Joe Conason's Journal

Greens debate: Should Ralph Nader run in 2004?

Published November 7, 2003 9:26PM (EST)

Ralph Nader en route to "Jonestown"
The Greens have realized -- somewhat belatedly -- that the Bush presidency is unhealthy for their vital planetary concerns and probably shouldn't continue for a second term. According to Micah Sifry's report in the Nation, some Greens worry about the consequences of another Ralph Nader campaign next year -- and others even doubt the wisdom of any third-party presidential campaign in 2004 at all.

Sifry quotes several prominent Greens on the topic, including media analyst and Nader friend Robert McChesney, who expressed his fears quite bluntly:

"I don't think Ralph should run. It would be bad for him personally; I doubt he would get half the number of votes he got in 2000. And it would be bad for the Greens ... Core elements of progressive constituencies, exactly the groups that the Greens need to build upon, will revolt with open contempt -- far worse than 2000 -- to anything that helps keep Bush in office ... Running a presidential candidate in 2004 for the Greens is probably a quantum leap off a cliff. It is the Greens' Jonestown."

Others in the Green Party are dissatisfied with Nader for less cosmic reasons, such as his refusal to actually join the party, his failure to reach out to minorities, and his alleged hoarding of his contributor lists. This alienation from the former standard-bearer has encouraged a potential challenger to Nader for the Green nomination. The party's general counsel, David Cobb, has promised not only to share his donor lists, but also to "withdraw from the [general election] race if either Dennis Kucinich or Al Sharpton is the Democratic nominee." (That's certainly a reassuring platform -- but what's wrong with Carole Moseley-Braun?)

Meanwhile Sifry, a longtime third-party enthusiast, also seems to have noticed the effects of the Bush debacle. He no longer thinks that the difference between Democrats and Republicans is negligible, as he did ("Gush-Bore") in 2000. While there was no worthwhile choice back then, according to this school of thought, there will be a crucial, world-historical choice next year. (Deep sigh.)

In any case, as both Sifry's reporting and my own sources confirm, the former great Green hope is bedeviled by no doubts or worries. Someday soon, Nader will embark on another glorious crusade.

Yet with Michael Moore and others who once helped him turning toward the Democrats, Nader is likely to find that he attracts negligible funding and very few votes. As friends like McChesney warn, that would cap Nader's remarkable public career with a humiliating finale.

There is still hope: Perhaps all the donors who underwrote Ralph last time will warn him that they won't provide any more money for this misguided project. A notorious miser, despite his subsidies to his own groups, he may well think twice if he realizes that he will have to pay for the '04 campaign out of his own substantial fortune. (When I mentioned this notion to a longtime Nader confidant, the guy couldn't stop laughing.)
[1 p.m. PST, Nov. 7, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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