“I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country,” Al Gore said on December 13, 2000.
Well, George W. Bush didn’t listen to Al Gore’s advice, and neither so much did God. But Ralph Nader evidently took it as holy writ.
Thus, seven-odd years later, Nader would show up on Meet the Press on Feb. 24, 2008, preserved in the amber of his own dried-up rectitude, to put himself forward as a candidate for the presidency. Or rather as an entrant in the presidential race, which is not the same thing.
“You know,” he told Tim Russert, “when you see the paralysis of the government, when you see Washington, D.C., be corporate-controlled territory, every department agency controlled by overwhelming presence of corporate lobbyists, corporate executives in high government positions, turning the government against its own people, you—one feels an obligation, Tim, to try to open the doorways, to try to get better ballot access, to respect dissent in America in the terms of third parties and, and independent candidates.”
At that point, Russert made a signal with his hand, and a producer opened a valve, sending three feet of filthy water flooding through the studio. A dead black person from New Orleans floated by, facedown.
Or not. The political discourse operates within certain boundaries, and Ralph Nader is nothing if not part of the political discourse. Russert let him keep talking, then asked a question about Democrats blaming him for costing Al Gore the presidency. Ralph Nader, it turns out, was the victim in the room—of “bigotry” and a lack of “tolerance” by a “liberal intelligentsia” that unfairly reduced the complexity of the 2000 election to his role as a spoiler.
It is true that the blame for 2000 can be doled out to nearly everyone. Yes, as Nader told Russert, Katherine Harris—“Katherine Bush,” he said—was an active agent of the Republican Party. Yes, Al Gore could have saved himself by winning Arkansas or Tennessee (though Nader credited himself with having pulled Gore to the left, even as he faulted Gore for losing right-leaning swing states).
Sure. And when you want to get down to it (537 votes!), if the young Karenna Gore hadn’t been dumb enough to play Purple Rain in front of her mother, there might never have been a Parents Music Resource Center, and a generation of fashionably oppositional youth might not have grown up reading anti-Tipper Gore messages in the runoff grooves of their punk records, and therefore might not have been quite so disposed to regard Al Gore’s candidacy as a symptom of AmeriKKKan Corporate Fascism and to follow Nader’s plea to seek an alternative.
But eight years later—these particular eight years later? In 2000, Ralph Nader was nominally carrying the banner for the Green Party. Now Al Gore has a Nobel Prize (and an Oscar) for his recent quixotic gestures on behalf of the environment, gestures he performed in the absence of the actual environmental regulatory powers of the American presidency.
Also there are soldiers in full combat gear on the streets of New York. And we seem to have built a global network of secret torture prisons.
Whatever has Nader been up to since his sad, abortive 2004 presidential run? (That little project of his only served to remind voting people of the trauma of his run in 2000. They ran from him. Bad touch!)
His most memorable recent accomplishment was the publication of a memoir last year that recounted his “serene and enriching childhood.”
The Seventeen Traditions, put out by the former publisher Judith Regan, sold, according to Nielsen BookScan, 26,000 hardcover copies—about the same number of votes Nader received in Tennessee in 2000.