The Regressive Progressive

How Nader could learn some leftist values from unlikely sources

After accomplishing the Herculean task of losing a single presidential election twice—obtaining a distant third for himself while stealing enough Democratic votes to let a victory slip through that party’s fingers—where did Ralph Nader go? You probably remember how he rebounded and became a national progressive icon, giving rousing speeches on changing our country. Or in Nov. 2000, you might remember Nader coming to Gore’s support in an election that was visibly unfair and deserved a recount to prevent disenfranchisement. And after Bush’s inauguration, remember how Nader used the web and alternative media to publish scathing criticisms of Washington politicians?

If you, like me, don’t remember Nader doing any of this, it’s because he didn’t. Even if mainstream media resisted giving Nader airtime, in the age of weblogs and interactive online media there’s no excuse for silence. But since Nov. 2000, Nader’s website has only added a handful of items on a very limited set of issues. Now that Nader has suddenly reappeared, however, it’s evident that he wasn’t being held captive somewhere—he was choosing to be useless.

There are plenty of popular, legitimate criticisms of Nader: he handed the White House to Bush; he might do that again this year; he’s beginning a campaign of and for the people while the people clearly don’t want him to run; and his website is outdated, lacking the blog or discussion area that has become a staple of modern-day candidates (even of Bush-Cheney). If there’s still a progressive spark lurking within Nader, it’s become increasingly difficult to locate.

But the real lie behind Nader is evidenced by, of all people, Gore and former Vermont Gov. Howard B. Dean. Both are ostensibly far less progressive than Nader—yet recently both have shown a more sincere, more engaged commitment to the left than the Nader of today. After 2000, Gore re-energized and affiliated with the highly progressive, giving laudable, widely-reported speeches against Bush and the Iraq war. He also threw his support behind Dean when the rest of the Democrats were afraid that endorsing such an outsider would ruin their political careers.

In the 2000 election, Nader undeniably moved Gore’s rhetoric to the left (remember Gore’s excited, populist-sounding convention speech?), something Nader told us was a unique advantage of running as a third-party challenger. But this year Dean—running as a Democrat—moved an entire field of candidates to the left, as Kerry and others struggled to bring their rhetoric in line to compete. Nader, evidently, was wrong: real change can come from within.


Moreover, Dean’s behavior after ending his run for office exhibits the opposite of Nader’s shameful post-2000 disappearance. Dean continues to push his causes, from a weblog updated regularly even post-campaign, to a massive effort to encourage progressives to run in local elections, to a promise to attend the convention and influence the Democratic platform. There’s even talk of Dean starting a Political Action Committee to use his formidable fundraising skills to push Democrats back left.

If Nader were the progressive he claims to be, he’d lose the self-righteousness and take a lesson from Dean and Gore: Instead of glorifying yourself, start blogging and agitate for real, pragmatic progressive change.

J. Hale Russell ’05, an arts editor, is an English concentrator in Adams House.