[A] persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary
-- Definition 2 b of "delusional" on the Merriam-Webster Web site.
As I watched Ralph Nader on "Meet the Press" deny to Tim Russert his role in electing George W. Bush in 2000, I realized that arguing with this man is pointless. He is so embedded in his idealism that he has lost any and all sense of reality.
Nader's insistence that his presidential candidacy helps further the goals he believes in is, by Merriam-Webster's definition, delusional. There is "indisputable evidence" that his presence in the race in Florida gave the state (and the election) to Bush in 2000, and yet he maintains a "persistent" belief that it was not his fault, pointing fingers everywhere else but at himself. (I'm not a psychiatrist, so I can't speak to the "psychotic" part.)
After Nader declared his candidacy on "Meet the Press," Russert immediately provided a detailed analysis of how his voters gave Bush the victory in Florida in 2000 (including exit poll information) and asked him how he responds to charges that he put Bush in the White House and was thus responsible for the resulting events of the last seven years. (You can read a transcript of the interview here.) What was Nader's response?
First, he said it was Bush's fault. Then, he pointed to the Democrats in Congress. Then the 250,000 Florida Democrats that voted for Bush. Then "Katherine Bush" (Russert corrected him that it was Katherine Harris) and the Republicans running Florida. Then he blamed the U.S. Supreme Court's "politicized" decision on the Florida vote count. Then it was Al Gore losing Tennessee and Arkansas. Then it was the mayor of Miami holding a grudge against the Democrats. Finally, he accused the "liberal intelligentsia" of only concentrating on one variable (him) as the cause of Bush's win.
Nader is right that after the 2000 election, Bush was responsible for his own bad decisions and policies, and that the Democrats acted like spayed lap dogs, giving Bush everything he wanted without a fight. It is also true that Gore ran a horrendous campaign (I often site his pathetic performance, with its nadir of his bizarre debate walkabout) and should have won by enough votes to make Nader irrelevant, and that Republicans from Florida to the Supreme Court participated in perverting the course of justice. I don't know anything about the Miami mayor having a grudge, but let's give him that one too, just for argument's sake.
Everything Nader said is true. To which I reply: "So what?"
Identifying other factors that cause a disaster doesn't absolve you of your role in the destruction. If a kid toilet-papered a house on Halloween, is he off the hook just because the hooligans down the block threw eggs at the windows and stink bombs into the doggie door? Hardly. And that's the problem with Nader's argument. He will tell you all the other reasons Gore lost in 2000, but he never takes responsibility for his part in what happened.
Nader is also a major hypocrite on the issue of his role in siphoning votes from the Democrats. In 2000, he argued that since the Democrats and Republicans were both beholden to corporations, there was essentially no difference between the parties. For example, in an October 29, 2000 interview with Sam Donaldson on "This Week," Donaldson asked Nader about this very issue, using the right to choose as an example of a difference between the parties. Nader's response:
"What it matters is the similarities—the enormous similarities, letting this national capital of ours be run by big business, just the way Business Week said the other day in a cover story, saying there’s too much corporate power over all aspects of our life."
He wouldn't give Donaldson any quarter on the point that there were differences between the parties and repeatedly strove to make the point that the parties were virtually the same.
Only, history showed that he was dead wrong. You have to believe that if Gore was president on September 11, 2001, the response of the U.S. would have been quite different. Gore would not have invaded Iraq, and, as a result, there is a good chance he would have finished the job in Afghanistan, something Bush failed to do.
Nader has to realize that there is blood on his hands. That he bears responsibility for the nearly 4,000 dead U.S. soldiers from the war in Iraq and the tens of thousands of others seriously wounded. There are certainly others responsible for the tragedy, but Nader has to take a share of the blame. And yet, instead, he is in total denial. He is delusional.
But on some level, he has to know that he was wrong. In his interview with Russert, he steered clear of "the parties are the same" arguments. He even admitted that there were differences between Obama and McCain. This time around, he is saying that a majority of Americans agree with his platform, and that the calls by Democrats for him not to run amount to a violation of candidate rights.
Both these arguments are shining examples of Nader's idealism clouding his sense of what is really happening in the world.
Whether Nader's positions match up with public beliefs or not, he is not going to garner a significant percentage of the vote. Again, in an ideal world, I understand the value of a progressive candidate championing popular ideas. But if the effect of that candidacy is to elect a more conservative president, then the campaign has destroyed the chance of most of these progressive ideas from being adopted. When exposed to the harsh light of reality, Nader's idealistic aims crumble.
As for Nader's decision to play the victim and whine about the right of candidates to run if they want to, again, he misses the point. Sure, he has the right to run a progressive bid for the White House. Nobody is talking about legally banning him. What Democrats are saying is, by running, the effect (that is, the reality) of Nader's candidacy is that his race will help elect a Republican. Sure, in an ideal world, there should be a progressive movement with a chance of bringing change to the way Washington does business.
But in reality, Nader isn't doing that. He got 2.7 percent of the vote in 2000 and, other than helping to elect Bush, he had no influence on the American agenda (three short years later, Bush was sending troops into Iraq, and the Democrats weren't fighting him). In 2004 Nader claimed that he was going to get enough support to change the equation. Instead, he got .38 percent of the vote, roughly the same total as Michael Badnarik. Who is Michael Badnarik? Exactly. (Bednarik was the Libertarian candidate.)
Nader can say whatever he wants, but his "movement" was and is dead on arrival. The only effect he can realistically have is to help a Republican get elected.
I don't take any joy in assailing Nader as a delusional hypocrite whose inability to accept reality has done grievous harm to the country. His 30-year record as a consumer advocate is exemplary, and before 2000, he had to be considered one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century. But his past accomplishments, while important, do not serve as an all-purpose "Get Out of Jail Free" card. The damage he caused in 2000 is mostly irreparable, and there is potential for him to do it all over again this year.
I prefer to look at Nader as a good man who now suffers from a sort of mental illness. We can feel sorry for him and respect what he's accomplished, but make no mistake: No good can come from Ralph Nader running for president. It is up to everyone to make that point, loudly and clearly, whenever possible, so the damage he caused in 2000 is not repeated again in 2008. I like to think that Ralph Nader of 1975 would approve of denouncing the Ralph Nader of 2008, the one who is delusional.