Dear Mr. Fantasy

Ralph Nader Has Truly Lost It

Ralph Nader is still in fantasy land, in case you were wondering.

I actually quit prefacing my Ralph Nader screeds with the obligatory he-gave-us-the-seatbelt boilerplate years ago. I think he stopped earning that encomium in about the summer of 2000. He's grown progressively loopier as a theorist of political change in the years since, and now he seems to have gone completely around the bend. From Joan Walsh:

Nader’s current crusade — for a third party powered by billionaires that would put up a presidential candidate for 2016, to save the country from both Democrats and Republicans — is so ludicrous, and so illuminating of his cracked theory of political change, that it bears a little discussion. In March he told C-SPAN’s Washington Journal that he was looking to recruit billionaires to run as third-party candidates for president. “There are some mega-billionaires who are seriously considering running third party. And the minute a mega-billionaire announces, like Ross Perot, they get enormous press, they get the polls and they are in play.”

There is something to be said for the idea that a billionaire can be unbought and unbossed. But what Nader seems to gloss over with this effort is that these self-financing billionaires are rarely populist in any left sense. The complaint is often made of Mayor Bloomberg, whom Nader invoked favorably in remarks this morning on Chuck Todd's show, that he has been an absolutely great mayor for the entrepreneurial class, but for the working classes, nothing special. There is no reason to think that that Nader's mythic billionaire would be any different.

In point of fact, he or she could be sort of right-wing, especially on economic issues. This is kind of the norm, innit, with these tech people who get great business press and could immediately attract the fond gazes of the chattering classes if they enter politics. They're socially liberal, but they damn well want to keep their money. Is that what Nader wants in a president these days? I guess this is what he says; that the influence of money on the two parties is so corrupting that it's more important just to get someone, practically anyone, in there who isn't in hock to the moneyed interests.

Fine, as rhetoric. But really. Let's run a hypothetical through the wash. I would suspect that Ralph is still progressive enough that he would favor a substantial hike in the minimum wage. Let's say that is your issue. Now let's say you have $500 to $700 billion to spend on 2016 to try to make that happen. How are you going to spend it?

Seems to me there are two possible courses. Course one, which Nader is out recommending, is to try to buy the White House with all those billions, so you have an unbought president. You have secured from him a promise (let's say) that if elected he will follow your desires and push for a $13.50 minimum wage.

So you have a president in your pocket. But there's still Congress. And that's your problem, because the fact is that a hefty minimum wage hike will never pass Congress until you have at least 60 (probably 63 or 64, to be safe) Democrats in the Senate, and certainly at least 255 or so Democrats in the House, to allow for a number of Blue Dog defections.

In other words, because of our system, you would be far savvier to take those hundreds of billions and divvy them up, between the presidential candidate and the various DNC and congressional committees, because having a president means nothing unless you have the majorities in Congress to get your action through. For all their warts, and there are many, the Democrats, operating in both the executive and legislative branches, are the only people in this country who are going to pass a substantial minimum wage increase. The Republicans are going to oppose it to a person (well, Mark Kirk excepted, maybe). And no savior billionaire is going to be able to change their minds.

In other words, Nader is just playing games. It's silly. And substitute in any other progressive economic issue, practically. For better or worse, the Democrats are the only game in town. I suspect in most cases Nader's billionaire would be far, far more likely to agree with the House GOP to partial privatization of Medicare than he would to push for a minimum wage increase. So this is all just some weird fantasy of his.