Princeton's Progressive Spoiler
By George F. Will
Sunday, May 23, 2004; Page B07
The Yankee Doodle Tap Room in Princeton displays old black-and-white photographs of some fresh-faced undergraduates who subsequently became exemplars of what President (of the university) Woodrow Wilson called "Princeton in the nation's service." There are young future Cabinet members John Foster Dulles, Class of '08, James Forrestal, '15; George Shultz, '42, and James Baker, '52; future Supreme Court justice John Marshall Harlan, '20; future senators John Danforth, '58, and Bill Bradley, '65; future governors Adlai Stevenson, '22, and Pete du Pont, '56. And Donald Rumsfeld, '54, whose future is still unfolding, as is that of:
Ralph Nader, '55.
Even then Nader had the slightly cadaverous mien of the severely health-conscious, and the ascetic look of one who, like Longfellow, believes that life is real, life is earnest and we are not put on Earth for pleasure alone. Recently he ate a virtuous lunch (cod; he says he last had a hot dog "in the early '60s") and explained why, four years ago, at the same table in the Jefferson Hotel dining room, he told the same columnist that if Al Gore lost, the Democratic Party would return to the true church of progressivism: "The decadence," he says almost cheerfully, "is deeper than even I thought."
Pointing to a nearby table, Nader says that is where Robert Rubin, President Clinton's treasury secretary, who lived in the Jefferson, frequently dined. Rubin, a master of the Wall Street universe, is warmly praised by Kerry but deplored by Nader, who says the apotheosis of Rubin, a deficit hawk, by Democrats proves that the party remains in corporate America's iron grip.
So Nader is running again for president. Successful independent candidates have had at least one of three assets: a regional base, a vivid personality or a burning issue. George Wallace in 1968 had all three. Nader lacks the first (unless faculty clubs count as a region) and the second, but he certainly has the third: Iraq.
In his incessant travels he talks about all the left's traditional domestic issues and says that one of the war's "untabulated costs" is "journalistic crowding out" that distracts attention from domestic matters. But Iraq gives Nader renewed relevance.
Already, he says, there are perhaps 4 million antiwar voters for whom this is a single-issue election. Kerry, says Nader, wants to deepen the quagmire by sending more troops. Nader wants a "responsible" U.S. withdrawal -- a United Nations role, and so on -- in six months. So he is asking Howard Dean voters: Did you mean it when you said you supported him because of his antiwar passion?
Nader thinks Dean is the Kerry campaign's designated anti-Nader missile. He says that when he was in Oregon recently speaking with journalists, several of them said Dean had called them that day to make the case against the Nader candidacy.
Democrats, he says, have been losing a lot for 10 years and "have no game plan except to raise more money." Republicans practice "no-fault government" -- no one loses his or her job because of failures -- and Democrats practice "no-fault politics," there evidently being no penalty for losing, except more losing.
To Democrats who say he cost Gore the election (Nader got 97,488 votes in Florida, which Gore lost by 537 votes), he replies: There were 100 million nonvoters in 2000. Eight million registered Democrats voted for Bush, 250,000 of them in Florida. He asks angry Democrats, "Why don't you scramble for them?"
In 2000 Nader's name was on ballots in 43 states and the District of Columbia, and he insists he will be on more this year. His endorsement by the husk of Ross Perot's Reform Party guarantees ballot access in seven states, including Michigan, which Kerry must win, Wisconsin (where Gore won by 5,708 votes and Nader received 94,070 votes), New Hampshire (where Nader's vote was larger than Bush's victory margin) and Florida.
Already Nader is helping Bush by consuming some of the anti-Bush financial resources: Some liberals are running ads warning other liberals that Nader's candidacy helps Bush. Didn't Naderite liberals learn their lesson in 2000? The answer may be: They did, but Iraq is making a cohort of different Nader voters. He even dreams of luring conservatives by casting his opposition to free trade and globalization as a defense of sovereignty.
Going from lunch to meet with Kerry, Nader sweetly says he will urge Kerry to "make it" -- a Nader candidacy -- "unnecessary." But the only way for Kerry to remove Nader's threat to his election is by adopting an Iraq policy that would make Kerry's election impossible.
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