Consumer champion Ralph Nader announced Sunday a fresh tilt at the White House, eight years after earning the acid hatred of Democrats for dividing the anti-Republican camp in a razor-thin vote. Denying that he was running as a "spoiler" who could hand the presidency to Republican John McCain, Nader accused both the main parties of shutting out the US public and handing the nation over to corporate interests.
"Dissent is the mother of assent, and in that context I have decided to run for president," Nader, who turns 74 on Wednesday, said on the NBC program "Meet the Press."
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Dear Mr. Nader
Speaking as someone who respects your work a great deal and who voted for you in 2004, running as a third-party candidate in this year’s presidential elections will only serve to do more harm than good to your reputation as a champion for ordinary people in the U.S.
1. The political system is set up as a winner-take-all contest between the two major parties. Until a better system is in place for people to vote for third parties that negates the spoiler effect, it would be better for you to stay out of the race and concentrate your efforts on fixing that system. Long-term, grassroots efforts for structural electoral reform such as Instant Runoff Voting do exist and have been gaining momentum nationwide. They can use a prominent, high-visibility champion. Lending your name and high profile to that cause for the long-term will only serve as a step in the right direction to reform our political system.
2. If you make an impact in the elections by threatening to siphon votes away from the eventual Democratic nominee and they eventually lose the election, you will earn the undying enmity of Democrats and many Progressive activists. Which is a shame because for all intents and purposes, these are potential political allies and followers who share much of the same goals and beliefs that you hold.
3. If, however, you do not make an impact in the elections at all, you will only serve to diminish your reputation as a consumer activist and champion of political outsiders. Not because your work as an activist has diminished in value but because many people will see and treat you as a political non-entity who does not have the type of mass following that can be of significance in a high-profile election.
There is a lot that is wrong in our two-party system and I would be one of the first to say that it is antiquated and needs serious reform so political insurgents and outsider parties can have a fair shot at participating.
However, a longshot candidacy for President where you do not have a realistic chance of winning against the candidates of either major party will accomplish very little to help the cause of reform. Sure, it might, for the short term, allow your lone voice of dissent to resonate in public forums such as debates and the editorial pages. But what happens after the elections?
What would you have accomplished in running except to become vilified among Democratic circles? A person so vilified would not be able to accomplish much politically. No matter the validity of your ideas and the power of your critique against either major party, people are not going to listen to you.
So Mr. Nader, as someone who respects you a great deal and who is pained by the prospect of seeing an activist like you vilified (or worse yet, ignored) on a mass scale this year, I am urging you to refocus your aim. Instead of running as an insurgent candidate for President, I urge you to lend your name, reputation and efforts to the cause of structural political reform. Running for President for anyone outside the two major parties with the system structured as it currently stands is a waste of time, energy and resources.
I do not see such efforts as accomplishing anything more than garnering publicity for a few months and then afterwards everything will go back to being business as usual. Serious, structural political reform for the long term is a much more worthy goal.
The Liberal Arts Dude
UPDATE: A blog post about Ralph Nader and Instant Runoff Voting
More on Instant Runoff Voting