“In ancient Athens, politics was a glorious word. It was the word used as an antidote to autocracy. And now, these rascals in politics, this two-party elected dictatorship has turned politics into such a dirty word, that the whole idea of elected public service is now distasteful to thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country. That’s when I said, ‘Okay, that’s the final straw. I have got to step forward.’”
As a lifelong public citizen and consumer activist, Ralph Nader has influenced the passage of countless legislative acts without ever having been in public office himself.
During the Reagan administration in the 1980s, Democrat politicians befriended the business community in order to solicit campaign contributions instead of adopting the issues that Nader championed. Believing that the Democrats and Republicans were “essentially one corporate party with two heads,” Nader felt that this was a betrayal of democracy.
Nader first ran for president in 1996, after a group of California environmentalists led by activist David Brower sent him a letter asking him to run on the Green Party ticket. Although the Green Party had been active as a third party in the U.S. since the 1980s, emphasizing environmentalism, social justice, decentralized government and non-hierarchical participatory democracy, the party gained national prominence during Nader’s 1996 and 2000 presidential runs.
In his 1996 campaign, Nader accepted placement on the Green Party of California’s primary ballot, running an extremely limited campaign with Winona LaDuke as the vice-presidential candidate. Nader and LaDuke were on the presidential ballot in 22 states and garnered 0.7 percent of the national vote.
In his 2000 campaign, once again running with LaDuke as the vice-presidential candidate, Nader held historic rallies with tens of thousands of supporters. With increased national exposure, the Nader/LaDuke ticket was on 44 state ballots, winning 2.8 million votes, or 2.74 percent of the popular vote to Gore’s 48.38 percent and Bush’s 47.87 percent.
Nader’s perceived effect on the outcome of the 2000 election earned him the enmity and scorn of many Democrats, including many former supporters who claimed he set out to “spoil” the election. Nader remains a scapegoat for the Democrats’ 2000 loss, despite such factors as a significant percentage of Democrats who voted Republican, the failure of Al Gore to win his home state of Tennessee and the presence of other third-party candidates, including Independent Pat Buchanan.
Despite many former allies pleading with him not to run in the 2004 election, claiming that a vote for Nader was a vote to re-elect Bush, Nader ran again as an independent, with Peter Camejo as his running mate. He received only a quarter of the votes he had in the 2000 election and was not a deciding factor in the resulting Bush re-election.
“When people say, ‘Why’d you do this in 2000?’ and so on,” Nader explains in AN UNREASONABLE MAN, “I’d say, ‘I’m a 20-year veteran of pursuing the folly of the least worst between the two parties.’ Because when you do that, you end up allowing them to both get worse every four years.”