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Me to Nader: Bring. It. On.

Ralph Nader's announcement that he will run for president again -- for the third time -- took up a news cycle, and perhaps a few more, that might have more productively been used to showcase the Democratic candidates Kerry and Edwards, or further unpack the economic dishonesty of, for example, the Bush administration's job-creation predictions.

But that's the worst damage his campaign will do. There's no need to worry that this will be a repeat of 2000. Nader's campaign will be irrelevant by November.

Now, I take a back seat to no one in my contempt for Nader's descent into destructive presidential candidacies. I don't even feel the need to genuflect to Nader's pre-1996 consumer-activist career. I thought Eric Alterman distilled Nader's politics -- both presidential and non-presidential -- to their vacuous essence in 2000, writing in The Nation that

To listen to the Naderites--many of whom I admire--you might believe they were constructing a diverse, representative progressive movement with the possibility of one day replacing the Democrats. How odd it is to note, therefore, that this nascent leftist movement has virtually no support among African-Americans, Latinos or Asian-Americans. It has no support among organized feminist groups, organized gay rights groups or mainstream environmental groups. To top it all off, it has no support in the national union movement. So Nader and company are building a nonblack, non-Latino, non-Asian, nonfeminist, nonenvironmentalist, nongay, non-working people's left: Now that really would be quite an achievement.

I would also recommend my friend Micah Sifry's comments on his blog. Micah is the author of Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America, and by nature much more sympathetic than I am to the idea of alternative parties, to the Greens and to Nader himself.

But with Nader running without the established structure of the Green Party, one has to ask, how many states' ballots does he expect to be on? Who is going to get him on? In 1996, remember, Nader ran before the Green Party was as well established as today, and only appeared on the ballot in 26 states, winning 0.7% of the vote. His backers in Ohio couldn't even come up with the 5,000 signatures necessary to get him on the ballot in that state. Here's a link to a chart from the remarkable newsletter, Ballot Access News, published for years by Richard Winger, showing the specific signature requirements in each state. In some of the swing states, it's quite formidable for an independent candidate. And in most states, the requirements are complicated, and if Nader's signatures are challenged, enough are always going to be invalid for one petty reason or another that one generally needs almost twice as many as required in order to have just enough good signatures.

So, if anything, Nader's campaign this year is likely to be a repeat of 1996, rather than 2000. Naderites will claim that 1996 wasn't a real test, because Nader didn't campaign, he merely offered himself to the people, and spent less than $5,000 on his campaign. Bullshit. He didn't spend less than $5,000. He claimed to have spent less than $5,000 because if he admitted spending more, he would have been required to file a report with the Federal Election Commission and a financial disclosure. He didn't run television ads, but he traveled the country, speaking as a candidate, and someone paid for those trips. Those someones are contributors, and their spending is the cost of his campaign. To me, the lie about 1996, almost as much as 2000, is disqualifying: You can't be the candidate of reform, and of ending big money politics, if you simply refuse to comply with the most basic of campaign finance laws, as if they don't apply to you.

In 1996, Nader finished a fraction ahead of the Libertarian Party candidate, Harry Browne. 2004 seems like a perfect year for a Libertarian to make a leap forward -- at least into the 1-2% zone. Imagine the potential appeal to conservatives who really don't want to see federal spending increased, or entitlement programs expanded, who don't want a federal role in education, who are deeply concerned about surveillance and other threats to individual liberties, and who also don't like to see the catering to the religious right, who think that people should be able to live and let live and marry whoever they love. I'm pretty sure there are a lot more people with that constellation of views than there are potential Nader voters, and everything about the Bush administration has been an affront to them. This should be the best opportunity in decades for a Libertarian, who might pull significant support in swing states like Florida, Arizona, and Wisconsin (where a libertarian got 10% in the governor's race in 2002) away from Bush. And yet, the media is obsessed with Nader's threat to the Democrats, and pays not a moment's attention to the Libertarian threat to Bush. (Although I admit, the threat is purely conjectural at this point.)

Posted by Mark Schmitt on February 21, 2004 | Permalink


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I agree on the Libertarian analysis (Julian Sanchez and Amy Phillips are two Libertarian bloggers who really dislike Bush, though I'm not sure whether they've reached the point of preferring a Democrat.)

I bloggged a list of reasons for Libertarians to support the Dem this year. FWIW, here it is:
We'll let you sleep with whoever you want to. We won't force you to pray or otherwise interfere with your private religion. We won't force you to pay for other people's religious choices. We still won't let you smoke pot on the public square, but Democrats generally support decriminalization. And we'll do all we can to promote rehabilitation over incarceration. Soft on the drug war remains a damning indictment so there's not much more we can do. Yet. We won't start unilateral wars without evidence of a real threat. We won't spend as much of your money, though still more than you would like. For most Libertarians, those making roughly $100k or less, we'll tax you either no more, or less than the Republicans will. We will generally support free trade, or at least do so more often than Republicans. We will--perhaps surprisingly--run a smaller government and regulate business activities less than do Republicans.

Posted by: Angry Bear | Feb 23, 2004 12:37:43 AM

Nader has never been an organizer and has never represented a movement of any grassroots substance. What he was--and to his credit, very successful at it--is the creator of several very important public interest organizations established to represent certain worthy causes--public health, consumer safety, aviation safety, campaign reform, etc. But none of these organizations have been based on membership or mobilizing masses. They represent interests, not people. I say this as someone who ran one of these organizations in the 80s.

This is fine. We need such organizations and they have accomplished notable public good. So Nader is building a canidacy on a foundation of nothing. He can not tap into an organization's membership, he does not an organizational structure to build a campaign, he does not have a financial structure to supply or raise funds. All in all, he has nothing. I don't think Nader is likely to receive many votes but he will divert precious time and resources the Democrats could effectively use elsewhere, thereby impacting the election indirectly.

Posted by: dmh | Feb 23, 2004 8:03:34 AM

I think you are right in urging a calm view of Nader's prospects this year. He is rather devastating on the subject of George Bush, but I would guess that it will be a huge non-story very soon.

Posted by: BobNJ | Feb 23, 2004 9:24:30 AM

I think the libertarian success in Wisconsin has a few qualifiers.

The candidate was the idiosyncratic brother of a four-term governor and had Jesse Ventura-like appeal, especially among Friday night fish fry types in the hinterlands.

Posted by: Sven | Feb 23, 2004 10:33:02 AM

Kos speculates that Roy Moore might be jumping in. That would mean that Bush faces attacks from both sides of his conservative base. Interesting, but not unexpected given how incompatible the views of libertarian and religious right republicans are.

Posted by: Kennedy | Feb 23, 2004 1:21:59 PM

I couldn't be more pleased that people are noticing that the Republicans aren't keeping the promises they made when they came into office. You're right, though, that most of us libertarians aren't quite ready to vote Democrat. Angry Bear makes quite a good list of reasons a Libertarian should support Democratic candidates. But you see, those aren't the only issues we care about. The fact is, the Democrats are very into federalizing things. When there's a problem, even a very local one, their first question seems to be "what can the federal government do to fix this?" The Violence Against Women Act, their action on abortion, the federal minimum wage, and thousands of other examples show Democrats' contempt for localized solutions or private fixes for the world's problems. Frankly, I see getting the US out of Iraq as a less intractable problem than getting the US federal government out of all of the things the Democrats will try to get them into if they regain power. Therefore, I'm voting for P.J. O'Rourke.

Posted by: Amy Phillips | Feb 23, 2004 2:46:51 PM

Remember what Ralph said about his run in 2000--that it was intended to help establish a viable alternative party? Well, now he's running against the Green Party--on the Ralph Nader ticket. He says he's in the race to offer voters a meaningful choice. And he does; his disingenuousness and ego are unmatched by mere politicians.

Posted by: Mike Johnson | Feb 23, 2004 4:41:32 PM

Interesting point about Libs in Wisconsin but Ed Thompson never threatened to tip the vote in favor of Scott McCallum in any counties but the very craziest of the crazy. Even then, it was for Governor and not president. We may like our politics crazy but usually that love runs up to, and not across, our state line. Still I remember being at he huge Gore rally in Madison and seeing my fellow students listen with one ear to Al and the other to the screaming Naderites penned in one block over. I was struck by the number of people that stuck out the Gore speech only to tell me that they were going to vote for Ralph anyway. It was as if they were making a conscious decision to vote crazy. Gotta love Wisco politics.

Posted by: ARON | Feb 23, 2004 7:13:18 PM

Thanks for the plug, Mark. We agree. On the Libertarian point you made, let me share this intriguing post that I got from Steve Dasbach, the LP's national director, in response to an earlier blog post I had written on how unlikely it was for Nader to reach disaffected Republicans:

>>The best way to get George Bush out of office is to have a third party candidate do to him in 2004 what Ralph Nader did to Al Gore in 2000.

>>Ralph Nader isn't the candidate who can attract the small government conservatives and libertarians who feel betrayed by Bush's massive deficits, bloated budgets, the War in Iraq, Attorney General Ashcroft & the USA Patriot Act, etc. However, someone like Libertarian Gary Nolan could attract enough of these voters in swing states and help send Bush back to Crawford Texas.
Posted by: Steve Dasbach at February 16, 2004 06:41 PM <<

Posted by: Micah Sifry | Feb 23, 2004 7:39:42 PM

I'm not so sure that Nader will have as much difficulty as you think getting enough signature to get on to the ballot in most of the states. After all, there is nothing to prevent Republicans from signing, is there?

Posted by: GB | Feb 24, 2004 1:33:36 PM

What a yuk. Libertarians wondering about the impact of Ralph Nader on the elections. Libertarians, Greens, Naderites, Deaniac Zombies all irrelevant pipe-dreamers. Welcome to Ross Perot/David Dukes/Ralph Nader/George Wallace world. Price of admission = 1 wasted vote per patron.

Posted by: Scaramonga | Mar 1, 2004 7:33:24 PM

Nader is a true American hero. His courageous entrance into the 2004 campaign will rank him with
other historic heroes such as Dr. King. By the
way he is not running against the Greens (he
almost certainly be or candidate this year). He
will be a choice and voice for the antiwar movement. Kucinich pointed out that Kerry is even
more pro war than Bush. Never has there been so
little difference between the two pro-war pro-patriot act, pro-Nafta corporate parties

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