If a candidates enjoyment of the election process were the standard rather than projected voters, Ralph Nader -- the independent presidential candidate who polled significant numbers as the Green Party nominee four years ago -- might actually have a shot in the election of 2004.
Speaking to a group of Rhodes College students and faculty at the Meeman Center Thursday night, Nader seemed fully at ease -- a contrast not only to his austere image as a consumer advocate and reformer but also to the occasional awkwardness on the stump of his two major opponents, President George W. Bush, the Republican incumbent; and Massachusetts senator John Kerry, the Democratic challenger.
Neither Bush nor Kerry has what you might call Clintonian glibness; Nader seemed to Thursday night as he took his audience through a litany of his complaints about the established political process and handled questions afterward.
Both major parties are indebted to corporate special pleaders, Nader argued, and, while the Democrats may possess an edge in social services and personal politics, neither they nor the Republicans are responsive to the economic interests of people at large.
Nobodys pushing Kerry to do more, said Nader of the Democratic candidates traditional constituencies. Consequently, the presidential election is being fought out on the principle of which candidate is the least worst. Or, rather, it would be fought out on that basis, without the corrective effect of himself as a candidate.
Making a renewed pitch for participation in this years scheduled presidential debates, Nader said the determinant should be whether a candidate reached the 5 percent level in voter polling -- or whether, as was true of me and [Pat] Buchanan in 200, a majority of the people just want to see a candidate in the debate. Otherwise, the debates would amount to parallel interviews or a cure for insominia.
Nader argued that a lack of real discussion was preventing action on such issues as a minimum wage that has declined in real dollars since 1968, when by todays standards the lowest-paid workers earned the equivalent of $8 an hour. Todays actual minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, and, asked Nader, Who can live on that?...Were in a low-wage economic spiral.
Among other issues that were unaffected by the prevailing two-party political dialogue were those of health care and the environment, said Nader, who maintained that congressional redistricting in recent years, coupled with corporate financial support, has made most House and Senate seats safe havens for one major party or the other -- resulting in an intractable, unreachable body of lawmakers. This is not the Congress I used to work with, lamented Nader, who made his reputation decades ago as an author and activist on behalf of consumer legislation.
One solution might be a none of the above line on ballots, Nader said. Another was the potential domino effect of national candidacies like his own.
Though he spent much time Thursdya night engaging in what amounted to systematic economic and political analysis, Nader seemed intent on having a good time, too. Citing Oscar Wildes ironic claim of being able to resist everything except temptation, Nader said, I can go him one better. I can resist temptation. Responding to a question about author/filmmaker Michael Moore, a onetime associate who had made the case against his presidential candidacy this year, Nader played off a Moore book title by asking rhetorically, Hey, Dude, wheres my buddy?
Nader promised that the next several weeks would see the unveiling of specific planks in his 2004 platform -- including the apparently whimsical one of a soon-to-be-created American Society of Apathetics -- complete with a members oath.
On the evidence of Thursday night, candidate Nader would seem to be offering, at most, a thorough-going program for the reformation of todays politics, and, at the very least, an antidote to that aforesaid apathy.