Did they say Nader?

Kathleen Parker
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Posted: Aug 11, 2004 12:00 AM

It's hard to wrap your lips around that one, but increasingly I hear friends on both sides of the political divide say they'll be punching the chad or tapping the screen for Nader come November.

How's that? Contrary to what television viewers and headline readers understandably might believe, the world is not necessarily divided into black or white, Republican or Democrat, with us or against us. There's a vast middle where gray rules the day and where neither major-party candidate seems the right fit.

Republican friends who can't stand John F. Kerry, but can't bring themselves to support President George W. Bush for another term, say they'll cast their ballot for Nader in exasperation. Democrat friends who despise Bush, but can't in good conscience support a Kerry presidency, say they'll vote for Nader in protest.

Could Nader find his way to the White House by default? Of course not, but defections from both parties suggest that the already-close race could be even closer - or even stranger - than imagined. As loathers on either side cancel each other out, those in the middle, the undecideds as well as the default Naderites, make the wild card even more unpredictable.

Complicating the equation is the fact that some Republicans are donating to Nader in hopes of hurting Kerry. The Atlantic Monthly's September issue notes that billionaire Richard J. Egan, former ambassador to Ireland and a Bush "Ranger," has donated to Nader, as has comedian and game-show host Ben Stein.

Beyond Republican designs, Nader's position as a default contender underscores the degree of alienation many feel as extremists on both sides push politics from the ordinarily dirty to the extraordinarily smutty.

From the extreme left, Bush didn't wage war on faulty intelligence; he lied, despite findings to the contrary by the 9-11 commission. From the extreme right, Kerry didn't change his mind about Vietnam once he saw war close up; he was a traitor.

Unabashed Bush-haters have spared no hyperbole in defining the president. To some he's Hitler; to others he's evil incarnate.

A new animated, pro-choice ad sponsored by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund features a feminist super-heroine, "Choice Chick," who rails against Bush as the "evil menace" and his "evil army of judgebots" for chipping away at women's rights.

"Choice Chick" will save the day, with the help of sidekicks John Kerry and John Edwards, and of course, your generous contribution.

Not to be ignored, novelist Nicholson Baker has penned a new book, "Checkpoint," in which the protagonist intends to kill President Bush with "Bush-seeking bullets" to avenge the war that, Baker says, Bush "imposed on the world, when the whole world said to him so CLEARLY, in the streets, in every country, this war that he forced on humanity - this war will be avenged!"

 Baker's book is just fiction, to be sure, but Bush-hatred is real.

Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at The New Republic, purged himself in the Sept. 29, 2003 issue: "I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it." And then went on to list and examine all the reasons why, from the shallow (his bowed-up macho walk) to the substantive.

Similarly goes the far right. To the extent that the left demonizes Bush, the right scorches the earth upon which Kerry treads (or skateboards/cycles/blades). The latest salvo is an ad featuring Swift boat vets questioning Kerry's war record and his suitability as commander in chief.

Basta, boys. Enough. It's over. Give it a rest, but Kerry goes first. No more "reporting for duty," no more Purple Hearts, Bronze and Silver Stars, no more Swift boats. We know Kerry went; we know Bush didn't. We also understand the nature of war and that whatever Kerry is alleged to have done, according to memories not his own, others did far better and far worse.

In the midst of such mass hysteria and competitive hate, the central fact of our moment gets lost, which is that we are presently at war. Whether one agrees with how we got here - Bush didn't lie and Kerry knew, too - we should try to remain mindful that we have enough enemies without turning on ourselves.

Or to Ralph Nader, who may be a lovely man with rumpled, disciplined appeal as well as the human (I think) embodiment of the low-carb, all-cotton, pesticide-free virtue to which we all should aspire. He's also a wasted vote. Don't do it.