Four years after the Florida debacle, with nearly all of Ralph Nader's longtime progressive allies now tactically supporting Kerry in swing states to retire the Bush regime, the Nader campaign has created none of the grassroots thunder of 2000. Indeed, it's been a hollow enterprise -- attracting a few leftwing sects and polemicists.
Given this vacuum, it's no surprise that pro-Bush forces have rushed to Nader's side. What is a surprise is the brazenness of their support. And, how readily Nader has accepted the rightwing help.
Nader has complained -- correctly in at least one state -- of covert Democratic efforts to keep him off ballots. But in Michigan, he has no such excuse. In that key battleground state, after Nader volunteers had collected only 5,000 of the 30,000 signatures necessary to get on the ballot, Michigan's Republican Party came to the rescue with 43,000 Nader signatures.
Nader campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese initially took a principled stand, telling Associated Press last week that the campaign would not accept the GOP's help: "We won't take any signatures from them." But within hours he flip-flopped, AP reported, saying the campaign might accept the Republican signatures if state officials did not certify Nader as the nominee of the Reform Party in Michigan, which is split into two factions.
Yesterday, team Nader made it official: They'll accept the "independent" ballot line provided by the Republican signatures in case they fail to get the Reform Party nomination: "We have to get on the ballot somehow," said Zeese.
If Nader picks up the Reform line in Michigan, it will be with the strong backing of the party's national chairman, Shawn O'Hara, who told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter: "Iím doing everything I can to make sure John Kerry never gets around the White House." O'Hara is a former evangelist who now says he supports abortion rights but admits he once supported the execution of doctors and nurses who perform abortions.
(The Reform Party, which ran rightwinger Pat Buchanan for president in 2000, still maintains an anti-immigrant stance.)
In Oregon, another swing state where Nader could tip the election to Bush, he only needed to attract 1,000 registered voters to a nominating convention to get on the ballot. Four years ago, 10,000 activists rallied for Nader in Portland. But in April, he couldn't rally even 1,000 supporters.
Once again, the Right rode to the rescue. When Nader made a second attempt at a convention on June 26, Oregon's Republicans enlisted the anti-choice, anti-gay Oregon Family Council and the corporatist Citizens for a Sound Economy to recruit rightwingers to attend and sign Nader's petition. The CSE's phone script asking Republicans to put Nader on the ballot explained the need to "pull some very crucial votes from John Kerry." Nader's Oregon coordinator said he saw nothing wrong with rightwing help: "It's a free country. People do things in their own interest."
With Democrats engaging in dirty tricks of their own in Oregon (a county leader urged Dems in an email to attend but refuse to sign), Nader again fell short of the needed 1,000 -- despite the Republican help. Nader's campaign hasn't submitted names from the second convention to state officials, apparently embarrassed at how many will be shown to be registered Republicans.
Citizens for a Sound Economy is a lavishly-funded corporate front group, chaired by former top Republican leader Dick Armey, that lobbies against virtually everything Nader has ever lobbied for. Asked on CNN why such a group would back him, Nader dissembled in the extreme, referring to it as a group "opposed to Congressional pay raises" (perhaps the one issue out of a thousand that Nader and CSE have in common) -- as honest as identifying Pat Buchanan as a Palestinian rights advocate.
After Oregon, Armey's army issued a news release pledging to help Nader get on ballots "in key battleground states like Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere."
Besides activists, Republicans are deploying money behind Nader. On July 9, when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that 1 of 10 big Nader donors had also donated to Bush and the Republicans, Nader's vice presidential running-mate Peter Camejo told a Chronicle reporter that the campaign would consider returning money from Republicans hoping to help Bush against Kerry: "We don't want that money."
Days later, Camejo flip-flopped, telling the same reporter: "It is conceivable that pro-Bush, pro-Republicans believe we have a right to be on the ballot. We will not establish lie detector tests for people who give us money."
Camejo's new line was in keeping with Nader's laissez-faire attitude on accepting GOP cash: "Republicans are human beings too," he argued in a recent radio debate.
As a progressive, I've admired Ralph Nader for as many years as I've disliked the corporate centrism of Democrats like John Kerry. But compared to the corporate and religious rightwing forces behind Nader, Kerry is a paragon of progressive virtue.
For many of us inspired by Nader's 2000 campaign, it was easy four years ago to dismiss the charge that "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" as a Democratic defense of the corrupt status quo. Today, the sad reality on the ground is that a vote for Nader in these swing states is a vote for Bush's money, his organization, his rightwing activists.
Jeff Cohen, formerly communications director of Kucinich for President, is a consultant with Progressive Unity Voter Fund, which sponsored the RalphDontRun initiative.
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