Fine, Fine, We'll Talk About Ralph Nader

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 10 2010 8:21 AM

Fine, Fine, We'll Talk About Ralph Nader

I joked -- joked! -- the day of the tax cut deal that Ralph Nader was probably reacting by writing a snarky column. And then he wrote it.

With your Party controlling both the White House and the Congress until January 1, 2011, that is a remarkable definition of political, moral and strategic weakness that will signal even greater capitulations to the Republicans during the next two years.

Remember McGregor Burns’ distinction between a transformational leader and a transactional leader. 

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Nader followed this up with a Daily Beast column urging Mike Bloomberg to run for president -- something he urged in 2007, too -- and a CBS News interview confirming that he had not ruled out running for president himself in 2012. He'll turn 78 in 2012, but more importantly, he has been running for president every four years since before Barack Obama wrote Dreams From My Father. (He ran a stunt campaign in 1992, running in the Democratic primary as a write-in candidate.) In 2000, a segment of the liberal intelligentsia decided that Bill Clinton had been a disappointing enough president, and that Al Gore would be a disappointing enough president, to back Nader. But in the end, Nader did better with voters who lacked college education; it's clear that some voters cast a generic anti-Washington vote for him, not considering the politics. And I suppose that's what he's trying to recapture here -- the kick-over-the-checkboard anger at how nothing ever goes liberals' way in Washington. There's a type of voter who reacts to legislation failing in the Senate because of filibusters and blames the president, because he doesn't understand how politics works. He's not sophisticated, but there are plenty of people bidding for this idiot voter's favor.

That's really all he can recapture. For a decade, Nader has had no friends in the Democratic party, who point out that if he'd abandoned his presidential bid in the stretch we'd be debating whether Congress should approve a two-year holiday from former President Gore's carbon tax. He is no longer a credible spokesman for his issues, someone who'd be invited to address a committee hearing, or someone you want publicizing your legislation. So he's burrowed into Wonderland, writing a truly awful novel about how liberal tycoons could save the world, and occasionally threatening a presidential bid. He's completely unserious; the growth of some bloc of newly depressed liberals is slightly more serious.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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