It’s Up to Dean To Sink Ralph Nader

A Democrat who didn’t bother to vote in the 2000 election once said that after eight years of Bill Clinton, “it’s like we were in a food coma.” He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his belly for effect: “Bush, Gore … what’s the difference?”

Even Ralph Nader has since admitted that there is a difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Yet, unbelievably, Mr. Nader told Tim Russert on Meet the Press that he is going to run for President again this year, his third attempt to break what he calls the “two-party duopoly.” Democrats, independents and even some Green Party members are apoplectic. As Howard Dean might say, ” Yeeeeowarggghhhh! “

Just when the Democratic Party had successfully taken down Dr. Dean, up pops Ralph Nader like a Chucky horror-movie doll hell-bent on terrorizing the electorate. (“Hi, I’m Ralphy. Wanna play?”) But what seemed like child’s play in 2000 is a real-life fear factor in 2004. I only wish it were a horror movie.

To his credit, Howard Dean exited the primary race after a humiliating third-place finish in Wisconsin. With such a meteoric rise, a rabid following and a fund-raising organization other candidates only dream about, Dr. Dean certainly could have justified a third-party campaign. In fact, there had been some speculation that he might do just that. But he obviously decided against such a self-indulgent demonstration.

Without mentioning names, not only did Dr. Dean bow out of the race gracefully (and grace is not a trait usually ascribed to the former governor of Vermont), but he asked his supporters not to be swayed by quixotic candidates.

Less than a week later, Mr. Nader declared his intention to run, and Dr. Dean issued a rather milquetoast (at least for him) statement.

“Those who truly want America’s leaders to stand up to the corporate special interests and build a better country for working people should recognize that, in 2004, a vote for Ralph Nader is, plain and simple, a vote to re-elect George W. Bush,” Dr. Dean said. “I hope that Ralph Nader will withdraw his candidacy in the best interests of the country we hope to become.”

Dr. Dean went out of his way to praise Mr. Nader and his achievements before politely asking him to reconsider. So, just as Dr. Dean has become Mr. Civility, everyone else is blowing a gasket.

Within 24 hours of his announcement, Mr. Nader was holding a press conference telling everyone to just pipe down. Repeating the rationalization he recently told Democratic Party leaders, Mr. Nader assured everyone that his candidacy will help the Democrats by bringing out people who are still angry with him for tipping the election to Mr. Bush in 2000, and they will likely vote for the Democratic nominee and maybe even some down-ticket Dems. Needless to say, this “destroy the village to save it” logic isn’t terribly persuasive.

On the heels of Democratic Party denunciations come the pundits, weighing in on whether or not there will be much of a Nader effect this time around. Given the punditocracy’s accuracy so far in this election cycle, the smart ones offer a caveat before making their pronunciamentos.

But conventional wisdom is shaping up like this: Democrats, who have been rudely awakened from their food coma, are plenty angry at Mr. Bush and will vote for a monkey if they think it can win.

Ralph Nader won’t be able to get on the ballot in very many states-and even if he does get on a couple of ballots, very few people are going to vote for him.

Maybe, maybe not. Mr. Bush has yet to unleash his campaign and spend his mind-boggling war chest. If John Kerry is the Democratic nominee, there will be more than a few people who are shocked to learn that not only did Senator Kerry support the resolution authorizing the President to invade Iraq, he voted for the PATRIOT Act and the No Child Left Behind Act and has gotten more special-interest money than any other Senator.

So it’s possible that quite a few people will buy into the “no difference” argument again. Not that they’ll necessarily vote for Ralph Nader. But they’ll very likely just stay home on Election Day, which would help Mr. Bush.

So, Dr. Dean, it’s up to you. Negotiate to be Secretary of Health and Human Services under the next Democratic President, then set aside your newfound civility and unleash that fury at Ralph Nader.

This is your Sister Souljah moment, Dr. Dean. You should pounce on Mr. Nader and use the opportunity to remind your supporters again and again just how evil you believe the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis to be.

If anyone has credibility with potential Nader supporters, it’s you. This is your real opportunity to take the country back.

Seize it.