Nader Fever

There are a spate of stories on perennial third party candidate Ralph Nader out today. Presumably, they’re fueled by recent poll results showing President Bush even with or slightly ahead of Kerry if Nader is included in the choices.

Salon has a hatchet piece entitled “The dark side of Ralph Nader” that asserts Nader is a hypocrite for being simultaneously anti-corporate and prickly.

While Nader’s legacy as a consumer advocate is unparalleled, it is worth noting that the onetime national hero wasn’t celebrating his landmark birthday surrounded by the hundreds of people he has worked with and influenced over four decades. Indeed, virtually no one who worked with him since the heady days of Nader’s Raiders is supporting him politically or personally today. He has inspired almost no loyalty and instead has alienated many of his closest associates. Yet this is not a new phenomenon, the result of his ruinous campaign for president in 2000, but a long-festering and little-known antipathy that dates back to his earliest days as a public figure.

Dozens of people who have worked with or for Nader over the decades have had bitter ruptures with him, a man they once respected and admired. The level of acrimony is so widespread and acute that it’s impossible to dismiss those involved as disgruntled former employees, disillusioned leftists or self-seeking turncoats. Usually it was Nader himself who ratcheted up what was often just a parting of ways into professional warfare and vitriolic personal attacks.

The rest of the piece is behind a subscription wall (no thanks, guys, but there’s better stuff online for free) so I could be missing something.* But the fact that people who used to work with Nader don’t like him means either that 1) he’s a jerk or 2) they’re mad that he helped cost Al Gore the White House. I’m not sure what it has to do with his stances against corporate America, which seem idiotic enough to criticize on their own merit.

NYT weighs in with a piece calling Nader an opportunist, “Odd Alliances Form to Get Nader on Ballot.” [RSS]

In his search for access to the ballot, Ralph Nader can sometimes seem as if he has never met a third party he did not like. After all, Mr. Nader, the left-leaning consumer advocate, and Patrick J. Buchanan, the right-leaning commentator, hardly seem like political soul mates. But four years after Mr. Buchanan won the endorsement of the Reform Party, Mr. Nader has succeeded him as the party’s standard-bearer. His alignment with the Reform Party is but one example of how Mr. Nader is facing such daunting forces to get his name on statewide ballots this year that he is seeking support from groups that do not necessarily share his long-held liberal beliefs. Mr. Nader’s efforts have only intensified given that last weekend he was spurned by the Green Party, which endorsed him for president in 1996 and 2000.

He is also getting helping from other unexpected quarters. Democrats have sued to keep Mr. Nader off the ballot in Arizona and Illinois and may be planning a similar challenge in Texas, but Republicans and some conservative groups in Oregon, Arizona and Wisconsin are feverishly, if not cynically, mobilizing to get him on ballots in those states in a drive to siphon votes from the likely Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry. Mr. Nader said in an interview on Wednesday that “there’s no quid pro quo” with the Reform Party or any other that would require him to alter his views.

But political analysts say that by turning to parties that may not be consistent with his ideology and reaping benefits from Republican operatives, Mr. Nader risks tarnishing his longtime reputation as a champion for consumer causes.
“He’s grasping at straws,” Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said of Mr. Nader’s alliance with the Reform Party, which drew most of its votes in the last three presidential elections from disaffected Republicans. “It suggests that this is somebody acting with a degree of desperation. He has a drive to run that propels him, irrespective of the consequences. He risks appearing to be a figure of ridicule.”

Even though Nader’s running is helpful to my preference of re-electing Presdent Bush, I find his self-aggrandizing campaign distasteful. People who would prefer Kerry to Bush but nonetheless vote for Nader are idiots. Still, Nader has every right to run. People who vote for him are, by definition, people who vote the person rather than the party; if he got on the ballot under the Nuke the Gay Whales Party banner, their cause is served.

More amusing is this USA Today story, “Nader, Dean to debate Ralph’s run.”

Among the debate topics: Should Ralph run for president? The participants: Howard Dean and a candidate who always has an opinion on the subject — independent Ralph Nader.

Dean, the former Democratic presidential hopeful who attracted legions of liberal followers before his bid fizzled out, will debate Nader for 90 minutes on July 9 before a studio audience. National Public Radio’s weekly program “Justice Talking” is sponsoring the debate, and correspondent Margot Adler will moderate.

Dean has been urging his supporters not to back Nader, but to stay within the Democratic fold and vote for John Kerry, “I am anxious to debate Ralph Nader in order to speak about why he wants to run for president,” Dean said in a statement. “This is the most important election in my lifetime and a third party candidate could make a difference — this November and for years to come.”

Certainly, it’s true that Nader could make a difference this year, just as he, Pat Buchanan, and Ross Perot did in recent years. Of course, Nader knows that as does anyone who might be listening on NPR. The combination of Dean and Nader might be the strangest one yet. Indeed, the two are far more alike than either and John Kerry.

*Update: Nick Confessore indicates that there are some more serious allegations in the extended version.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. paladin says:

    I’ve been thinking about this some – don’t the extreme right (Buchanan, etc.) and extreme left have a lot in common? Both are isolationists and anti-war and the recent flap over Nader calling Israel puppetmasters, or some such, reminded me about the anti-Israel sentiment in both camps, so- I’m thinking if Nader would just tweak his message a little, he could draw votes from both the extreme right and the extreme left, and would hurt Kerry and Bush equally. Maybe Nader could call it the Extremist Party. Just a thought (which may require some refinement 😉

  2. R. Davis says:

    I was happy to hear both Nader and Dean endorse Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), a method for fixing the “spoiler” problem. This system of voting is described at . IRV allows a voter to vote for a third party candidate without the fear of throwing the election to the major party candidate that they like least. This would allow a qualified third party to steadily build support, something that is not currently possible.

    I think that Nader could best publicize this issue by running his campaign to promote his positions but dropping out just before the election, stating that he is forced to do so by the current system so that he does not act as a spoiler. He could then recommend that his supporters vote for the candidate who has best taken up his positions or that he most supports. That, at least, would give him some political leverage and the major parties, as well as the people, might give a little more thought to addressing this issue. In any case, this would be much more responsible than acting as a spoiler.

    Ironically, a spoiler is most likely to throw the election to the candidate who he is least like. During the debate, Nader stated: “And if you don’t vote your conscience, I’d like to hear from you about what part of your body you are voting.”. I would propose that, in not facilitating Bush’s election by voting for Nader, a voter is voting their BRAIN. Nader likewise needs to exercise his brain along with his well-developed conscience.