What’s Ralph Nader been smoking?

Ordinarily, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the political skills and vision of Ralph Nader. He’s a brilliant man, who has made enormous contributions to safer lives for all Americans.

A Princeton, then a Harvard Law School graduate, in 1965, he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed, a study that demonstrated that many American automobiles were unsafe, no matter what speed you drove them, especially the Chevrolet Corvair.

Nader’s advocacy of automobile safety and the publicity generated by the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, along with concern over escalating nationwide traffic fatalities, led to the unanimous passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The Act established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and marked an historic shift in responsibility for automobile safety from the consumer to the manufacturer. That’s “juice.”

In 1999 a New York University panel of eminent journalists ranked Nader’s book Unsafe At Any Speed No. 38 among the top 100 pieces of journalism of the 20th century. In 1990 Life Magazine, and again in 1999 Time Magazine, named Nader one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th Century. That’s impressive.

And then, there’s his “Dark Side.” Maybe it’s vanity. Maybe it’s ego.

In its Dec 2006 article on the “100 most influential Americans” in history, in which its ten invited historians voted Mr. Nader 96th, The Atlantic Monthly stated: “He made the cars we drive safer; 30 years later, he made George W. Bush the president.”

That of course refers to his 2000 Presidential campaign, and the 96,000 votes he got in Florida. Many, many, many people blame him for President Bush’s “selection” (by a one-vote-margin on the Supreme Court) rather than the “election” of Al Gore. Had Mr. Nader not been in the race, and those votes (about 3 percent nationally) had gone to Mr. Gore, just think of how different U.S. history might have been.

I’m not angry at him about the 2000 election. It’s this year, that’s got me steamed.

In 2004 Mr. Nader ran again, he got less than 1 percent that year. His star had already begun to fade, when he decided this year, that he will run as an independent again. That’s cool.

He really is good on the issues. At a press conference during his 2004 campaign I asked him about the Reparations Movement, H.R. 40, and so forth and so on. He immediately agreed that the U.S. government owes reparations to the descendants of Africans enslaved in America. He went on, comparing (his word) the “genocide” against the Native people in this country, to the crime against humanity that was the slave trade. That’s heavy.

He’s also four-square in support of Statehood for the District of Columbia. My man.

But this year, he might run again–not that a Nader campaign will make a scintilla of difference to likely Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) chances of being elected president next November.

No. This time, Mr. Nader’s campaign will sabotage a real opportunity to build a strong, progressive movement, and the Green Party.

He must be smoking something really hallucinogenic, otherwise, why wouldn’t he dedicate himself to building a monumental progressive political movement, rather than a “head-trip” bust of Ralph that can be filled with helium and floated over the Presidential Inauguration Jan. 20, 2009. That’s the only other way he’ll be there just about.

If he was as smart as I thought he was when he said all that good stuff about slavery and Statehood for D.C., he would forsake his plan for an independent Presidential race, and go to work to help build something that can outlive him, the National Green Party. In 1976, that’s exactly what Ronald Reagan did, going to work nationally helping Republicans, after he was denied the GOP nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford.

By the time he was finished, every Republican office holder in the country owed Ronald Reagan a favor, which he cashed in on in 1980 to win the nomination and the White House.

But alas, we all know very well, Ralph Nader is no Ronald Reagan.

Comments are closed.