[Naturally there are competing ideas about the outcome of the election. Here are my ideas and predictions, excerpted from a recent email conversation.]
Non-Republican observers are pointing out that elections involving an incumbent President are normally referendums on the office holder, if for no other reason than that he's better known. In that vein, it's normally vital that the incumbent have at least half the country thinking that he's doing an acceptable job. If you've been watching the polls over the last six months, you know what the trend is. To the question, Does Bush deserve another term, “Yes” was in the low sixties six months ago but almost every recent poll has it in the high forties.
BTW, if you're into polls, check this site. They've color-coded their state-by-state poll data to show which states have changed since the 2000 election.
In a big-picture vein, consider the 1992 election when Clinton beat Bush I. The economy had tanked, or more accurately the Bush cronies had stolen so much that the system was creaking under the weight of the loss. But of course he'd pulled out all the stops on short-term economic boosts for more than a year. He'd had his walkover war and the world was impressed. A year after the war he lost to Clinton, whom no one outside Arkansas and the secret government had heard of at the time of the war.
How is now different? Clinton's charisma. Worldwide condemnation for the war. First President to lose jobs since Hoover, and you would think that people who lost jobs would be pissed enough to vote.
But seriously, Bush II's trend is worse than that of his father, who lost, admittedly to a candidate who was more personally engaging than the current one but with similar policies. It appears that all Kerry has to do is nothing stupid, and he knows that. Karl Rove has proven to be the bane of his party rather than the magician—his party is going to struggle to recover from this Presidency. I predict the Democrats will take the White House and the Senate, and close the gap in the House. I don't predict by how much.
Which brings me to my evaluation of what Nader is doing. Given what he's always been about, he wants Bush out of office more than you or I. He's afraid that Kerry is going to blow it with his “safe” strategy. As I said earlier, Nader was staying out of the race while it looked like Dean was going to take the nomination. Dean was against the war, and said some great things about media and corporations.
When Dean lost, Nader came into the race. (I'm not claiming causation here, I've read Hume—just politics.) What he wants is not to make the Democrats lose. Except for Kerry's Vietnam-era heroism (where, it can't be denied, he was on both sides of the issue, which gained him credibility with some and lost it with others), obviously the most impressive part of him, he's currently a complete DLC clone. Nader is trying to drive him into the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. If Kerry would, and I think in the end he will, adopt some of Nader's populist message—it helped that he picked Edwards, for whom Nader supposedly lobbied—I think Nader would endorse Kerry.
The Democrats, the Republicans, and the Greens are riven by struggles between the compromisers and the true believers. Right now it looks to me like the Democratic and Green compromisers and the Republican true believers are winning. Who knows what late-summer/fall events will affect these trends? But in general, it appears to me, and I interpret Nader to have the same impression, that the way the Democrats can assure themselves of victory is to pull in a hunk of the more-than-half that don't vote. Right now few of those folks are likely to see Republicans as having their interests in mind, but the Democrats could attract some of them with an appropriate message. Kerry didn't appear to have a shred of that until he chose Edwards and his two-Americas theme.
I don't pretend to know Nader's priorities, but I bet that if Kerry adopts two or three of Nader's important positions, Nader will endorse him. Note that this week Kucinich endorsed Kerry. The point is not to deny him the election, it's to force him to adopt some Democratic positions. I have to admit I've seen no evidence he'll do that without coercion, which is sometimes referred to as and sometimes is political cover. To some extent a representative has to represent.
As to your challenge about Nader being a right-wing plant, I mean, seriously. You have seatbelts and air bags because of Ralph Nader. He invented consumer advocacy. The world is a better place because of him; can the other candidates say the same? David Frost interviewed him several years ago and asked several interesting questions. One was Who are your heros. Clearly Nader knew the question was coming, because his list was chronological, starting with Pericles. Here's Bertrand Russell on Pericles:
The achievements of Athens in the time of Pericles are perhaps the most astonishing thing in all history. Until that time, Athens had lagged behind many other Greek cities; neither in art nor in literature had it produced any great man (except Solon, who was primarily a lawgiver). Suddenly, under the stimulus of victory and wealth and the need of reconstruction, architects, sculptors, and dramatists, who remain unsurpassed to the present day, produced works which dominated the future down to modern times. This is the more surprising when we consider the smallness of the population involved. Athens at its maximum, about 430 B.C., is estimated to have numbered about 230,000 (including slaves), and the surrounding territory of rural Attica probably contained a rather smaller population. Never before or since has anything approaching the same proportion of the inhabitants of any area shown itself capable of work of the highest excellence.
I don't remember what Frost asked about politics, but one of Nader's answers included a memory of his father saying that we don't need a third political party in the US as much as we need a second one. It appears to me, and I know I'm unusual in this, that Nader is following the hero's path, giving up himself and his reputation to advance his cause. There's no possible win for him, his personal cause is lost. So why would an obviously intelligent, well-educated consumer advocate do this—pique? I think Occam's razor indicates otherwise. I think he's trying to move the conversation left. Buckling to the DLC is not going to help his cause; he needs them to compromise by adopting some true Democratic-value planks in the platform.
The DLC openly espouses Republican positions; Nader openly espouses positions that border on socialism. Which of these is more likely to be a Republican plant?
But, as Dennis Miller used to say back when he was funny, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.