Vanity candidates

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(Host) Why is Ralph Nader once again running for President? Commentator Olin Robison has some ideas.

(Robison) About four years ago during the last presidential election cycle I had fun surprising my super-conservative friends by telling them that my favorite presidential candidate was Pat Buchanan. My reasoning was that if Pat Buchanan were to mount a campaign as an Independent, it would take votes away from Bush and would thereby be an assist to Gore.

Well, as the entire world knows, that didn’t happen. What did happen was the mirror image of my idea. Ralph Nader ran on the Green Party ticket and took just enough votes away from Gore to throw the election to Bush. This was especially true in Florida.

Now, guess what, here we go again. Pat Buchanan is nowhere to be seen, but Ralph Nader is back with us, once again declaring that there are no consequential differences in the two main parties and so he has an obligation to speak up on behalf of truth and light and to hold both major parties to account.

That last bit is nonsense, of course. How could anyone who is even somewhat aware of what is going on in America really believe that there are no real differences between today’s Republicans and today’s Democrats. For better or worse, we are clearly in a period when the differences are quite stark. The choices facing the voters really are at least right now quite dramatic.

This brings us to the question of Why is Ralph Nader running? My answer is vanity. Big time vanity.

The truth is that versions of this have happened many, many times in the history of American presidential elections. There has been a third party candidate, or at least a third candidate, in almost every presidential election since 1832.

But the so-called third party only rarely survives the candidate. And, of course, there have been elections that included not only a Third Party, but also Fourth and Fifth parties. 1968, for instance, was a banner year in this regard. That year, in addition to the Republican and Democrats, we had candidates Eugene McCarthy representing the Independent Consumers; George Wallace representing the American Independent Party; Dick Gregory under the Freedom and Peace banner; and Eldridge Cleave on behalf of the Peace and Freedom group. All of that led in to the election of Richard Nixon, which eventually led to Watergate well, enough of that.

The point is that this is neither new nor novel. There have been lots of such efforts. There have not, however, been all that many instances where the third party or independent candidate actually decided the outcome of the election. A few, yes. But not many. Some believe that Ross Perot cost the first President Bush re-election in 1992. But others argue about it.

Not many argue about Nader’s impact on the election in the year 2000. The broad consensus is that his presence on the ballot divided the Democratic vote just enough to give Bush the election.

It is truly disingenuous of Nader to claim otherwise. His vanity is no doubt making Karl Rove, the president’s chief political guru, a happy man.

Rank and file Democrats, on the other hand, are understandably outraged.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.

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