Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Taking Nader seriously one last time

A friend of mine who is a Ralph Nader supporter (he and his wife are the only Nader supporters I know) called me yesterday. He's committed to supporting a noble but hopeless cause. I told him I would blog one last time about Nader, because there is just one last thing that I would like to say about him.

Nader's relationship with the Democratic party is a classic example of the insider-outsider dynamic. The outsider accuses the insider of selling out to a corrupt system; the insider regards the outsider as a naive, pretentious, self-righteous nag, lacking either the ability or the fortitude to participate in the game of politics. There's some truth in both allegations.

Nader and others of his ilk make the argument that one reason they are not more popular is that the mainstream media exclude them from their coverage. Again, there's an element of truth in that. The mainstream media replies that their readers are not interested in fringe candidates, and they have only so many resources.

But new media should have solved that problem for Nader. The fact that he has a Website means that his message is available to anyone. More voices on the radio, like Air America, mean more opportunities for him to be interviewed in person. God knows there is a wealth of airtime on cable news channels and talk shows.

To say nothing of all the political blogs out there with all the bandwidth they want to let the world know about third party candidates.

And yet, Nader is much less of a phenomenon than he was in 2000. I think part of this is his fault; when you tell most of your supporters that they need to get a grip, they tend to no longer be your supporters.

But a big part of Nader and others' problem is that new media has, if anything, rendered him even less important than he was before, because it has opened up both the mainstream media, and, in particular, the Democratic party, to a much wider range of voices and influences. Daily Kos is both a source of analysis and commentary, and a clearinghouse of information about specific candidates. It also fundraises for some of those candidates. The party itself does not control Daily Kos or sites like it. Nor does the party want to. The DNC is perfectly happy to let a thousand (or a million) Websites bloom, if it means more opportunities for people to get involved, and yet less work for them.

Nor do corporations control Daily Kos or Talking Points Memo. Both are for-profit, which I think is a good thing. Their relationships with large news organizations is symbiotic; they rely on the NY Times and Washington Post for stories, but they also criticize them, and occasionally scoop them.

So Nader's campaign is one of those odd success stories of politics; his message has been so successful that other people have taken it and created organizations that address the problem. He'll never admit that. I think he has too much ego invested in his status as outsider to let himself take credit for actually changing the system.

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