Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Hasn't Ralph Nader done enough damage?

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
September 21, 2011 -- Updated 2202 GMT (0602 HKT)
Ralph Nader speaks at a conference on Transportation Security Administration procedures in January.
Ralph Nader speaks at a conference on Transportation Security Administration procedures in January.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ralph Nader suggested Obama should face primary challenge
  • Donna Brazile says Nader should beware creating Democratic disunity
  • She says his candidacy in 2000 took key votes away from Al Gore
  • Brazile: Progressives should unite to prevent GOP victory in 2012

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee, a nationally syndicated columnist and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000 and wrote "Cooking with Grease."

Washington (CNN) -- Ralph Nader floated the idea this week that a primary challenge to President Obama will help the president and the country.

He is flat-out wrong. His views are based on a faulty premise and a myth. We will start with the faulty premise and get to the myth later.

Remember back to 2000, when Nader himself ran as a third-party candidate? He's not proposing that here -- at least not yet -- but it's important to remember what happens when Nader gets involved in challenging a Democrat. In 2000, he siphoned enough votes from Al Gore in Florida to swing the election to President Bush. It gave us eight years of Bush-Cheney politics and policies.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

If Nader were being honest with himself, he'd look to 2000 as an example of what the consequences can be for the country and progressive causes when progressives don't stick together.

A primary challenge could further divide the party and possibly dampen Democratic enthusiasm. These races could erode our ability to reach swing voters, who are crucial to electoral viability, by forcing candidates to draw a sharper contrast on issues than necessary to win an election. On most issues, Nader agrees with the Democrats more than the Republicans.

By running as an independent and drawing votes in Florida that might otherwise have gone to Gore, Nader helped usher in eight of the worst years our country has ever seen. Bush ignored or trampled on Nader's major concerns.

Look at the record: Bush took President Clinton's budget surplus and squandered it. He used part of the surplus to offset the costs of his tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He used the rest to begin funding an elective war in Iraq.

Bush policies allowed predatory lenders to dupe families seeking mortgages for homes. Wall Street bankers got the green light to play by their own rules. Bush created the bubble that burst and continues to rain on us. Bush policies cost millions of Americans their jobs. Middle class workers watched as their wages stagnated. They looked on helplessly as corporate executives reaped obese compensation.

Obama took over an economy that was shedding 750,000 jobs every month. He came into office with the nation in two wars and with crumbling bridges and superhighways, a health insurance system financially crippling middle class families, plus multiple other domestic maladies. We will be dealing with the repercussions of Bush's eight years for generations. And Nader thinks a primary challenge is a good idea? The question is for whom?

Primary challenges against moderates or centrist candidates work both ways. Does Nader suppose the primary challenges in November that wiped out veteran moderate Republican legislators and left the national GOP where it is today -- with energized extreme right-wing purists almost in control -- was good? Does he really want to be the Democratic Party's equivalent of a tea party purist?

Nader knows there is another progressive activist: Cornel West, who also seeks to stir a primary challenge against Obama. West has honest but debatable differences with President Obama. He rightly should challenge every politician to wage a battle against poverty and injustice in the United States. I see no reason for West to go beyond his rhetorical challenge to the president to address these issues and hold every elected official more accountable to the middle class and working poor.

Here's "the myth": Nader's and West's advocacy of primary challenges is based on the premise that Obama neither speaks to nor fights for progressive ideals. They're wrong. Look at what Obama has done, with pit bull opposition fighting him inch by inch.

Obama repeatedly called for a tax system in which all people pay their fair share, including the wealthiest Americans. The steep deficit cut Obama proposed this week mandates even-handed taxing and closes the tax loopholes that CEOs use to slide by with paying taxes at lower rates than their own secretaries do.

Our country witnessed the end of "don't ask, don't tell" this week. That finally allows brave men and women to serve openly and proudly in our armed forces, regardless of their sexual orientation.

In less than 30 months, the president signed health insurance reform that expanded everyone's access to quality, affordable health care. He outlawed the use of those so-called pre-existing conditions that forced many Americans to go without health insurance or pay exorbitant premiums.

He signed the Fair Pay Act to end workplace discrimination and to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work. He appointed two highly qualified women, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, to the Supreme Court. For the first time in our history, there are three female justices.

The question facing progressives is not whether Obama should have a primary challenger. Rather, it is: Do they want to return to the disastrous economic and social policies advocated by the tea party and the Republican presidential candidates today?

As Gore's former campaign manager, no one knows more than I do what the consequences are of efforts like Nader's. If he and West care about the progressive causes they purport to hold dear, they won't, still once again, risk putting another Republican -- and perhaps another swashbuckling governor from Texas -- in the White House. America cannot afford to go backward. It's time progressives unite for change we all believe in.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT