KrisKraus: Balancing Out The Big Media Since 2004

As election day draws near and America is sure to hear but a scant mention of Ralph Nader's name by the press, I think it would be a good time to call some attention to this figure and give some of my thoughts on the matter. Ralph Nader has been clearly shunned by the mainstream media. It would be ok I think for people in the press and in positions of influence who have strong feelings on the matter to make clear that they feel voting for Nader carries with it certain consequences, namely that he is a lost vote and liberal voters would be better served by voting for the more viable liberal candidate. It's another thing to arrange what really appears to be a concerted effort to block out the candidate and his views from the public discourse, because the liberal press knows what's best for the liberal voters in the country, or even more cynically, because they are using their position of power to influence political outcomes according to their liking. Somewhere along in the process of shunning this candidate, anti-Nader liberals in this country have developed something of a consensus justifying why the candidate isn't deserving of being heard. "He's an egotist," "he's a megalomaniac" are some of the charges that are routinely offered but not questioned. If I may, I'd like to take issue with these assumptions, because I don't think they are true.

He's power-hungry and a megalomaniac: Clearly this is something that could be said for every person running for political office; it's a prerequisite for the job. There are no illusions about the fact that the president has a lot of power, and so naturally a person seeking that position will be power-hungry. There's nothing wrong with that unless there's something wrong with all politicians. And yet Nader, unlike the other two candidates, is the one who has devoted his life to public service, whereas they have devoted their lives (or a significant portion of it) to the pursuit of political office. Who is more in the business of seeking power here?

He's an egotist: The only reason Nader is running is for his ego, the charge goes, or even better, for his legacy. Just examining this allegation on its face, you can come to the easy conclusion that it's invalid. If Nader wanted to stroke his ego or guarantee his legacy he would not have run this year. Perhaps you could make the argument that there was no way he knew ahead of time how universally criticized he would be for running in 2000, but don't think he's not aware of it this year, however dense he may be. He knows he's going to be even more scorned this time around. The deeper reason is that there's manifestly nothing egotistical about his motivations. I know that sounds like circular reasoning so let me explain what I mean. His platform as a candidate is entirely consistent with what's driven him all along, which is to protect citizens from abuses of corporate and government power, to help to enlighten them as to the things that the people in power are not telling them, or not telling the truth about, encouraging innovation for the common good, civic responsiblity toward the poor... These are hardly selfish goals.

So he wrote a few books about his trials as a presidential candidate and trying to save the world...does that make him an egotist? Is his candidacy just a stunt to up book sales? What exactly is egotistical about what he's doing? Of course by "egotistical" people could mean that he's doing something they don't want him to do, or maintains resolve despite the good advice and appeals of everyone else. "Egotist" clearly isn't the best word then. "Pariah" may be the better term, because of the way its use self-fulfillingly makes it true.

He's crazy: This I think refers to the fact that he has no chance of winning. The first thing is, the reasonableness of his own personal aspirations really must be separated from the reasonableness of what he has to say or what he stands for. The fact that he's running and he's at 2% in the polls doesn't make his general sanity equivalent to that of Lyndon LaRouche. Saying "he's crazy" in this sense amounts to nothing more than saying his bid is a very long shot. That being said, I don't think he has any illusions about winning. So I think that, given his motivations, his behavior is quite sane. As I've said before, I believe his run is an activist measure intended to 1) increase the long-term acceptability of third parties 2) influence the candidates by bringing up issues that would be impossible for a politically-viable candidate. In fact, just looking at the statements that these figures make, if you were to define craziness on the basis of disconnection with reality, at this moment President Bush would be scoring higher than Ralph Nader.

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