Now, this is a year where I definitely support Sen. Obama over Ralph Nader, and I hope that those voters who are thinking about pulling the lever for Nader do give Obama a long, hard look first. To my mind, as with John McCain (who might’ve been a decent president in 2000, particularly compared to the ultimate GOP alternative), Nader is now a candidate whose time has come and gone. That being said, I don’t know why we have to keep going over this, but Nader has every right to run, and, if people decide to vote for him over Obama, so be it. Nader’s potential votes are not and never will be the Democratic Party’s votes by fiat. They must be earned.
Dredging up a stale (and rather whiny) Election 2000 talking point, TPM’s Josh Marshall today calls Nader “Bush’s Chief Enabler,” and that’s not only wildly off the mark, but symptomatic of a type of narrow, scapegoating impulse that speaks poorly of Democrats in general. As I noted at the time, Al Gore lost the election of 2000 for many reasons, even notwithstanding the Supreme Court endgame: Gore lost his home state of Tennessee. He tried constantly to distance himself from the still very popular Bill Clinton — I’m looking at you, Joe Lieberman — and even refused to send Clinton to places where he could easily have made the difference for Gore, like Arkansas and West Virginia. He gave some thoroughly terrible debate performances. (Remember the sighing?) He asked for a targeted recount aimed at helping him, rather than a full statewide recount. And so on. So blaming Nader makes very little sense. (As Nader himself pointed out today, every single third-party candidate got more than the 537 votes Gore needed in Florida.) Here’s the question I’d put to Marshall, Chait, and anyone else who keeps up this sad Blame-Nader meme long past its sell date: Even notwithstanding all the people who voted Dubya in 2000, why would you blame the 2% of voters who followed the process enough to vote third-party in 2000, rather than the 40% of Americans who didn’t even bother to vote?
Now, with all that in mind, it’s interesting to look at Obama and Clinton’s respective responses to the Nader candidacy. First, here’s Sen. Obama. “I think anybody has the right to run for president if they file sufficient papers. And I think the job of the Democratic Party is to be so compelling that a few percentage of the vote going to another candidate is not going to make any difference” Speaking of Nader specifically, Obama said: “You know, he had called me and I think reached out to my campaign — my sense is is that Mr. Nader is somebody who, if you don’t listen and adopt all of his policies, thinks you’re not substantive. He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work. Now — and by the way, I have to say that, historically, he is a singular figure in American politics and has done as much as just about anybody on behalf of consumers. So in many ways he is a heroic figure and I don’t mean to diminish him. But I do think there is a sense now that if somebody is not hewing to the Ralph Nader agenda, then you must be lacking in some way.“
Notice how Sen. Obama respects Nader’s decision to enter the race, and agrees that all votes must be earned. Then, while calling Nader a “heroic figure” who “done as much as just about anybody on behalf of consumers,” he makes the case that Nader might just be missing the forest for the trees this time. This is in keeping with Obama’s usual argumentative method and the reason why his talk of bipartisanship is more than just a soundbite. Obama begins a conversation by respecting his ideological opponent, explaining what he sees as valuable in their view, and then goes on to argue his position. It’s a much more encompassing, inclusive rhetorical strategy, which respects differences and doesn’t accuse people of acting solely in bad faith.
[Update: At a campaign stop today, Sen. Obama pushed back on a Nader candidacy a little harder, saying: “I think his view is, unless you’re Ralph Nader, you’re not tough enough on any of these issues. He thought there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush, and eight years later, I think it’s obvious that he didn’t know what he was talking about.” Saying Nader was wrong in this regard, however, is not the same as saying the Bush presidency is Nader’s fault.]
Which brings us to Sen. Clinton. Now, her antipathy to Ralph Nader is well-documented. (There was her off-the-cuff remark in 2000 that killing Nader was actually worth contemplating, and just today a “senior adviser to the Clinton campaign” said of Nader, “‘Loathe’ isn’t a strong enough word.“) So, here’s her response to Nader’s announcement: “His being on the Green Party prevented Al Gore from being the greenest president we could have had, and I think that’s really unfortunate. I think we paid a big price for it. I’m pretty sad about that…Well that’s really unfortunate. I remember when he did this before. It did not turn out very well for anybody, most especially our country.”
Notice there’s that nothing nice said about Nader’s 40-year-career as a consumer advocate here, or anything other than “shame” offered to those who might be drawn to his candidacy. Rather, Clinton just perpetuates the weak-sauce, scapegoating contention that Nader caused Gore to lose. Frankly, her answer — pass around the Nader-Haterade! — reeks of the same sense of entitlement that seems to propel her candidacy, based as it is on the notion that Gore deserved Nader’s votes just because he was the Democratic candidate. Besides being a rather undemocratic way of looking at elections, this is emphatically NOT the way to rally possible Nader voters to your standard.
Fortunately, Sen. Clinton will be long out of the race before this really becomes an issue.
As the rumored Kidd-to-Dallas deal looks to enter its death throes (partly due to what might’ve been an illegal arrangement involving Stackhouse), the Sacramento Kings say goodbye to the final remaining piece of their memorable squad of early-00’s contenders (Vlade, Webber, Peja, Bibby, Christie, Turkoglu) by sending Mike Bibby to Atlanta for Shelden Williams and a bunch of expiring contracts. I always kinda hoped that Kings team would won a title…(and I’m with Ralph Nader: preferably one of Kobe’s.) Update: A revised Kidd to Dallas deal goes through.
Ok, I can now guarantee at least one vote for the Kerry-Edwards ticket in New York. (Of course, the guy in front of me picked Nader, so it’s neck-and-neck in the Empire State in the early going…)
John Kerry pulls ahead by 11 over Dubya nationwide (although it’s only 6 if you throw in Nader, and the math gets more dicey in swing states.) Still, once Reagan Week draws to a close, Dubya and his neocon minions will have nowhere to hide.
Describing his candidacy as a “second front against Bush, however small,” Nader schedules a pow-wow with John Kerry next month to discuss the best way of defeating Dubya. See, fellow Dems? He’s on our team.
To the consternation of many Dems, Ralph Nader rides again in 2004 (although he’s assuredly going to have an even harder time of it without the Greens.) Hey, power to him. To be honest, I don’t really see him having much of an effect this cycle, other than that he’ll provide a steady stream of free anti-Bush invective that the press corps will be forced to cover.
In another endorsement news, and in yet another sad reminder of how far the once-proud mag has fallen, the New Republic endorses Joe Lieberman. Basically, they feel he’s the best representative of the “hawkish liberalism” that should define the party, as evidenced by his continual support for Dubya’s Gulf War II. That’s bad enough, but you have to read the article to get a sense of how utterly ridiculous it all is. Exhibit A, the opening lines: “Recall for a moment the political climate in the United States in January 2001. Ralph Nader and the Supreme Court had made George W. Bush president.” (My italics.) Give it up, y’all. Or, here’s another, “Liberals resent Lieberman’s moralism. But what they see as sanctimony, many ordinary Americans see as overdue concern about the toxic influences that saturate their children’s lives.” They do? Really? Are these the same Americans who’ve made Joe Millionaire and The Simple Life hit shows? I like some of the writers on staff at TNR — some of ’em are even my friends from the DC days — but let’s face it, Marty Peretz and Peter Beinart are to Democratic Party politics what Stanley Kauffmann is to film: conservative, condescending, and hopelessly out of touch.