Topic: Government & Politics

Leave Nader Alone!
(9/10/2004)

If the Ethics Scoreboard ranked the presidential candidates by ethical principles and conduct, the winner by a landslide would be independent candidate Ralph Nader. He is a committed, idealistic, honest and dedicated man who epitomizes the responsible citizen. He also has many enlightening and provocative things to say, and whether one agrees with his positions or not, the issues Nader raises are important ones to consider in a national election…even more important than how many drops of blood John Kerry shed per purple heart, how many minutes President Bush spent listening to "My Pet Goat," or how many draft deferments Dick Cheney got. Yes, even more important than those. In fact, it is fair to say that a vigorous Nader candidacy would be good for America, even if he has about as much chance of winning as Alan Keyes.

Thus we have to look hard at the efforts of the Democratic Party to keep Nader off the ballot in as many states as possible. There is no question that this is going on; the Democrats have been admirably open about their intent, if not their methodology, which opens up another set of questions. They believe that a Nader candidacy will siphon votes away from the Forces of All That Is Good and Right (that is, the Kerry-Edwards ticket) and thus contribute to the victory of the Legions of Death and Greed, led by George W. Bush and Co. Hence, in the interest of all that is just, Nader must be prevented from putting his name before as many voters as possible. In the Democratic Party, this is just accepted as the correct course of action. After all, didn't Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000? Isn't that justification enough for all an out war against a Nader candidacy?

No, it isn't. True, "politics ain't beanbag," as Peter Finley Dunn's "Mister Dooley" famously said, but the U.S. is still a democracy. Actively preventing anyone from getting on a ballot by obstructing their legitimate efforts is indistinguishable from stopping a citizen from voting his or her mind, except for two differences:

  • There is no Federal law against making it more difficult for a particular candidate to get on the ballot, and

  • Stopping someone from getting on the ballot is worse than stopping a citizen from voting.

Why worse? It is worse because it eliminates our democratic options at the source. Any citizen has the right to run for president if he or she can meet reasonable requirements set by the states. If he or she succeeds in getting on the ballot, all voters benefit, because they have more candidates to choose from. If they decide not to vote for the candidate they prefer, say, Ralph Nader, and vote for someone they don't like as much, say, Senator Kerry, because they feel that it would increase the chances of another candidate they don't like even more, say, President Bush, getting elected, then that's peachy keen…but it's their choice. The Democrats don't want (trust?) them to have that choice. That's undemocratic. It's also unethical.

In a recent op-ed published in newspapers nationally, a bitter Nader described some of the tactics the Democrats have been using to sabotage him:

  • "They are using dirty tricks to intimidate citizens. On Aug. 12, 2004, a 58 year old supporter of ours was at home with her two grandchildren when she answered a knock on her door and found a man and woman who she said began threatening her with jail if there was any false information on the petitions she was collecting for our ballot access. These people, who called themselves "investigators," were dispatched by a law firm that has worked extensively with Oregon trade unions that have supported Democratic candidates. In many states our signature gatherers have been subjected to similar treatment in what is clearly an orchestrated campaign."
  • "One person in Nevada got a call from someone who urged him to admit that he was tricked into signing our petition. When the petition signer said he had signed voluntarily, the caller continued to try to persuade him to claim that he had not signed the petition. After numerous requests, the caller identified himself and admitted he was from the Democratic National Committee in Las Vegas. A call to the number on the caller ID was answered, "Hello, DNC." We have similar reports from around the country."
  • "In Arizona, large Democratic donors hired three corporate law firms to file frivolous challenges to our clearly ample number of signatures. For example, 1,349 signatures of registered voters were invalidated because the person who collected them had given his or her correct full address but had neglected to include the correct name of the county. The purpose of these exercises are, in lobbyist Moffett's words, 'to neutralize [Nader's] campaign by forcing him to spend money and resources defending these things.'"
  • "A covey of Democratic operatives in Illinois convinced the election board to disqualify signatures because the registered voters had moved since registering to vote even though they still lived in Illinois. The Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives sent state employees, contractors and interns to review and challenge our ballot access petitions."
  • "In other states, Democratic operatives are using a grace period after the filing date and directly calling voters who signed, pressing them to withdraw their signatures or say that they were misled so that the Democrats could allege fraud later in court."

Yes, none of these measures are illegal. They are just despicable. The fair and honorable way for the Democrats to win the presidency is to make their case, not to use their superior funds and operatives to prevent voters who wish to make a different statement with their votes from doing so. Candidate Kerry, who has been mighty vocal lately about demanding that his opposition condemn anti-Kerry tactics that the Democrat feels are unseemly, actually has the power to do more than condemn these measures against Nader: he could stop them. Similarly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, who spawned John Edwards and who owe Nader both their honor and loyalty, should have the decency to use their powerful influence in the Kerry campaign to oppose these efforts rather than contribute to them. [Disclosure: the author worked for ATLA for seven years, and enjoyed the experience] The media should focus attention on these actions. And voter groups of all persuasions should be outraged. Like other actions described elsewhere on the Scoreboard, this is fanatic politics, governed by the unethical mindset that declares all tactics valid when you alone know "the one right way". Democrats and Republicans are wallowing in it in this campaign.

Speaking of Republicans, what of their financial assistance to Nader's campaign to ensure that he pulls as many votes from Kerry as possible? Isn't this unethical as well? Sorry, Democrat apologists everywhere, but it isn't. The GOP's motive may be self-serving, but their actions are benign. Giving Nader a place on the ballot and a strong voice in the campaign is a good thing, and doing a good thing is never unethical.

Ralph Nader has always worked to increase the power of the ordinary citizen in America. Right now, one of the major parties is not just working to undermine Nader, but in the process, working to undermine democratic principles as well. If the Democrats really believe you can protect democracy by attacking it, it has far greater and deeper problems than Ralph Nader or George W. Bush.

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