There he goes again.
Ralph Nader says he's running for president for the fourth time in a row. The longtime consumer advocate told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that the two major parties aren't offering voters enough choice--as he has done in his previous campaigns. He promised to make a vigorous assault on official Washington as "corporate-occupied territory" where policies are designed to benefit the rich, the powerful, and big business.
Many Democrats haven't forgiven Nader for running in 2000 and taking enough votes away from Al Gore in Florida to throw the state to George W. Bush by 537 votes--thereby giving Bush the presidency. Nader got 97,000 votes in Florida, running on the Green Party ticket. But Nader, who turns 74 this week, says he isn't a spoiler. "If Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year," he argues, "they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form."
He had harsh words for his major-party rivals. He called Republican John McCain "the candidate for perpetual war." He said Democrat Barack Obama's "better instincts and his knowledge have been censored by himself." Earlier, he called Democrat Hillary Clinton a "political coward." On Meet the Press, Nader added: "All the candidates--McCain, Obama, and Clinton--are against single-payer health insurance, full Medicare for all."
Nader rose to fame in the 1960s when he took on the auto industry over safety issues. Since then, he has focused not only on strengthening consumer rights but also on a broader attack against corporate interests, which he says control the agenda in Washington, to the disadvantage of everyday Americans.
Democrats are deeply worried that even a small turnout for Nader among liberals--his core constituency--in key states could swing a close election to the GOP. But Nader also faces very serious challenges not only in raising money--a common problem for independent and third-party candidates--but also in getting on state ballots. He appears intent on running as an independent, not as the head of a third party. And that means he would not have a ready-made organization at his disposal to get his name before the voters. That could make him even more of a peripheral figure this time around.
Of course Nader may not be the only serious third-party or independent candidate in the race. If the Democratic and Republican nominees disappoint key constituencies, there could more "outsiders" testing the system. They could range from libertarian Ron Paul to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That would make an already turbulent campaign even more unpredictable.
By Kenneth T. Walsh