Not Nader: Don't waste your vote
Nader: A vanity campaign for the ages Resources
Wallace Ford
February 26, 2004
Reprinted with permission of the author.

When I look at the current iteration of the Saga of Ralph Nader, I am reminded of the old adage -- Those who the gods seek to destroy, they first make mad. I have too much respect for the achievements and accomplishments to think that Mr. Nader is crazy. So I offer a different adage -- Those who the gods seek to destroy, they first allow to grow old.

There is a certain poetic sadness to Mr. Nader's misbegotten run for the presidency, a sadness born of his accomplishing so much so early in life that he has never been able to summon an encore worthy of his opening act. The facts are clear -- there are thousands, if not millions, of men, women and children who are walking on this planet right now because Ralph Nader had the brains and the courage and the determination to force automobile manufacturers to incorporate passenger safety and environmental concern into their business practices.

Since it took place almost forty years ago, it is hard for many people to remember a time when there were no seat belts or airbags or emission control devices on cars. But there was a time when the best that Ford or General Motors or Chrysler would do for a passenger was to install safety glass that would not shatter when your skull flew against it at sixty miles per hour. And there was time when it seemed that Ralph Nader rode alone, like El Cid, against the rapacious corporate greedmongers.

But what does El Cid do after he wins? We do know that in the world of sports, many athletes stay in the long past their prime because they cannot find another means of fulfillment and glory as the pursuits that brought them fame in their early years. And so, from time to time, we are witness to the sad events like Willie Mays falling down in center field, Mickey Mantle limping to first base, Muhammad Ali being pummeled beyond mortal endurance and Mark Spitz going back into the competitive swimming pool for one more try.

And now we can add to the sad litany, Ralph Nader running for president in 2004. Its sad for Ralph Nader and it is sad for this country. Sad for Nader because in his mind he really believe that the people of this country need him to reconfigure the presidential race, giving those who are dissatisfied with President Bush some kind of choice in addition to the nominee of the Democratic party.

Of course it is sad for this country because by dividing the vote of those who are dissatisfied with the current president, we could be witness to an unelected president being reelected by less than the majority of the votes cast. And through his indulgence and vanity, Ralph Nader could bring about an historical anomaly that would make the Great Florida Chad Follies of 2000 seem like a civics lesson in comparison.

The issues in this country are too important to be the subject of vanity campaigns such as that being planned by Mr. Nader. He has enough fame, recognition and well deserved residual respect that he can have an impact on the 2004 presidential campaign. The last time he tried this stunt, he told everyone who cared to listen that there was no substantive difference between Al Gore and George Bush, so that "principled votes" for him were not wasted votes.

And while Ralph Nader remains well fed, well housed and secure in his financial future, there are millions of Americans who have lost their jobs due to President Bush's economic policies, hundreds of Americans who have lost their lives due to his foreign/military policies, and potentially millions of Americans who are losing their financial future due to the crippling deficits that the Bush Administration has fashioned in its enduring vision of America. And I wonder if Mr. Nader seriously believes that this country would not be different if Al Gore had become President but for his vanity campaign of 2000?

And though I personally have serious concerns, issues and criticisms about the Bush Administration, I am more concerned at the moment about these vanity campaigns -- campaigns by people rich enough (see Ross Perot) or famous enough (see Ralph Nader) to impact a presidential race. Maybe it is time for more than two political parties in this country, but new parties will not start with a presidential race and people like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader know that. Vanity campaigns are, in the final analysis, about assuaging the egoistic needs of the vanity candidates.

In the end, Ralph Nader reminds me of the middle aged guy at the end of the bar, still wearing his letter sweater from high school because it is a reminder of the greatest time of his life. And it's too bad that because the greatest time of Ralph Nader's life was some four decades ago, he may end up being a party to travesty and farce.....again.

How sad. How truly sad indeed.

El Cid, the epic poem of Spain, in translation.

The boys of winter: in praise of the aging athlete from Harper's Magazine



Wallace Ford is the principal of Fordworks Associates, a management consulting firm in New York and a member of the faculty at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.  

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