Democrats slam Naderâ€™s run
Berkshire County political activists and observers â€“ across a range of Democrats, independent progressives, former Greens and a Republican â€“ predicted this week that Ralph Naderâ€™s candidacy will draw fewer voters than he did in the 2000 election, but some cautioned against assuming the Nader factor will be insignificant.
Nader lacks party endorsement this time around, having run as a Green Party candidate in 2000. His contention that the two main parties are too similar will be a much harder sell, observers said, noting that President George W. Bush is no longer an unknown quantity.
James McAllister, a Williams College political science professor, predicted Naderâ€™s ability to siphon votes has diminished.
â€œThe 2000 election was in many cases a fluke,â€ McAllister said. â€œMore importantly, voters realize now that a vote for Nader could be very costly. Many who voted for him and are attracted to his program will not vote for him this time. Also, Nader will not have an organization behind him this time.â€
Nader announced his candidacy Sunday. In the 2000 election, he drew 2.7 percent of the vote and was characterized by many Democrats as a spoiler who cost Al Gore the presidency and handed the White House to Bush. Since then, several said, Naderâ€™s support has eroded.
â€œHe hates the Democratic Party more than he hates Republicans,â€ McAllister said. â€œIf you believe that whatâ€™s wrong with American politics today is the result of the two-party system, then heâ€™s right that a third party can be an alternative.â€
Green Party organizer Larry Klay of Great Barrington said, â€œThe first priority is to defeat Bush.â€
Klay, who calls Nader â€œthe greatest statesman and debater on progressive issues in America,â€ said that while he cannot bring himself to campaign for John Kerry, he would probably vote for him.
And former Green Mickey Friedman, also of Great Barrington, who voted for Nader in 2000, said he would not do so in 2004.
â€œI think everything that Ralph Nader is saying is true, but I think heâ€™s made the absolutely wrong decision. There are just certain times when you can be correct in principle, but in terms of the needs of the moment, itâ€™s the wrong decision. This is a time when itâ€™s absolutely essential to change the leadership in Washington, where the Bush administration is busy undoing 70 years of decent social legislation,â€ said Friedman, who supports Sen. John Edwardsâ€™ candidacy.
â€œIâ€™m very sad that someone as intelligent and courageous as Ralph Nader is going to make it harder to remove George Bush.â€
Nader, in an interview on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on Public Television Monday night noted that, historically, many reforms have been spearheaded by third parties.
Mary K. Oâ€™Brien, Democratic state committeewoman for the past 22 years and register of deeds for Central Berkshire, said she was upset that Nader was running.
â€œPeople who supported him in the past have tried to persuade him not to. I think heâ€™s just off the rails, but he could do a lot of harm,â€ she said.
She maintained that Naderâ€™s goal is unattainable.
â€œTo run as a gadfly just undermines most particularly the Democratic candidate, as was proved last time. If he gets on the ballot in battleground states such as Ohio and Missouri, he definitely could be very, very harmful,â€ she said.
â€œI certainly agree that a lot fewer people will vote for him in 2004. Theyâ€™ve come to their senses,â€ she added. â€œ2000 was a different time. We were filing a vacancy, not looking at the record. The Republicansâ€™ new ideas are an attempt to dismantle policies since the Roosevelt era.â€
Sherwood Guernsey, a prominent Williamstown Democrat and former state representative, said, â€œI think itâ€™s terribly unfortunate for this country that he [Nader] would choose to follow his ego rather than the best interest of the country.â€
Guernsey said he considers the biggest danger posed by Naderâ€™s candidacy is not the vote he might get but â€œencouraging and promoting cynicism about the Democratic Party,â€ which Guernsey said could freeze out voters.
â€œThe last thing we need is for people to be sitting on their hands. Iâ€™ve never been more concerned about the direction the country is going,â€ he said. â€œA very few votes could decide the election.â€
According to Guernsey, cynicism about electoral politics has been growing since the Watergate scandal and is â€œa very dangerous thing for the country and for democracy.â€
Guernsey and several other political observers expressed regret that Nader, whom they had long admired for his consumer advocacy, would act in a way they considered counterproductive.
U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, said, â€œNader presents a difficult issue for my party because many progressive Democratic voters support his ideas. I think, though, that the pragmatic lesson from the last presidential race has sunk in on a lot of 2000 Nader voters. Everyone is four years older and wiser.â€
Olver said he thinks Naderâ€™s candidacy is unlikely to deflect voters from the Democratic candidate.
Patrick Mele, who heads the Berkshire Central Labor Councilâ€™s committee on political education, said, â€œI donâ€™t think it will have an impact. Iâ€™ll definitely be supporting the Democratic nominee, particularly in view of the administrationâ€™s international positions.
Stressing that he spoke for himself and not the council or its committee, he said, â€œI think the focus is on beating George Bush, and I think everyoneâ€™s going to rally around that.â€
Lee Harrison, chairman of the Williamstown Democratic Town Committee, said, â€œOf course Iâ€™m disappointed that he feels itâ€™s necessary to run again. Obviously, this is all about Ralph and not about the issues. If he cared about the issues heâ€™d be supporting John Kerry.â€
Harrison said he had admired Naderâ€™s consumer advocacy, particularly his book â€œUnsafe At Any Speed,â€ but deplored his decision to run.
â€œI really think this is a sad day for Ralph,â€ he said. â€œI think his legacy will be greatly diminished. Heâ€™ll be remembered as the guy who put George Bush in office and the guy whoâ€™s trying to do it again. â€¦I donâ€™t think he has the stature he had in 2000. He wonâ€™t attract nearly the following he had then.â€
Mark Reinhardt, another Williams College political science professor called Naderâ€™s candidacy â€œindefensible.â€
â€œThis will be the most momentous election in decades. Itâ€™s going to be close, and itâ€™s hard to see how Naderâ€™s candidacy will help,â€ said Reinhardt. â€œIâ€™m reasonably hopeful heâ€™s not going to be the disruptive force he was in the last election. A decent number of people who supported him then are contrite about what they did. Once burned, twice shy.â€
He added, â€œNaderâ€™s case in 2000 was that it really didnâ€™t matter which of the two main parties won. I cannot believe that any sensible person, looking at the world, would believe that now.â€
Tom Stokes of Lenox, who ran for state representative two years ago as a progressive independent and is South County coordinator for Kerry, the Democratic frontrunner, said he had not supported Nader in 2000 nor does he now.
â€œI admire so much about Ralph Nader, and a lot of things he is saying need to be addressed, but timing is everything in politics,â€ said Stokes. â€œRight now I feel, unfortunately, that Ralph Nader is consumed with anger. His defiance helped him be such a crusader over the years, but tragically, itâ€™s doing terrible things not only to his reputation. Itâ€™s undermining what many of us are trying to do, raising issues in a political context.â€
He added, however, â€œThereâ€™s a place for independent voices, for mavericks.â€
Stokes noted that in an interview with Tim Russert of NBCâ€™s Meet The Press, Nader left open a window for withdrawing if polls in the fall showed he might push the election to the Republicans.
â€œItâ€™s unlikely a Nader campaign will be a decisive factor this time around,â€ said Stokes. â€œMy sadness comes from the undermining of a very important voice we have in our democracy. I hope the Democrats, rather than focusing vituperative anger at Nader, would just emphasize their differences â€” what they stand for. That, more than anything, will marginalize the Nader candidacy.â€
Williamstown Democratic State Committeewoman Margaret Ware also predicted fewer voters would defect to Nader.
â€œI think circumstances in the year 2000 were different. George W. Bush was a totally unknown quantity. This year, itâ€™s frightening what we know about Bush,â€ Ware said. â€œI donâ€™t think [Naderâ€™s candidacy] will be as damaging, but it will still be a close election. The question could still turn on a dime.â€
Williamstown Republican Marilyn Head declined to predict the effects of a Nader candidacy.
â€œNothingâ€™s the same as when he ran four years ago,â€ Head said. â€œWho can tell whatâ€™s going to happen down the pike? I have no clue how itâ€™s going to affect the election. The people who voted for him before may not vote for him again. They may say, â€˜Iâ€™m not going down that path again.â€™ Everyone has the right to run, and heâ€™s doing his thing. He evidently has an agenda.â€
She added, â€œNo two elections are the same. The generally known fact is, if three people are running for office, the third will take votes away, but I donâ€™t know where theyâ€™re coming from. Once he starts campaigning, then heâ€™ll start explaining his programs and ideas. And then people will start to decide.â€
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