Nader unsafe at any speed as 2004 candidate
Memo to Ralph Nader:
Come on, Ralph, what's your deal? Are you brain-damaged, or what? Did your mother drop you on your head when you were a baby?
What part of "don't run" do you not understand?
OK, I know I'm only the 947,632nd person - some of them your close, personal friends - to say this, but maybe sooner or later, the message will sink in.
From what I understand, you're a smart guy.
Over a public career stretching back more than 40 years, you've been an important voice for reform. Your crusades for consumer rights and product safety have earned you a place in history - and probably saved lives, to boot.
But no matter what you've been saying since the 2000 election, the votes you drew in a number of close states in the mother of all cliffhanger presidential races very likely were the difference between victory and defeat for Al Gore.
For example, according to a recent article in the New York Times, in "Florida, Mr. Nader received 97,488 votes, 1.6 percent of the total, and Mr. Bush carried the state by 537 votes. In New Hampshire, Mr. Nader won 22,198 votes, 3.9 percent of the total, and Mr. Bush carried the state by 7,211 votes. Had Mr. Gore won in either state, he would have become president."
So to say that you weren't the spoiler then, and can't be a spoiler in 2004, is either disingenuous, nave, or simply pig-headed.
You said in January of this year that you would run in 2004 only if you were convinced that you had enough money and volunteers to be credible.
In response, most of the top Democratic hoohahs, hundreds of your friends and supporters - and even thousands of ordinary Americans, through a Web site straightforwardly called "ralphdontrun.net" - said, in effect, "thanks, but no thanks."
Despite all that, here you are. Why?
You've advised the Democratic leadership and the "liberal establishment" to "relax and rejoice," and announced to the media that you believe your support will come largely from "conservatives and independents who are very upset with Bush administration policies."
You've also described your candidacy as "opening a second front" in the battle to defeat President Bush in November.
To which the only appropriate reply is, "Friend, what the hell have you been smoking?"
It certainly is possible that there is some dissatisfaction with the president among those elements of the Republican Party that remember and believe in fiscal conservatism - Senator John McCain, for instance, has described the federal government as "spending like a drunken sailor."
But the notion that disgruntled conservatives would follow your banner into battle this fall is simply laughable.
And as for those vaunted "independents," well, there's the rub, right? - that being the very group all those establishment Democrats accuse you of splitting in 2000.
To your credit, you apparently recognize that many of your old friends are disappointed with your decision - "I think this may be the only candidacy in our memory that is opposed overwhelmingly by people who agree with us on the issues," the New York Times quoted you as saying.
Well, duh - then what exactly is the point?
Your friend Joan Claybrook, head of the Public Citizen group you founded, has been quoted as saying, "He's one of the most stubborn men in America."
You've always been a bit of an outsider, and your run in 2000 seemed to be fueled by bitterness over how you'd been marginalized by the Democratic establishment through the Clinton years.
So it's hard to reach any other conclusion than that this is about ego - not for your personal aggrandizement, but in the sense that you apparently believe that no one else in the entire country knows better than you what is really and truly right for all the rest of us.
Which is too bad, and even sort of sad, in a way. Like Holly Hunter said in the 1987 film "Broadcast News," always believing you're the smartest person in the room can be just awful. But you need to get over yourself.
Bottom line, I'm inclined to believe that your candidacy will not be a critical factor this year, simply because too many Democrats have already demonstrated that what they really care about in 2004 is winning, not making some kind of grand Quixotic statement.
But in the meantime, like a 1960's Corvair speeding down the highway, your campaign is unsafe at any speed. Though it may be unlikely to smash the prospects of the Democratic nominee, it can only be corrosive to your legacy, and mark a bitter end to what has been a brave and principled career.
Think about it, Ralph. It's not to late to pull over.
Ann Walker is a copy editor and
page designer for The Sun.