Running against the tide

Ralph Nader is back again. In his fourth campaign, he is running as an independent candidate for the United States presidency. At 70, Nader is more determined than ever.

Hoping to provide American voters with more choices, Nader is running to challenge what he describes as the “two-party duopoly” of the Democrat and Republican parties which he has criticised for becoming increasingly similar in their political platforms. He believes his bid will attract Americans who might not otherwise come out to vote this November.

Describing Washington as “corporate- occupied territory”, Nader plans to run to counter what he says are the corporate interests tied to both political parties. He says both Democrats and Republicans are fighting to get to the White House where they will ultimately “take orders from their corporate paymasters”.

Nader has referred to President George W Bush as “a giant corporation in the White House masquerading as a human being”. He has called for the impeachment of Bush for “misleading Americans about war in Iraq”, calling him “a messianic militarist”.

Nader has criticised Israel’s “special relationship” with the US, calling it the “Washington puppet show”. He has also been outspoken in his criticism of the US government’s treatment of Arabs and Muslims in the wake of the attacks of 11 September 2001.

MIT professor and political analyst Noam Chomsky and historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, have decided to vote for Nader this November. Both men are from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts where Kerry is projected to win. They plan to vote for Nader so their vote will not contribute to Bush and have urged other voters in “safe states” to do the same to ensure Bush does not serve a second term.

“If he decides to run in swing states, he will help elect Bush. That is a serious error, in my opinion,” Chomsky told Al-Ahram Weekly. “He could easily avoid this consequence, for example, by exploiting a curiosity of the US constitutional system. People do not vote for the president: they vote for electors. Nader could select Democrat electors in swing states. That would be a way to present his message, as he chooses, but not to contribute to the election of Bush, which would be very harmful to the world in general, and would undermine the prospects for independent politics within the US.”

Both Chomsky and Zinn argue that Nader’s campaign is necessary to put an end to the Democratic Party’s leanings to the right, particularly in regard to the war and occupation of Iraq as well as foreign policy in general. Kerry voted for the October 2002 congressional resolution authorising Bush to invade Iraq. Chomsky and Zinn believe the Nader campaign is needed for voters who want to see an end to what they view as the US military and corporate occupation of Iraq.

“I think Ralph Nader’s voice is important, to remind the Democratic Party and John Kerry that their position on the war is wrong,” Zinn told the Weekly. “But I think Bush is so dangerous a president that the first priority for progressive, anti-war people is to vote Bush out of office. Therefore, I think we should do what we can to elect Kerry in spite of his shortcomings.”

Recently, Nader has been through a difficult few weeks. He suffered a minor setback when the Green Party, which has party lines in 22 states and the District of Columbia, declined to endorse him and nominated long- time party activist David Cobb on 26 June.

Before the Green Party’s decision, Nader, who ran on the Green ticket in 1996 and 2000, said last year that he would not accept the party’s nomination, but would welcome its endorsement. Although the endorsement would not have guaranteed Nader the Green Party’s ballot lines it would have made things easier for him. His failure to secure the Green Party endorsement means his only way to the ballot now is by collecting signatures and money.

Nader will need support in all 50 states to get his name on each state’s ballot. He remains confident that he will be on the ballot in all but six states. “Good luck to the Greens,” said Kevin Zeese, Nader’s national spokesman. “Nader plans to make this a three-way race between Nader, Bush and Kerry.”

Zeese told the Weekly that they are in the process of collecting signatures to ensure they get on the ballot across the US. He said Nader will be on more ballots than in the previous election, when they were on 43 states and the District of Columbia.

So far Nader has been endorsed by the Reform Party, founded by Texas businessman Ross Perot during his 1996 campaign for president. This endorsement gives Nader access to ballots in at least seven states.

In Arizona, however, the independent candidate has failed to make the ballot. Accusing the Democrats and presidential candidate John Kerry of playing political “dirty tricks”, Nader said the Democratic Party has “stepped up its obstruction tendencies” by challenging him to get on the Arizona ballot in the first place.

The Kerry campaign team argued that they were adhering to the law when they challenged his access to the ballot. Nader only has to get on the ballot in a few states to influence the presidential race. The Democrats call Nader a “spoiler” and are concerned that he will grab potential votes from Kerry.

Many Democrats still blame Nader for Bush’s victory four years ago and are worried he could steal votes away from the Democrats and give the Republicans a second term. In response to these claims, Nader has said Democrats have only themselves to blame for losing the election in 2000.

“There were reasons for the election result,” Zeese told the Weekly. “Bush stole the election and Gore ran a poor campaign.” Republicans are banking on Nader to help their candidate, hoping Nader will do to Kerry what he did to Al Gore in 2000.

Business Week reported that of the $1 million raised by Nader thus far, $41,000 came from major Bush contributors, like top Bush fund-raiser billionaire Richard Egan who contributed $2,000.

Hoping to quash the potential threat posed by Kerry in their states, some local chapters of the conservative group Citizens for a Sound Economy have also been working hard to get Nader on the ballot.

Nader has vied for a spot on stage with Kerry and Bush at three presidential debates planned for late September and October. However, he will most likely be excluded for not meeting the criteria for participation put in place by the Commission on Presidential Debates, just as he was excluded from the 2000 presidential debates.