Not Again, Ralph

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is on the verge of another ego-trip, and if he should take it, those concerned about environmental protection will once more have to hold their breath.

Nader says he is seriously considering a repeat run for the presidency on the Green Party ticket, even though his candidacy in 2000 tilted a close contest in favor of George W. Bush, a politician he openly despises. The consumer crusader maintains he is motivated by the conviction that the Democrats have no one who can vanquish President Bush in 2004. Certainly, Nader's wild card entry into the race would enhance the odds of the Democrats' defeat, suggesting he is more interested in pillorying Bush than removing him.

When warned that his candidacy in the 2000 presidential contest could damage Al Gore's chances, Nader shrugged and replied "So what!" He insisted that there was "no significant difference" between Democrats and Republicans on major issues, including the environment. Both political parties, he asserted, were in the hip pocket of corporate America.

Anyone remotely familiar with Gore's and Bush's records on the environment knew that there were major distinctions between the two men regarding such issues. It's hard to believe Nader was not aware of this disparity, but even if you gave him the benefit of the doubt back in 2000, you can't do so now. Since entering the White House, Bush has produced a track record that has confirmed environmentalists' worst fears. There is simply no way that Gore would have sought to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, modify wetland protection, clean air and wildlife conservation laws, and stonewalled on combating global warming. You can be sure a Gore administration would not have been as trusting as the Bush people are of the business community's ability to voluntarily comply with national environmental cleanup goals.

Should Nader launch another Green Party presidential bid, it would be difficult for him to defend against the charge that he is primarily engaged in self-promotion. And if he were to swing a close election again to George W. Bush at the expense of a more environmentally sensitive opponent, Nader would be repeating the unconscionable act of disenfranchising a majority of American voters to satisfy his ego.

Nader is resurrecting the same rationalization he used in 2000. He contends that his candidacy would attract new voters who would throw their support to Democratic congressional candidates lower down on the ticket. But it is not entirely clear that this occurred in 2000, and even if it did, losing the White House in exchange for gaining several congressional seats was a Pyrrhic victory at best. In short, it's a lame justification and raises serious questions about the depth of Nader's concern for the country.

If he is so anguished at the thought of a second Bush term, why doesn't Nader compete for the Democratic nomination? Given his name recognition, Ralph could trumpet his anti-corporate message without strengthening the re-election prospects of the very politician he would most like to dislodge.

If the Green Party wants the nation to progress, it should turn a deaf ear to Nader's insistence that there isn't a difference, and throw its support to the most environmentally friendly electable candidate in 2004.

Edward Flattau writes a nationally syndicated environmental column.

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