Nader in Ruins

If Ralph Nader retains even a fraction of the perception that once made him the nation’s foremost consumer advocate�and a very effective environmentalist as well�he would drop out of the Presidential race right now. With a breathtaking display of ego and an outright denial of reality, he is preparing to once again propel George W. Bush to victory in swing states where the balloting promises to be very close.

Pardon me if this column is not, on its surface, about environmental topics. But the threat to the green movement if George W. Bush is reelected is so great and so obvious I think the overwhelming majority of my readers will see the connections clearly. I once admired Ralph Nader, not least for his vital contributions in reducing tailpipe emissions, but his current behavior threatens to unravel his legacy.

Nader’s former environmental allies have attempted to talk sense into him, but he sticks to an absurd mantra (he claims that he takes as many votes from Bush as from Kerry, is pushing to make Kerry a stronger candidate, is not dependent on Republican support and money, etc.) that is demonstrably false on its face. His campaign has degenerated into a tragic farce, abandoned by nearly all of his progressive supporters from 2000 (from Michael Moore to Susan Sarandon), and propped up by gleeful Republicans and fringe parties grateful for the publicity.

Let’s look at some of the evidence. If you were having any doubts that the Republican Party (and some groups even further right) are the major support of the Nader candidacy, read these excerpts from a piece by David Sarasohn, associate editor of The Oregonian newspaper. Nader’s efforts to get on the ballot in Oregon “were bolstered by the conservative groups Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Oregon Family Council, plus Republican encouragement,” Sarasohn wrote. “Nader campaigned for their turnout on a conservative radio talk show.

“Republican support for Nader, or at least for his appearing on the ballot, is exploding all over. The Wisconsin chapter of the Citizens for a Sound Economy plans to work to get him onto that state’s ballot. According to an Arizona Democratic attorney quoted in The New York Times, 46 percent of the signatures filed by the Nader campaign in that state belong to registered Republicans. Arizona Naderites are being represented by Lisa Hauser, an active Republican attorney and counsel to former GOP Governor Fife Symington. The chairman of the Florida Republican Party loosed a passionate call for Nader’s appearance on the Florida ballot, calling the Democrats’ legal challenge ‘beyond the bounds of hypocrisy.’

“This week, Business Week Online reported that of the $1 million raised by Nader so far, $41,000 comes from major Bush contributors. That included $2,000 from Richard Egan, who raised $200,000 for Bush�which qualifies him, in the GOP fund-raising hierarchy, as a Ranger�and served as Bush’s ambassador to Ireland. A spokesman told Business Week it must be ‘a different Dick Egan,’ but then the Boston Globe reported Thursday that not only was it the same Dick Egan, but his son and daughter-in-law had given another $4,000 to Nader.”

In the New York Times, Nader opined that it doesn’t really matter if he helps unseat Kerry, because, as the Times put it, “He said he thought that Mr. Kerry would not make a good president anyway.” Apparently, Nader knows best. “He’s not his own man,” Nader blithely told the Times. “Because he takes the liberals for granted, he’s allowing Bush to pull him in his direction. It doesn’t show much for his character.”

In the same piece, Nader either blatantly lied or displayed willful ignorance on polling results. He claimed that a Zogby poll revealed that he draws as many votes from Republicans as Democrats. The Times was forced to correct the record. “Shawnta Walcott, a spokeswoman for Zogby, said its polls showed Nader drawing far more from Kerry.” The Times wrote, “She said the polls, aggregated from March through September, showed that if Nader were not an option, 41 percent of his supporters would go to Kerry, 15 percent to Bush and 30 percent to another candidate, with 13 percent undecided.”

The vitriol from Nader’s former supporters is getting stronger, but he dismisses it all with a wave of his hand. Seventy-four members of the 113-person Nader 2000 Citizens Committee have signed a statement urging support for Kerry/Edwards in swing states. The list includes Phil Donahue, Jim Hightower, Susan Sarandon, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Howard Zinn and Cornel West.

Ehrenreich, in a Times op-ed piece that amounted to an open letter to an old friend, urged Nader to step down now and try to salvage what’s left of his reputation. “You were in Portland, Oregon addressing an audience of 1,100 (you got almost 10 times as many there four years ago) that was heavily larded with conservatives eager to get you on the ballot to suck votes from John Kerry. When Howard Dean confronted you about your conservative ‘supporters,’ you lamely observed that ‘Republicans are human beings too.’

“Republicans are the least of it. You’ve been kissing up to the Reform Party, which ran paleo-right-winger Pat Buchanan the last time around. You’ve been caught dallying with the former New Alliance Party, described by Christopher Hitchens, with his customary restraint, as a ‘zombie cult.'”

Another left-liberal who used to say much nicer things about Nader, columnist Eric Alterman, now calls him “Bush’s Useful Idiot.” In a Nation piece, Alterman once again detailed what appears to be a continuing pattern of Nader falsehoods. “While Nader continues to employ the same rhetoric as before, this speaks merely to his personal self-delusion and shameless demagoguery,” he wrote. “He also appears to be a rather brazen liar. ‘We have not been accepting signatures obtained through organized Republican Party efforts in the three or four states where we have learned of such activity,’ [Nader] insisted in a September Washington Post op-ed. In fact, as the Detroit Free Press reported a day earlier, 45,000 of the 50,500 petition signatures submitted on Nader’s behalf in Michigan were indeed submitted by Republicans.” (Nader’s out here, one supposes, is that the signatures may not have been collected by “organized Republican Party efforts,” just individual Bush supporters trying to be helpful.)

How does Ralph Nader sleep at night? Even such presumed Naderites as Greg Bates, author of the recent book, Ralph’s Revolt: The Case for Joining Nader’s Rebellion, says voters in swing states should consider voting for Kerry.

The only so-called environmentalist I know of who supports Nader is Jeffrey St. Clair, author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me. With his Counterpunch partner Alex Cockburn, St. Clair launches regular broadsides at “big environmental groups” and inveighs against Kerry. “Ralph is a lawyer and a good one,” St. Clair said in an online interview. “He lives by rules and plays by them. He’s not a monkeywrencher or revolutionary or even a radical. He believes in ethical government, despite all the odds. If Nader makes the Oregon ballot�a long shot given the slimy tactics used against him by Democrats and some Greens�I will happily vote for him. I take Foucault seriously.”

That’s really nice to know. St. Clair takes Foucault seriously. And the rest of us will be stuck with four more years of George W. Bush. Well, there’s at least one positive development here. Despite the undoubtedly slimy tactics of a wide spectrum of Republican operatives, Nader is not on the ballot in Oregon. So St. Clair can’t vote for him.