Republicrats Conspire Against Nader

The United States is supposed to be a culture driven by the worship of success. And yet is seems that there is one man for whom success is universally unacceptable: Ralph Nader.

On Larry King Live, Mr. Nader is scolded for his popularity among voters, his shameless desire for -- get this! -- votes. Doesn't he care that his success might elect George W. Bush? Ex-friends call him vain, reckless. He should bow out, call it a day, instruct supporters to vote for Al Gore.

The man who was exiled to the margins for this entire campaign -- barred from the debates, blacked-out from the news -- is now at the dead center of the race. His attacks on Mr. Gore are quoted by Mr. Bush and vice versa. The very views he was prevented from expressing himself are now being cross-promoted by both parties in ways he could never otherwise afford.

No wonder there are threats being made against Mr. Nader's advocacy group, Public Citizen, headed by Joan Claybrook. "If he succeeds and destroys the Gore candidacy, how many progressive congressmen will be prepared to take Joan Claybrook's telephone calls?" demands Jack Blum, counsel to Americans for Democratic Action.

An empty threat, if ever there was one. Mr. Nader has said repeatedly that he is running for president precisely because public interest influence is dead: you need a six-figure donation to buy the ear of Washington politicians. It was this crisis in democracy that led advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, to organize a massive protest during the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last November. "If you won't listen to us at the table," they said, "you will listen to us in the streets."

But as the protests spread, the demonstrators were criticized for lacking a coherent vision and a concrete plan. This was quite true, and one response, though by no means the only one, has been the Nader candidacy. The Green Party platform has clear positions on the expanding reach of the World Trade Organization, the lack of accountability in government, and ways to enforce international environmental and labor standards. Mr. Nader's candidacy is precisely what the critics said the anti-corporate movement lacked: an alternative plan to the expanding power of multinationals and a strategy to parlay street force into political muscle.

The response? Ralph Nader and his friends are now too visionary -- they are fundamentalists, without an understanding that politics is about practical decisions. In other words: Shut up and vote Gore.

I am not one of those myopic Naderites who denies that there are any differences between Democrats and Republicans. I think a Bush presidency would be disastrous. What I object to is the idea that votes are so spineless, Ralph Nader has it within his power to snap his fingers and save Al Gore's sorry butt.

In crunchy Portland, Oregon last week, Joseph Lieberman -- described by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of "the most pro-business democrats" -- interrupted voters drinking their soy-milk lattes to warn them that they were going to wake up with a nasty hangover if they voted Nader and got Bush. Mr. Gore, doing time in Nader hotbed Madison, Wisconsin, told crowds that Big Oil wants people to "vote for Ralph Nader."

If these messages don't go over too well, it might be because in August, when Mr. Gore was laying down his election platform, these constituencies enjoyed no such attentions. In fact, the 10,000 people who protested outside the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles got a very different picture of the Democrats' attitude towards them. On August 14, the LAPD opened fire with round after round of rubber bullets on a crowd of thousands of peaceful demonstrators, many of them Nader supporters. From the balconies of the Staples Center, the party faithful watched the action unfold, seemingly unconcerned. I remember: I almost got shot. In the days that followed, there was not a word of condemnation from inside the party about this astonishing use of force, and certainly no recognition that the protesters might have a point or two.

I suspect that most of the people who were there that night, in body or in spirit, won't be voting at all next week, so disillusioned are they with electoral politics. Some of them will vote for Ralph Nader.

If Mr. Nader listened to his critics and renounced his much-despised success, I sincerely doubt he would send these voters running into the outstretched arms of Al Gore. Instead, he would send them away from the process entirely, this time with an even deeper cynicism about the possibility for political change.

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