About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Absolving Nader?

Like many other liberals, I've been pissed at Ralph Nader since the 2000 Presidential election. As I'm sure everyone recalls, Nader ran for the Green Party, taking valuable votes away from Gore. Despite repeated calls to withdraw right before the election, Nader persisted and ended up with about 5% of the votes, which was his goal all along in order to help the growth of the Green Party, and to show the Dems that they better listen to the concerns of their disenfranchised voters and of their own taken for granted left wing.

Last night, however, I watched a documentary on Nader, “Ralph Nader: an Unreasonable Man,” which recounted not just the events of the election, but all of Nader's career as a consumer advocate and critic of big business and political interests. The documentary was relatively sympathetic to Nader, but the authors did present several poignant criticisms of Nader by former sympathizers and friends, so that the viewer really got as balanced a view of the man as possible.

As a result, I changed my mind (please, mark the occasion on your calendars). First of all, by all accounts Nader is a man of principle, and his heart (and mind) are in the right place, which means that one ought to at least be careful not to engage in simplistic criticism. Yes, perhaps Nader has a big ego but, frankly, I don't think one can be a politician unless he has a sufficiently large ego, and I seriously doubt that Gore's or Kerry's are any less sizable than Nader's (of course, Bush's is of cosmic – and tragic – proportions).

Second, as a representative for the Green Party said in the documentary, every one of the “minor” candidates during the 2000 elections got more votes than those that (allegedly) separated Gore from Bush, and some of those votes were surely also taken away from the Republicans. So, why use Nader as the scapegoat? More importantly, Nader has been accused of orchestrating a campaign with an emphasis on swing states, with the implicit purpose of spoiling the elections for the Democrats. Too bad that the facts flatly contradict the myth: a political scientist (and self-professed Democrat) recounted the results of his research during the documentary, concluding that, if anything, the pattern of engagements (appearances, tv ads, etc.) during Nader's campaign show that he avoided concentrating on swing states, and instead attempted to maximize his chances of getting to the 5% goal – just as Nader had said all along.

Moreover, Nader is a man that deserves our utmost respect not only because of what he stood for during the recent Presidential campaigns, but for a whole life devoted to defend the public interest. He was instrumental in forcing big business to implement a number of measures that we take for granted today, seat belts, air bags and food nutrition labels among many others. While Bush is responsible for hundreds of thousands of death in Iraq, Nader's single minded persistence in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds and smear campaigns by GM (they sent prostitutes and private investigators after Nader to try to discredit him), actually saved tens of thousands over the past three decades or so.

No, we need to face it. Democrats lost the elections of 2000 and 2004 because of three reasons, any one of which – if overcome – would have made the votes for Nader irrelevant to the outcome: first and foremost, the stupidity of a large portion of the American electorate (I mean, these are the same people who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old); second, the crookedness of the Grand Old Party, which committed all sorts of unethical and possibly illegal actions to rig the election (just as if we were in a fledgling African democracy, not in the self-professed “best democracy in the world”); and, of course, the ineptitude of the Democrats themselves, who should have won by a landslide in both cases, given the political climate and the caliber of their candidates.

So, let's stop bashing Nader, and let us give him all the respect he really deserves. And, please, let us not fuck up a third time in a row, ok?

24 comments:

  1. I agree completely. The Democratic Party was becoming more rightwing and practically indistinguishable from the Republicans. Someone had to pressure the Democrats into listening to their left-wing faction and Ralph Nader was that person.

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  2. I'll second that agreement. Today, I would vote for Gore if he ran because I think he has matured in his views and has become more progressive over time, but back in 2000, Gore hadn't done enough (at least in my opinion) to distinguish himself from the other business-as-usual politicians. Plus, I would have really liked to see the Green Party get to 5%.

    We have to stop blaming Nader and start being proactive. This time let's put up a presidential candidate that is actually progressive and has the courage to fight for his/her convictions. Also, we need to reform our electoral system. Here in Oregon we vote by mail which means we don't have to take off time from work and stand in long lines at precincts that don't have enough voting machines. Also, we need to change the winner-take-all system which allows third parties to be played off as vote stealers. It's time that voters were allowed to express their true feelings without the threat of throwing the game to the other side.

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  3. Also, the reasons some of us preferred Nader were not secrets we kept from Gore or his team. All Gore had to do was address those issues, most of which would have gone under the radar of the average voter though they would probably have irked his corporate campaign contributors to no end.

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  4. You left out a 4th reason: the press.

    The so called "liberal media" depicted Al Gore as a serial liar and George Bush as a down to earth straight shooter.

    Gore had the mainstream press eat up all the bullshit coming from the noise machine. Gore played a significant role in legilating the start of the net ... and he had that count AGAINST him in the election.

    Gore played a prominent role is starting the Superfund legislation, and that counted against him.

    Meanwhile, everything Enron would later get caught doing, Bush had already done with Harken, but he got a pass on that.

    During the recount, Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post that Bush should "win" because if Gore won the thuggish element of the conservative movement would make it difficult for Gore to preside.

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  5. Well, that's what I once read in a newspaper back home. In the US there are two sides: the right wing, and the extreme right wing.

    And while I agree that people shouldn't be criticizing Nader so much (for more reasons than those in Massimo's post)...
    "Second, as a representative for the Green Party said in the documentary, every one of the “minor” candidates during the 2000 elections got more votes than those that (allegedly) separated Gore from Bush, surely not all taken away from Democrats. So, why use Nader as the scapegoat?"

    Uh, yes, he can very well still be blamed if you want to, even this statement being true about other "minors". Because who would *surely* get most of the votes going to the Green Party? Not Bush, I'd say. And that'd be enough, wouldn't it?

    Cheers
    J

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  6. I've been saying this since I voted for Nader (in the solidly blue state of Illinois) in 2000!

    Whenever Democrats have gotten up in my grill about this over the past seven years, I've said that if all of the registered Democrats in Florida had voted for Al Gore in 2000, Nader wouldn't have been an issue. Furthermore, how a sitting vice president of a popular administration couldn't manage to solidly defeat an inexperienced, smug right-wing nincompoop was (and still is) beyond me. A lot of blame goes to the press, as hume's ghost mentioned, but still...

    And I won't even discuss the anti-democratic presidential election system we've been saddled with. I'll just get angry.

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  7. All true, perhaps. But any man who said, as Nader said, that there was "no difference" between Gore and Bush - not "not much difference" or "no difference when it comes to big business", not "the Democrats are sliding right" or "neither will listen" - NO difference doesn't get much respect from me.

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  8. ridger,

    To be fair, the now glaring differences between Gore and Bush were much less obvious before the 2000 election. Hence why the cry was much more shallow during the 2004 election, probably explaining why Nader had such little impact then. Also, if you're going to sling mud about about politicians making mischaracterizations of their opponents, a lot more of that is going to stick to dems and republicains than Nader. All that said, though I respect his integrity, the best reason not to vote for Nader is also the most straightforward: many of his proposed policies would be bad for the country.

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  9. Saw the Movie about two months ago.

    1) I thought it spent too much time on the presidential run controversy.

    2) It showed how much we owe to Ralph in so many areas. Much more than we recall.

    3) The night before I saw the film, my daughter called, just after she successfully walked away from a 20-30mph head on collision (not her fault). Yet its likely we can credit Ralph Nadar with her life - no seat belt and no crash resistent car - she would likely have gone thru the window to her death or crippling injuries.

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  10. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Nader is an egomaniac who is entirely responsible for the presence of Bush in the White House. Mr. Naders' vote total in New Hampshire and Florida was far more then the separation between Bush and Gore in those states. If Gore had carried either of those states, which he almost certainly would have done if Mr. Nader had not been on the ballot, he wins the presidency. For those who, like Mr. Nader contend that there was very little difference between Bush and Gore (which Mr. Nader repeated adnausium), just conside the difference between Clinton Supreme Court nominees Ginsburg and Breyer with Bush nominees Alito and Roberts. No difference? In Mr. Naders' dreams.

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  11. "Uh, yes, he can very well still be blamed if you want to, even this statement being true about other "minors". Because who would *surely* get most of the votes going to the Green Party? Not Bush, I'd say. And that'd be enough, wouldn't it?

    Cheers
    J"


    The margin was so slim the votes from the Workers First Party could have tipped the balance in Gore's favour had the Workers First Party not ran. I don't see any of you complaining about this party "giving us Bush". And most of the votes for the Workers First Party would, obviously, have went to Gore.

    Everything was marginal in that election, including the difference between Gore and Bush. Key word is Clinton's appointments, slc.

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  12. Hey Mass,

    Way to go. But really, what took you so long?

    Given the black eye handed the electoral system by the GOP, the endless whining over Nader has always seemed not only misplaced, but recklessly irresponsible. Then these same people were surprised when we got more of the same in '04.

    "Absolving": Absolution is typically a reprieve for those who have done something wrong.

    "?": Did you really change your postion or what?

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  13. Anonymous,

    yes, I really did change my mind on this. Absolving also means to clear someone of something he hasn't actually done.

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  14. Re d.r.m.

    "Everything was marginal in that election, including the difference between Gore and Bush. Key word is Clinton's appointments, slc."

    If Mr. d.r.m. is seriously trying to claim that President Gore would have appointed Supreme Court justices as reactionary as Roberts and Alito, he must be smoking lefty luckies. I don't think that there is the slightest doubt that any appointments made by him would have been a lot closer to Ginsburg and Breyer then to Roberts amd Alito. I hold Nader and the the morons who voted for him totally responsible for Roberts and Alito who will be inflicting their fascist ideology on the country long after Bush has left the White House.

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  15. "If Mr. d.r.m. is seriously trying to claim that President Gore would have appointed Supreme Court justices as reactionary as Roberts and Alito, he must be smoking lefty luckies."

    I've never smoked anything in my life.

    "I don't think that there is the slightest doubt that any appointments made by him would have been a lot closer to Ginsburg and Breyer then to Roberts amd Alito."

    They may not have been. But Gore was still a mediocore politician who neglected the left-wing of his party until the last minute.

    "I hold Nader and the the morons who voted for him totally responsible for Roberts and Alito who will be inflicting their fascist ideology on the country long after Bush has left the White House."

    The "morons who voted for him"? So, even people who voted Nader is solidly Blue States are reponsible for "giving us" Bush? Beside, as this post shows, Nader avoided heavy campaigining in swing states.

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  16. Re d.r.m.

    I would agree with Mr. d.r.m. that voters in states like Texas and Utah who voted for Nader were not morons as their votes didn't count anyway. However, the voters in Florida and New Hampshire who voted for Nater are irresponsible morons who are entirely responsible for the presence of Roberts and Alito on the Supreme Court. The country will recover from the current misadventure in Iraq long before the depredations of Roberts and Alito are ended.

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  17. The margin was so slim the votes from the Workers First Party could have tipped the balance in Gore's favour had the Workers First Party not ran.

    Oh, yeah, I'm not disputing that. Actually, that's exactly the point. You can blame the Workers Party or whomever too (solely or in addition) if you want. But you can't, by the same logic, refrain from criticizing Nader if that's your cup of tea. Now, I guess people picked on him only instead because he's the largest of the dwarfs, maybe? (hey, I wanted to write "dwarves" but the spell checker didn't like that...)

    J

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  18. gonna have to agree with sic. Nader voters in Florida could have just told their friends that they voted for Nader and then actually voted for a candidate with a real chance of winning (i.e., Gore). This "boy am I gonna make a statement by voting for Nader" stunt set us way the fuck back into the dark ages. I don't blame Nader, I blame the morons who voted for him.

    Think about it this way. Voter turn-out is pitifully low in this country as it is. If you're smart enough to talk and think about politics and motivated enough to go to the polls, then saddle on up to the trough of reality and take a cool drink of domestic awareness: this is a two party system and we have to live with it; please cast your vote accordingly. Leave the statements of independence and cleverness for your car's bumper.

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  19. So wait, what did Gore do in 2000 that deserved votes except not being Bush? Why is the rhetoric still that Nader stole votes? Shouldn't a representative have to do more than just belong to an arbitrary party?

    If Gore had been as vocal about the environment back then as he is now, if the Clinton administration had continued the push for universal health care, if Gore had declined donations from the same corporations that were donating to the other side... you can guarantee that he would have "stolen" votes from Nader. But if the only reason to vote for him was that he wouldn't have done what Bush did, well, we could have all just agreed to vote for any random non-Bush candidate then.

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  20. ThumpalumpacusJuly 10, 2007 6:27 PM

    "If you're smart enough to talk and think about politics and motivated enough to go to the polls, then saddle on up to the trough of reality and take a cool drink of domestic awareness: this is a two party system and we have to live with it; please cast your vote accordingly." -- Rich

    The unspoken resignation in this statement infuriates me. If we Americans wish to save this country, we need to start by NOT voting as if it's a goddamned horse race. You don't get paid when you pick the winner, folks. Vote your conscience!

    The two-party system is analogous to a binary star system, where the gravity's swirls and eddies prevent the formation of a third star. Only, in this case, the two stars are intelligently colluding, rather than behaving according to law (double meaning completely intended).

    Whatever you do, in '08 vote third-party. Send the bastards on their bums.

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  21. Thumpalumpacus,

    Your statement is admirable. Even I would like to have a truly viable alternative to the mainstream Dems/Reps in 08 and beyond. Unfortunately, holding onto this hope is naive and idealistic. We have a better chance at invading Canada for their freshwater than we do at getting a truly competitive third party candidate into our political system in the near future.

    In 08 there will be only two candidates that have a chance at winning: A Republican nominee and a Democrat nominee. You can vote for the lesser of the two evils (or the faster of the two horses, if you wish), or you can vote for a third party. If you do the latter, you're effectively (and sadly) throwing away your vote, save for making yourself feel better about your "political statement."

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  22. ThumpalumpacusJuly 13, 2007 3:23 PM

    "We have a better chance at invading Canada for their freshwater than we do at getting a truly competitive third party candidate into our political system in the near future." -- Rich

    "In the near future" is the key term. I don't deny that in the short-term, my approach could be regarded as naive, but it's been my experience in life that big changes require time. As a major failing of America has historically been the eschewal of a long-term approach, I do on occasion despair; but surrendering makes defeat a certainty.

    While pragmatism is a most useful approach in most matters, in politics it tends to bolster the status quo, or worse. In 1933, the Nazis gained 40% seating in (and control of) the Reichstag because millions of centrists voted for the lesser of two evils vis Communists. Please note, I am NOT comparing our two major parties with those two, merely drawing a reductio ad absurdum.

    I will continue to vote third party, and urge others to do the same.

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  23. "...first and foremost, the stupidity of a large portion of the American electorate (I mean, these are the same people who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old)..."

    Well, if you go around calling most people stupid, then smear them as fundies, don't expect these same people to elect the party you support anytime soon.

    That's why I respect Nader. He calls it as he sees it and if you have a problem with that because it spoils your big picture game plan then tough. Cry-babies don't elected either.

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  24. In a free society, no one owns a vote. Although you claim, in one comment below, that your absolution does not indicate Nader is guilty of wrongdoing, the content of your post still treads that territory. You merely distribute the blame you claim to absolve equally among all other third party candidates instead of truly expressing a change of opinion.

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