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Gore would have invaded Iraq, don’t you think?

COMMENTARY | March 01, 2008

That's what Nader said on Meet the Press in 2004. Comparing him to Bush, Nader said a Gore administration 'wouldn't have been any different in terms of military and foreign policy.' Now Nader says he's running for president again.

By Morton Mintz

When Ralph Nader launched his third successive presidential campaign on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Feb. 24, many important questions weren't asked. It wasn't the first time.

Let's begin with an extremely serious allegation Nader made four years ago on the same program. "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert asked him then: "Do you believe that Al Gore would have invaded Iraq?" Nader replied, ”He would have." It would have been almost reflexive for a reporter to have asked what facts Nader had to support the allegation. Russert didn't ask. Nor did Russert explain why he had asked that out-of-nowhere question. Maybe it was because in a pre-program conversation Nader had proposed it as a real attention-grabber. I am suggesting this possibility for a couple of reasons.

First, Russert, justly famed for his thorough research, knew or certainly should have known of a speech on this very subject that Gore had given six months before the invasion. Saddam "has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country," he told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 2002.  "Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power." But Gore warned against Bush's "proposed war against Iraq." Did Russert once know of Gore's speech and then forget it? Or did he choose not to bring it up?

Second, the timing. In February 2004 the presidential and congressional campaigns were getting underway. Which political party was hurt, and which was helped, when Russert let Nader allege without challenge that the immediate past Democratic presidential candidate—his party's titular leader—“would have" invaded Iraq?

Nader made a second grave—and more sensational—allegation: A Gore administration "wouldn't have been any different in terms of military and foreign policy." Effectively, he was saying that to start and wage a catastrophic war, a Gore administration would have lied and fantasized about Saddam's role in 9-11 and his ties to al-Qaeda, about WMDs, and about uranium from Niger; manipulated intelligence to fit its preconceptions, engaged in extraordinary renditions and tortured suspected terrorists, suppressed dissent, been deviously secretive, asserted unchecked Executive power, and in numerous other ways subverted the Constitution. In short, a Gore administration would have been no better than the administration of George W. Bush, which, as recently documented by two nonprofit journalism organizations, made at least 935 "false statements" about "about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

Again, Nader failed to offer a single fact to support his allegation. Again, a reporter would have asked him to substantiate it. Russert might have inquired, "But didn't Al Gore warn against the war in Iraq six months before President Bush began it?" Again, however, the moderator was silent. As before, only one political party could be the beneficiary of that silence.

Now to an exchange about the 2000 election during Nader's Feb. 24, 2008, appearance on the "Meet the Press."

"George Bush won Florida by 537 votes," Russert recalled. "You've got 97,488.  Democrat after Democrat says to this day, Ralph Nader, if your name had not been on that ballot, Al Gore would've carried Florida. Exit polls show he would've carried Nader voters 2-to-1. Gore would've been president and not George Bush. You, Ralph Nader are responsible for what has happened the last seven years."

Predictably, Nader's first response to this accurate summary was to recite yet again his long-familiar list of culprits: George Bush. "[T]he Democrats in Congress." "[T]he voters who voted for George Bush." Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Governor Jeb Bush. Al Gore, who "if he won Tennessee, anything [sic] else being equal, he would've been president. It's his home state. If he won Arkansas, everything else being equal, he would've been president." "The mayor of Miami [who] sabotaged the Democrats because of a grudge, didn't bring thousands of votes out." The "quarter of a million Democrats [who] voted for Bush in Florida." "[T]hat terribly politicized Supreme Court decision."

Then, as he has countless times, Nader embraced this claim of political scientist Solon Simmons and other selected scholars: By "pushing Gore to take more progressive stands," he was responsible for Gore getting more votes than the number the Democrat allegedly lost to the Green party.

"Twenty-five percent of my vote, according to a Democratic pollster exit poll, would've gone to Bush," Nader continued. "Thirty-nine percent would've gone to Gore and the rest would've stayed home.  Every major--every third party in Florida got more votes than the 537 vote gap...." If Nader's vote had been allocated in the proportions he himself suggested, Gore would have won, whipping Bush in Florida by more than 13,000 votes. Russert could have done the math.

Russert could also have asked Nader:

Have you ever publicly acknowledged a possibility—possibility—that by campaigning in swing states, including Florida, you could have been another of the multiple individual causes of Gore's defeat?

  • If you have publicly acknowledged the possibility, where and when?
  • If, for going on eight years now, you have not acknowledged the possibility, why?
  • Many people who supported you early on in 2000 say you led them to believe that you would not compete in battleground states if to do so would threaten a Bush victory. Are they correct?

Turning to this year's election, Russert asked his guest, "How would you feel... if Ralph Nader's presence on the ballot tilted Florida or Ohio to John McCain and McCain became president, and Barack Obama, the first African-American who had been nominated by the Democratic Party—this is hypothetical—did not become a president and people turned to you and said, "Nader, you've done it again"?

"Not a chance," Nader replied. "If the Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form."

But if it were to become obvious that the Democrats had lost their opportunity to "landslide the Republicans," would Nader then withdraw? Or would he stay in the race anyway and risk becoming a cause of a victory for McCain, whom he ruthlessly denounced as: "the candidate of perpetual war, perpetual intervention overseas...who allies himself with the criminal, recidivistic regime of George Bush and Dick Cheney, the most multipliable impeachable presidency in American history." Maybe such questions will be put to Nader another day.

Russert went on to ask, "But you do see differences between Barack Obama and John McCain on the war, on tax cuts, on the environment, on a lot of issues?"

Nader acknowledged differences but said "the question is what is their record?  Senator Obama's record has not been a challenging one. He's not been a Senator Wellstone or Senator Abourezk or Senator Metzenbaum by any means. He has leaned, if anything, more toward the pro-corporate side of, of policy-making. The issue is, do they have the moral courage? Do they have the fortitude to stand up against the corporate powers and get things done? Yes, get things done for the American people?"

Seeing the late Paul Wellstone as an exemplar of "moral courage," Nader had of course supported him, right? Wrong.

During his 2000 campaign, Nader gave an interview to David Moberg of the magazine In These Times in which he made these statements:

"Nader is willing to sacrifice progressives like [Senators] Russ Feingold in Wisconsin or Wellstone in Minnesota."


 "If [Democrats in a particular district] are winning 51 to 49 percent, we're going to go in and beat them with Green votes. They've got to lose people, whether they're good or bad."  

Surprised at the time by the statements, I asked Moberg whether Nader had backed off. He emailed me: "Nader never requested any correction from me or subsequently said that he had any objection to the quotes you mention. As I recall, they came in response to questions asking, in effect, whether there were Democrats who deserved support from progressives."

The statements received some but, unfortunately, far too little attention. To suggest that Nader should have been confronted with them on "Meet the Press" could be unfair, mainly because Russert had no apparent reason to assume that Nader would mention Wellstone. But plenty of time remains before November for others to ask Nader about the statements.

Plenty of time remains, too, to ask Nader about the immense evidence gap separating the consumer-advocate—a "heroic figure," Senator Obama called him later in the day—from the presidential-candidate.

To his eternal credit, the consumer advocate's astounding crusades have saved millions of people from needless death, injury, and disease, and his life-protecting, pro-people achievements will be protected and advanced in perpetuity by Public Citizen and the other public-interest nonprofits he created.  Absolutely pivotal to the success of the crusades—and, by extension, to the well-being of all of us—was the rock-solid credibility Nader established with the press and public. Whenever he made an accusation of wrongful conduct—for example, that the auto makers could have made life-saving seat belts standard equipment many, many years before his crusade for motor-vehicle safety finally forced them to do so—he was always armed with irrefutable facts and documents to back it up at a moment's notice. If he hadn't been so armed, news organizations and Congress would have quickly brushed him off as not credible, perhaps libelously so. He would have been marginalized and faded away.

The fact-based record of the consumer advocate contrasts starkly with the loose-lips record of the presidential candidate. When the candidate makes sweeping accusations bordering on character assassination (Al Gore "would have" invaded Iraq and had the same "military and foreign policy" as George Bush) that he does not and cannot substantiate, "Meet the Press" and other news organizations too often give him a credibility pass that they would never have given the consumer advocate. Is it unfair to ask, Cui bono? To whose benefit?

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