Here we go again.
I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 and even in 2004 (please don’t crucify me, the votes were cast in New Jersey where the Democratic nominee won handily both times against Bush). I have nothing but respect for his decades-long commitment to protecting American consumers and workers from corporate predation, and his criticisms of the American political system and the two main parties are for the most part undeniably accurate. But after witnessing his announcement yesterday on NBC’s Meet The Press, it’s clear to me that Nader’s 2008 campaign deserves no support from young people on the democratic left. This is a vanity campaign, seemingly motivated primarily by a personal vendetta, which will amount to nothing more than an enormous waste of time and energy for anyone that gets involved with it. Here’s why.
Nader represents nobody but himself at this point in his career trajectory. He is not attached to any third party, and is not the main spokesperson for any kind of existing social and political movement. All of the social forces that brought some substance to his 2000 campaign, namely students and youth, for better or worse are clearly in Barack Obama’s camp. They will not be going anywhere else, even if Obama makes no attempt to stake out a more progressive position before the November election, assuming he is the nominee (a possibility that looks more likely every day). Nader simply does not appear to have any substantive reservoir of electoral support to draw from, rendering his effort little more than a vanity candidacy. In this context, support for the Nader campaign represents a withdrawal from actual politics and an empty moral gesture. Where the hell were you the past four years, Ralph?
Further, I can’t discern one iota of strategic thinking motivating Nader’s latest decision to run for president, unless his “strategy” is to do whatever he can to make sure the Democratic nominee loses the election, as if this would somehow help the party and our country move in a more progressive direction. If anything, as an article in yesterday’s New York Times indicates, this run seems primarily motivated by Nader’s personal vendetta against the Democratic party, which worked to keep him off the ballot in many states in 2004. I was not happy with the party’s treatment of Nader during that election either, but he might as well have just gotten on Meet the Press and said “nanny-nanny-poo-poo” to explain to the Democrats and to the country why he’s running again. It’s much more accurate than his rather offensive comparison of himself to African-Americans under Jim Crow (a statement symptomatic of his general tone-deafness on issues of race and identity, I might add).
Michael Harrington, founder of Democratic Socialists of America (our parent organization), counseled us to aspire to build the “left wing of the possible.” This new Nader candidacy represents the exact opposite. There is no possibility of a Nader victory, and its only possible outcome besides total irrelevance is facilitating the continued occupation of the White House by the right wing. Young activists on the democratic left should offer critical support to the Obama candidacy and build relationships with young Obama supporters while pointing out the shortcomings of the candidate and the political tendency he represents broadly. As YDS activists have said hundreds of times, while electoral politics is incredibly important, it’s building the movement in our campuses and communities that matters most. Nader’s quadrennial crusade gets the equation exactly backwards and threatens to divide whatever progressive energies already exist. That’s a resource we can’t afford to squander.