When it comes to relationships, the saying goes “two is company and three’s a crowd.” When it comes to politics, the 2000 presidential race proved that the same saying holds true for the American electoral process, and it may again be the case for the 2004 election. Less than two weeks ago, Ralph Nader, the popular and well-respected advocate for consumer rights, announced his intention to run as an independent this time around and solidified his role as a virtual thorn in the side of the Democratic Party.
Although I am opposed to Nader’s decision to run this year, the grounds upon which some very liberal-leaning Democrats and independents on this campus have based their support for him hold some logic. For some of these individuals, their desire for more choice and the formation of a third party serves as their impetus for supporting Nader. While I agree with the need to have choice, one cannot ignore the simple fact that historically, the American electoral system has not smiled kindly upon a three-party system.
Moreover, others argue that if the Democratic Party puts forth a strong Democratic candidate, they need not fear Nader’s bid for the White House. In 2000, Nader presented himself as an alternative to the supposedly weak Democratic candidate Al Gore, although many Democrats characterized him as a “spoiler.” In 2004, the Democratic Party has offered a strong and viable choice to challenge Bush: Senator John Kerry. Yet, even as Nader positions himself this time around as an alternative to Bush, encouraging Democrats to “rejoice” in his decision to join the race, and even as polls suggest Kerry’s strength against Bush, many cannot help but feel that a vote for Nader will be a vote for Bush.
Yet the problem with Nader does not stem only from his inability to accept the two-party system or the possibility of acting as a spoiler again, but rather with his message, or the lack thereof. On his Web site, the answer to the question of why he is running in the first place reinforces his single-issue focus, which fails to encapsulate a greater goal that the American people seek. His reason for running: “To take our democracy back from the corporate interests that dominate both parties.” While a laudable goal, it should not be the primary motivation for someone seeking the presidency. Now, compare his reason for running to John Kerry’s, which is to “make the country we love stronger, safer, and more secure.” When poverty, national security, education and civil rights all hang in the balance, the single issue of corporate dominance is only a minute part of the problem. Of course, this is not to say that Nader does not address these other pressing issues, but rather that his failure to address the larger issues that plague Americans at the forefront is troubling.
More specifically, Nader fails to address the problem of national security and foreign policy. While I tend to be more concerned and focused on domestic issues, in the post-Sept. 11 world, one cannot ignore issues of national security and foreign policy. Despite the protectionist nature of Nader’s platform, the possibility of another attack is real, no matter what intelligence is available or procedures put in place. Thus, in the larger scheme of ideas, for Nader to ignore this issue and give greater attention to issues surrounding auto safety and media bias seems absurd.
Nader believes his run is a chance for a “fundamental solution revolution.” It is true that he has effectively offered many solutions to problems of safety for the consumer. After all, his efforts did help to create the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environment Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Still, having solutions to problems does not automatically make one a good leader or the most qualified person for president.
Perhaps, then, Ralph Nader would consider holding a cabinet position in Kerry’s administration. He most certainly is qualified to head many of the agencies he created. Still, when it comes time to head to the polls in November, would-be Nader voters should remember that solutions should not be equated with a capacity to truly lead this country back to greater prosperity and progress. It is that combination of ideas, experience, determination, compassion, ability to inspire, and vision that makes for a truly good leader, all of which I see in our newly crowned Democratic nominee, John Kerry.
Alicia Washington is a junior in Trumbull College.