Self Awareness

It’s official, famed professional independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader has announced his 2008 campaign.  I’m so excited I think I can vomit.

One of my biggest pet peeves is a lack of political self awareness.  It’s that missing piece from candidates such as Duncan Hunter and Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul and Tommy Thompson.  There are folks that probably should get more political credit than they actually do, Joe Biden and Mitt Romney come to mind, and failed presidential bids on their behalf are understandable.  On the other hand, there are also-rans who should know exactly what they are, and the fact that they don’t just somehow irritates me.

The reasoning behind this is rooted in a kind of arrogance which breaks what I’ve come to observe as physical laws of politics, mechanics that are forever true, and yet easily ignored.  For instance, there is Law I: Being factually correct means absolutely nothing politicially.  And never forget Law II which states that just because you believe something that doesn’t mean that everyone else believes the same thing.

There’s a reason why politicians triangulate and equivocate; they’re not running for President of Liberals or President of Conservatives (though, this election cycle one might believe such a post might exist based upon the behavior of the Republican Party), they’re running for President of the United States, a position which requires a tempering of the most rigid of ideological agendas.  As crass a statement as it was, our current president was onto something when he said that it would be easier to run things in a dictatorship.  But we aren’t, and so leaders must make concessions for those with whom they may not necessarily agree.

Out of this basic construct of viability in politics, we see what informs the selection process for our nation’s top office.

There is an out of bounds, ideologically and politically, when we talk about President of the United States.  Ideologically, a candidate moves too far from the center at his or her own peril.  Keep in mind, even George W. Bush billed himself as a “compassionate conservative”, softening the edges of an ideology that was too closely linked to the acerbic cantankerous rants of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.  Politically, while it is often frowned upon by pundits and political junkies, at least some ability to generate a cult of personality is necessary along with a generous measure of political skill.  The likes of Fred Thompson and Bill Richardson may not have been freakishly pushed out to the extreme edges of their ideological territory, but they both lacked the skill and discipline to mount a successful national run.

What we will often find produced by our process are the “issue candidates”, those who never truly have a chance of winning the presidency, but are using the oddity of the presidential race every four years to increase the profile of singular issues.  Think Tom Tancredo and illegal immigration.

I understand the desire shed more light on an issue that you feel is important, however; one must keep in mind that actions have repurcussions, and sometimes the price for increased coverage of a single issue or a set of issues can be devestating and is ultimately passed on to the American people.

Nader finds himself caught somewhere in the middle of the classifications of also-rans.  An issues candidate, one actually gets the impression that he lacks that self awareness to understand that he is, under any circumstances, unelectable.  What is worse than that, he has committed perhaps the greatest sin of politics in contemporary times; he inadvertantly helped George W. Bush become president.

Bush can’t run again, we know this, but the man who would be his successor, John McCain, could hardly be a better choice.  As Joe Scarborough put it, here’s a man whose message appears to be, “More wars and less jobs.”  He would keep us in Iraq for a hundred years, and one can’t imagine the beating of the war drums softening against Iran softening any in a McCain administration.  He has admitted that he knows little about the economy, which means he would fall back upon the old Republican standby of cut taxes and pray.  Given that this doesn’t really work, we would find ourselves again under the thrall of Republican spend and spend economics, groaning as we watch the economy continue along the path set for it by the current president.

We would hope that McCain would be at least a man of greater integrity than Bush, but we’ve seen enough in recent weeks to have our doubts, from his ties to lobbyists to his convenient position reversal on torture just in time to embrace the conservative base.

This is the cost Nader asks us to pay so he can make another vanity bid for the White House.  That is not to mitigate his accomplishments or the causes for which he so passionately fights.  I would never discount these things, but at the end of the day Nader cannot lack the self awareness to know that he will never become the President of the United States.  He must know the potential damage his mere entrance into the race must be capable of inflicting.

And yet he does it anyway.

As I said in the beginning, I get irritated by people who have no concept of what is politically feasible and what is not.  It’s a personal thing.  I get annoyed.  It’s like listening to a child arguing about how he should be able to eat a cookie because he said so.  The only thing that makes it worse is that with Ralph, his lack of self awareness could land us another four years with another disastrous president.

There comes a time when even the most vehement of activists must come to grips with raw pragmatism.  Nader’s entrance into the race creates just such a time.  We cannot afford too many voters to lack the same self awareness he does.

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