Conversation with a close friend brought up the question of whether Ralph Nader will run for President in 2004. Some Democrats even question whether Nader is hurting the chances of the Democratic nominee for selfish personal or political ends.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious: Nader is not stupid. Nader is not evil. Nader is not a Republican. However, my guess is that he would not support another “Welcome to the Machine” Democratic candidate like Gephart or Lieberman, and I'm betting he couldn't support Clark for a number of reasons, from questions about personal integrity to worries about his command judgement. It's not as easy to pass on Kerry, and I don't pretend to know what Nader thinks, but to me Kerry seems to be a smart, honorable man who would have been the presumptive nominee if he had not voted for the war. In this light it was interesting to read Nader's recent article Memoirs of a 'Racketeer for Capitalism' about Brig. Gen. Smedley Butler, another smart, apparently honorable man who went along with the tide and wasn't completely happy with where he ended up.
The Greens are not stupid either. They are a grass-roots organization, building from the bottom up, not completely comfortable with the idea of leaders. They do not answer to Nader. The Green nomination is not his for the asking; nominating him has to make sense. A Nader candidacy outside the Green Party, it seems to me, would draw little support, not to mention being out of character.
For Nader to declare himself out of the race unconditionally would, it seems to me, boost Clark's fortunes as opposed to Dean: Nader would draw more support from Dean than from Clark, muddying the waters on the left end of the Democratic party. Of course he wouldn't draw votes from Dean in the primaries directly, but if Nader declared he would run without fail, the Democratic right wing's argument that Dean will lose would gain some footing, and this would hurt Dean even in the primaries.
On the other hand, Nader being theoretically in the race clears some room on the left side for Dean to say, for example, that the US is not safer for the capture of Saddam. Did you notice that John Glenn agreed? This makes it harder for Republicans and right-wing Democrats to claim that such a sentiment is inherently socialist or gay or whatever is their phobia du jour.
Leave it to Richard Hofstadter to provide a good metaphor here (from Anti-Intellectualism in American Life). In this quote, I'm mentally substituting “Democratic leadership” for “Congressman”:
Henry Adams had not long returned to Washington when a Cabinet officer told him how pointless it was to show patience in dealing with Congressmen: "You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!"
The possibility of a Nader candidacy is that stick. Without it, the Democrats will probably nominate Clark, a Republican who voted for Nixon twice and Reagan twice and is an international war criminal, and thus no better than Bush (though I admit he is smarter, big whoop). With it, they might nominate Dean, the only Democrat with a chance to win unless Kerry can find a way to issue a mea culpa on his war vote. His supporters know this, and are looking for such, but it's mighty hard to explain. I do give him credit for knowing he made a mistake, but his recent explanation that he was giving Bush the benefit of the doubt is irrelevant: leaders don't give proven liars the benefit of the doubt when tens of thousands of lives are at stake.
Thus, the fact that Nader has not publicly taken himself out of the running forces the Democratic Party to the left, which in this poor day and age means Dean. With the information we have now, it's hard to escape the conclusion that Nader supports Dean.
The Democratic machine continues to whine about Nader's people using their votes for someone they believe in as opposed to donating those votes to a party hack that even the party itself was lukewarm about. They do not own my vote. They do not get my vote unless they nominate someone I can stomach.
In addition, it's indicative of where the Democrats are now that they attack those who voted their conscience as opposed to attacking the real source of the problem: the Republicans. They do this because they are afraid of driving away their sugar daddies—who are essentially Republicans, at least by class—and corporations, which amounts to the same thing. They do not attack the cheating in Florida (have you read Greg Palast's The Best Democracy Money Can Buy?), or the rigging done in the Supreme Court; they complain about the people who voted their conscience. Do the Democrats talk about their candidate's inability to win his own home state? No. They rag on Nader, who is a better candidate than any Democrat except Kucinich, because that is unlikely to cost them money.
I think the Democratic Party is at a crossroad. It can choose to remain the party of Franklin Roosevelt, or to remain Republican Lite, But not both. If it does not turn in the right direction now, in this election, I doubt it will ever regain the majority it held for most of the twentieth century. If it continues along the path set out by the so-called Democratic so-called Leadership Council, it will only fail to die a natural death because the Republicans need it.
There are so many angry Americans—did you read the recent story that they are making the troops in Iraq buy their own soap and toothpaste?—that the chance of having a real people's party, a traditional Democratic Party, is the best it's been in my memory. If the DLC wins and the Democrats remain Republican Lite, some of those angry people will become Greens or Libertarians, and some will exit the process altogether; the Democratic Party will have dug its own grave, and I for one will not weep.