Pretty much everybody knows by now that Ralph Nader has announced his decision to run as an Independent in the 2004 presidential election, and bloggers everywhere have been weighing in with their opinions. I’d planned to write an entry yesterday, but was not feeling very well, but now I’m glad to have had some more time to think about things.
I’ll start by saying that I happily voted for Nader in the 2000 election, that I was energized by his speeches, which I had the good luck of hearing frequently on a community radio station in Champaign, Illinois. However, even in a clearly designated “blue state,” I weighed that vote very carefully, knowing that Bush’s policies were not as close to Gore’s as they appeared (I’ve spent five minutes trying to work in an “objects are closer than they appear” rear-view mirror joke, but it’s not working), although I couldn’t have imagined John Ashcroft having such a major political role.
Like Harry at Crooked Timber, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that it would have been impossible to predict September 11, or the political fallout from that event. It’s also important to note that Gore ran a mediocre campaign, highlighted by his uninspiring decision to choose Joe Lieberman as his runningmate (Michael Bérubé has some useful comments on the 2000 election here). The possibility of securing federal funding for the Green Party was far too enticing, and I felt that the 2000 election offered a nice opportunity to build broader support for a third party (even though the Greens aren’t quite representative of my politics). In a sense, my vote was an act of resistance against the Clinton-style centrism that had come to dominate federal elections.
I do respect Nader’s work as a consumer advocate and as someone who has fought to protect workers from abuses by American corporations, but Nader’s campaign in 2004 risks tarnishing that legacy for me. As George points out, Nader won’t win in November, and the primary benefit of his 2000 campaign was, in my opinion, federal funding. Voting for a single candidate, as an independent, will not change the political landscape in any considerable way.
As an aside, I’m not sure I buy the argument that Nader will steal votes only from the Democratic candidate (especially if that candidate is Edwards). Many Republicans might see voting for Nader as a safe “protest vote” against Bush without having to vote for the Democratic candidate. I’ll also agree with the assertion that Nader may be in a better position to attack Republican policies than a Democratic candidate might, but given how he ran his 2000 campaign, I’m not sure that I’m completely comfortable that he’ll do that.
I’m unwilling to demand that Nader not run. As Chun suggests, that’s not very democratic. But in an important and tightly contested election, I will strongly discourage people from voting for Nader. As Howard Dean suggests, this election is about coalition building, and the only way to see that coalition win is to gain more votes in the electoral college than the Republican Party.