Irrelevant at Any Speed


Ralph Nader is making his fourth-and-a-halfth* bid for the White House, announcing it on the sort of forum he can only access with stunts like this: the A slot of Meet the Press.

You know, when you see the paralysis of the government, when you see Washington, D.C., be corporate-occupied territory, every department agency controlled by overwhelming presence of corporate lobbyists, corporate executives in high government positions, turning the government against its own people, you–one feels an obligation, Tim, to try to open the doorways, to try to get better ballot access, to respect dissent in America in the terms of third parties and, and independent candidates; to recognize historically that great issues have come in our history against slavery and women rights to vote and worker and farmer progressives, through little parties that never ran–won any national election. Dissent is the mother of ascent. And in that context, I have decided to run for president.

We'll see a lot of ink get spilled on this, but as a national political force, Nader's time has passed. With every presidential race he has argued less and less about policy and more and more about an idea: political parties. He doesn't like them. He thinks you don't like them, either. He thinks they're bought and paid for by big corporations who end up writing the laws their stooges pass.

This was, for some people, a powerful critique for a while. In 1996 Nader let the Green Party run him as its candidate and he ran a purposely quixotic non-campaign, refusing to raise money or give stump speeches. In our lowest turnout election since the enfranchisement of under-21s, he got nearly 700,000 votes. In 2000 he made a real go of it and lefty voters angry at the Clinton administration gave him nearly 3 million votes. But in 2004 he ran again, spoiling the Green Party nomination (after swearing throughout 2000 that he wanted to build the party) by refusing it, then saying he'd take it if they offered it to him, then running a fourth-party bid when they refused to do so. His vote share plunged: he got only about 460,000 of them and the Greens' placeholder candidate got 120,000.

What had happened? The obvious explanation was that lefty voters, shocked and nauseous by the Bush administration, beat a retreat back to the Party of Roosevelt. But that wasn't the only level on which Nader's critique stopped making sense. Nader, a luddite, did not see coming the epochal impact of the internet on organizing, fundraising, and—most importantly—the sense of belonging and ideological reinforcement that comes from political activity. In 2000 he often said that one million people donating $100 each to a progressive cause could change the country, but he didn't have any clue as to how that would happen. Well, it happened. Barack Obama is about 35,000 people away from hitting the one million donor mark.

Nader's current run is predicated on umpteen false assumptions, the biggest ones being that Americans are angry at the party system and that the angriest ones are crying out for liberal leadership. He'll end up getting most of his financing from Republicans trying to splinter the liberal vote.

Everything you need to know about Nader's 2000 run is up at Matt Welch's web site. More Welch on Nader here.

*He also ran a forgotten write-in campaign for president sixteen years ago.