The long, strange trip of Ralph Nader across the fruitless plain of third-party politics has finally arrived at its logical destination: a brazen alliance with the Reagan-Bush Republicans whose right-wing corporatist policies he still claims to oppose. What at first seemed like mere tactical coincidence is taking on a more sinister aspect, with advertising in support of Mr. Nader’s candidacy suddenly appearing on television screens in swing states, courtesy of the Republican Leadership Council-a soft-money committee that has supported George W. Bush from the beginning of this campaign.
Mr. Nader, a longtime champion of clean politics and campaign-finance reform, has uttered not a peep of protest against that outfit’s misuse of his image and speech to denigrate Al Gore. And why should he, when what the Green crusader truly craves is a victory for Mr. Bush?
Saying so would be bad public relations-and a bit too honest for this reincarnated Diogenes-but there is no longer any doubt that Mr. Nader prefers Republicans to Democrats for reasons both opportunistic and ideological. He declared this preference to an interviewer for Outside magazine months ago, then hastened to deny what he had clearly said.
More recently, Mr. Nader and his surrogates have crafted a variety of thin justifications for what would be the inevitable effect of his own electoral “success.” Just the other day, he declared that he eagerly anticipates Mr. Bush’s appointment of “provocateurs” like James Watt, the Reagan administration’s phenomenally destructive Interior Secretary, as a stimulus to the environmental movement. Actual ecological ruin, such as the promised opening of Alaska’s wildlife refuge to the oil industry, is evidently of little concern to Mr. Nader if the resulting public anguish increases his speaking fees and direct-mail proceeds.
That may sound harsh, especially coming from a journalist who has admired Mr. Nader and his works for many years. It is not quite as strident, however, as the nasty personal rhetoric he has been using lately against Mr. Gore, whom he has derided as “cowardly,” a “liar” and a man with “a serious character problem.” He has gone almost as far in his denunciations of progressives who dare to publicly back the Democrat-accusing dedicated environmental leaders of being “servile,” and insinuating that former Nader aides who urged him to drop out are somehow self-serving.
Fortunately for him, mainstream journalists have spared the consumer advocate any of the cynical, nit-picking scrutiny endured by Mr. Gore during this campaign. It is true that Mr. Nader has lived an unusually virtuous and public-spirited life, but it is also true that, at the age of 66, he is not without imperfections and hypocrisies. He refuses to release his personal tax returns, but the scant information he has provided indicates that he has become a multi-millionaire by shrewdly investing in the very same corporations he regularly excoriates. He lives in a million-dollar townhouse in Washington, D.C., but claims residency in Connecticut, where income taxes happen to be agreeably lower. He professes to be the champion of organized labor everywhere, but he is in fact the only candidate who has blocked unionization efforts more than once among his own minimum-wage employees.
It would, of course, be a terrible injustice to portray Mr. Nader as some sort of public-interest plutocrat, although that is certainly how he used to be depicted by the conservative and business press, before they realized that this fierce former adversary had transformed himself into their single most useful political ally. The worst to be said of him is that he has become a self-aggrandizing crank who-like most of his well-upholstered celebrity supporters-stands to lose nothing in a Republican ascendancy that will punish poor people, women, minorities and workers.
Do he and his supporters really think that it doesn’t matter who Mr. Bush will appoint to the Supreme Court, where abortion rights and so much more will be at stake in the coming decade? Do they believe that it will make no difference to working families how the surplus is apportioned among the rich and the rest of us? Do they expect somehow to undo the damage to the planet done by an administration that disdains global warming as a myth?
Any and all social sacrifices will prove worthwhile in the long run, according to Mr. Nader, because he (and not the Green Party itself, by the way) may be awarded up to $10 million in federal funds for the promotion of his next quadrennial windmill joust. But that piddling and speculative calculation omits the psychic dividend to be enjoyed right away by Nader voters, for whom this election can provide a wonderful outlet for both self-realization and cathartic rage.
It turns out that Naderism isn’t politics at all. It’s just a very, very costly kind of therapy.