Ralph Nader is apparently running for President again, a situation which worries Democrats, amuses Republicans, and puzzles those of us who mistrust both parties but are dubious about the practicality, rationale, and ultimate consequences of an independent candidacy. What to make of him and his quixotic quests?

Nader reminds me of a mythological figure, but I’m hard put for the moment to decide exactly which one. There are at least three possibilities. (I started to write “candidates,” but that’s a bit too loaded in context.)

  • Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, King of Troy. She was so beautiful that Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy. However, she was so virtuous that she refused Apollo’s offer to view his etchings, so he tacked on the curse that no one would ever believe her. In Greek, her name means “she who entangles men,” from which you infer whatever you like.
  • Sisyphus was a fifty-fifty mix of shrewd and vicious. Mostly he’s remembered as the guy who was sentenced to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill. Every time he got almost to the top, the boulder slipped and rolled back down to the bottom, and he had to start all over again. Note that the punishment was, technically, not for all the evil stuff he did, but for presuming himself to be as clever as Zeus.
    • Yeah, I know Camus had an interesting take on S, but that’s another topic. Then again, as Camus was writing about the search for meaning in an apparently absurd cosmos, maybe it’s the same topic after all. Your call.
  • Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the gods and brought it to men. There are several variations on the story, but essentially what happens is that the Godder-in-Chief (Zeus, the Decider) gets severely pissed off and has Prometheus chained to a rock, where every day a vulture comes and chews on his liver.

Okay, so where does Nader fit? Who the hell is he, in myth or in reality? At considerable expense (you might call it “waste”) of my own time, I’ve tracked down analyses and commentaries and whack jobs which focus on Ralph. Here’s a summary, away from which you may, as I did, come undecided.

Doug Schoen, writing in the Washington Post, has what amounts to a warning to the Democrats: “Far from being a vanity trip, a maverick candidacy could upend the presidential race — again.”

The goofy-yet-amusing “Anonymous” who’s been sniping away at Scientology for a while has now trained his mojo on Nader. You won’t learn much from it, but might be amused by this take-down.

In an Editorial Notebook in The New York Times, Eleanor Randolph concludes about Nader that he is like, “the clock in the hall that strikes 13. After hearing the 13th bell… how can you trust that particular timepiece to tell the hour?”

Marty Kaplan at the Huffington Post is troubled that it’s hard “for anyone in America to shape the national conversation on anything…. It’s a shame that to get five minutes of the nation’s civic attention, a person has to either be a billionaire, or to raise and spend a billion of other people’s dollars, or to do something as potentially lethal the country’s ultimate well-being as to mount a quixotic run for president.”

And at Nieman Watch, Marty Mintz has a detailed list of complaints about Nader which can’t easily be summarized. He concludes that “The fact-based record of the consumer advocate contrasts starkly with the loose-lips record of the presidential candidate.”

All of those, negative, or barely neutral. Against them, consider Chris Hedges, a reporter/commentator for whom I have enormous respect. Hedges is willing — maybe “anxious” is the word — to work for Nader’s campaign. His reasons are many, primarily that, “American democracy has become a consumer fraud and that if we do not do battle with the corporations that, in the name of globalization, are cannibalizing the country for profit, our democratic state is doomed.”

Whoever Nader is, it could turn out that Hedges is the real Cassandra.


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