Nader's nadir

Hey, America, want to hear some secrets the mainstream media and political parties have been keeping from you? There's a war going on in Iraq; President Bush passed some tax cuts a while back that, combined with undisciplined spending, have contributed to a ballooning national debt; and apparently the price of oil has really started to degrade the nation's energy situation.

These are some of the obscure issues that Ralph Nader, announcing his presidential candidacy on Sunday, promised to drag out of the shadows. It's an interesting demonstration of why he'll have a tough time mounting even a message-sending campaign this year, but also of why he's a welcome addition to the race.

Among Democrats, many of whom still blame Nader for allegedly tilting the 2000 election to Bush, tempers have grown so cool that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Rodham Clinton bothered to attack the 73-year-old activist turned three-time candidate. Obama graciously alluded to Nader's "outstanding work" as a consumer advocate. Clinton merely objected that his candidacy would not be "helpful to whomever our Democratic nominee is." Among non-candidates, reactions were considerably less measured. Journalist James Fallows called Nader’s 2000 campaign a "tragedy" that has evolved into a "farce" in 2008. "Americans dont [sic] need him de-stabilizing our wrote "Stan" on a CNN blog, and talk radio host Bill Press called Nader a "colossal, misguided, egomaniacal nut case."

That's a lot of condemnation for a candidate whose total vote take dropped about 85% between 2000 and 2004, and whose chances of playing even a spoiler role in 2008 are exceedingly slim. But Nader's run would be worth applauding even if his odds of making a difference were good. The Democrats and Republicans may believe your vote belongs to one or the other of them before it belongs to you, but they are wrong. More choices among candidates mean more opportunities for you to make your views known in an election.

Nader's structural weaknesses this time around are vast. Many of his messages, as indicated above, are commonplaces, and his advocacy of a single-payer healthcare system and a vast reduction in defense spending suffers not from voter ignorance but voter hostility. Finally, although there's much truth in his argument that the two parties are often indistinguishable, that's a tougher case to make this year. Anti-Naderists will argue that he doesn't need to win to do damage; he merely needs to draw Democratic votes. If he should succeed in doing that, though, more power to him. Anybody who expects to become president of the United States had better be prepared to face tougher adversaries than Ralph Nader.

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