Don’t Be A Nader, Ralph

October 10, 2010

So it seems that the Ralph Nader Sweepstakes are on. People are stating their case and placing their bets on who’s going to play official spoiler in this year’s mayoral election here in Toronto. And the stakes are quite high this time around, too. One bad wager, a slight miscalculation and you know who will become our next mayor…

Joe Pantalone supporters? Do you really want to be the blame for a Rob Ford victory?

A quick recap for those of you groggy from all that turkey tryptophan. Conventional wisdom has it that if Ralph Nader had not run his ridiculously impossible presidential campaign back in 2000 and siphoned off some progressive votes from Al Gore, George Bush would not have won the state of Florida (probably wouldn’t have even been the need for a recount and all those hanging chads etc.) and not become President of the United States. Hoo-rah! Probably no Iraq. No backsliding in terms of the environmental policies. No massive debt.

Ralph Nader and those who supported him have all that to answer for.

When asked afterwards if he regretted his role in bringing about the presidency of George W. Bush, Nader was unrepentant, saying that he saw no difference between the corporate owned entities that were the Democrat and Republican parties. After much sounds of indignant blustering and pointing of fingers at examples of just how bad George Bush was for the country, for the world, Nader is then written off as just some bitter old crank. Yesterday’s man, coasting on past glories and with no eye on the future.

Yet, the Democrats regained both the Senate and the House by 2006, and the White House in 2008 on a surge of hope for change and a massive reversal of the Bush era damage. Now in 2010, one might argue that not a whole lot has changed. A draw down of troops in Iraq hardly constitutes actually ending the war. There are more troops in Afghanistan, the battle has intensified and now become Obama’s war. Environmental agreements in Copenhagen were underwhelming as have been many of Obama’s domestic moves. He staved off a complete economic meltdown but has since been very timid in reworking the economy, leaving in place many of the culprits responsible for the crisis. His healthcare bill was but a shadow of what progressives hoped it would be.

So you might have to excuse Ralph Nader a little if he popped his head in to score himself an I Told You So. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. The only thing keeping that from truly being accurate is the Republican insistence on moving further and further into Crazytown.

A parallel between the situation in 2000 with the U.S. presidential election and our mayoral campaign of 2010 is a little iffy although that hasn’t stopped those petrified at the possibility of a Rob Ford win on October 25th from accusing anyone thinking of backing Joe Pantalone of Naderism. Firstly, as much as the Smithermaneers want to marginalize Pantalone the fact is, Pantalone isn’t some 3rd party, fringe candidate here. Of the four remaining leading contenders he is the only true progressive and thereby represents a huge swath of voters. He is hardly Ralph Nader in this equation.

And George? I’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth. I’ve read The Assault On Reason. And you’re no Al Gore, sir.

But if there is a Naderish role in our election, I’d nominate John Sewell for the position. Like Nader, politically speaking, Sewell is not a major force, representing a small if resolute portion of the voting public. His open endorsement of George Smitherman will hurt Pantalone but perhaps not as much as Joe Mihevic’s move into the Smitherman camp. If the election is really close, even the slightest support from more left of centre voters toward Smitherman could be enough to put him over the top.

The real Sewell-Nader comparison, however, comes with the reason that brought about Sewell’s endorsement of Smitherman. If elected, Smitherman has promised to establish a panel to examine “municipal government” reform that Sewell would head. “I think it’s a spectacular opportunity,” Sewell said. “I congratulate George on it. If that means I’m endorsing him because of it, so be it; that’s fine with me.”

Not a ringing thumbs-up certainly but it makes one wonder if John Sewell was so easily bought – the panel is an unpaid gig that Smitherman said shouldn’t cost more than a pot of coffee – where was the Pantalone team on this? Was municipal reform not high on the candidate’s list? If so, it suggests Pantalone is seriously out of step with progressive grassroots and shouldn’t be expecting a swell of support from them.

“If I can say one thing about Joe Pantalone,” [says Sewell], “he’s representing the position that Toronto’s working well right now. I don’t think a lot of people share that. It’s not an opinion I share.”

While I think that comment may be overly harsh and slightly out of context (Pantalone’s been making that claim in the face of unduly and at times outrageous attacks on how dysfunctional Toronto actually is, some even from the candidate Sewell’s now endorsing), it shouldn’t pass without notice and is reminiscent of Nader’s a plague on both their houses sentiment. If Joe Pantalone wants to take credit for the things that are going right in Toronto because he’s been a part of the process for 30 years, then he should accept the blame for that which isn’t working, and be out campaigning on what he would do as mayor to move forward and fix those things. That includes municipal reform. George Smitherman recognized it and seized the opportunity. Joe Pantalone didn’t.

Like Ralph Nader, John Sewell pulled back the curtain a little and our progressive candidate was shown to be somewhat lacking.

naderly submitted by Cityslikr