedy to Farce, concluding that his narcissism knows no limits:
So, when all is said and done, leave aside Nader's wishful thinking -- his hallucination of ideologically aroused masses, his prayer that the Electoral College system might vanish. What Nader's decision amounts to is not logic but an exercise in monomania by a man who once accomplished great things and now believes that whatever he claims to accomplish is great by virtue of the fact that he claims it. Quixotic Nader, whose first run was tragedy, now tries farce. It's not funny.
This conclusion is as true today as it was three years ago. In fact, it might even be more true and potentially more tragic, and even less funny, because apparently he is seriously thinking about running again in 2008!

In 2000, Nader arguably helped Bush defeat Gore. As a reminder, Gore lost to Bush in Florida by only 537 votes, whereas Nader received 97,448. Most analysts agree that many of those who voted for Nader would otherwise have voted for Gore had Nader not run, at a minimum 538. In 2004, his role was insignificant. What will his impact be in 2008, if he decides to run again?

He has started calling Hillary Clinton a "coward," and, in his recent article, Hillary's Hypocrisy, criticizes what he calls her "twofer strategy:
So she travels around the country with her twofer strategy - pandering to powerful audiences and flattering gatherings of Democratic voters. She has watched Bill’s lack of political fortitude win elections in this two-party, elected dictatorship against the hapless Republicans. Why should she be any different?

If she wins the primary and the November elections the country will get another kind of twofer in the White House. Here they’ll go again.

In an interview with Politico.com, Nader Ponders Run, Calls Clinton "Coward," he gives all the familiar reasons for running yet again, essentially revolving around the necessity to offer a real alternative to what he sees as the two party duopoly and the corporate interests that dominate the political system.

Nader believes that the Democrats are likely to win the presidency and maintain their majority in Congress. And yet, he still wants to run.
What third parties can do is bring young people in, set standards on how to run a presidential election and keep the progressive agenda in front of the people. And maybe tweak a candidate here and there in the major parties.
For a persuasive explanation of how futile if not counterproductive third parties tend to be in a two-party system and an electoral system based on plurality, and a devastating critique of Nader's justification of his 2000 campaign, see Bill Domhoff's Why Third Parties Don't Work (March 2005). From a progressive point of view, what does this mean for the future strategy of the Green Party? Indeed, a very strong argument can be made that running as a third party candidate in the US tends to be counterproductive.

For the most part, Nader's attempts were pretty much irrelevant; but in 2000 they were fatal. Beyond spoiling the election of Gore, the deeper issue seems to be that Nader is not sufficiently concerned with the effects that a conservative presidency has on precisely those less privileged people that he claims to care about so much. For he must have known how close the election was going to be, both in 2000 and 2004; and likely also in 2008. And how credible is his emphasis on how indispensable third parties are in the US while running as a an independent candidate in 2004, and not as a candidate of the Green Party, as he did in 2000?

Most importantly, how much does the progressive agenda really matter to him when deciding to run? From a strategic point of view, running as a third party candidate takes away precious resources and attention from those candidates who actually do have a chance of winning and therefore can advance the progressive agenda much more effectively.

Nader is 73 now. No one denies the crucial role he has played in advancing progressive causes. But it is high time for him and all other progressive third party candidates to start behaving more responsibly in elections, if not more strategically in politics in general. Quo vadis, Nader?

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