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Ralph Nader, let me help you quit the race
Charlie Clark cclarkjedd@aol.com

MEMO TO: Ralph Nader

FROM: Your Self-Appointed Political Counselor

Gathering dust inside my wallet is my bent-up Public Citizen identification card, which notes that I have been a member of your fine advocacy group since 1984. I carry the card in case of an accident, so that police or emergency medical personnel will be impressed with my progressive activism.

Today I placed that card in an envelope addressed to you, along with this memo containing what I hope is a tactful suggestion: Instead of sending you my $30 membership renewal, how's about I use the money to book a briefing room at the National Press Building for a date in early September? There you can announce, in your own understated style, that you are abandoning your quixotic candidacy for president and throwing your support behind Al Gore.

Look, you've made your point. The Green Party agenda of blasting corporate dominations of our nation's two major parties has generated buckets of news ink. A sizable army of anti-globalization street performers has said amen to your sermon.

Now it's time to serve them and a few other ambitious Americans a reality sandwich. While a smattering of left-liberal voters in Republican-lock states like Texas and Virginia can afford to go to the voting booth and high-mindedly ``send a message," the rest of America has a president to pick.

The harder you work at taking your modern Children's Crusade to the Democrats' bread-and-butter strongholds in California, New York, New England and the Midwest, the more you risk siphoning votes from the semi-progressive Gore and giving aid and succor to the indescribable George W. Bush.

The spoiler role does not become you, Ralph. Many agree that your issues are important. I personally am nerdy enough to have spent Saturday afternoons studying your analyses of such life-of-the-party topics as energy price-gouging, food safety, pollution, medical malpractice and corporate welfare.

But I don't buy it when you claim with a straight face that there are no differences between Tweedle-Gore and Tweedle-Bush. Any checklist of current mainstream issues, including tax cuts, abortion, privatizing Social Security, prescription drugs, a patient's bill of rights, school vouchers, missile defense and campaign finance reform, shows that Democrats and Republicans have night-and-day positions.

And your recent dismissal of concerns about the next president's likely Supreme Court appointments - well, perhaps you missed Bush's statement that one of his favorite justices is Clarence Thomas.

What rankles many about your Walter Mitty candidacy is your apparent contempt for average Americans' political culture. It is the country, not just ``sell-out" politicians, that has moved center-rightward over the past two decades, with no shortage of liberal ``voices in the wilderness" imploring the masses not to.

Also, people care about a candidate's character, personality, religion, family, life story, speaking style and sense of humor. Your admirable ascetic existence as head monk of consumer activism is not exactly like having been born in a log cabin.

Who would form your political base in Congress: Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders? Who would serve in your Cabinet other than such household names as Joan Claybrook and Sydney Wolfe?

Finally, I object to your dismissal of the Commission on Presidential Debates as a wholly owned subsidiary of the major parties and corporations. Yes, it nixed participation by you and your mirror image, Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, because you never reached 15 percent in any poll.

But the commission's purpose is neither to jump-start dark-horse candidacies nor to place new issues on the national agenda. (The country has thousands of academics to do that.) Its role is to formalize the debates (schedule, format, etc.) to assure that the public, amid all the sound bites and slogans, gets an unscripted, meaty exchange between the candidates who have a proven shot at winning. Opinion polls are occasionally off by a few points, but none has ever missed forecasting a last-minute, 40-point rise by a protest candidate.

So get real and take it from me: if you hand this election to Bush, your name among progressives will forever be Ralph Mud. There's too much at stake in this tight election to waste effort on some misty-eyed, long-term tactic.

As the late socialist Michael Harrington said, ``The long run is for undergraduates." The rest of us must choose the next president right here and right now. I'm enclosing the number where you can reach me to book the briefing room. After your announcement, we can step out for a brewski and mull strategies for getting unsafe cars off the road.

Charlie Clark lives in Arlington, VA.

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