Jeremy Lott makes his intriguing case in Politico that the Democratic Party has been captured by Ralph Nader: “It’s Nader’s party now.”
Back in 2000, Lott says, Al Gore ran as a “fairly conservative Democrat — certainly far more conservative than the Nobel Prize-winning party animal he’s become”—and he was more hawkish than Bush, who was promising an “humble foreign policy.” Enter Nader, running to Gore’s left and throwing the election to the Republicans in Florida with his 100,000 votes in that state.
Ever since, says Lott, the Democrats have put forward progressively more liberal nominees, partly to protect their flank from the left:...it’s becoming ever clearer that by playing the third-party spoiler, Nader won the argument about the future of the Democratic Party.
These snippets made me interested in reading the original Politico article, which includes more detailed analysis:
It’s tempting to claim that Bush radicalized the Democrats, but it’s simply not a convincing explanation. Bill Clinton had become the first Democratic president since FDR to be elected to two terms. He did that by convincing voters that his was that rare middle ground between bleeding-heart liberals in his party and those heartless Republicans.
The consumer crusader and activist Nader had run for president before, but in 2000 he ran hard against Clintonism on the Green Party ticket. Nader was sick of the triangulation. He wanted to topple the nation’s “corporate paymasters,” raise taxes, socialize medicine, reregulate everything that moves, kill free trade agreements, and not only strengthen unions but return them to their old place of prominence in the American work force. He actually talked of repealing the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act.
Many liberals remain furious at Nader for that campaign. His percentage of the vote wasn’t earth-shattering, at 2.7 percent nationally, but those turned out to be crucial votes. Gore lost by about 500 dangling chads in a state where voters cast nearly 100,000 ballots for Nader.
And yet, it’s becoming ever clearer that by playing the third-party spoiler, Nader won the argument about the future of the Democratic Party. He clearly won the policy argument, with both Hillary Clinton and Obama promising to expand government health care, “end the Bush tax cuts,” chip away at NAFTA and other free trade policies, put real teeth in union recruitment efforts and sign stringent environmental legislation.
Nader’s challenge convinced the powers that be in the party that they simply cannot afford to let a serious challenger get to the left of the party’s presidential candidate. That helps explain why Dean was given the DNC chairmanship over a Clinton loyalist and why concerns about electability were brushed aside to make way for the junior Illinois senator’s nomination.