March 01, 2008



SAM SMITH - The rampant hostility towards Ralph Nader among liberal Democrats raises some uncomfortable questions about that wing of the party. Here's a guy who - unlike any recent Democratic presidential candidate - represents everything a liberal Democrat used to stand for and he is treated as an egotistical pariah.

In fact, his ego is no worse than that of a favored Democratic candidate who believes he deserves to be president despite have done virtually nothing to prove the point.

There are, to be sure, good reasons not to go with Nader but they are tactical in nature and therefore vacant of moral content. Foremost, there is the argument - to which I subscribe - that ending the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush era is more likely to prove beneficial than Nader getting five percent of the vote. But having said that, I also understand those who argue, "I simply can't go and vote for someone who will deny a decent healthcare program and seems indifferent to the collapse of constitutional government and to the ecological crisis."

I do not regard such people as fools, ego-driven or cultish. And I certainly don't think they owe one penny to a Democratic Party that has for decades increasingly betrayed its own heritage. I think of them as good, well-motivated and honest people who are less cynically pragmatic than myself.

It would be nice if liberal Democrats who like to talk so much about choice, freedom and diversity would be more accepting of it in their own politics.

But of even more concern is the fact that to despise Nader you have to dislike what he stands for. Instead of it merely being a choice of tactics, between passing or running, there is something deeper. It would be difficult, for example, to be strongly in favor of single payer and not at least feel some sympathy for Nader. It would be difficult to believe strongly in a democratic system of government and trash Nader's right to run. It would be difficult to recognize all the issues the leading Democrats have ignored and not accept the possibility that there may be some who choose something different.

The hostility towards Nader has echoes of the liberal hostility towards Edwards, a partly class driven antipathy over deeper economic and social issues from which many better educated and better off liberals seem to feel immune.

The irony is that it is the Democrats' refusal to deal directly with many of these issues that opens up the space which the GOP fills with such crowd-pleasing vote getters as gay marriage, abortion and Obama's middle name.

There are good reasons for voting Democratic this year, but they are rooted in the inequities of our political system, pragmatic considerations and the fact that you can't do much with only one or two percent of the voters. These are not, however, moral reasons. So don't brag about them and don't blame Ralph Nader for what happens as a result. Give your vote to someone else but at least show Ralph a little respect. And hope for the day you can vote for someone as good as Nader who can actually win.