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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

GADFLY RALPH, HEAL THYSELF 

His name is now a homonym for the state of his career.

If Fate is in a particularly humorous mood and the Democratic Party spends its money wisely, Ralph Nader will soon end up as the hood ornament on a Corvair. DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe is probably dreaming of such an outcome right now, but that isn’t necessary because Nader has already been hoisted by his own petard.

Nader’s rationale for a new presidential campaign is no different than what he gave in 2000, i e., DC is a swamp inhabited by hordes of special interest mosquitoes sucking blood and influence from willing and able bodied elected officials in exchange for the cash required to get re-elected. Both political parties are culpable. Thanks for the enlightenment!

But 4 years later, it has become impossible to take him seriously. In part it’s because he sees himself as the same tireless consumer advocate who believes the public is purposely hoodwinked on everything from diapers to anti-depressants. The problem with that particular outlook is that Ralph Nader has ceased being an effective producer of change and as a pop populist has been reduced to only a proponent of change.

Historically, fundamental transformation in America has been the product of a combined effort on the part of grass roots advocacy and institutional formalism. Popular opinion is used to apply sufficient pressure on Congress to members that re-election and the desired reform go hand in hand. The Civil Rights movement required extraordinary work on the part of both, so did ending the Vietnam War. Nader's early successes were no exception; he used popular opinion to foster change by beating Congress over the head with it. Yet today, Nader doesn't seem to realize that by alienating the Democrats (Republicans, of course, use Nader as a fund raising device) in his role as philosophical gadfly rather than participating in the party process, he performs a huge disservice to the public he claims to champion: by not participating within the party has no leverage, and with no leverage comes no reform. Nader has ceased to be about effectiveness; he has become merely affecting.

Al Sharpton is smart enough to know that by engaging in the party nomination process he can hold the major candidates hostage to certain issues. Why isn’t Ralph Nader smart enough to do the same?

In 2004 Ralph Nader is trying to sell the public a bill of goods: Nader the candidate could use a good investigation from Nader the advocate.


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