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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