On September 10th at the National Press Club in D.C. I snuck out of a seminar (on online journalism mind you) with some of my fellow bloggers and into the conference room next door where Ron Paul was holding a press conference endorsing three of the many independent candidates for the U.S. presidency. The three independent candidates were there, among them, the all too infamous Ralph Nader.
Nader was born to Lebanese Maronite parents and has been a staunch defender of the environment, consumer rights, and more equitable distribution of wealth and power. While his political and social views are closer to that of the Democrats, one would need to turn further left to reach Nader's doorstep. Good old Ralph, however, is a rebel, and likes to say that he fights for the underdog and that the Democratic and Republican parties are all but one and the same. Many angry democrats like to claim that Nader's bid for presidency cost them the 2000 elections, and while those elections were barely legal in the first place and a number of factors could have altered the final result, all other things remaining equal, had Nader not run for president, Gore might have actually won the elections.
For those of you leaning to the left, the Democrats could be the lesser of two evils, and so Ralph Nader is a nuisance (or perhaps not, since a Democratic win might make the more revolutionary amongst you complacent). If you're a hard core Democrat Ralph Nader is definitely bad news, peeling off Democratic votes for his pathetic little going nowhere campaigns.
Now, in a political system which is theoretically open, but practically faced with a two party oligarchy, embedded in debate which is supposedly free but in fact restricted by the discursive limits built-in to the American social and political structure ( I mean, who seriosuly discusses the merits of capitalism, mass consumerism, or the elephantic military budget?), I think Ralph Nader is a great thing.
Don't get me wrong here. I am not saying America is not democratic. I'm just saying that that word needs much qualification, and that American democracy, like all political systems, could use much improvement, and is, at best, a work in progress. Closely related to that, the American social system is one of the more unjust and divisive in the West, and while each American citizen gets an equal vote in the ballots, American citizens with bigger bank accounts and cooler contacts on their iphones naturally have the power to affect the political system more effectively than the larger number of Americans who are less lucky, and this phenomenon is obviously not unique to the United States.
And so, in the spirit of taking seriously the project of democracy, and for the purpose of widening the boundaries of American political and social disocurse, I think independent candidates, and especially charismatic and intelligent ones such as Ralph Nader, are a healthy sign. Independant candidates are marginalized by the media, whether intentioanlly or because of the media's entrenched practices and habits which only allow it to consider specific issues as important and particular types of events as news. If the price of the existence of Ralph Nader and his type of political views is a Democratic loss, then so be it. Just because diversity is good, difference is healthy, and dissent is necessary. I learnt that in America-Ha!
Nader is running for president again this year, and the elections are again going to be very very close. When asked whether he would prevent a Democratic victory in 2008 by running, Nader replied "Not a chance. If the Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, and emerge in a different form."
Seems like a reasonable man to me.