Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nader's nadir

Bob Herbert is in a generous mood today; perhaps cutting Ralph Nader some slack because it's the latter's birthday, he attributes Nader's insistence on making a public embarrassment of himself late in life to the example set by his father.

Maybe he can’t help himself. If William Manchester is to be believed, Ralph Nader got a fair amount of his exasperating, nonstop, take-no-prisoners-style of proselytizing from his father, Nathra, who owned a restaurant and bakery in the factory town of Winsted, Conn.

The customers, wrote Manchester in his popular history, “The Glory and the Dream,” complained that Nathra would not let them eat their pastries in peace. He was always “lecturing them about the wrongs, the inequities, the injustices of the system.”

It seems Nathra didn’t know when to stop. And neither does Ralph. As he told me Monday: “I’m my father’s son.”

The blame for Nader's recent announcement that he's running for president yet again seems like an unfairly large burden to lay on the elder Nader.

The good Nader did for his country in the 20th Century will be remembered longer than his poor performance in the 21st although, sadly or not, his name may spark fewer and fewer associations with such achievements. He himself might well be remembered more for his self-aggrandizing presidential runs than for his decisive role in transforming consumer protection and citizens' rights in America, from seat-belt laws and other auto safety regulations to combating nuclear power to establishing OSHA, FOIA, and PIRG.

Nader dismisses the idea that he would function as a spoiler in 2008, and he's right--though not because the election will be a blowout for Democrats, but because the infinitesimal percentage he'll draw this year couldn't tip an election for Pervez Musharraf.

Even most members of the Green Party are unlikely to pull his finger this time.

Yes, Nader will use his candidacy to speak about issues of ballot access, corporate crime, health care, administration high crimes and misdemeanors, poverty, and more. All worthy causes. All addressed to an audience that his antics have rendered increasingly small and detached. None of these causes will be helped a whit by being attached to one of the most radioactive figures in left politics. Congratulations.

It's true that he won't get to talk about ballot access on "Meet the Press" if he isn't signed on for another mad run. But is that really the only way Nader can think of to advance a cause? He used to know others.

Al Gore--You remember him? The fellow whose 2000 candidacy Nader said was separated from Bush's only by irrelevant differences? That one?--spent the last 8 years in a nearly single-handed effort to move global climate change onto the public agenda. And he did it very specifically and pointedly without running for office, wisely recognizing that such a run would inevitably draw the focus to him, not to his cause. For Nader, that seems to be the whole point.

Today is Nader's 74th birthday. He would do well to use the occasion to reflect on what he's accomplished in the last eight years, and what he could accomplish in the next eight--and how these vanity campaigns are working against any such possible accomplishments.

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