Draft Nader ’72

Ralph Nader has declared that he is again a candidate for President. As this 1971 article from The New Republic shows, the “Nader for President” movement has a long history (though Nader did not finally run for office until 1996):

A funny thing happened to Edmund Muskie in Dallas on July 1 [, 1971]. As he ambled out of a trial lawyers’ gathering in the Sheraton, he was greeted by half-a-dozen young activists handing out Draft Nader leaflets and bumper stickers. The activists informed Muskie that a straw poll of 85 people in the hotel lobby had shown Ralph Nader getting more votes for President than either he or Richard Nixon. Then they told the same story to the waiting TV cameras. They also told the cameras that Muskie was a handmaiden of the military-industrial complex, soft on pollution, and indistinguishable except for his accent from Richard Nixon. It was an isolated incident, and Muskie may not have grasped its wider implication, which is that there is a movement afoot that could alter the shape of American politics, if not in 1972 then by the end of the decade.

The movement is the fourth party (counting George Wallace’s American Independent Party as the third). Five states, including California, have a fourth party already on the ballot. A few weeks ago, liberals and radicals from 25 states met in Albuquerque and laid plans to get themselves listed on every ballot in the union. By the end of the year, a fourth-party presidential ticket, aided by a shadow cabinet, will be on the hustings. Among the issues raised will be the joint complicity of Republicans and Democrats in the Vietnam disaster (vide the Pentagon Papers), the indebtedness of both major parties to special monied interests, and the inability of either party to bring about fundamental change. Positive proposals will be put forward: an end to tax loopholes for the rich, creation of a national health care system, vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws, prohibition of presidential wars, amnesty for draft resisters, decriminalization of victimless crimes (including possession of marijuana), diversification of media control. By the time 1972 is over, a President may have been elected, or reelected, because of what the fourth party does.

[…] Nader denies fourth-party ambitions in Shermanesque terms. […] Among others who might be willing to lead a fourth party, none has a constituency broad enough to attract mass defections from both major parties.

Into this picture step the fourth party organizers who met in Albuquerque over Independence Day weekend. Sociologically they represent a small segment of the American electorate—almost all are white, middle-class intellectuals. […] Most of the ex-Democrats are affiliated with the Washington-based New Party […] The fourth party’s more radical elements, in style if not in ideology, come largely from California’s Peace and Freedom Party […]

At Albuquerque, some 100 representatives of these and other small political groupings (none of which has received more than three percent of the vote in any state or federal election) united under a banner called the Coalition. […]

Given the nature of American politics, the Coalition’s success in 1972 will depend almost entirely upon its presidential candidate. [Gore] Vidal, Robert Kunst of the New Party, and many others believe that Ralph Nader would be the ideal nominee: he’s a nonpolitician, is trusted by young people, widely respected in Middle Americans, and could, conceivably, win. […] But Nader has said no to a fourth party bid in 1972, and many Coalition radicals feel he’s too authoritarian anyway […]

Voters in America are restless. There is every likelihood […] that they will become more so as the decade progresses. The trick is to translate their unease into a progressive political realignment. The Coalition seems unlikely to pull this off in 1972, but its founders believe they are building not so much for the next election as for the next generation.

— Peter Barnes, “Toward ’72 and Beyond: Starting a Fourth Party”, The New Republic, 24 & 31 July 1971, pgs 19-21.

(Peter Barnes, the writer of the article, later co-founded Working Assets.)

In the event, the Coalition never coalesced, and Dr. Benjamin Spock became the leading leftist candidate in 1972, on the Peace and Freedom Party / Peoples Party ticket. His candidacy had no impact on the election.

However, a durable fourth party was created in time for the 1972 election, and a restless American electorate did indeed lead to a major political re-alignment “by the end of the decade” and “for the next generation”.

Sometimes these things don’t go as planned.

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