Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ralph Nader as Mad Bomber



Harry G. Levine

Department of Sociology, Queens College, City University of New York
March 2004 /

In the year 2000, Ralph Nader strapped political dynamite onto himself and walked into one of the closest elections in American history hoping to blow it up. He wanted to punish the Clinton-Gore Democrats for having betrayed him and the causes he believes in. His primary campaign mission was defeating Al Gore, but Nader concealed this from his supporters, even as he went after votes in swing states like Florida. On the day after election day, when everyone else was grim, and many Democrats were furious at him, Ralph Nader was a happy man.

The following essay presents evidence for this large claim and describes how I first learned this in the fall of 2000. Since the election, political discussions about Nader's campaign have often focused on its electoral effect. Did Nader's 97,000 votes in Florida defeat Al Gore making George W. Bush president? Most observers seem to agree that they did, but others insist that many factors defeated Gore. However, independent of the effect of the Nader campaign on the election results, one can ask about what Nader wanted to have happen. Now that he has decided to run again, in what promises to be another very close election, it is worth examining what Ralph Nader intended the last time.

The Nader Campaign

Before October 2000, I regarded Ralph Nader as a heroic public figure. I'd used his book The Big Business Reader in a class and heard him speak on campus in the 1980s. In the summer and fall of 2000, like many people, I was quite worried about the chance that Nader's small percentage of the vote in one or more of about ten close states could switch the election to Bush.

I felt somewhat reassured by Molly Ivins's faith in Nader. In a widely circulated column in July of 2000, she called him "the sea-green incorruptible, the truest, purest, best, smartest, longest-standing, hardest-working, never-sold-out Good Guy in the whole country." Like me, she also proudly identified herself as committed to "lesser-evilism." She regarded Bush and Cheney as much the Greater Evil and wrote a campaign book (Shrub) about Bush's awful right-wing political views. Given Ivins' politics, her long career as a savvy observer, and her apparent knowledge of Nader, it seemed to me that she gave reason to hope Nader might withdraw, at least in the close states. I was not the only person in America longing for this.

Nader's "super rallies" in September brought him new attention and followers. The biggest one of the campaign was scheduled for New York City. Two friends invited me to a Nader fund-raiser party the day after. One had known the Nader family for many years and arranged for me to talk with Tarek Milleron, Nader's top campaign aide.

On Friday October 13, 2000, I went to Madison Square Garden with hope, dread, and my teenage son. It was a great event in many ways, silly in others. Fifteen thousand people cheered old-fashioned radical truths about wealth and power in America. There were songs, jokes, skits, brief speeches. People seemed delighted to be among so many others who agreed with them about corporate power, health insurance, the environment, and so much more. The organizers created a moving, inspiring, radical political rally evoking the best in America's political and cultural traditions.

And then Nader came out. He was in every way the low point of the evening. His hour or more speech circulated, almost randomly it seemed, through a series of riffs about corporate power, the lives of ordinary Americans, what he had accomplished, and the lessons to be learned from that. He said much that was good and true, though sometimes less well than the people who had preceded him.

Nader also said many things that I did not think were true. He returned again and again to how Al Gore and George W. Bush were like "Tweedledee and Tweedledum," Lewis Carroll's obnoxious twins. They look and act the same, so it doesn't matter which one you get. Despite all the indications that this was to be a very close election, Nader also said that he couldn't possibly take the election from Gore -- "only Gore can do that." In effect Nader told people to ignore concerns about the handful of swing states where Nader voters might shift the electoral votes to Bush. Because there had been little media coverage of Nader's message at this stage, (especially in New York newspapers) one had to get close to the campaign to hear these things.

That night I received an email from an old friend, Ira Glasser, who had dealt with Nader occasionally over the years. Ira distrusted Nader and offered his educated guess that Nader would not withdraw anywhere because he "wants to punish the Democrats."

Michael Moore Tells Me 'You Can't Say That"

The day after the rally, I went to a Greenwich Village house with brick walls and a 150 or so people. The filmmaker Michael Moore was leaning against a wall chatting with some of the New Yorkers for Nader. Moore regularly introduced Nader at the rallies, and he had done so at Madison Square Garden the night before. His widely circulated articles seemed to clearly recognize that a Bush-Cheney administration would make things significantly worse for tens of millions of ordinary working people. I waited my turn and introduced myself.

I told Moore I thought that Nader was injuring his own credibility with the "Tweedledee and Tweedledum" argument. I said that most people understood that wasn't true and that Bush-Cheney and their crew were serious right-wing ideologues. Moore didn't say much. Mainly he sort of shrugged and indicated that of course he knew that, but so what, this is politics. As he talked, his eyes continually scanned the room.

Then I told Moore the campaign should put good polling data on the web to inform supporters about where it was safe and not safe to vote for Nader. Moore said there was going to be such a web site. He said the campaign couldn't do that itself, but other people would do it. And he said they were going to encourage vote swapping to get a higher turnout in states that were obviously safe for Gore (like New York) or certain for Bush (like Texas). This would also reduce the Nader vote in the close states. "We're going to do it." Moore said.

"Great" I said, getting optimistic. "But the web site also needs to tell people the states where it is too close to vote for Nader -- so people know to hold their nose and vote for Gore in those states."

At first Moore seemed not to understand what I was saying. But when he finally realized that I was suggesting that Nader ask his supporters in Florida and some other close states to vote for Gore, Moore instantly turned and looked hard at me. His face got flushed, red, and he puffed up like one of those fish that expand when threatened. In this red, puffed up and very angry state he started yelling at me, leaning into me, and repeatedly poking his finger into my face.

"You can't say that!" He yelled. "You can't say that! You can't say that! You can't say that!"

I was stunned. "But....But..." Then, with Moore still red, puffed-up, furious and yelling at me, and with rational conversation ended, I fled to the other end of the house.

"What happened?" Mostly the conversation had been low-key. In fact Moore seemed bored until the moment he exploded. I kept being struck by the irony that Moore -- whose trademark is saying things that one is never supposed to say -- ferociously told me: "You can't say that." And my forbidden comment was simply that Nader supporters should be encouraged to vote for Gore in very close states.

Tarek Tells Me That Nader Wants "Punishment "

Eventually I was introduced to Tarek Milleron, Ralph Nader's nephew, the single person closest to him in the whole campaign. Over the years, Nader had alienated many of the people who worked with him, but as family Tarek could be trusted. He is serious like Ralph, with a piercing intelligence. He's over six feet tall, very handsome, and maybe 30 years old. He is built like Ralph but young, slim, strong, healthy, and he is very professional in style and demeanor. He wore a good looking dark suit, a crisp shirt and tie. He was probably the best dressed and handsomest person at the party. We sort of faced a wall while we talked.

I suggested a Bush victory would be a disaster for everything that Nader has worked for and believed in all his life, just as Ronald Reagan's had been. "With all due respect," I said, "Ralph's Tweedledee and Tweedledum argument isn't true and most people know it. By saying that the two candidates are the same, Ralph undermines his own credibility. Ralph has spent his whole life telling the truth. He doesn't need to say things in this campaign that aren't true."

Tarek interrupted me. "People get that point wrong. Ralph doesn't say there is 'no difference;' He says there is 'no major difference'." Tarek also said that lots of environmental groups say it would be easier to fund raise and increase membership under Bush than Gore.

I said that fund raising might be easier for environmentalists, and maybe some other groups, but for a whole range of domestic issues Bush would have a lot of power and would bring on even more repressive, punitive, and unjust policies for tens of millions of ordinary Americans. A Bush administration would be worse for poor and working class people, for blacks, for most Americans. Tarek did not argue with me about that. Like Michael Moore had, he acknowledged that, yeah, that's right, a Bush presidency will be worse for ordinary Americans. So I continued to make my points.

"If Bush wins, Nader and the causes he believes in will get nothing out of it," I said. "But if Ralph holds back in some very close states, everyone will know he helped Gore get elected. This could give him influence in the Gore administration and the Democratic party. Ralph can continue to use his campaign to raise all the issues that Gore and Bush won't talk about. And when he makes it widely known that he doesn't want to throw the election to Bush, he might well pick up many more votes in the safe states than he would lose in the very close ones. For example, it might turn out that every single person in Hawaii could vote for Nader. You would win enormous credibility and perhaps maximize your chances to make the five percent for the Green Party."

Tarek said Nader needed to stay in everywhere to show he was really serious. Like Moore, he said they were going to encourage vote swapping and use the web to facilitate that. Tarek did not disagree or argue with my point that Nader could have influence in a Gore administration by pulling back in the very close states. He seemed to assume that was true.

I then turned to my favorite argument. I said: "There are those who say at the end of World War Two, that instead of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. should have taken the Japanese high command out to some island and shown them what this new bomb could do. The U.S. could have demonstrated their destructive weapon without actually taking hundreds of thousands of civilian lives. Ralph could do they same thing. The large vote in the 40 or so safe states would send a real political message; the low or non Nader turnout in the close states would show that Nader sent people to Gore and that he had that kind of power. If he did this, he would be someone to be reckoned with. If Gore won, Nader would have real influence for progressive causes, and he could continue to build his movement and the Green Party. If Gore lost, Nader would have substantial credibility and power within the Democratic party. By holding back in a handful of states now, he could demonstrate his capacity to cause real damage in the future, and gain much in the short and the long run."

Tarek did not disagree with that at all. Instead, leaning toward me, with a bit of extra steel in his voice and body, but without changing his cool tone and demeanor, he simply said:

"We are not going to do that."

"Why not?" I said.

With just a flicker of smile, Tarek said: "Because we want to punish the Democrats, we want to hurt them, wound them."

There was a long silence and the conversation was over. Soon thereafter, Nader spoke for twenty minutes or so and answered questions. He was sometimes bitterly sarcastic. I don't think he ever smiled.

Punishing Democrats As The Most Important Goal

The combination of the Nader rally, Glasser's email, the weird encounter with Michael Moore, and the conversation with Tarek changed everything. Together they brought me into Nader's own Lewis Carroll-like alternate reality -- to the other side of the looking glass. Suddenly Nader was not a hero. Suddenly he seemed to have the soul of, say, Richard Nixon.

In Tarek's unforgettable phrase, Ralph Nader wanted to hurt, wound and punish the Democrats. This was much more than indifference. Nader was not simply opposed to helping the Democrats, he actually wanted Gore to lose. He didn't particularly want to elect Bush, but his desire to punish the Democrats out-weighed that. It also seemed to me that the desire to hurt Gore was not Tarek's personal mission, it was his beloved uncle's crusade.

Further, I had learned that the campaign's mission of punishment trumped getting political influence for Nader and for the causes he had long fought for. It trumped the potentially brutal effect of a Bush presidency on many Americans and other innocent people around the world. Punishment wasn't Nader's only campaign goal, just the most important one. But his supporters were not being told this. The campaign was not putting on their banners the motto: "Vote For Ralph Nader Because He Wants To Punish, Hurt And Wound The Democrats."

Indeed, Nader was publicly insisting that it didn't matter at all which candidate won. But those at the center of the Nader campaign, I had learned, did not really agree with Nader's "Tweedledee and Tweedledum" sound bite. Both Michael Moore and Tarek seemed a bit embarrassed by the line and I suspect neither of them ever used it. Nor did they dispute the fact that a Bush-Cheney presidency would be worse for most Americans.

Tarek, I realized, could tell me about Nader's desire to punish because, as a standard-issue college professor, there was nothing I could do about it. The campaign was almost over, and I had no hard evidence and no position anywhere that mattered. This was Ralph Nader after all, a man with a huge reputation for integrity and honesty who had accomplished many things that no one else had done. He was also as shrewd a political analyst and activist as existed. And I was dealing with that most elusive of human characteristics: wants, intentions, motives.

In the weeks that followed I often told people what I had learned. But even friends deeply worried that Nader might cause Gore to lose and Bush to win could not just accept on my say-so that Nader actually wanted that to happen. Unfortunately, I had no evidence other than saying: "Nader's nephew told me personally, my friend Ira has a strong hunch, and Michael Moore screamed 'You can't say that' in my face." Not very convincing, as I discovered. So I started gathering information and putting together what I had learned since being brought to the other side of the looking glass.

Why Did Ralph Nader Want To Punish, Hurt And Wound The Democrats?

The obvious question is where Ralph Nader's passion for punishing had come from. What was he so angry about? The first and still most convincing answer is that Nader felt utterly betrayed by the Clinton and Gore Democrats. He was furious at them for rejecting him and the causes he believes in.

Nader's public career began in the 1960s. By the early 1970s he was a national hero, an extraordinarily active and influential public advocate, who commanded a thousand volunteers working on dozens of issues. He frequently testified before Congress working with mainly Democratic representatives and senators. By the early 1970s he was considered an obvious choice for U.S. Senator. Some observers put him on a short list of potential Democratic presidential candidates. George McGovern asked him to be his vice-presidential candidate. Nader declined all such proposals.

In his new, fine biography (Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon) published in 2002, Justin Martin reports that the small New Party also invited Nader to be its presidential candidate in 1972. He declined that offer too, because, as Martin explains, Nader "feared that if he drew enough votes, he might pull support away from the Democratic candidate. Thus might he unwittingly help throw the election to Nixon." (p. 151). In short, decades earlier Nader had understood that a small party candidate could take enough votes in swing states to shift a presidential election, and he did not want to do that.

When Jimmy Carter was president some of Nader's former staffers worked for the White House. But after 1980 and the elections of Reagan and Bush-1, Nader had to endure twelve years as an outcast. A biography of Nader by David Bollier (at a Nader web site) reports that Nader and his associates responded to the Reagan administration by publishing "dozens of books, reports and articles attacking Reagan's anti-consumer abuses and secrecy policies." And as Nader worked and fought the Republicans, the Democrats knuckled under to pressure from Reagan and Bush-1. Bollier describes how difficult it was for Nader to get things through the Reagan administration.

Ronald Reagan stepped into the White House and stocked the government's regulatory agencies with industry representatives profoundly hostile to the laws they were supposed to administer. Although the news media often noted the consumer movement's declining influence during the Reagan years, Nader retorted, "It's like saying to a golfer who comes in at 80 -- now we've got a new golf course for you. It's called the Amazon jungle." ( )

By 1992, Nader had been in Washington for thirty years organizing and lobbying for progressive reforms, some large, many tiny. The combined effect of the hard-right turn of the Reagan and Bush administrations, and the lack of any compensating leftward drive by the Democrats, had made Nader's reformist work ever more frustrating. In 1992 Nader campaigned briefly in a Democratic primary and then dropped out. He was already quite alienated from the Democrats and angry at their gutlessness. Nader knew Clinton, Gore, and many of their appointees -- some had even worked for him. But they abandoned one Nader agenda after the other supporting NAFTA and the odious "welfare reform." By 1996 Nader was deeply angry at Clinton. In an interview in Mother Jones magazine, Nader was asked about Clinton and said:

I think his best nickname is George Ronald Clinton. In terms of international affairs, he is no different from his predecessors. They all succumbed to multinational corporations on GATT and NAFTA. We're looking here at the ultimate Democrat/Republican president, a hybrid of the convergence of the Democratic and Republican parties. ( )

Many people expected Nader not to do much campaigning in 2000. But after a slow start, Nader threw himself into it. I now think that Nader concluded what some observers were also understanding -- that this election showed all the likelihood of being extraordinarily close. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, published on September 10th, 2000, Nader discussed this. In 1996 he had talked to a New York Times reporter about the idea of playing spoiler in a presidential election. The Rolling Stone interviewer asked him if he wished to do so:

Rolling Stone: In 1996, you told the New York Times, "If I really wanted to beat Clinton, I would get out, raise $3 or $4 million, and maybe provide the margin for his defeat. That's not the purpose of this candidacy." Since you're planning to raise $5 million and run hard this year, does that mean you would not have a problem providing the margin of defeat for Gore?

Nader: I would not -- not at all.

This is not the same as saying he wants to produce that effect, but in explaining what he means, Nader gave support for that idea. He excoriated the Democrats in general, called Gore and Clinton "liars," and said: "Let me tell you something: I'd rather have a provocateur than an anesthetizer in the White House. Remember what James Watt [Reagan's Secretary of the Interior] did for the environmental movement? He galvanized it. Gore and his buddy Clinton are anesthetizers. "

Justin Martin provides additional evidence of Nader's anger at Gore. Martin says that "no matter how hard he tried to be evenhanded in doling out criticism of Bush and Gore, Nader did show a bias" -- against Gore. "It was clear to many," writes Martin, "that he truly despised Gore, while he was merely dismissive of Bush." A friend said that Nader's "genuine contempt for Gore came out during the election." Martin found it quite revealing that in a Portland speech Nader said that Gore was "more reprehensible" because Gore "knows so much and refused to act on his knowledge. George W. Bush can plead ignorant, but Al Gore cannot" (pp. 253-4). Martin also reports the following:

Gary Sellers, organizer of Nader's Raiders for Gore, had extensive discussion with his old boss during the autumn of 1999. He recalls that leading up to the election, at least, Nader seemed virtually consumed by his feelings toward the vice-president. "He had a personal animus toward Gore," says Sellers. "Gore had moved to the center and that enraged Ralph. Gore also did not return his phone calls. It was clear that Ralph's feelings were hurt.... He was furious and he was going to teach Gore a lesson." (p.254)

Tweedledum And Tweedledee: Motivation Or Justification?

One of the oddest pieces of Nader's campaign rhetoric was his regular insistence that Bush and Gore favored essentially the same policies. Martin says that during the campaign "Nader was rarely more than a few sentences away from bashing Bush and Gore for being indistinguishable.... It was Nader's be-all, catch-all, number-one priority. It was his obsession" (p.254). Before and after the election, many journalists pointed out the strangeness of the claim. For example, three months after the election, the syndicated columnist Marianne Means wrote a bitter piece called "Goodbye Ralph" saying:

His candidacy was based on the self-serving argument that it would make no difference whether Gore or George W. Bush were elected. This was insane. Nobody, for instance, can imagine Gore picking as the nation's chief law enforcement officer a man of Ashcroft's anti-civil rights, antitrust, anti-abortion and anti-gay record. Or picking Bush's first choice to head the Labor Department, Linda Chavez, who opposes the minimum wage and affirmative action. ( )

No prominent right-wingers believe the two parties are now essentially the same. Rush Limbaugh "Dittoheads" never say that Bush is the same as Gore or Clinton. Even Pat Buchanan didn't say that in his bid for the White House. Indeed, for the era that includes people like Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, Trent Lott, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the idea that fierce right-wing Republicans are the identical twins of conservative Democrats like Al Gore is so wrong it is absurd. And yet, in the 2000 election, Ralph Nader regularly, enthusiastically, asserted that there was no significant difference between the two candidates. Why?

In the 2000 campaign, Nader well understood the substantial (or enormous) differences between Bush and Gore. He understood that Bush and Cheney were hard right-wing Republicans. But like many politicians, he could not reveal what he really thought and wanted. So he needed another explanation for staying in all the way in all the states. Nader's claim that Bush and Gore were basically the same was not the motivation for campaigning hard in the swing states, it was the justification for doing that. Ralph Nader exaggerated, distorted, misled, and hid what he really knew and wanted. He dissembled. He lied.

By 2000, and perhaps as early as 1996, Ralph Nader had a mission that he couldn't publicly admit. Punishing the Democrats by defeating Al Gore was, I think, a politically "crazy" goal, but Nader approached it with the same rationality he used throughout his career. By any ordinary standard of compos mentis, Nader knew what he was doing. I would say that Nader had become "mad" (in both senses of the word). Like a fictional mad scientist, he devoted his enormous skills, knowledge and reputation to pursuing a bizarre, personal agenda. All things considered, Nader ran a brilliant campaign and he's quite proud of that. And nothing he has said since indicates he thinks he made a mistake.

It's Not The Democrats Who Have Changed, It's The Republicans

Nader has also offered up a false, nostalgic, sentimental, and wrong-headed view of the "old" Democratic party. He says that the Democratic Party has sharply shifted away from a substantially more democratic and progressive political tradition. But this is not true.

The Democratic Party of the nineteen thirties, forties, and fifties was an amalgam of diverse constituencies and political ideologies. It included rip-roaring Southern racists, the worst sort of urban political machine hacks, miscellaneous opportunists of one sort or another, and a hodge-podge of other things. It was white, male, and frequently corrupt. The left-wing of the New Deal was never the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and by the end of the 1930s even that was over. John F. Kennedy ran for president making much about a phony "missile gap" and the obscure islands of Quemoy and Matsu. Lyndon Johnson may have been the most "liberal" Democratic president of all time, and he made the War in Vietnam into a deadly mess.

It is not the Democratic Party that has changed radically, it's the Republicans. As many people have pointed out, Reagan and the Bushes are a long way to the right of Wilke, Taft and Eisenhower. They are even considerably more right-wing than Nixon and Ford. Lots of people said this during the 2000 campaign. Calvin Trillin, for example, wrote a Gilbert and Sullivan parody for George W. Bush that says: "He is, when all is said and done, a Robertson Republican." The 2000 election (like the 1980 one) was between way too conservative and timid Democrats and fierce, fire-breathing right wingers. One of the worst features of the Nader campaign, as a project of political education and dissent, was that it would not talk about this absolutely critical fact of contemporary American politics. Indeed, Nader denied that it was so.

Others Who See This

I expected that some people in or close to the Nader campaign eventually would report that they too had learned that Nader sought to punish Gore and give the election to Bush. But as far as I know that still hasn't happened (except for Ronnie Dugger's passing acknowledgement of it in his article, "Ralph, Don't Run," in The Nation, Dec. 2, 2002). However, in the months after the election, a few journalists briefly reported this. On February 4, 2001, columnist Marianne Means wrote:

Nader is desperately trying to rewrite history to clean up his own role, claiming he did not intend to defeat Gore. The claim ignores the crucial fact that in the three days before the election he concentrated his campaign on Florida, where he knew Gore needed every single liberal vote he could scrape up.... By equating Gore and Bush, he lied to his progressive followers about the stunning shift toward conservative policies that would take place under a Bush presidency. ( )

A month later, On March 4, 2001, after talking with Nader, Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer seemed to assume that Nader's primary goal was punishment.

He [Nader] is not coy about his motives. Just as he ran for president to punish Gore and the Democrats for allegedly betraying their progressive traditions and currying favor with global corporate power, now he wants to knock off congressional Democrats who have committed the same sins. As he put it, "The Democrats are going to have to lose more elections. They didn't get the message last time."

Statements like this, and the election result itself, made Nader a pariah among Democrats. An Associated Press story from December 31, 2000 quoted former allies calling him "traitor," egomaniac" and "fool" for "not ending his presidential run in time to save Al Gore's candidacy." Nader was unfazed. "They were all anesthetized by Clinton, the snake charmer,'' he replied. And only two months after the election, Nader also partly retracted the Tweedledum line. "Nader concedes that Bush will cause more damage than Gore. 'Bush is probably going to jettison the tobacco lawsuits, and he's not good on energy,' he [Nader] said. That's a major departure from his insistence that Gore and Bush were two sides of the same coin." []

After a while, interest in Nader and what he had done faded. The Bush administration's own awfulness, the events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, the corporate scandals including Enron, the tanking economy, and much else made Nader a non-issue.

Then, in October 2002, the reporter Jonathan Chait published an article titled "The Man Who Gave Us Bush" in the magazine The American Prospect. It was technically a review of two new books, Justin Martin's biography ( Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon) and Nader's own book about the campaign, Crashing the Party. Chait, however, had more in mind than book reviewing. He used the space to make a thoroughly-argued case that Nader intended to defeat Gore and that he had lied throughout the campaign to disguise this. A few others had said this in print before, but only briefly. Armed with new information from the two books, Chait launched a full-scale attack on Nader's career and credibility. Although Chait was, I think, overly dismissive of Nader's many earlier achievements, his arguments about what Nader intended and did in the campaign are sound.

Nader ran for president based on his reputation for honesty and truthfulness, for being a reformer who tells it like it is. But in order to justify what he was doing, throughout his campaign, and then in his book, Nader misled and misinformed his often young followers in a multitude of ways. Chait described well the techniques Nader used to fend off questions that he could help Bush.

If asked about being a spoiler, he'd invariably reply, "You can't spoil a system that's spoiled to the core." If asked about helping defeat Gore, he'd answer, "Only Al Gore can defeat Al Gore".... Not since Steve Forbes has a presidential candidate turned aside unwanted queries so robotically. Nader's one-liners were pure, made-for-television nonsequiturs, all refusing to engage on any substantive level the fact that his candidacy might prove a decisive factor in Bush's election.

Chait insisted that, contrary to what Nader frequently claimed, Nader was not primarily interested in getting a large vote nationally to help the Green Party. If Nader's chief purpose was to build a viable third party, observed Chait, "he should have been concerned only with maximizing his own vote total." Instead, "Nader chose to help Bush and hurt Gore, even when doing so came at his own expense." For example, when people within his campaign "proposed that Nader supporters in swing states swap their votes with Gore supporters in safe states -- thus maximizing the Nader vote while simultaneously helping Gore -- Nader denounced the idea."

Most revealing, Chait drew from Martin's book information about Nader's own decision to campaign heavily in the close states (which, Martin, notes, Patrick Buchanan did not do). Nader, in fact, was "the house radical of his own campaign."

Some Nader advisers urged him to spend his time in uncontested states such as New York and California. These states -- where liberals and leftists could entertain the thought of voting Nader without fear of aiding Bush -- offered the richest harvest of potential votes. But, Martin writes, Nader ... insisted on spending the final days of the campaign on a whirlwind tour of battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida. In other words, he chose to go where the votes were scarcest, jeopardizing his own chances of winning 5 percent of the vote, which he needed to gain federal funds in 2004. Nader does not mention this decision in his own account of the campaign.

Chait also cited evidence from the two books of the candidate's less than fully honest approach to dealing with supporters. In August 2000, at a small fundraiser, a former coworker told Nader he was worried about aiding Bush.

"Oh Gary, I wish I could be as clairvoyant as you," Nader sneered. "Don't you worry. George Bush is so dumb, Gore will beat him by twenty points".... Nader's own account of the incident is telling. He does not mention his (now discredited) riposte. He does not even attempt to refute Sellers' argument. Instead, he heaps innuendo upon his critic.

When taken literally, Nader's oddest campaign rhetoric does not make sense. However, when his arguments are understood as disguise and cover, as rationalizations and justifications, one passes through the looking glass to a topsy-turvy world (complete with Tweedledum) where Nader had become the Green King ordering "off with their heads" in his crusade to punish Gore and elect Bush. Chait referred to "Nader's kamikaze effort against the Democrats," and summed it up perfectly:

His systematic dissembling was necessary to hide something he could not, for political reasons, admit: Helping elect George W. Bush was not an unintended consequence but the primary goal of his presidential campaign.

Nader's Reaction To The Election

The day after the election I saw a Nader press conference on TV. By that time I'd been watching TV news reporters, various representatives of Gore and Bush, Republicans and Democrats, almost non-stop. Everyone was grim. Nobody thought this was a good outcome.

And then, up stepped Nader. And after a few comments, Nader was smiling, beaming. He had not smiled at all in New York at a party full of followers honoring him and fund raising for him. But now, with this deadlocked election -- and with his nearly 100,000 votes in Florida making all the difference -- Nader looked happy, very happy. It seemed to me that, on the first strange day after the election, Ralph Nader was the happiest man in America.

The bizarre outcome was Nader's dream come true. Indeed, it was more dramatic than even he could have imagined. And, as it turned out, for weeks and weeks the inner-workings of the corrupt election machinery in Florida (and to some extent throughout America) was more on public display than any time ever. Ralph Nader had stopped Gore. He had truly accomplished what he had wanted to and more. He had every reason to be pleased.

The writer Matt Welch also noticed Nader's joy that day. Welch had spent election night at the Nader party in Washington, D.C. where he had seen the dismay of many Naderites about Bush's likely victory. Welch arrived at the National Press Club the next morning, just before the press conference where Nader seemed to me to be beaming. He writes:

Then Nader walked in. The man whose supporters had been so anxious the night before about Gore losing -- to the point of creating, even before the first polls closed, a bogus mathematical "formula" to "prove" Nader didn't tip the election to Bush -- had the biggest grin I'd ever seen on his face before noon. [emphasis added]

"Fearless leader!" Buchanan yelled. "Hey, fearless leader!" Nader finally understood what was going on, and the two shook hands warmly. "Congratulations, you ran a terrific campaign," Buchanan said.

"Well, Pat, you know how hard it is to challenge this entrenched two-party system!"


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