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Why Nader Matters

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When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right.

--Eugene Debs

Five times, Eugene Debs ran for president, including once while imprisoned for violating the Espionage Act by criticizing U.S. involvement in World War I. Five times he lost badly, never winning more than 6 percent of the vote. Yet, despite his lack of success, he continued to run, and run, and run.

What makes a man spit in the face of conventional knowledge, shake off the guarantee of sure defeat, and toss his hat into the presidential ring over and over again?

On CNN on Tuesday night, news anchor Anderson Cooper posed that question to perennial presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who had just announced his fifth run for president.

Cooper: Do you worry that your reputation will be tainted? I mean, all the things you have accomplished thus far, will people just see this as some farcical and narcissistic run?

Nader: I’m a fighter for justice, Anderson. When there’s perennial injustice you have got to keep going after it.

Nader, who turned seventy-four yesterday, is best known for his exhaustive accomplishments in areas of environmental preservation, auto safety, and corporate regulation. His early clashes with the automobile industry were integral in the passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which mandated a series of safety features that were previously not included in cars. His actions drew such ire from GM that they hired call girls to seduce him and detectives to dig up dirt on him. As a result, Nader successfully sued them for $425,000 for invasion of privacy.

He used the money to found the first of hundreds of nationwide Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGS). Composed of college-aged staff and volunteers, these grassroots organizations--often referred to as Naders's raiders--joined with Nader to champion government reforms such as the Freedom of Information Act, the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Protection Agency.

Mr. Nader is also the direct cause of a significant piece of airline reform that affects all of us. Bumped from an overbooked Allegheny Airlines flight in 1972, he successfully sued the airline for $50,000. As a result, airlines were forced to compensate individuals they bumped from flights.

But despite the fact that he’s accumulated a progressive legislative record more formidable than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama combined, Mr. Nader has become the whipping boy of the liberal intelligentsia as of late.

Earlier this week, Democrats across the country frowned menacingly at Nader’s announcement that he’d be running again. They cursed him, they mocked him, and they whispered his name like it was a rare form of cancer while balling up their fists and hissing.

The liberal media were angry as well:

[Nader] remains as obstinate, prickly, and egotistical as ever," said the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

"Nader: Unsafe at Any Age," headlined the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Current Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also reacted hostilely to Nader’s announcement. Mrs. Clinton stated that Nader is “responsible” for George Bush, while Obama alleged that Nader “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” In addition, an article at reported that Democrats had already committed to preventing Nader for accumulating votes by “working behind the scenes and using court challenges.” These are the same tactics that the Democrats utilized in 2004 and that are currently the target of a lawsuit by Nader—who alleges the Democrats abused the court system in 2004 by filing frivolous lawsuits to keep him off the ballot.

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Dan Lawton is a freelance writer interested in a unreasonably wide range of political issues. For more of his columns, check out his blog Politics&Funk
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