Sunday, October 08, 2006

Why Ralph Nader wanted to see Gore lose in 2000 (via Brad DeLong)

Brad DeLong brings us a timely blast from the past--a campaign interview with Ralph Nader, then the Green Party candidate for President, back in 2000. I think it deserves to be noticed as a small masterpiece of political stupidity, in that respect a microcosm of the whole Nader campaign.

No, Nader and the idiots who voted for him were not solely responsible for putting George W. Bush into the White House. A number of other factors also strengthened Bush and weakened Gore (including a few self-inflicted wounds by the Gore campaign), and even so Gore still did come out ahead of Bush in the popular vote. Without the thousands of votes that Nader took away from Gore in Florida (where Nader got 97,000 votes!), Gore would have carried the state without ambiguity, even after the "accidental" Republican purge of black voters from the rolls and the butterfly ballot fiasco, and gotten the electoral votes necessary to put him over the top. But it seems clear that if there had been a fair recount in Florida, Gore would have (just barely) won the state anyway. Many groups and individuals in the US share responsibility for letting the Republicans steal that election. We shouldn't blame only Ralph Nader.

On the other hand, Nader shouldn't be allowed to escape his responsibility for the outcome either. Given everything else, there is no question that the spectacularly ill-advised Nader campaign played a crucial role in determining the outcome. If Nader had not siphoned votes away from Gore in crucial battleground states, then with everything else being equal, Gore would have won, and Bush would have lost. The result of the Nader campaign was to help put Bush in the White House. Nader and many of his supporters have gone through various logical contortions since 2000 to try to pretend this wasn't true, but anyone who is fooled by these arguments is just not facing reality.

What is more--as long as we're going to try to face reality--Nader made it pretty clear back in 2000 that he wouldn't be that unhappy to see Bush defeat Gore. It might even be a good thing, he suggested. The passage that Brad quotes from this campaign interview is just one of many such Nader pronouncements:
Outside magazine, August 2000
All Bulworth, No Rhythm
Will Ralph Nader become Al Gore's worst nightmare? By Jay Heinrichs

[....] If California tips Green enough, Bush could win the state and the whole damn election.

Which, Nader confided to Outside in June, wouldn't be so bad. When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: "Bush." Not that he actually thinks the man he calls "Bush Inc." deserves to be elected: "He'll do whatever industry wants done." The rumpled crusader clearly prefers to sink his righteous teeth into Al Gore, however: "He's totally betrayed his 1992 book," Nader says. "It's all rhetoric." Gore "groveled openly" to automakers, charges Nader, who concludes with the sotto voce realpolitik of a ward heeler: "If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win." [....]
Well, we all make mistakes. But it is not unfair for Brad to remind Nader and the Naderites of their political delusions back in 2000--and, by the way, many arguments from that period make it clear that it didn't require hindsight to realize that this perspective was politically self-indulgent, foolish, and pernicious. (For example, see this prescient warning and sober post-mortem from by Todd Gitlin in 2000.) As Brad puts it, "Thank you, Mr. Nader." For the rest of us, let's hope that the past 6 years have been a learning experience.

--Jeff Weintraub