Nader stands firm after debate with Dean

BRIAN COSTA

Nader stands firm after debate with Dean

Independent candidate acknowledges some common objectives but refuses to drop out of presidential race

By BRIAN COSTA bcosta@journalsentinel.com, Journal Sentinel

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Washington — Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean did whatever he could Friday to persuade Ralph Nader to drop out of the presidential race. He pleaded, argued, complimented and even used a little humor.

But after an hourlong debate at the National Press Club in Washington, Nader’s answer remained the same.

“I am never going to betray our supporters and before the election say, ‘Sorry, in a few (swing) states, we’re cutting out,’ ” the independent candidate said. “It is baffling that the Democrats will not focus on 10 times more votes they can get back (from Democrats who voted for President Bush in 2000) and whine and carp about a third-party candidacy.”

But that candidacy was exactly what the discussion focused on, as Democrats fearful of losing key votes to Nader in November relied on Dean, one of Nader’s closest political allies in the party, to make their case.

The debate, aired on National Public Radio, was less an argument over policy as it was a disagreement over how to achieve their shared objectives. By running for president, Dean said, Nader threatens many of his own supporters.

“I’m not here because I dislike Ralph Nader and I’m not here because I don’t think he has the right to run for president. I think he does have that right,” said Dean, who sought the Democratic nomination earlier this year. “But . . . the people who are going to suffer from your candidacy, should you take more votes in 2004 from John Kerry than you did from Bush, are our people — your people and my people. And so what I see in this candidacy is the perfect becoming the enemy of the good.”

Nader’s response: The Democrats, including Kerry, the party’s presidential nominee, are not so good. The longtime consumer rights advocate said Dean’s party has done too little to fight poverty, improve the criminal justice system and limit corporate influence. He also cited differences between himself and Kerry on the war in Iraq, military spending and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he said Kerry is “running to the right of George W. Bush on.”

Nader has been particularly critical of Democrats in the last week after his effort to get on Arizona’s ballot was thwarted. His supporters abandoned their effort to get him on the state’s ballot on July 2 after Democrats sued to challenge the validity of thousands of required signatures.

So far, Nader has not qualified as an independent on any state’s ballot, although he did receive the endorsement of the Reform Party, which could give him ballot access in up to seven states. The Green Party, which nominated Nader for president in 2000, declined to endorse him last month at its Milwaukee convention.

During Friday’s debate, Nader called the Democrats’ efforts to stop his candidacy “the politics of fear.” Dean said he disagreed with other Democrats’ attempts to keep him off the ballot but called Nader’s tactics “fatally flawed.”

“If you really did go out and get all those signatures in Arizona it would be great, but the truth is, a lot of them were illegal,” Dean said. “I agree with much of what you say, but the way to change the country is not to do it by any means to the end. . . . The problem with the democracy is that the two major parties have tried to use any means to the end.”

Taking questions from an audience of about 200 people and NPR moderator Margot Adler, the two agreed on a host of campaign issues, including the reform of the Electoral College system and the inclusion of more candidates in the fall presidential debates.

But it was because of those and many broader agreements between Nader and Kerry that Dean asked Nader to reconsider his candidacy.

“In the long run, this is about American people who can’t defend themselves against the kind of administration that George Bush has,” Dean said. “And that’s why I wish you were on our team, Ralph, because we really need you.”

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