acting like a democrat

The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg must be feeling very guilty, because before condemning Ralph Nader to perdition [almost] this week he runs through an elaborate paean to the great man's undoubted, generous, world-altering accomplishments.

[The list* is magnificent by the way, and it should be read by all of us, whether or not we lived through times which once, incredibly, resisted these obviously good works.]

But Hertzberg then continues his current "The Talk of the Town" piece:

More than any other single person, Ralph Nader is responsible for the fact that George W. Bush is President of the United States.
How does a thoughtful liberal miss the point entirely? If Bush occupies the Oval Office it's because we were all stupid enough to let him get there - and to let him stay on. Incredibly, the sophisticated weekly's Editorial Director claims that Al Gore and G.W. Bush are both essentially blameless for the plagues which now lay so heavily on our land, the former because he attracted enough votes to win the 2000 election and the latter because he didn't. The only villain is Nader.

We've all heard the argument before, in one form or another, but for a number of reasons there is no way to calculate the impact of Nader's candidacy then or now. We can say that democracy has never been defined as a two-party system, even in this damaged republic where the Left was destroyed almost a century ago. We can also say that discouraging the number of candidates and parties (if we must have political clubs) is the practice of dictators and not of free peoples.

In the midst of their internal argument, even the members of the Democratic Party family are not listening to the putative heavy himself. Last week one NYTimes reader offered the best and most succinct explanation of Nader's decision to run again in 2004 that I've heard yet:

Ralph Nader, Roiling the Waters

To the Editor:

Re ''Nader, Gadfly to the Democrats, Will Again Run for President'' (front page, Feb. 23):

Ralph Nader's central thesis is that corporate influence on lawmakers is a greater danger to democracy than even a Bush presidency. In this context, Mr. Nader's run for president is easier to understand.

Somerville, Mass., Feb. 23, 2004

Now let's all get out there and act like democrats, even if we're only Democrats. Vote well.


*Hertzberg's litany of Nader's accomplishments:

More than any other single person, Ralph Nader is responsible for the existence of automobiles that have seat belts, padded dashboards, air bags, non-impaling steering columns, and gas tanks that don’t readily explode when the car gets rear-ended. He is therefore responsible for the existence of some millions of drivers and passengers who would otherwise be dead. Because of Nader, baby foods are no longer spiked with MSG, kids’ pajamas no longer catch fire, tap water is safer to drink than it used to be, diseased meat can no longer be sold with impunity, and dental patients getting their teeth x-rayed wear lead aprons to protect their bodies from dangerous zaps. It is Nader’s doing, more than anyone else’s, that the federal bureaucracy includes an Environmental Protection Agency, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and a Consumer Product Safety Commission, all of which have done valuable work in the past and, with luck, may be allowed to do such work again someday. He is the man to thank for the fact that the Freedom of Information Act is a powerful instrument of democratic transparency and accountability. He is the founder of an amazing array of agile, sharp-elbowed research and lobbying organizations that have prodded governments at all levels toward constructive action in areas ranging from insurance rates to nuclear safety. He had help, of course, from his young “raiders,” from congressional staffers and their bosses, from citizens, and even from the odd President. But he was the prime mover.

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Published on March 2, 2004 12:53 PM.

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