Many liberals and even City editors hastily dismiss presidential candidate Ralph Nader as an "egomaniac," selfishly intent on spoiling Democratic chances in November ("Nader's Ego," The Mail, March 24; "Our Choice for President," February 25). All assume that Nader gave us Bush in 2000 and that only his ego could explain his decision to risk this again. They are wrong on both counts, and it is appalling to me how easily they rush to judgment of this veteran defender of American democracy.
Three years ago when, just after the last presidential election, Nader was being vilified as an egomaniac spoiler, he spoke at RIT. I was stunned by his concentrated focus on the very same issues that have occupied him for four decades: consumer health and safety, corporate theft and dominance, citizen responsibility, and student activism. There was no mention of his recent presidential bid and the torrent of hostility swirling around him. Here was a man whose long-proven, selfless dedication to the public interest remained the central point, not his candidacy or his ego.
But I, too, found myself uncertain about the wisdom of Nader's latest candidacy, given the imperative to defeat Bush, as I went recently to hear him speak at the UR. This time I was not surprised to hear Nader's unwavering focus on consumer activism and citizenship and his incisive analysis of corporate abuses of democracy. Only afterwards, during questions, did Nader's 2004 candidacy come up. When asked about his role in the 2000 election, he responded with a question: Do you really think Bush won in Florida? He then recounted the well-documented Republican theft of both that election and the national election, dwarfing Nader's minor part in the Democrats' demise.
Explaining his current bid, Nader offered two rationales, one focused on reinvigorating participatory democracy, the other on steeling (not stealing) the Democratic offensive.
First, Nader is insistent that young voters now have this opportunity to witness and join in an independent campaign of integrity, intelligence, and vision, a candidacy that stimulates their public imagination beyond the impoverishment of the two-party monopoly and lends new potency to their vote and to the fundamentals of democracy.
Second, Nader's candidacy confers much-needed spine and intelligence to the Bush opposition. Only by threatening Democrats with his own vigorous bid does Nader have the leverage to prod them into taking aggressive, combative positions on issues of substance and coherence. John Kerry has scheduled meetings with Nader, and the entire Democratic leadership, even Jimmy Carter, has appealed to him --- all unthinkable without Nader's hat in the ring. Nader has also calculated that his entry will encourage scores of conservative detractors incensed by Bush's fiscal indulgence and federal surveillance.
Counter intuitively, Nader's candidacy may in fact be the decisive factor in beating Bush, by invigorating voters to demand more from Democrats than a desperate plea for "electability." With his final run, this tireless crusader might well help deliver victory in November while bestowing us with yet another lesson in democracy.
Douglas D. Noble, 268 Brunswick Street, Rochester
I am incredibly sick of hearing about how "Nader stole the election." How exactly did that occur? Was his 3 percent of the vote all that really mattered?
Take a second to look at the numbers: It's easy enough to see that Gore already had more votes, Nader or not. If anyone stole any election it was the Supreme Court with its ruling to stop the recount, yet I don't hear any whining about that. Plus, who is to say that those of us who voted for Nader would vote for Gore, or any other Democrat, if there was no other choice?
With the current "two-party" system, there is no choice without third parties. The Democrats and Republicans have very few real differences once the campaign rhetoric is put aside. And in response to Stewart Bedasso saying that Bush and the Republicans are forcing Democrats to vote with him/them: It makes no sense. Seems like the Dems always have some excuse or problem with people voting their consciences. Perhaps if they offered a real alternative, or stood up for what they supposedly believe in rather than making petty excuses, they would receive the desired votes.
Nader and others like him are the only chance for a democracy that we have.
Toby Fraser, Oxford Street, Rochester
Stephen Bedasso needs to read the Constitution of the United States. Sure the document was written 225 years ago, but it does two very important things.
First: The Constitution provides the means for a multi-party system which has been and remains limited to a two-party system by the rich, powerful, and white. If there were more parties, the system would be far more effective and representative. A multi-party system would remove the capacity of Rove-ian politicians to create wedge political issues and allow intelligent, meaningful campaigns of discussion and debate.
Ralph Nader's decision to enter this campaign is an effort to open the people's eyes to the true nature of presidential politics. That's not the crime Mr. Bedasso makes it out to be, but it is foolish to attempt in today's partisan political arena.
Second: The Constitution was written by the rich white men in power in 1779, but it provides the opportunity for all people to govern this country if the people are willing to participate. The problem we face is lack of participation. People are lazy, and would rather watch American Idol than read a candidate's views on the issues.
The reality of Ralph Nader's running is not that he "takes votes away" from Democrats, it's that with the small number of people in this country who care enough to vote, the percentage Nader may win affects the outcome. With Republican and Democratic candidates so indistinguishable that an election comes down to little more than 500 hundred hanging-chad ballots, people with money and power can saturate the public with enough ads, slogans, and propaganda to make a difference.
Finally, be honest, Mr. Bedasso: "your Democrats" did have a choice when it came to Iraq, the Patriot Act, and No Child Left Behind, and they chose to side with Bush because it was better for their careers.
William Owen, East Avenue, Rochester
I disagree with Stewart Bedasso that Al Gore ran a "tremendous campaign." However, I do believe Al Gore won the presidency, in spite of himself, only to have the office taken from him by a junta far more powerful than the Green Party.
Mr. Bedasso stated, "It was as if the media wanted Nader to win." Really? I don't recall there being much press on the Greens during that time. Like Ross Perot before him, who was shut out after only one bid, Ralph Nader wasn't invited to participate in the debates. He describes an incident in his book Crashing the Party in which, on one occasion, he was banned from being in the audience. Does that sound like democracy? That is why we need more choices. To put it simply, that is what Ralph Nader's voice is.
I would challenge Stewart Bedasso to find where in the constitution an outline for a two-party system exists. That we happen to have only two major parties in this country is simply a convention, such as shaking hands when greeting someone. Why don't we still bow to one another?
A grave disservice is being done to men like Ralph Nader when the mass media is allowed to define the character of the candidates and conspire to manufacture the issues. Whether or not you trust his motives in running for the presidency, you must respect his right to be represented in the contest. He is one of the only viable alternatives to the cabal of corporate interest groups that back major-party candidates.
Because he eschews the absurdities of a corporate lifestyle and has worked as an advocate for consumers for many years, and because he gave a speech and answered questions for close to three hours one Wednesday evening in Rochester, and because I don't believe that Bush or Kerry would protect an individual's interests above those of industry, Ralph Nader will have my vote. He has instilled in me the promise of what a campaign can be, in this representative democracy, this republic, (which is not a true democracy) that is the United States. Currently.
Bradley S. McCollough, Benton Street, Rochester
I attended the March 20 anti-war rally in New York City. There were enough people at this one rally to encircle 20 city blocks. I saw dozens of posters for Dennis Kucinich and one hand-made sign for John Kerry. When Kucinich spoke, the crowd went wild. Kerry was not there.
I believe that few of the people who attended the mass rally in New York or the ones in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, and other cities across the country will vote for a man who has voted for NAFTA, the Patriot Act, and the Iraq war. Kerry has yet to explain or repudiate these votes. If he supports these outrages, just what will we be getting that's so much different from what we got?
The media handed the primaries to Kerry by ignoring Kucinich. Once again, we were robbed, but I will not be forced into voting for the lesser of the two evils this time either. If the Democratic Party has not learned from 2000, let's run the lesson again and write in Kucinich or Nader. Perhaps we have not yet reached the point where things are desperate enough to bring the 60 percent of us who do not vote to their feet, into the street, and out to the polls. Lack-luster, privileged milquetoasts without a clue or a program, like John Kerry, are not likely to do it.
I will not break faith with the hundreds of thousands of outraged Americans who wore out their feet and voices demanding something better than this. I urge all progressives to once and for all reject stagnant mediocrity. We can't afford it any longer.
John Kastner, Ericsson Street, Rochester