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Ralph Nader Challenges Traditional Two-Party Politics - 2004-05-26


No target is too big for consumer advocate, big business scourge Ralph Nader. In fact, the bigger the better. True to form, he is now challenging the major presidential candidates as an independent. As Focus reports, he has no chance of winning, but he can make a difference.

Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry recently met with Ralph Nader, who is also running for the nation’s highest office. As an independent candidate, he will not get many votes but enough perhaps to hurt Senator Kerry. Mr. Nader’s stance against the Iraq war is drawing support from Mr. Kerry’s Democratic Party.

At the meeting, Mr. Kerry did not ask Mr. Nader to withdraw from the race. The two talked about other issues on which they largely agree. They parted on friendly terms with Mr. Nader saying he would concentrate his fire on President Bush.

But if only that endless meddler would withdraw, pray Democrats. Fat chance. Mr. Nader explains why he is running: “I enter the 2004 election as an independent candidate for the Presidency of the United States, to join with all Americans who want to declare their independence from corporate rule and its domination. I don’t really see in the next few years anything but the continued domination by the corporate Democratic core of that party. They haven’t got the message yet.”

Ralph Nader declared his independence of corporate rule many years ago. The son of Lebanese immigrants who grew up in the state of Connecticut, he began his crusade against the giant automotive firm General Motors. He charged the company with producing cars it knew were prone to accident but kept it from an unsuspecting public.

Mr. Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed became a bestseller and forced GM to give up a popular car that he labeled unsafe. An attempt to trap him in some compromising way with a young woman did not work. Then and now, Mr. Nader, who lives alone, is all business; that is, anti-business.

Henriette Mantel worked for Mr. Nader in the early 1980’s and is now preparing a television documentary on his life and career. “I read Unsafe at Any Speed when I was in high school in the 1970’s, and that made me want to work for him,” she says. “I thought his level of integrity was beyond anybody that I had ever read in terms of getting things done for the every day person.”

In the 1970’s and 80’s, Mr. Nader’s public interest groups, known as “Nader’s Raiders,” assailed a variety of corporations for misbehavior: polluting the environment, exploiting workers as well as turning out unsafe products. Exposes and lawsuits became routine.

It was quite a record, says Ms. Mantel. “He is the guy that got flammable children’s pajamas off the market. He fought the automobile industry to add seat belts and airbags and make cars safe,” she says.

Mark Green was one of the Nader Raiders and proud of it. In many respects, he thought Mr. Nader could do no wrong. “He is absolutely one of the leading progressive, accomplished figures in our history,” he says. But Mr. Green is also an activist in the Democratic Party in New York City and so supports Mr. Kerry for President. In a close race, he fears the Nader vote could cost Mr. Kerry the election.

“While it is desirable that anybody can run by law, of course, he has to weigh that against the palpable risk of re-electing the worst president in modern times,” he says.

That, to be sure, is a partisan Democrat talking. The Republicans have a contrary view: the more Nader votes the better, especially in close states where a small number of votes can make the difference, as in Florida in the 2000 election.

On the crucial issue of the Iraq war, Mr. Nader’s position is clearly distinguished from that of the two major candidates. President Bush and Senator Kerry favor continuing the U.S. effort to nation build in Iraq. Mr. Nader does not. He wants to pull out U.S. troops at once in what he considers a failing effort and replace them with peacekeepers from neutral countries.

Norman Ornstein, who follows presidential politics at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, says Nader could be a big election obstacle for Senator Kerry. “One of the dilemmas for Kerry is that if the war gets really bad, the antiwar movement becomes a much more significant factor,” he says. “People who believe they have to vote for someone who is against it and who want to pull out immediately have a candidate, and that is Nader.”

The Kerry problem does not concern Mr. Nader. To the contrary, in his opinion, Kerry and the Democratic Party are the problem. Big money still calls the shots in the Democratic Party as well as the Republican. The little guy is left out, while the moguls make the decisions that shape his life, like it or not.

Many economists of various political leanings have trouble with Mr. Nader’s economics, which they find simplistic, perhaps to an extreme. But politicians take him and his ideas very seriously indeed, which is just what Mr. Nader wants.

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