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Ralph Nader. AP photo

The other guy
The third party factor

By Babak Yektafar
November 2, 2000
The Iranian

Ralph Nader seemed to know where he was, and yet that surprised me. Surprised in that he always comes across as someone who falls asleep in his clothes with a stack of papers in his hands, only to be whisked away to some ungodly site and awakened for an impromptu press conference, or a press gimmick, as the case may be.

In this case, the presidential candidate for the Green Party was addressing the media at The National Press Club in Washington, his home away from home, criticizing the top two presidential candidates, particularly Vice President Al Gore, on issues such as the economy and environmental protection.

Much has been made of the role of Ralph Nader as the spoiler for Vice President Gore's chances in the upcoming presidential elections. "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," is the favorite battle cry of the Democrats, fearful of loosing one of the closest presidential races in recent times to their Republican opponents.

The Democrats make the point that since Mr. Nader has no chance of winning the election, an assertion that even Mr. Nader himself has acknowledged, a vote taken away from Mr. Gore and his left of center policies will hand the presidency to the Republicans and bring about policies far worse than what the Green Party expects from the Democrats.

In reply Mr. Nader has stated that only Al Gore can defeat Al Gore and the fact that he is up against a "bumbling, corporate setup" of a Republican candidate with less than impressive public record only shows the disdain for the Vice President and his policies as well as the unfair dominance of the two party system.

"Mr. Gore has alienated the core liberals and has to earn his votes just like the rest of us," Mr. Nader said.

That indeed is a fair statement.

I thought of Mr. Nader's presidential aspirations the other night when I noticed a large number of emails by Iranians discussing their preference for Mr. Nader in the upcoming elections. I wondered what would his election mean to Iranian-Americans? They have a big dilemma -- a dilemma usually associated with minorities, and they are equally concerned about domestic and foreign policy. Therefore I was surprised at the level of support for Mr. Nader in these emails since his views effecting minorities in domestic and foreign policies have not been expressed.

The one prevailing factor in support of Mr. Nader is his character, which has been viewed favorably over George W. Bush and certainly over Al Gore. Most regard him favorably because of his scandal free crusader demeanor and his anti-corporate rhetoric.

But his participation in this presidential election poses another question in regards to his character. Mr. Nader knows that he would not have been the center of attention if the presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush were not so close. His usual 4%-5% polling is nothing to take him seriously, but that number is usually the "margin of error" when the polling is done to determine the level of support between the two main candidates.

Furthermore, Mr. Nader may poll 4% nationally, but as it has become evident in certain important states -- considered as "swing" or "battleground" states -- he may receive a higher number of votes. These include Oregon and Washington where environmental issues favor Mr. Nader over Al Gore, as well as Michigan because of the strong influence of labor unions that are still reeling from Gore's support for NAFTA and GATT treaties. There are few more states (Minnesota which chose Jesse "The Body" Ventura as its Governor, New Mexico, Main, etc.) that also will be impacted by Ralph Nader's presence on the ballot.

So now the million dollar question: What does all this say about Mr. Nader's character who is knowingly wrecking another viable candidate's chances? What is his response to voters who care more about issues, be it taxes or gun control or abortion rights, than character? If environment and consumer safety were my only concerns, then Ralph Nader would have been my candidate.

But as an Iranian-American, I do not know of his proposals on foreign policy, national defense, global commerce (I know he is against World Trade Organization, but don't know his plan to bring about a prosperous global economy), immigration, universal health care and a host of other issues. If he has addressed those issues, then he has not been able to articulate or convey those to the public.

His charge that there is no difference between the two major candidates may only be true because of the centrist position taken by those candidates for a broader appeal to the voters. But to suggest that there so no difference in the priority of the issues and the approach in addressing those issues is naive, irresponsible and childish.

In reality, the only thing that Mr. Nader is set to gain from this election is the possibility of gaining 5% of the votes for the Green Party, a threshold set by the Federal Elections Commission for political parties to qualify for Federal campaign money in the next election cycle. He is in this race for the money, giving the Green Party a new meaning.

I like Ralph Nader. He is like the lovable, bumbling, disheveled, never-been-married uncle who is always late for Thanksgiving -- or Noruz -- dinner. He has been an effective public crusader for four decades. I agree with his assessment that the two-party domination of the political scene has taken away other options from the people. I am all for building viable alternative political parties and support his call for campaign finance reform.

I am, however, against his approach to this noble cause.

Presidential elections are not a place to build political parties. If Mr. Nader truly cares about the future of the Green Party, then he should help build it from ground up, so that the Party is not reliant on a personality, but more on a cause based on an ideology.

I can not think of a better example of the "cult of personality" handicap than the Reform Party and its founder Ross Perot, who as you may recall, collected about 13%-15% of the votes during the 1992 presidential elections. Impressive numbers indeed for a third party candidate, and a phenomenon, which indicated a certain readiness by the public to look beyond the two party system.

However, failing to translate that success into the local and national legislative bodies, where laws are initiated and voted on, the party spiraled into disarray once Ross Perot took himself out of the equation, and the once promising Reform Party imploded into the circus act which the public has to endure today.

The Green Party will do itself and future alternative parties a favor by riding itself from this "cult of personality" phenomenon and concentrate on fostering a solid base of law makers at the local and national level, building from bottom up before eying the White House. In a Washington Post opinion piece, Mr. Nader wrote, "An organized political reform movement can achieve lasting changes after the election when a Green Party watchdog...will send this message to the Republicrats: Start shaping up for the American people or your numbers will shrink further in future elections."

What a shame that Mr. Nader and the Green Party prefer the role of a "watchdog" at the expense of dreams and aspirations of other voters, as oppose to active participants in the political process by changing the laws with which they are at adds with.

On November 7th, there is more at stake than choosing a resident to occupy the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There are a number of congressional races, which will determine the make up of the all-important legislative body. But just as important if not more are state races as well as initiatives and referendums in 42 states, which will impact our lives.

As you honor your civic duty as a citizen of this country by exercising your voting right, I hope that you also remember your responsibility as an Iranian-American and the consequences of your choice. May it be an educated one.


Babak Yektafar produces a national public affairs TV show in the U.S. He was also the talk show host on Radio Velayat in Fairfax, Virginia for several years.

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