Don’t Run Like This, Ralph

The recent piece (at by Ralph Nader’s nephew, Tarek Milleron, about his uncle’s possible independent Presidential campaign was an interesting article.

It was interesting because it is hard to believe Milleron’s uncle didn’t see it before it was made public, so I assume it is reflective of some of Nader’s current thinking.

It was also interesting in that it was so extensively an argument that a Ralph Nader independent, non-Green Party candidacy would be, more than anything else, a key part of the anti-Bush effort in 2004.

I agreed with at least one of Milleron’s arguments. I do think a non-Democrat Presidential campaign which focuses most of its criticism on the greater evil of the Bushites can help to build an anti-Bush movement. That is one reason
I have been consistently articulating that the Green Party should run a Presidential candidate for over a year.

I’m intrigued by the argument that since “the Green label was probably an impediment for some Republicans in 2000, it is therefore implausible that Nader would draw more Democratic than Republican votes in 2004.”

This reminded me of some things Nader said a month ago when he came to Princeton, N.J. and spoke to a roomful of Greens. While speaking in general terms about consumers and workers, he identified at that meeting two groups he saw as key to a possible Nader 2004 Presidential campaign: young people and conservatives alienated from Bush. Not once during the evening did he mention people of color, women, lesbian and gay people or a number of other key constituencies in the progressive movement.

This was similar to comments Milleron made when he referred in a negative way to “the small world of progressive politics” while lauding Nader’s “ability to connect with audiences across the ideological spectrum. And the effort to
oust Bush will depend most on people who can make the case against Bush to swing voters and independents.”

And to wrap it all up, Milleron says that, “for Nader, this is not a year for super rallies. . . this will be the year of the Elks Clubs, the garden clubs, meetings with former Enron employees, the veterans groups, Walmart employees.”

I see a number of problems with all of this.

One is that it sounds like a Nader independent Presidential campaign may look more like a Reform Party campaign than a Green Party campaign, both politically and outreach-wise. Where is the diversity in the target groups Milleron mentions? If Nader runs does he intend to prioritize in any
way outreach to communities of color, for example? It is all well and good to reach out to the Elks and the others; I fully agree that those of us who are about progressive politics need to go beyond the email lists and the movement
meetings into on-going interaction with a broad spectrum of our fellow countrymen and women, including conservatives.

But when Milleron counterposes that outreach to “progressive politics,” one has to wonder if a 2004 independent Presidential campaign is going to have more the problematic politics of Nader/1996 rather than the much-improved
politics of Nader/2000.

Milleron says that, on the one hand, “the Green label was an impediment” in 2000 but if this is the case, why is Nader reportedly encouraging the development of draft Nader committees within state Green parties? If Nader plans to really go independent, why would he want to be attached to
“the Green label?” This seems very contradictory.

Perhaps Ralph isn’t quite sure about all of this, doesn’t know if he has enough money and volunteers outside of the Green Party, and he’s therefore willing to court all possible supporters until things are clear. There are two problems with this.

One is that it has already led to his being the main speaker at a meeting on January 11th in New Hampshire organized by Lenora Fulani, Fred Newman and other former New Alliance Partyites. These are people notorious for being unprincipled and untrustworthy. If Nader intends to work with these people,
he is making a huge mistake.

The other problem is that such an approach will without question aggravate internal tensions within the Green Party. How does this help build a stronger and more effective progressive political vehicle?

Finally, Milleron’s view of how a Nader independent candidacy of the kind he projects could help lead to Bush’s defeat seems very problematic.

What is going to defeat Bush? A number of things, but clearly key will be a massive mobilization of labor and people of color, working-class people broadly, including the registration and mobilization of those not presently
participating in the political process. A Nader campaign that is oriented more toward Republicans and predominantly white independents will drain some votes from Bush but it will not be the place where we in the progressive movement should be focusing our energies.

Whether we are Greens, progressive independents or progressive Democrats, we should be about building the broad alliance across lines of color and nationality that is important both in the short term and long term. The
Democratic Leadership Council types are not going to work to bring the disenfranchised and unregistered into the political system. It is those of us on the progressive side who have to do it. Mobilization of that “sleeping
giant” has to be a top priority.

A Nader independent campaign of the kind sketched out by Milleron will confuse lots of people. It will be disruptive to the Green Party. It will lead us away from the type of alliance-building and broad, multi-cultural outreach needed. I urge Ralph not to follow this course.