Ralph Nader sure knows how to marginalize his candidacy for president: He picked a brooding, far-left running mate who couldn’t get elected mayor of San Francisco.
Perhaps Nader sees a younger version of himself in 42-year-old Matt Gonzalez. Each wields a keen intellect, a certitude about his standing in the political struggle between good and evil, and a certain obliviousness to how his ego can get in the way of the cause.
Nader expresses not the least bit of remorse that his 2000 run on the Green Party ticket helped tilt Florida, and thus the presidency, to George W. Bush, in an excruciatingly close race. And he is undeterred by the prospect that he could be a spoiler again. If Democrats can’t win by a landslide in 2008, Nader has suggested, they might as well “wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form.”
“Wrap up, close down” is a pretty fair description of what happened to the progressive movement that Gonzalez energized in his 2003 race against Gavin Newsom. Outspent 5-to-1, Gonzalez gave Newsom – and the city’s Democratic establishment – a big scare by drawing 47 percent of the vote. The Green Party suddenly was poised to greatly expand its foothold in San Francisco.
Within months, however, Gonzalez announced that he was leaving politics to practice law.
The city’s progressive movement was without its endearingly enigmatic apostle, and Newsom coasted to re-election last year.
There is no need to recount all the reasons why Gonzalez was ill suited to be mayor of San Francisco. Let’s just say that an aloofness and ideological rigidity that sometimes undermined his effectiveness at City Hall – in his first two years as supervisor, he would not meet with Mayor Willie Brown – is not going to play in Peoria.
If Republicans were to take the Nader-Gonzalez ticket seriously, they would have a field day with the former supervisor’s proposal to let noncitizens vote in local elections. They would mock the energy he invested into labeling owners of cats and dogs as “pet guardians.” They would resurrect his jailings for contempt of court when he was public defender.
Rest assured, the Republican attack machine will not waste a drop of vitriol on Nader and Gonzalez. Each “progressive” vote they woo will be another small step forward for John McCain.