Ralph Nader, according to many who say they used to admire him, has become the self-centered star whose press clippings have gone to his head, the dog in the manger, the skunk at the Democratic garden party.
After all, the man whose name comes to mind at the mention of the phrase "consumer advocate" is also the man who almost certainly helped elect President Bush -- by siphoning away a few thousand Florida votes that otherwise would have gone to Al Gore.
And now he's running for president again!
Well, the advice here is that the Democrats -- very much including presumptive nominee John Kerry -- would do well to pause in their brick-throwing long enough to listen. Because what Nader is offering, he genuinely believes, is a road map to a Kerry victory.
"A part of the problem," Nader said in an interview last week, "is that the Democrats have become too cautious -- too indentured to the same money the Republicans are dialing for. Kerry's consultants and handlers are telling him to tone it down, and he has. For example, he's now saying, 'I'm not a redistributionist, I'm a centrist,' and that speaks volumes. Because the issue isn't redistributing wealth in the old-fashioned sense but stopping the redistribution that's already going on through corporate welfare."
In fact, ending corporate welfare is one of 10 elements of what Nader is certain would be a winning campaign. "Democrats would like it, but so would lots of conservatives, liberals and progressives who don't like the way wealth is being redistributed in this country." Here are some other ideas on Nader's list:
* Support a living wage. Kerry should propose a living wage -- and act as though he means it. Huge numbers of Americans (10 million households) earn less than $10,000 a year. Those workers would be substantially better off if the minimum wage had simply been indexed for inflation -- "like congressional salaries" -- over the past 35 years.
* Go after corporate crime. "This would attract a lot of conservatives to his cause -- certainly as many as there are Reagan Democrats. I'm talking about people whose 401(k)s have been destroyed by what Enron and the others have done through corporate greed."
* Repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The prospective yield turns out to be "almost exactly what the American Society of Civil Engineers said last year it would take to restore America's deteriorating infrastructure" -- roads and bridges, schools, libraries, water and sewer systems, public buildings. "Everybody could get behind this, from labor unions to the Rotary, from workers to the corporate suppliers. And the best part is that it would create thousands of good-paying jobs that can't be outsourced to China."
* Protect the poor. Low-income Americans have no legal protection for many of their ordinary transactions -- either because the appropriate legislation hasn't been enacted or because of "a congealed lawlessness that goes unprosecuted." Nader's list includes check-cashing businesses for people who don't have access to bank accounts, tax-refund loans at usurious rates, rent-to-own schemes, dumping of tainted meat and shoddy merchandise in inner-city outlets, bank red-lining, and all manner of predatory lending. "Democrats should flock to this issue, and the Republican blur machine couldn't do a thing about it. You know how they blur issues: passing an inadequate prescription bill and saying that takes care of the elderly, or passing No Child Left Behind and saying that takes care of education."
Nader says Kerry should demand reform of a tax code that taxes work more than it taxes wealth; promote reduced reliance on fossil and nuclear energy; and support a reversal of policies that "make it almost impossible to form a union in the private sector anymore."
As for the war in Iraq: Kerry needs to set a date for withdrawal of American troops and companies. "The way to separate mainstream Iraqis from the insurgents is to make clear that there will be no American occupation -- stop building those 14 military bases -- and no puppet government. Bring in peacekeepers from neutral countries and from Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, until Iraqi forces take hold with internationally supervised elections."
"If Kerry takes these positions," Nader concludes, "the only thing he'll have to worry about is how big will be his landslide."
Maybe. At the very least, it would provide an answer to those who've been looking for some reason to support Kerry besides the fact that he isn't Bush.