Ralph Nader has once again thrown his hat into the presidential campaign ring and is once again being roundly ridiculed for it.
During the last election I questioned the validity of this excoriation, and I think those comments remain largely pertinent today:
This past spring I watched my friend graduate from San Francisco State. The whole university graduated together, with one large convocation in a stadium. They invited various famous speakers to address the assembled crowd, including the guy who founded eLoan. Somewhere in the middle of his talk he veered off on a tangent. He had been talking about how, even working in business, you could still have a social conscience, and his remarks made reference to the influence of Ralph Nader. But as soon as he mentioned his name, he immediately digressed from his prepared notes. That Nader used to be cool, he said, “but now he’s a dick.”
It’s very sad that Nader’s ethos as a crusading cowboy for the common man has become so tarnished to those who would otherwise have welcomed him as an ally. Liberals have been rushing to excoriate him, while Republicans have suddenly signed up to be his best friends, just because of the perceived impact he may have on the ballot this election day.
I tend to think that this criticism is undeserved. Nader has a point: there should be more than two choices for president. Perhaps if there ordinarily were, we wouldn’t keep having elections where the choice feels like one between the lesser of two evils. Consolidating political power in two parties is not healthy for governance. Whoever wants to be on the ballot should be able to run, and it’s noble for him to want to change the political landscape so that 3rd party and independent candidates will be able to have more viable candidacies.
On the other hand, Nader may only have himself to blame for his loss of reputation, even though that loss may be undeserved. He is a man who is both right and wrong at the same time. His insistence on running in this election may have been a bridge too far, one too many battles, which, though worthy on its own, may have undermined the others he also wished to fight. Nader has many people working hard in his non-profits, trying to affect positive policy changes … These dedicated people keep pressing for important changes that this administration refuses to adopt. They need an alternative one in order to get their job done. Nader knows he isn’t going to win this election, but if he even slightly (and however inadvertently) contributes to the re-election of the current administration, it will be extremely counter-productive to his other causes.