Ralph Nader faces several insurmountable obstacles in his 2004 bid for the presidency, from overcoming restrictive ballot-access laws used to limit political competition to forging an ad hoc coalition between elements of the political left and right.

Public-choice economics, popularized by Gordon Tullock and 1986 Nobel Laureate James M. Buchanan, argues that politicians, like individuals, pursue their own self-interest.  Political competition would benefit voters by giving them a greater choice of candidates.  Competition does not benefit incumbents, however, leading them to pass laws that make it difficult, if not impossible, for third parties and independents like Nader to qualify for a place on the ballot.  Nader will not be on the ballot in all 50 states in 2004.

This does not mean that Nader lacks all leverage.  On the eve of the last presidential election, Chronicles noted that Nader and paleoconservative Pat Buchanan “need not win states to have an impact on the political process.”  That is exactly what happened, with Buchanan holding balance of power in five states and Nader achieving it in eight, including Florida.  Many Western states have modest ballot-access requirements.  Nevada, for example, requires only 5,019 signatures for parties and candidates and also gives voters the choice “None Of These Candidates,” a reform that Nader supports.  Yet other states discourage competition.  In 1996, Nader was on the ballot in only 23 states.  According to his campaign, he had to file eight lawsuits in 2000 to achieve ballot access in 43 states and the District of Columbia.  Nader did not qualify in other states that have more onerous restrictions.  Oklahoma is one example: It is the only state that requires a showing of five percent of voters to put a new party on the ballot for statewide office, reports Ballot Access News, the definitive source on electoral reform.  Nader’s campaign has filed suit this year challenging the constitutionality of Texas’s ballot-access law, which forces independents to collect 20,000 more signatures than third parties must collect—and give them two fewer weeks to do so.  A Nader release says voters want at least one candidate on the ballot who opposes the war and sending more troops to Iraq.

The silliest argument advanced by Nader’s critics is that he should withdraw from the race for the sake of his legacy.  Nader’s anticorporate agenda (whatever one may think of it) is the foundation of his campaign—and his legacy.  His platform includes calls for “reallocation of the federal budget that puts human needs before corporate greed and corporate militarism” and the abolition of corporate “personhood.”  His legacy is already well established.  One reason no Republican will abolish the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency is that Republican President Richard M. Nixon created them in response to Nader and his followers.  Nader claims that he is appealing to those libertarians and conservatives alienated by President George W. Bush.  Some, but not many, conservatives may vote for Nader on the basis of his anticorporate platform.  Others appear attracted by his opposition to the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act.  Yet Nader’s running mate, Peter Miguel Camejo, is an odd choice for a candidate wanting to take conservatives to the ball.  According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (October 31, 2002): “On the controversial and volatile issue of abortion, Green Party candidate for governor Peter Camejo may have a more personal—and painful—view . . .

“When he was in college, a girlfriend became pregnant.  Fearfully, they sought—and got—an illegal abortion.

“‘I was in no position to have a child,’ Camejo said recently.”

Nader remains a man of the left.  That does not mean that he should be denied ballot access.  Laws that restrict political competition are an insult to voters, as are “debates” that ignore independents and third parties.  However, a serious fusionist would have chosen a man or woman of the right as his running mate.  The “radical center” identified by sociologist Donald Warren remains ripe for such a prospect.