Saturday, July 10, 2004

Howie Decks Ralphie

I wish I’d seen this.

WASHINGTON — Howard Dean wasted little time getting to the point in a debate with third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader on Friday. After listening to Nader’s standard posturing about how only he can save the Democratic Party and the nation from the “corporate interests” that have consumed politics and government, the former Vermont governor struck hard: “Ralph, I think you’re being disingenuous about your candidacy this year.”

In his rapid-fire delivery, the onetime Democratic presidential front-runner rattled off all the ways he saw Nader as a hypocrite: Nearly half the signatures Nader gathered in a failed attempt to get on the Arizona ballot were from Republicans. A significant amount of his campaign kitty comes from Bush-Cheney donors. And, said Dean, “you accepted the support of a right-wing, fanatic Republican group that is antigay in order to help you get on the ballot in Oregon” — a reference to the Oregon Family Council, which produces a “Christian Voter Guide” and campaigns against gay marriage.

“This is not going to help the progressive cause in America,” Dean continued. “The thing that upsets me so much about this is, you have the right to … get in bed with whoever you want to, but don’t call the Democratic Party full of corporate interests. They have their problems, we all have ours, none of us are pure. And this campaign of yours is far from pure.”


The exchange took place against a backdrop of polls showing that Nader may play the spoiler for Democrats again this year as he did in 2000, when he siphoned votes in key states from presidential candidate Al Gore and helped put George W. Bush in the White House. But now, having provoked hostility from many Democrats with his quixotic but damaging third-party run in 2000, Nader is having trouble finding a third party to call his own. Last month, he was rejected at the convention of the Green Party under whose banner he ran in 2000. He’s straining to get on state ballots via minor third parties, including the rump of the Reform Party, founded by Ross Perot and last used as a vehicle by far-right-winger Pat Buchanan in 2000. Nader recently pulled out of Arizona after a group of voters backed by the state Democratic Party challenged the validity of signatures he had collected to gain ballot access.


Yet Nader appeared unbowed in the debate. He was alternately charming and strident, returning again and again to his theme that American politics is a puppet pulled by the strings of corporate America. While most progressives would cite the invasion under false pretenses of Iraq as the major issue of the campaign, Nader said it was “the domination of our country by a concentration of greed and power in the hands of multinational corporations who have no allegiance to our country other than to control it or abandon it as they see fit.” Almost as an afterthought, he slammed John Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, for voting for the congressional resolution to authorize the war in Iraq, and accused Dean, who opposed the war, of abandoning his principles by his support of the Democratic ticket. Nader also called for a pullout of American troops from Iraq. But he kept returning to his basic theme that the Democrats can accomplish nothing but betrayal: “If you really want to do something about poverty and the criminal justice system and the failed war on drugs, how can all that fit inside a Democratic Party that has ignored, year after year, changes for a more just and prosperous America?”

Dean parried effectively, with the directness that helped win him a fervent following during the primaries, before he crumpled after his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. “I’d grant you that there is significant corporate influence that we don’t like,” he said, and pointed out that Nader should not let the “perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Dean continued: “I’m not running for president right now, not just because I lost in Iowa, but [because] I made the calculation that if I did, I would take away votes that would otherwise go to John Kerry and result in the reelection of George Bush. That is a national emergency, and we cannot have it. My argument simply is, When the house is on fire, it’s not the time to fix the furniture.” [ subscription/Day pass required.]

Now if we could only get this kind of debate between John Kerry and George Bush…