PRESIDENT BUSH and Ralph Nader -- allied in the
goal of punishing Democrats -- also share political
tactics preferences. Neither really likes primaries
or other forms of nomination struggle, and each
has searched for a route to the ballot this November
that involves the least amount of work. Bush's
status derives from his position as the incumbent
president; Nader's stems from a refusal to face
voters along the way.
are no free rides, however. The price for easier
access to the general election is turning out
to be steep for each -- and for basically the
same reason. Nader did not want to subject himself
even to the minor rigors of getting the Green
Party's spot on the ballot again, and he has never
agreed to subject himself to the major rigors
of competing for Democratic votes.
Dean, by contrast, spent nearly two years climbing
the hard way from obscurity to prominence, using
small contributions from individuals solicited
for the most part over the Internet to fuel his
campaign. He failed ultimately, but from a beginning
far more obscure than Nader's would have been
as a Democratic candidate, he came very close.
major domestic policy idea (repeal the post-2000
tax cuts and use the proceeds for a massive public
works program to create jobs that can't be exported)
is the same one Dean took around the country.
Nader cannot argue that evil corporate forces
prevented Dean from getting a hearing.
Dennis Kucinich has labored for a year to advance
at least two big ideas among Democratic voters
-- that the United States should get quickly out
of Iraq while quickly bringing the United Nations
in and that the United States should withdraw
from the North American Free Trade Agreement and
the World Trade Organization. He has been in every
debate, doing his best but promising to support
the winner of the nomination -- as have Dean and
is now presenting the same ideas as central to
his campaign, proposals that voters have already
had a chance to consider.
claims he avoided the Democratic contest in 2000
and this year because it is really a "wealth primary"
-- a claim refuted by Dean's success and Kucinich's
diligence. He has no answer for the grass-roots
unity that has emerged from the primaries thus
far for the eventual struggle with Bush. Indeed,
this unity forced him to accelerate the announcement
of his own plans, even before he had demonstrated
the ability to get on the ballot in a single state.
don't practice Democratic politics the way I want
to practice Democratic politics," he said yesterday.
example of his willfulness is not the only one.
Even more remarkable is the fact that because
of the broad progressive unity this year, Nader
has been forced to come up with bizarre ideas
for vote trading via computer -- for example,
between Democrats in swing states and Democrats
in overwhelmingly pro- or anti-Bush states, or
between disgruntled conservative Republicans and
Democrats. The idea, Nader says, is to avoid helping
reelect Bush but still to help Nader; that is
a helpful statement by Nader that Nader's priorities
years ago, Nader went to the country with the
preposterous proposition that it didn't matter
whether Bush or Al Gore became president. After
that, it is understandable that he begins another
run with handicaps. Wake me when he is on enough
ballots to produce an Electoral College majority.
In the meantime, instead of having to argue the
merits in the trenches of the same ideas advanced
by Dean and Kucinich, Nader is taking the easier
route of sound bite advocacy and ritual denunciation;
his supporters during the weekend's media blitz
were calling John Kerry a "corporate whore."
President Bush, no competition in the primaries
has not proved to be the typical advantage. His
incumbency turned out to have prevented major
arguments on the right from occurring in Iowa
and New Hampshire. It has not prevented them from
grievances are several -- the hemorrhaging budget
deficit and soaring federal spending, a Medicare
prescription drug program fiasco that is still
escalating, an immigration proposal that accepts
at least the temporary presence of millions of
people here illegally, an education policy that
damps down the voucher movement and celebrates
vastly increased federal supervision of public
schools, and a lack of muscular opposition to
the desire of gay people to get married.
is almost March, but an incumbent president is
still far from having solidified his party behind
him because he is still at odds with much of its
conservative wing on a variety of issues. Eventually
he will succeed, but the president has squandered
valuable time. A principled opponent from the
right -- a la Pat Buchanan -- might have accelerated
this process. Ironically, the absence of opposition
set the stage for more serious dissent.
the Democrats are demonstrating, sometimes the
primaries forge unity that even Ralph Nader can't
Oliphant's e-mail address is email@example.com.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
Posted: February 25, 2004