Yes, Ralph Nader did cause Bush’s election in 2000 (updated)

After almost eight years, it’s probably time to stop fighting the Nader battles of 2000, even if Nader himself seems determined to keep them alive.

To begin with, despite some gnashing of teeth among Democrats, there’s very little chance Nader’s running again this year will hurt us in the election. The last time he ran, in 2004, he garnered only .38% of the vote. And this year he’ll be lucky get a third that many votes.

Besides, even if Nader were somehow to win enough votes in a close state this year to make it appear as though he made a difference in the outcome, it would be an illusion: unlike 2000, in 2008 the only people who will vote for Nader are confirmed vote protestors. Nader won’t be stealing their votes from Obama or Clinton; he’ll be stealing them from some other third party or write-in candidate.

Still, for the sake of historical accuracy, I do have to take exception with one of the arguments we continue to hear from Nader supporters — the claim that he didn’t really cost Gore the election in 2000. 

Here’s how the argument goes: you can’t blame Nader for the outcome in Florida, it begins, because Gore didn’t really lose the state. It was stolen by corrupt officials in Florida and by the Supreme Court. Besides, the argument continues, if Gore had run a better campaign, he would have swamped Bush by a big enough margin to win regardless of the Nader vote; thus, it’s really his own fault, not Nader’s.  

The problem here, of course, is with the implicit assumption that there was only one cause for this electoral cataclysm. Unfortunately for Nader apologists, however, that simply isn’t true. There were several causes for Bush’s “victory,” one of which was Ralph Nader, and all of which share responsibility.

In the law, for example, there’s a concept known as joint and several liability. It’s defined in this way:

Legal obligation under which a party may be liable for the payment of the total judgment and costs that are associated with that judgment, even if that party is only partially responsible for losses inflicted, whether bodily injury and/or property damage.

Simply put, even if you’re only one of several people responsible for an accident, you’re still liable (joint and several liability has been replaced in most states by comparative negligence, a change that doesn’t impact this analogy, since comparative negligence also recognizes culpability on wrongdoers who are only partially at fault for a loss).

To push the analogy to its logical conclusion, Ralph Nader is jointly and severally responsible for Bush’s election. Sure, others bear responsibility as well, but that doesn’t get Ralph off the hook. If he hadn’t run in 2000, the election wouldn’t have been close enough in Florida for either the GOP or the Supreme Court to steal it. End of story.

One can fairly argue over whether there’s anything blameworthy about Nader’s actions, but trying to argue that he did not, in fact, cause (in part) Bush’s “election” in 2000 is silly.

Update: To be clear, if I wasn’t before, I’m not slamming Nader voters. As I’ve said before, “They had every right to vote for whoever they wanted (as misguided as even many of them now concede that decision was).” There were legitimate, if in my view misguided, reasons for choosing that path in 2000.

No, my anger — or such of it as remains — is directed at Nader himself and some of his more vocal “celebrity” supporters. And to be honest — a lot of it relates to the ridicule they repeatedly heaped on those of us who warned of the risks posed by Nader’s campaign. A spattering of this abundant ridicule of non-Nader supporters may be found at the link immediately above.

And by the way, if you do check the link, you’ll find that one of the offenders is none other than today’s neoconservative darling, Christopher Hitchens. And as you’ll recall, Hitchens was every bit as contemptuous of those of us who opposed the war in Iraq as he’d earlier been of Democrats for their “servile” support of Gore.

Am I not supposed to give Hitchens a hard time on Iraq either?

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13 Responses to “Yes, Ralph Nader did cause Bush’s election in 2000 (updated)”

  1. Chuck Says:

    Steve: I could picture your face getting red and your pulse-rate and blood pressure levels rising while you were writing this.

  2. RJHall Says:

    Heh! So, Ralph Nader has “deep pockets” but Al Gore is “judgment-proof”! :-)

    See, because when multiple potential defendants might be jointly and severally liable, you don’t sue all of them but only the ones who are rich enough so they might be able to pay you if you win the court case.

    So, among the potential defendants who might be jointly and severally liable are Ralph Nader, for running and winning votes that might otherwise have gone to Al Gore, and Al Gore himself, for running such a piss-poor campaign in an election that was his to lose. Now, popular opinion hasn’t “sued” them both, but instead, has demonized and vilified the former and lionized and extolled the virtues of the latter. So, in the court of public opinion, Ralph Nader must have “deep pockets” and Al Gore must be “judgment-proof”! (And I would have thought it should be the other way around.)

  3. RJHall Says:

    In thinking about Al Gore’s inability to overwhelmingly win the 2000 election and the public’s (Democrats’) whining more about how Ralph Nader was at fault than about this, I am reminded of something Greg Palast once wrote in a very different context that had absolutely nothing to do with Nader or third parties ( ). Just pretend the third sentence is about Nader and third parties getting and metaphorically stealing 5% of the vote rather than the Republicans’ vote-rigging and REALLY stealing 5% of the vote: “It’s true you can’t win with 51% of the vote anymore. So just get over it. The regime’s sneak attack via vote suppression will only net them 4.5 million votes, about 5% of the total. You should be able to beat that blindfolded. If you can’t get 55%, then you’re just a bunch of crybaby pussycats who don’t deserve to win back America.”

  4. Jozef Says:

    Pure unadulrerated cow manure. The Democrats who voted for Bush are to blame for Gore’s loss. Al Gore who lost his home state of Tennessee is to blame for his loss! Al Gore’s rolling over and playing dead when he knew the election was stolen lost it for him. Al Gore’s failure of his intellectual prowess over a mental midget like G.W. Bush lost him the election. The reason why millions of voters like me are voting for Nader is because Democrats, like G.W. Bush and his crowd. cannot take responsibility for their own failures. Always blaming somebody else, the Democrats are unable to wise up. Do not delude yourselves Democrats. You do not own Nader’s votes. Nader’s votes are “siphoned of” from you. They were, and always will be vote you could not earn. When will you ever learn. I think I know when. When you screw over the voters once too often the Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed have. Oh, that is now, isn’t it? Run! Ralph Run!

  5. Dichterfreund Says:

    The analogy to responsibility for an accident is wholly inapplicable, because the fraud and subterfuge employed before the election, the night of the election and subsequently were all deliberate. If someone is determined to run his car into mine, then a pedestrian who had the right of way to cross but who prevented me from getting out of the way is not liable for the success of the person intending me harm.

    Moreover, the culpability of Gore is absolutely relevant, because Gore colluded in the corporate rule excluding candidates not polling 15% from participating in televised national debates. This collusion in creating rules that limit democratic participation gave Gore’s supporters no right to issue complaints against someone who was justly pursuing democratic redress for anti-democratic actions by their candidate.

    So the scenario is this: the Gore vehicle was intending to impede public access to the street. A pedestrian or bicyclist instead used his legal right of way; and while the Gore vehicle was stalled, the Bush vehicle slammed the Gore vehicle causing the damage it intended. Had Nader been trying to take an illegal right of way, then there would be room for complaint.

    In any case, this continual litany of “Nader cost the election!” tells independent voters that Democrats don’t believe in democracy any more than Republicans do & suggests that they are only out for partisan advantage in a zealously maintained duopoly.

  6. abbiemac Says:

    If you were defending Gore in a case of joint and several liability regarding the 2000 election “accident” in Florida, would the focus of your claims of responsibility be on Nader, rather than, say, Kathleen Harris, who certified the FL vote and had a conflict of interest with 2 Bush boys, Theresa LaPore, who came up with the “butterfly” ballot in Palm Beach, or even Jeb Bush, who displayed his conflict of interest by calling his brother to reassure him that FL would be his? In a court of law, would Ralph Nader really be your #1 argument for joint and several liability responsibility? I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV, but I don’t think you would even consider trying to prove such a weak case.

    I agree with you when you say, “The problem here, of course, is with the implicit assumption that there was only one cause for this electoral cataclysm” - but not for the reasons you cite.

    Many, or most, of those you refer to as “Nader supporters,” of which I am presumably one, voted for Gore. Aware that they do so or not, “Nader supporters” look at the 2000 election from the legal perspective of joint and several liability and come to the logical conclusion that there were several factors that resulted in Baby Bush being in the White House and that the Nader effect was insignificant.

    To me, the most obvious but least meaningful is Gore “running such a piss-poor campaign in an election that was his to lose,” to quote RJHall. The 2000 election was Gore’s to lose, and he did. I am seriously angry about that - at Gore; it was his campaign.

    Most important but virtually hidden is the Republican/Bush trashing of what remained of election integrity in states across the US - not just corrupt election officials in Florida. Now, here’s something an honorable attorney, which I presume you to be, should be able to really get his teeth into - outright election fraud.

    And then, there is the Supreme Court’s December 12, 2000, decision released in the dead of night. As an attorney, have you no angst over that?

    I’ll admit that Ralph Nader had an effect on the 2000 election, especially since he was a legitimate candidate; I would be silly not to - but the cause of Gore’s supposed defeat, not a chance. “The problem here, of course, is with the implicit assumption that there was only one cause for this electoral cataclysm,” and that one-cause assumption is that Gore’s defeat was Nader’s fault perpetuated by Nader gnashers.

    Gore’s 2000 election is long over, as is the one-time-only Supreme Court decision, and there is nothing to be done about either. We are left with election fraud, which seems to be hidden behind the blame-Nader smokescreen.

  7. Cory Hinman Says:

    No, no Nader didn’t elect Dubya, it was the Democrat party in its rightward drift as it whored after corporate money which motivated principled liberals to look elsewhere.

  8. VettaKing Says:

    It’s amazing how many people who said in ‘00, “Gore and Bush are the same, there is no difference in the 2 parites”, continue to say the same thing today about Obama and McCain. Oh well, just because you claim to be a “Liberal” doesn’t mean you aren’t stupid.

  9. Kentj Says:

    The person who caused Gore’s defeat was not Ralph Nader but Bill Clinton. If you live in a “values” state such as I do, Missourah, you would have heard voters repeatedly say how they went with Bush to show their displeasure with Bill Clinton’s behavior in the White House. Here is where the votes were lost. Nader had nothing to do with it.

  10. alwayshope Says:

    I had no clue Nader was so popular. I watched him on Meet the press…..
    ho hum….same old thing……sorry, but he doesn’t inspire anything in me.
    He hates everybody, like Maureen Dowd and like her, once in a while he says something you can agree with, but mostly he just loves to hear himself talk.
    Screw Ralf.
    I am kind of tired of the bashing of the democratic party. There are many good men and women that don’t deserve to be labeled cowards. I’m not wasting my vote, we have two good candidates so if you have to vote for Nader in protest this year….well…hell…you just can’t be satisfied.
    I understand the value of a viable third party like the green party but Nader isn’t their candidate. No, this year, a vote for Nader is just a vote against a government you’d rather despise than help fix.
    Screw Ralf.

  11. momodo Says:

    I covered this in a blogpost about Al Gore and Maureen Dowd. If 1% of the 97,000 Naderites in Florida had swallowed their pride, Gore would have been president. But ultimately the blame rests with Gore running an outstandingly lackluster campaign.

  12. Nick85 Says:

    “there’s a concept known as joint and several liability. It’s defined in this way:

    Legal obligation under which a party may be liable for the payment of the total judgment and costs that are associated with that judgment, even if that party is only partially responsible for losses”

    Refuting one set of numbers over another in this sense is at best, facile - at worst, naive. Think back to Database Technologies,INC. when they removed supposed convicted felons from Florida’s voting rolls to the tune of 94,000 voters before the election, only for it to surface later that 97 percent were innocent and should not have been removed. Al Gore neither protested the disenfranchisement nor supported these voters’ lawsuit to regain their vote — That sort of complacence is his making, his fault. He did run a “lackluster” campain.

    Furthermore, ignoring the other shananigans in 2000, voting Independent is becoming increasingly less about pride as the frontrunners, and two Party locked system, is not addressing the real issues–let alone offering real CHANGE. It’s you, the majority, that should swallow your pride and take a risk and learn all the issues and vote for who really represents a differance.

    And AlwaysHope, you should listen to the meet the press interview more closely with Nader. Both of them. Though he doesn’t sport a footlong smile like Obama and parades in pleasing-sounding generalities, he happens to often discuss accurately the pitfalls of the liberal intelligencia and the philosophy of real Ideals and freedom for electing a president and all the barriers constantly being put between the American people and their rights. AND I’M NOT EVEN A NADER SUPPORTER but have the sense to admire the man and respect his positions!

  13. gogreen Says:

    As expected, this astoundingly stupid argument against Nader has resurfaced in yet another Democratic blog. If you Democrats need to blame someone for the 2000 loss then please look yourselves in the mirror. Around 200,000 registered Democrats voted for Bush in the Florida election. By comparison, around 98,000 votes were cast for Nader in Florida. And lets not forget the hundreds of thousands of registered Democrats in Florida who were too apathetic to cast any vote.

    If you want to keep John McCain from becoming our next President (as I do) please don’t focus your attention on trying to get the votes of Greens, or of the Natural Law, Reform, Libertarian, Workers World, Constitution, Socialist or Socialist Workers party voters. Perhaps instead you should try to keep the reported 20% of Hillary Clinton supporters who have said that they will vote for McCain if Obama wins the candidacy.

    And I’ll also ask — why didn’t you Democrats vote for Nader? If you had, Bush would have lost.

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