TCS Daily

Nader: Now More Than Ever

By James K. Glassman - April 22, 2004 12:00 AM

Supporters of John Kerry are kidding themselves if they think Ralph Nader won't hurt their candidate. In fact, he may hurt Kerry in 2004 more than he hurt Al Gore in 2000.

Four years ago, Nader threw two states to George Bush: Florida, where Bush won by 537 votes and Nader received 97,488, and New Hampshire, where Bush won by 7,211 votes and Nader got 22,198. There's not the slightest doubt that, if Nader hadn't run, Gore would be president.

And don't forget is that it was Gore, not Bush, who won most of the squeaker states. Gore took Oregon, New Mexico, Iowa and Wisconsin each by less than a half-point. Nader didn't cost Gore those states in 2000, but he came close.

This time, however, Democrats say they understand Nader can be a spoiler, and they aren't going to throw their votes away on him. "We doubt very much that they will make the same mistake twice," the New York Times editorialized on Feb. 23, the day after Nader announced his candidacy.

Not so fast. In 2000, Nader received 2.7 percent of the vote. The latest Gallup Poll, taken April 5-8, gives him 4 percent. A Newsweek poll of 18-to-29 year-olds found 12 percent backing Nader, "at the expense of John Kerry." And Democrats have to be worried about a survey in New Hampshire last month that found Nader with 8 percent.

But they should worry more as they look at Iraq.

The war there is not going well. In the first 18 days of April, 99 U.S. soldiers were killed, and, at that rate, another 1,000 will die before the election.

But the beneficiary, ultimately, may be Bush. Kerry's position on the war is not much different from the President's -- except that Kerry says he would manage it better and make it more international. Nader, by contrast, is fervently anti-war: "I have been against this war from the beginning. We must not waste lives in order to control and waste more oil." Nader even believes that Bush should be impeached because he "led the United States into an illegal, unconstitutional war in Iraq."

Nader calls Bush a "messianic militarist," and in a letter on his website, he writes that, just as during the conflict in Vietnam in 1968, when two pro-war candidates -- Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey -- were running for president, today we have, similarly, Bush and Kerry. Nader warns students that "machinery for drafting a new generation of young Americans is being quietly put into place."

It is not far-fetched to imagine that, if the situation in Iraq does not improve this summer, a real anti-war movement will build in this country. So far, anti-war protesters have mainly been led by an unattractive old-left group called International ANSWER.

But imagine an anti-war movement centered on Ralph Nader, an untouchable, unpandering liberal hero for four decades. For Americans passionately opposed to the war in Iraq, a vote for Nader would not be a vote wasted. To the contrary, it would provide the only opportunity in November for registering a serious protest -- one that could, in their minds, ultimately lead to the war's end.

In early April, Gallup found that 28 percent of those surveyed wanted all U.S. troops out of Iraq, compared with 16 percent in January. If the war deteriorates, the sentiment for pulling out can only rise, and Nader (that is, Bush) will be the beneficiary. He's the only anti-war game in town.

Under these circumstances, the imprecations of Nader's former allies ring hollow. The Nation magazine, the very heartbeat of the Left, recently urged Nader to drop out, threatening that he risked separating himself, "probably irrevocably," from those who once admired him. The Times said much the same. But against an anti-war backdrop that could net Nader as much as 10 percent of the vote, such views look awfully petty and short-sighted.

The people who want him to quit don't know Ralph Nader. I have known him for a quarter-century. He is not like other politicians. While I disagree with him on practically every issue, I admire his seriousness, his vigor and his perseverance. This is his life. This is his movement, and it may be his moment. He is not stepping aside for anyone. Good for him.


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