Last week’s issue of The Nation, the preeminent liberal news magazine, held a unique page immediately inside its front cover, an open letter to Ralph Nader. The letter, signed by the editors of The Nation, urged Nader to refrain from running for President in 2004 and allow the Democrats to unite the Left against the current administration. “For the good of the country, the many causes you’ve championed and for your own good name-don’t run for President this year,” the editors wrote.In 2000, Nader was on the ballot in 44 states and finished third with 2,878,000 votes (2.7 percent), including 100,000 votes in Florida where Bush defeated Gore by less than 1,000 votes. Since that election, many have referred to Nader as “the great spoiler,” a title Nader resents; “Gore lost in 2000 because he did not carry his home state [Tennessee]; he ran a poor campaign and he did not demand a state-wide recount of Florida,” the Green Party candidate retorted. In 2000, The Nation, a source of publication for many of Nader’s own articles over the past forty-five years, was split in its support for Gore and Nader, a luxury clearly not enjoyed by the possible candidate this year.
On Feb. 4, Nader appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and spoke with Melissa Block about his possible candidacy in the forth-coming election. He spoke of the impending decision as to whether he will run in 2004, this time as an independent and not a Green, a decision which has baffled just about everyone. Nader referred to The Nation’s open letter and other liberal groups’ requests for Nader’s support in defeating Bush rather than opposing them, as “a marvelous demonstration of censorship.” Though there is nothing censorious about The Nation’s letter, it is merely a request founded in reason and dedication.
Nader’s possible candidacy has sparked a debate within liberal groups and non-mainstream media thinkers right now. His decision could very well determine the results of this election as it did the previous. In the eyes of his supporters, Nader is a pure, uncompromising candidate, interested more in ideologies and circumvented truisms than votes. Noble men and noble ideas are not enough in 2004, though his name on the ballot would steal votes away from the Democratic nominee and could harm the left’s chances of retiring Bush midterm. Conservative analyst and ex-Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan emphasized Nader’s potential importance a few weeks ago on his now-cancelled show, “Buchanan and Press” when he urged all Bush supporters to send Nader a few dollars. “A successful Nader campaign is the easiest path to victory for Bush,” Buchanan declared.
So, will the left unite this year to defeat Bush, or will it again partake in civil war against itself over minute differences when juxtaposed to the extremes of Bush’s platform? They must consolidate; the race will be competitive enough without the Democrats maneuvering for leftist votes in addition to the centrists and disgruntled Republicans they hope to attract. The right will unequivocally unify its ranks behind Bush, despite his many faults. The fiscal conservatives will endure him despite the deficit he’s grown the greatest in history. And the religious right will support him irrespec-tive of his unpacific nature and unsympathetic policies. Other Republicans are content enough from the Bush tax cuts, when he essentially bought votes at the expense of subsequent generations.
No incumbent President has lost a modern election when unchallenged within his own political spectrum. Bobby Kennedy, among others, challenged Johnson in 1968 for the Democratic nomination and Nixon emerged victorious over the eventual nominee, Herbert Humphrey. Edward Kennedy competed against Carter for the Democratic slot in 1980 and Reagan easily won. And Pat Buchanan thieved right-wing support from George Bush in 1992 before Clinton defeated the disunited Republicans. All unopposed Presidents (Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984, and Clinton in 1996), as Bush is this year, were hugely successful in their bids, a comforting notion for Bush supporters.
It seems apparent that only a unified left side of the American spectrum can pose a sustainable effort against Bush across the country: Greens, Democrats, environmentalists, anti-war proponents, health care advocates, populist-minded voters, anti-globalization activists, equal-opportunity supporters and others must forego their differences and embrace their similarities. The variations between Bush and the most conservative Democrat would be substantial, let alone a traditional Democrat like John Kerry, who by all accounts will be Bush’s prime opponent. All parties and activists must realize that the remotest chance of progressive movement in American politics and policies cannot exist under the current government and that a vote for Nader or another liberal alternative, no matter how noble the cause, is mathematically a vote for Bush.
Even though I admire the man, and the things he has done, and advocates doing, I have to feebly dissuade his movements. Though he will never read this and though it will not affect his decisions, I must write: please Ralph, don’t run.