Let me preface this post by saying that I rarely blog about American politics. Truth is, I barely follow them and certainly don't understand them. Ee-lec-tor-al coll-ege? Wha?
But I am Canadian, and therefore know a little something about third (and fourth, and fifth) parties and their ability to shift the odds in the electoral crap-game we play up here.
This brings me, of course, to Nader.
Democrats are reportedly soiling themselves at Ralph Nader's announced candidacy. They apparently are concerned that we might see a repeat of the 2000 election, when Nader's votes, applied in even modest part to the Dems, could have shifted the Florida outcome and given America an inaugural speech from President Al Gore.
This logic is as flimsy as a tent in a storm. Nader in 2000 ran on a platform arguing that the Democrats and Republicans were practically indistinguishable. As if we needed reminding that this is no longer the case, Bush announced this week that he would elevate homophobic vitriole to constitutional status. Voters know that Bush v. Kerry is not just Kodos v. Kang.
Nader also no longer enjoys the benefit of running on the Green ticket; the task of getting on the ballot alone will be a gargantuan task for his campaign.
Exit polling from 2000 showed the second preference of Nader voters in 2000 as a surprisingly even mix of Dems, Republicans and Independents. Nader's vote this time around is likely to be comprised mostly of committed independents -- those who, in his absence, would vote for a different third-party candidate, spoil their ballot, or not vote at all.
And perhaps most importantly, Nader voters learned a lesson in 2000. If the race is shaping up to be a decisive Dem win, they'll vote their conscience. If it's another close race, they'll vote strategically.
Kerry may be the next American president. Bush may have another four years in the Oval Office to protect USA from the moral plague of homosexuality. But in either case, Nader will not have put them there or kept them out.
And third parties are important to democracy. They have played an important role in catalyzing political change and framing the agenda for mainstream politics. In the US, the agrarian Populist Party forced monetary policy onto the agenda near the turn of the century. The progressive parties' agitation in the 1930s helped contribute to the New Deal. Hell, in living memory, Ross Perot made the deficit a make-or-break election issue.
Telling Nader he's egomaniacal to run as an independent is counter-democratic, while worrying that he'll 'spoil' the next election for the Democrats is simply muddled thinking.