Monday, April 19, 2004

Do These Racers Need a Spoiler?

Ralph’s in the race. Just over a month ago, Citizen Nader has ignored the pleas of many to stay out of the contest for the presidency and has plunged in at a prudent speed with the relevant safety precautions. He’s attacking both Republicans and Democrats with all guns blazing (although it took him a while to remove the trigger locks) and is demanding access to the debates, preferably via a well-lit entrance with a regularly maintained handrail. Ignoring the tactic for getting him out by telling him that the White House is riddled with asbestos, the Democrats are screaming “Spoiler!” Rumor even has it that the DNC is planning to run commercials that claim the elderly consumer advocate dodged the draft during the Spanish-American War.

I'm a little exasperated at Nader. His absence from the national debate for the past four years smacks of fair-weather friendship, and I wonder what change to the politics as usual system he hopes to affect in just nine months of campaigning. He has done amazing things and staked out wonderful positions throughout his career but I think he would be a much more viable and supportable candidate if he had dedicated any energy to campaigning for social and environmental justice in recent years, when there weren't votes at stake. Yet I think it’s rich in a democracy for anyone to describe a presidential candidate as a spoiler.

The folks who are telling us that a Nader run will only result in Bush returning to Pennsylvania Avenue are the ones who thought that Joe Lieberman and his supposedly centrist drivel would make for a dandy commander-in-chief. The newly minted GOP supporters of the democratic process who welcomed Ralph into the race are the same Limbaughnistas who considered Ross Perot the antichrist.

The Democrats blame Nader for Al Gore’s defeat in 2000. Because as we all know, those 250,000 registered Florida Democrats who defected to Bush had nothing to do with the loss. The Republicans were the same way with Perot in 1992; the abysmal economy under George Sr. didn’t scupper his chances, it was the flipchart loving jughead from Texarkana.

The dirty truth of politics is that despite the bleating whenever one enters the race, third party candidates are invaluable to the major parties. Rather than consider how certain policy positions might have caused a supporter to stay home or vote for other mega-franchise (like those Florida Democrats) they can instead browbeat the hippies or the militia nuts for not knowing what’s best for them.

Congress can pass as many variants on campaign reform it wants; as long as there is a duopoly the disparate voices of America will be drowned out by the bullhorn of big money. Third parties have traditionally offered a voice to the marginalized. The big boys have always feared that as more voters considered themselves shut out, the American love of the rebel would help these parties become a force to be reckoned with. This is why each election we are faced with the ridiculous spectacle of millionaires, senators, governors, and even presidents casting themselves as “the common man” while their colossal establishment machines stomp all over the fringe candidates.

However, I said above that I am exasperated with Nader. How does that gel with my support for broadening the political process? It comes down to the eternal dichotomy between principle and reality.

As evil genius P.J. O’Rourke pointed out in his book “The Enemies List,” people vote based on materialism rather than philosophy. After all, you can’t pay your rent by invoking the first amendment (although you may be able to avoid it by exercising the second.) The Christian Right, the slash-and-burn-and-drill crowd, and Tom Selleck all realized this and so have spent the past fifteen years seizing control of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt (both of whom would be considered liberal nut-jobs today.) Now if the Republican Party’s approach to taxation appeals, you have to buy their take on morality. Why the progressives have not teamed up with the “Old Democrats” to mount a similar campaign within the Democratic Party is beyond me. Perhaps after the trouncing of Lieberman and the astonishing performance by Howard Dean, that time has come.

The reason I’m frustrated with Nader is that rather than encourage his base to hold the Democrats to account from within he is again attempting to overturn 200 years of two-party rule within 9 months. I am afraid that Ralphie is going to squander a great chance and set back progressive causes by antagonizing his wavering support base.

Still, its his right to be in the race, however misguided he might seem. For those of you who are wasting your time being mad, just don’t vote for Nader and instead direct your energy at the enemy that really matters; turncoats in your own party.

The Wisdom Weasel yearns for the day when he is the fourth party candidate. Email him:

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