Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader charged that Democrat Barack Obama has developed a "fortitude gap" and would not make the kind of president that civil rights veterans had worked to make possible.
At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Nader also predicted his own White House bid would be much stronger than his 2004 campaign, in which he garnered 0.38 percent of the national vote.
The longtime consumer advocate spoke the day after the release of an Associated Press-Ipsos national poll showing him with support from 3 percent of likely voters. Senator Obama led with 47 percent, while the GOP's Sen. John McCain was favored by 41 percent.
Support for his fifth bid for president "will be much greater than" in 2004, Nader predicted. In the last presidential election, "the Democrats filed 24 lawsuits in 18 states in 12 weeks to get us off the ballot and harassed our petitioners. So we didn't get on a lot of ballots." The ticket of Nader and vice-presidential candidate Matt Gonzales, a civil rights attorney from San Francisco, will be on 45 state ballots this November, he said.
Earlier this year, Nader called Obama "a person of substance" and "the first liberal evangelist in a long time." But Wednesday morning, his assessment of the first-term senator from Illinois was critical.
"All these candidates of the major parties know far more than they act on. And that gap is the fortitude gap. Do they want to demonstrate political courage? Do they want to spend their capital?" Nader said. "Obama has demonstrated a decreasing level of fortitude, a decreasing willingness to spend his capital. I think for the bottom 100 million Americans – low-income whites, blacks, and Latinos – he is not really associated in this town with any comprehensive proposal – economic, political, social. And we expect more of him."
Nader added, "People who have fought the civil rights battle economically, politically, legally, as we have since the '50s, would often talk about ... would happen if we had an African-American president or chairpersons of major congressional committees. It doesn't look like it is going to be what we all thought it would be."
On key issues, Obama "is blurring himself," Nader charged. "That is the fatal mistake all these Democratic presidential candidates have made since Walter Mondale [in 1984]. They have blurred themselves with the Republican. Somehow their political consultants have persuaded them [that] protective imitation is the way to win." Nader called it "a losing strategy."
The media came in for a dose of Nader's ire. "The media is in a cultural rut," he said. "I am not talking about their private, incisive, skeptical conversations with one another. I am talking about the questions they don't ask, the questions they ask. Give me a bunch of 10-year-olds instead of the White House press corps, and the president would be far, far more upset and anxious."
Among Nader's prescriptions for media reform: "Don't be so cynical about small starts. If nature was like you, seeds would never have a chance to sprout."
Democrats have criticized Nader for diverting enough votes from Al Gore in Florida in 2000 to hand the presidential election to George W. Bush. It is a charge Nader rejects, calling the spoiler label "a contemptuous word of political bigotry."
With polls showing that Nader is not going to win the White House this year, why is he running his third national campaign and making his fifth effort at becoming president? The answer has to do with his definition of winning.
"I define winning in many ways that are acceptable to political scholars," Nader told reporters Wednesday. "One is you keep the agendas alive. There is a generation of Americans who couldn't even argue the progressive income tax much less the estate tax, which has been renamed. So you keep the progressive agenda alive, you bring a lot of young people in, a lot of not-so-young people get a little morale boost."
He cited hope that what he says during the campaign "would pull or push the other two major candidates."