Archive for Monday, May 17, 2004

Nader puts process over result

May 17, 2004


Ralph Nader is suing Texas after failing to meet the state's requirements for getting on the November presidential ballot.

He should save himself the trouble. Even if he wins the case or had gotten the required 64,076 signatures, he won't influence the result in President Bush's home state.

Unfortunately, that may not be the case elsewhere, given the more lenient ballot rules in potentially decisive states like Ohio (5,000) and New Hampshire (3,000). That means the one-time consumer crusader could determine the outcome again -- and in a way that is inconsistent with his own liberal views.

The problem is that the man who produced such breakthroughs as federal auto safety standards now confuses process with results. He seemingly has more concern in ensuring the election is an exercise in democratic purity than in the outcome.

He basically acknowledged that at a recent breakfast session with reporters when asked if he feared that a third unsuccessful candidacy would stamp him as another Harold Stassen, the one-time Minnesota governor whose repeated bids turned him into a political laughingstock.

"My compass is completely different," he replied.

"What it really comes down to (is) whether we are going to seriously consider politics as the highest representation of the aspirations for justice in this country, or if it's going to be viewed as a horse race with catty little comments about poor Harold Stassen."

Well, guess what? While a presidential election is more significant than a horse race, its ultimate purpose is the same: to choose a winner or, in this case, a president.

Given his response, it hardly is surprising that Nader has no regrets about his role in 2000, when he polled more votes in such closely fought states as Florida and New Hampshire than the margins by which Bush won them.

That, he said, would have required "retroactive clairvoyance ... that I would anticipate retroactively the theft of the election by Bush and his cohorts in Tallahassee to the Supreme Court."

As for 2004, Nader disputed the view that he would take most of his votes from Democrat John Kerry, even though that's what the polls show.

He said he would target "millions of conservatives who are furious with Bush over ... the gigantic subsidies to business like the energy bill, and the drug benefits bill, which they resent, the 'Big Brother' Patriot Act, the huge deficits, the sovereignty-shrinking WTO (World Trade Organization) and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) ... not going after the corporate crooks, law and order, and other issues. ...

"Depressing the vote by having them stay home or going for an independent candidate is something that will help defeat George W. Bush," he said.

He also argued that, while Kerry might be somewhat better than Bush, the difference was "not sufficiently significant."

That may be true now on Iraq, where Nader said, "I don't see a clear demarcation ... except who'll be more multilateral."

Kerry supported the war and, while critical of how Bush began it and is managing it, shares his goal of a viable Iraq. Both candidates also support free trade, a strong U.S. role in the world and middle-class tax cuts.

But they differ substantially in other areas. Kerry never would have invaded Iraq. His tax policies would be very different. And he certainly wouldn't fill the regulatory agencies and judiciary with conservatives.

That's especially important, since the next president almost certainly will pick new Supreme Court justices.

In essence, Nader is making the same false argument that liberal purists often have made. It helped elect Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and nearly elected Nixon over John F. Kennedy in 1960.

If he really believes there is little difference between Bush and Kerry, his belief that he will attract many conservative votes may not be his most delusional stance.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.

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