The Ralph Nadir

by on March 3, 2008 · 13 comments

in Election, Organizing

First Time as Tragedy, Second Time as Farce, Third Time as Footnote — (I Hope)

I don’t feel the anger so many do when I think of another Nader presidential campaign. Mostly I feel sad. I feel sad for the values that Nader has so long championed. I feel sad for what it may mean for progressivism in the U.S.. I feel sad because I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Nader.

I admit I voted for him in 2000, but I did so with my eyes open. First, it was obvious Gore was going to pull California. If the election had been close, I would have punched the button for the Democrat. Second, after the eight years of Democratic capitulation and embarrassments supplied by the Clinton Administration, I felt we needed a truly progressive voice in the country. Third, I figured the worse that would happen was that we would get George Bush, who appeared at the time as only a marginally more conservative version of Bill Clinton. I was right about the first two points, but deeply wrong about the third.

Common sense and simple honesty demands we admit that Ralph Nader represents a clear alternative to both Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama. When it comes to the war, he is for an immediate and TOTAL pull out-something that not even Obama is willing to embrace. He supports a “single payer” healthcare system, while both Democratic candidates weasel in a continued role for the insurance companies. He openly calls for greater criticism of Israel’s brutality toward Palestinians, while Republican and Democrats shy away from even the most tepid criticism of the Jewish state.

I believe everything that Nader says about Democrats, but I also believe everything that Democrats say about Republicans. I cannot think of a single area where a Democrat would not have made a difference over Bush. The war in Iraq is obvious, but so too is healthcare, unions, the environment; the list is endless. I know that John McCain is no George Bush, but that is not saying much. A McCain presidency would keep us in Iraq for “a hundred years”. A McCain presidency would “solve” the healthcare crisis by giving more tax breaks to rich people. A McCain presidency would continue the onslaught against organized labor started by Reagan, and put a conservative lock on the Supreme Court.

My suspicion is that Nader is not running in spite of criticisms like these, but because of them. In Ralph Nader’s candidacy we see the other side of the characteristics that have made him so principled. Nader has been indefatigable and tenacious in his defense of what he believes is right. Neither private investigators, nor physical threats, nor sexual solicitations, nor cooptation have been able to stop him. The passion and commitment with which he holds his views have made him one of the most principled men in American public life, but they have also made him one of the most intransigent. If politics is the art of the possible, then Nader is less an artist than a butcher. He hacks away at it with more passion than nuance. Our strengths are often the source of our greatest weaknesses, and Ralph Nader is a good example of this.

The worse criticism of Mr. Nader is not that he is waging yet another presidential campaign, but his way of doing so. You could justify another Nader campaign on the basis of building a third party, but this time around there is not even the pretense of this. His campaign is not building the Green party or drawing attention to local races. Nader declared that he was running for president and then shopped his campaign to the Green and other third Parties. This is third party politics as an after thought.

If it was debate over progressive positions that mattered most to him, he could have run in the Democratic primary. This is the place where non-mainstream ideas fight it out to see if they can become mainstream. There were real progressives in the primaries: both Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards waged truly progressive campaigns. Those candidates lost, however, not merely because of resistance from Democratic party insiders, but because they could not generate enough following AMONG Democrats. The potential for a progressive candidate among the wider population is even less. Blaming Democrats for this fact confuses cause with consequence.

But the most important criticism of Nader’s campaign is that it devotes too much time and effort to national politics. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, he who does not participate in national politics has no heart, but he who devotes all of his time to it has no head. Yes, a national presidential campaign is the big league of American politics, but without a movement behind this campaign it is a wild pitch that wastes progressive time and money. Our priorities at this point should be strengthening our peace, labor, feminist, gay, ethnic, and environmental organizations so that we have the power to pressure who ever the president may be.

Our approach to national politics should be a seven per cent solution. That is, national politics is worth about 7% of our time; the other 93% should be devoted to grassroots politics. We should not waste our time by voting for a third party that does not build a movement, no matter how personally attractive that candidate might be. We will get a little bit of help from having a Democrat in the White House, and we should not lose this small but important advantage. Investing more than the marginal amount of time it takes to vote, is the wrong set of priorities for the left. Blaming Democrats for not being more progressive is like criticizing a cow for eating grass. It is their nature. The key is not to criticize, but to organize to stampede our cow in a progressive direction. Instead, Mr. Nader seems content to milk yet another presidential campaign for attention.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar OB Joe March 3, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Isn’t Ralph Nader a vegetarian?


avatar Dave Sparling March 3, 2008 at 4:22 pm

You are right not to feel bad about 2000. The fix was in and Nader did nothing to change the final outcome. This year will be no different, McCain is in unless the Neo-Cons go with plan A.


avatar Jon Quate March 4, 2008 at 11:11 am

All very good points. Democrats need to vote, which it still seems is a problem in general elections. Right now I believe ALL focus should be on defeating McCain, as Dave Sparling rightfully stated above, McCain will be elected as our next war mongering leader. It’s already becoming apparent on news outlets that McCain, tagged war hero, brave leader, straight shooter, and all the other platitudes, and only those, are out front. Dems need to take control of these and show McCain’s true colors as a pandering self serving liar with all the force they can muster. If they don’t he certainly will be appointed by the supreme court if the vote is close, just like shrub.


avatar Richard Nadeau March 5, 2008 at 9:37 am

This essay uses an ancient rhetorical device – the author puffs up Nader before tearing him down. That way it appears “fair and balanced.” But it is no more fair and balanced vis-avis Nader than what you get from Fox News and Bill O’Reilly vis-a-vis the Democrats.

It is obvious that the goal of the essay from the very beginning was to slander and tear Nader down, silence him as someone whose ego is “out of control,” and then apologize for the Democratic Party’s lack of progressive leadership. After all, he argues, the Democrats can’t be blamed for the backwardness of the American people. So they had to vote for the Iraq invasion, they had too pass the Patriot Act, and they had to support the “Violent Radicalization and Terrorism Prevention Act” which will have us all walking the goose step if we’re not careful. The act passed 404-6 on October 23, 2007 while the Democrats had control of Congress, with only three Democrats voting against the bill – Dennis Kucinich, Neil Abercrombie, and JerryCostello. But don’t criticize, Robinson says.

Robinson says he has the highest respect for “Nadir,” then likens him to a “butcher. ” He then resorts to the kind of pop psychology that reduces Nader to someone who is just trying to get “attention” for himself. In other words, Ralph Nader is no different from Partis Hilton and just wants to be in the limelight.

This essay is nothing more than another cheap and unpricipled ad hominum attack by a devotee of the Democratic Party whose upset about someone who stepped out of the sacrosanct circle of legitimacy in the Bohemian Grove.


Robinson writes: “If it was debate over progressive positions that mattered most to him, he could have run in the Democratic primary. This is the place where non-mainstream ideas fight it out to see if they can become mainstream.”

This is sheer nonsense in as much as it sees the Democratic Part as the only legitimate forumn where “non-mainstream ideas” should be aired. Nader tried that once and then was betrayed by the Party who has spilled nothing but poisonous vitriol on him ever since.

The resort to psychologistic explanations – Nader’s just seeking “attention” for himself – shows just how mainstream the author’s perspective really is. He is conforming to all the mainstream editorials and ad hominum diatribes that have been repeated over and over by mainstream Democratic Party loyalists. Anyone outside of that circle

The key, Robinsion says, is not to “criticize,” but to organize. But why organize if there is nothing to criticize? I say we need to both criticize and organize and step out of the two party duoploly and its very limited imperial and militaristic consciousness which only offers more of the same.

The reason Nader is in the race is precisely to raise progressive positons that are not being discussed by anyone else. Too bad that it ruffles the feathers of loyalist Democrats.


avatar Gregg March 6, 2008 at 9:21 am

To all those that have taken the time to write in response to my piece, thank-you. I agree with Jon that McCain is needs to be defeated. He is merely a more palatable version of Bush. Even when we disagree we can learn something from one another.

Now to Rick Nadeau. I know it doesn’t appear this way, but Rick is a long time friend. He and I agree on more issues than we disagree, but when we disagree all Hell tends to break lose.

First, let me say I agree with some of what he says. I don’t like parts of my essay either. Honestly, I wrote it quickly and sent it off without proper editing. I especially dislike the tone of the latter part of the essay. It becomes too polemical, and loses my ambivalence. I totally agree that “butcher” is uncalled for. I didn’t like the word at the time, but I needed something to contrast with artist—write in haste, repent at leisure. I also think the cow metaphor at the end was worse than polemical, it was stupid.

O.K. Rick thinks my psychology of Nader is “pop”. Gee, and I thought I was doing such a good job. I don’t remember saying that Nader was an “egotist”, but maybe Rick knows something I don’t. Rick thinks I am using a rhetorical device to “puff Nader up” in order to criticize. Not true. I may not have done the best job of expressing my ambivalence, but that ambivalence was real. I do admire and respect him.

Rick implies that you cannot disagree with Nader’s decision to run without being a “loyalist Democrat”. I obviously disagree. While he assumes he knows that I am merely stooging for the DP, it isn’t true. If Clinton wins the nomination I may be tempted to vote for Nader.

But here is Rick’s main problem. I admit that the most consistent progressive position is to support Nader in the election. As I clearly stated, he has the only truly progressive stand on the war, healthcare, the environment, etc. But this is where consistency becomes a problem for him, because if you look elsewhere on this website you will see that Rick is supporting Obama. He does so for the very practical reason that while Obama is not perfect, he is better than McCain (and Clinton, I would add), AND he has a realistic shot at winning the election. That is, Rick is willing to engage in “realpolitik” for Obama, but denies me the same right to criticize Nader.

I believe that the election in November will be close, and that McCain has a real chance of winning. Obama and Clinton are busy savaging each other, and which ever one wins the nomination will be hurt in the general election. If this is true, then even a small difference in votes could throw the election one way or the other. Yes, Nader has the right to run and make his case for progressive politics, but it carries with it the risk of throwing the election to McCain. It is my version of realpolitik to say that Nader should not risk this. Rick disagrees, and that is O.K. But because we disagree does not make me “Bill O’Reilly”.


avatar Richard Nadeau March 6, 2008 at 11:28 am


I prefer debating you in person so that you can see the blood running to my head..

Now take a moment and look back at you essay reflectively. Take a look for a moment at the last sentence in your essay, which claims that Nader is running for “attention.” So?

This is the most common thing said about Nader by the Democrats and T.V. pundits, repeated like a mantra over and over, because they don’t want to raise or discuss the public issues he is raising.

The notion that he is just doing it for “attention” is bellied by his history as a native home grown dissident public intellectual and environmental activist. A lot of people want to silence him and put him down, and unfortunately, they are getting a lot of help from Nader’s so called “admirers and friends.”.I am sorry, but it nauseates me!

Next, look at my response and point out to me where I used the term “egotist.” I couldn’t find it. But it was certainly implied by your words, especially the dismissive last sentence.

Blood metaphores seem popular in a world filled with more than enough human upon human violence!
Frankly, your “butcher” metaphore did stir my argumentative spleen as I read your essay, and reminded me of the rhetorical devices SO OFTEN used by Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Remember my history – for years I was an advocate for those who were falsely accused. So I came to Ralph’s defense because feltt he was under attack, and I know what that feel like, especially when the barking hounds are coming from the left and so called admirers.

What I am critical of is the psychological reductionism that pollutes the political discourse during American electoral politics, and seems to effect all ideological spectrums. Frankly, this 2008 election is saturated with it while the most serious issues are numbed and dumbed.

Perhaps I’ll sleep better when I know its Hillary who will pick up the phone in the middle of the night. Please let me sleep through the emergency.

Nader has entered because he wants to raise serious issues. Which is PRECISELY why he’s dismissed.

I haven’t voted yet, and if they continue to disappoint me, I could flip flop away from the Democratic ticket. I reserve my right to change my mind, but am still nevertheless leaning to voting Democrat (yes even with Hillary is the candidate) for the reasons I cited in a previous essay on this website. But I insist that reserve the right to change my mind until the day I vote.
Then its irreversable.

At this point I am so sick of what I consider dismissive attacks on Nader as a public intellectual, that I might change my mind and vote with him out of human sympathy and because he is right on most of the issues (like single payer health care) I care about and because he would represent a legitimate anti-war vote. If the Democrats continue to sound hawkish on the Middle East, my future essay may well be entitled FLIP FLOPPING AWAY FROM THE DEMOCRATS and MORE WAR!



avatar Beau Grosscup March 6, 2008 at 2:04 pm

If the Dems don’t pin the war on Cheney/Bush and Republican warmongers like McCain, they stand no chance. So far they seem willing to accept the reports of how the ‘Surge’ is working(whatever that means) as reflecting reality in Iraq when any honest appraisal of the
situation by any measure connected to why Iraq had to be invaded demonstrates the falseness of that claim.

Of course, it seems clear that no corporate media crowned candidate on the political horizon for 2008 is willing to say: the Nazi’s collective punishment of Jews doesn’t justify Zionism’s collective punishment of Palestinians. Except Ralph Nader.


avatar Richard Nadeau March 6, 2008 at 8:32 pm

You all know how I hate arguing with people. But then people take offense.

So from now on I will just write what I have to say in a more organized essay and typo checked format.

What a sad world is the armed human hive.


avatar Gregg Robinson March 9, 2008 at 8:41 am

I know that no one is paying attention to this post, but I wanted to make one last response to Beau and Rick.


, as I understand from his previous posts, has a consistent position. He sees the Democrats as only marginally better than the Republicans. They won’t get us out of Iraq immediately, they are blind supporters of Israel, their healthcare reforms give a significant role to insurance companies, etc.. I agree. As a fellow progressive, I don’t have a good response, but here is a good enough one. Though Beau may disagree, I believe that if a Democrat had been elected in 2000 or even 2004 our country would be better off. Tell the people of New Orleans that having a Democratic president doesn’t make a difference. Try and convince union members that who sits in the White House is irrelevant to their wages. Tell the people of Iraq that keeping the neo-cons out of power would have had no impact on foreign policy. Getting the Republicans out of the White House is a little like that old line about hitting yourself in the head, it feels so good when you stop.

A couple of Rick Points:

I still don’t think Rick is fair about my Nader psychological points. That part of my essay was not an attempt to put him down, but a defense that was heart felt. I have already admitted that some of my polemical points were unfair (though they were fun to write), but the issue of “Nader’s weaknesses as the underside of this strengths” I stand by. Passion and commitment can become blindness and intransigence. There is a tragedy in Nader’s third run for president that is Shakespearean. Nader is Lear like. He has been our most principled proponent of progressive politics, but he is human. His passions for the big issues of principle have, in my opinion, left him blind to the small issues of realpolitik. I cannot hide the fact that I wish deeply that he had not chosen to run. But this wish does not stop me from admiring him.

Finally, I still don’t think Rich has addressed my key point. I believe we should take presidential electoral politics a little seriously. It is worthwhile to devote a small amount our time to this struggle. Our most important, efforts, however, should be spent furthering our progressive agendas locally. Nader has reversed the old environmental adage: he seems to be thinking locally, but acting globally. That is, at best he is trying to make this election into an exercise in political education. This period of time is too important to abandon our politics to purism, but our values are also too important for us to walk away from for the next eight months. Thus I still say, spend the ten minutes it takes to vote for Obama, but spend the months it takes to build a more progressive country.


avatar Richard Nadeau March 9, 2008 at 9:42 am

Robinson has already exhausted his own pronounced “ten minute” time limit for discussing national electoral politics. So why is he running on and on about this? He should practice what he preaches and keep quiet.

Also, regarding his endless litany of Nader trashing comments, the latest being that Nader’s pasion makes him a “purist” – I only have one brief comment. With admirers like Robinson who are prone to dismiss what they admire, who really needs enemies?

Robinson’s “realpolitik” has made him blind to what is real in the global American Empire, a militarism which acts globally everyday with ramifications that are locally harmful to the American people (never mind its slaughtered victyims). This militarism pervades everyday life and needs to be resisted both locally and globally because it drains resources that could otherwise improve our own society .

This is why we still need public intellectuals and gadflies like Nader and Chomsky speaking out globally on what Robinson calls “big issues of principle.”. This in no way diminishes those who choose to organize and act locally. But Robinson creates a kind of zero sum game so that acting and thinking globally takes away from organizing locally. The two need not be played off against each other, and there are enough people to do both.


avatar Jon Quate March 10, 2008 at 8:13 am

If these essays and responses are any indication of Nader’s divisiveness (remembering of course they are on a progressive blog, not reaching the general population who are going to determine the out come after all) it’s apparent he does more harm than good.
I find it rather amusing that people can determine someone else’s psychological makeup and reasoning by reading a single essay. Perhaps some therapists should take note, they could save valuable time and resources in treatment ;).


avatar Richard Nadeau March 10, 2008 at 10:08 am

It is good to know that the old Stalinist method of sending dissident points of view to the “therapists”
couch is still alive and well.


avatar Jon Quate March 10, 2008 at 11:43 am

Mr. Nadeau, you sure throw labels around easily don’t you? Please explain to me how you interpreted my response as wanting to silence dissident views. No where did I mention silencing anyone. I suppose you can determine my psychological makeup as well, after all I wrote a response to you, and I’m obviously a Stalinist because I think your pompous attitude is ridiculous. I visit as many progressive blogs as I have time for, but if you are representative of the staff on this one, it will just remain one of thousands, rather than one reaching thousands.


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