Forget Nader, Hug Kucinich

Ralph Nader is running for president. Big deal. For those of you cooking up schemes to derail his bid for the presidency, I urge you to give him exactly the attention he deserves. None. Angry opposition is exactly what Nader needs to turn his last stand into the Alamo. At the moment he has as much support as the guy who walks around San Francisco with a sign that says the Martians have landed.

This election cycle the Democratic Party must give former Nader voters a place at the table. We can't afford to have them stay at home or cast a protest vote. While I didn't vote for Nader in 2000, a number of my friends did in non-swing states like California. I respect their intentions and the message they were trying to send, but I disagree with the venue they were using to send that message.

This year there is one presidential candidate who is carrying on the Nader mantle with honor and respect. He deserves Nader's name more than Nader does. That candidate is Dennis Kucinich.

Dennis Kucinich has steadfastly articulated his hopes and dreams for the country, without regard for the immediate political viability of his ideas. What's wrong with a vegan presidential candidate who eats miso and oat groats for breakfast? Nothing. In fact it's a refreshing change from President Bush, who probably thinks tofu is something you get from walking around barefoot in the gym. Kucinich marches to his own drum. He's the only presidential candidate with an entire web page dedicated to polka, bowling and kielbasa. I bet that even Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt would agree that the Democratic Party would be better off with more bowling and polka.

Kucinich has conducted his campaign like the organizer Nader once was. From house parties to homemade signs, Kucinich has asked his supporters to reach out to their communities and have a conversation about values. He has brought new activists into the political fold. He has not attacked the other candidates; he has only pointed out his differences with them. He has not threatened to start a new party or to trash the nominee.

Now the Democratic Party has a responsibility to Dennis Kucinich.

Democrats should offer Kucinich and his supporters one big collective hug and thank them for their efforts to strengthen the party. By embracing Kucinich as an important voice within the party, Democrats will ensure that his supporters don't choose kamikaze support for Nader. Give Kucinich a leadership role in developing long-term policy for the party. Make him the ambassador to disaffected Democratic voters and give him the power to bring them back into the fold. Give him a slot for a major speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Personally, I'll be voting for John Kerry. I've worked with him for years on environmental issues. He'll make an extraordinary president who will surpass everyone's expectations. I don't expect that any of my friends who voted for Nader in 2000 will even think of voting for Nader this time. Some of them are still feeling hurt over Dean's treatment by the press; others are continuing to work for Dennis Kucinich. It's time to make them welcome in the Democratic Party.

So hug a Kucinich supporter if you meet one. Allow yourself to dream a bit. Eat some tofu. You'll be making the Democratic Party stronger.

Adam Werbach is executive director of the Common Assets Defense Fund.

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