What Is He Smoking?

Ralph Nader thinks there’s no difference between the two parties. Is he nuts?

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

An egotist. A narcissist. A hypocrite. These are some of the more flattering epithets being tossed around in connection with Ralph Nader since he announced his run for president.

And the vitriol isn’t coming just from mainstream Democrats, but from progressives, Greens, lefties — erstwhile supporters.

Nader explained his decision to run on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday:

“Washington is still corporate-occupied territory, and the two parties are ferociously competing to see who’s going to go to the White House and take orders from their corporate paymasters. So they may be different in their mind, they may be different in their attention, they may be different in their rhetoric, but in the actual performance these corporate interests and their political allies are taking America down.”

The problem with this line of argument is that it’s total B.S. The past four years have emphatically demonstrated the idiocy of Nader’s contention, which wasn’t even true four years ago, that there’s no daylight between the two parties.

The Nation wrote an open letter to Ralph Nader at the end of January begging him not run:

[W]hen devotion to principle collides with electoral politics, hard truths must be faced. Ralph, this is the wrong year for you to run: 2004 is not 2000. George W. Bush has led us into an illegal pre-emptive war, and his defeat is critical. Moreover, the odds of this becoming a race between Bush and Bush Lite are almost nil. For a variety of reasons–opposition to the war, Bush’s assault on the Constitution, his crony capitalism, frustration with the overcautious and indentured approach of inside-the-Beltway Democrats–there is a level of passionate volunteerism at the grassroots of the Democratic Party not seen since 1968.

The context for an independent presidential bid is completely altered from 2000, when there was a real base for a protest candidate. The overwhelming mass of voters with progressive values–who are essential to all efforts to build a force that can change the direction of the country–have only one focus this year: to beat Bush. Any candidacy seen as distracting from that goal will be excoriated by the entire spectrum of potentially progressive voters. If you run, you will separate yourself, probably irrevocably, from any ongoing relationship with this energized mass of activists. Look around: Almost no one, including former strong supporters, is calling for you to run, compared with past years when many veteran organizers urged you on. …

Ralph, please think of the long term. Don’t run.”

Rodger Schlickeisen of the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, told Motherjones.com that on environmental policy, for example, there are crucial differences between the Bush administration and just about any Democrat who has a chance at the presidency:

“I can’t imagine how someone could make a statement that there’s not much difference between the two parties, when its not true on many progressive issues, but especially environmental issues. It’s very aggravating to us. No one who cares deeply about environmental issues should even contemplate giving Nader a vote; it’s like giving a vote to Bush.”

Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, who personally urged Nader not to run, called the decision “unfortunate” on CBS’ “Face the Nation”:

“You know, he’s had a whole distinguished career, fighting for working families, and I would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush.”

Sure you would, Terry. And you’d hate to be out on your ass in November.

Chances are that this time Nader’s run won’t matter so much to the Democrats. As an independent, lacking the Green Party infrastructure, Nader will have trouble garnering close to the 2.7 percent of the vote he won in 2000; it won’t be easy to get on all 50 state ballots without the backing of an established party or major financial resources.

Ballot access experts say an independent needs a total of about 700,000 signatures to get on the ballot in all 50 states, a prospect Nader likened to “climbing a cliff with a slippery rope.”

John Nichols of The Nation discusses the very likely possibility that Nader’s run won’t effect the two mainstream parties this year, because people just won’t vote for him:

For Nader to intrude into that choice in a meaningful way, it is necessary to imagine that substantial numbers of voters will go to the polls absolutely determined to remove the president from office — grumbling all the way about the occupation of Iraq, war profiteering, assaults on civil liberties and tax breaks for the rich — and then vote for Nader rather than a Democrat who could actually beat Bush. That’s not a very likely prospect; and if it ever became one, Democrats would be particularly well positioned to counter it. Even as Nader objects, Democrats can and wlll argue that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, and they will have many more buyers for that line than in 2000.

Some are arguing that Nader is running out of pure egotism. But his real motivation may be something even less attractive. Matthew Continetti writes for the Weekly Standard:

“Indeed, Nader’s palpable animosity toward the liberals who no longer support him was the subject of most his ire on Sunday. The “liberal intelligentsia,” he said, has “let their party become captive to special interests” over the last 25 years. Democrats are now a “corporate paymaster minion.” He says he’s running for president because “We can’t just sit back like the Nation magazine and betray its own traditions and the liberal intelligentsia and once again settle for the least-worst [alternatives].”
“It was enough to make you forget, for a moment, about tax cuts and Iraq and health care and judges and all the substantive issues at the center of the 2004 presidential campaign. Instead, Nader 2004 may be a presidential campaign run entirely out of spite.”


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaires wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2024 demands.

payment methods


Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2024 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.