In certain precincts of American political culture, the mere mention of the name Ralph Nader still provokes scowls. Many Democrats remain convinced that Nader's presidential campaign in 2000 cost Al Gore the White House and ushered in the calamitous reign of George W. Bush. The obsession with Nader is at first puzzling: blame for Bush's ascendancy can be traced to many other sources. Gore's campaign was timid and bungling, but in any case he won the election and was only denied office by wholesale Republican electoral fraud in Florida and by the scandalously partisan Supreme Court decision that ended the recount there. Yet Nader is a convenient target. His ideological rigidity, his insistence that there was no difference between 'Gush' and 'Bore', his disdain for the politics of compromise and coalition - all recall the sad sectarian history of the American left. Nader resurrected this tradition when he predicted that a Bush victory would galvanise progressive activists. 'Both parties do the same thing, one covertly, one overtly,' he told a Green Party gathering in 2001. 'Which one is going to get more people mad? Which one is going to get more people organised?' The questions depend on a familiar leftist cliché - the worse things get, the better they get.
LRB 8 April 2010 | PDF Download