Ralph Nader: tragedy to farce

I have liked and admired Ralph Nader so much. I first worked for him when I was in my teens (and he was in his 30s). Under his auspices, encouragement, and relentless pressure, I'd written two books for his organization by the time I was 23 -- if only I'd been able to keep up that pace! Or that sales success, since one of them -- Who Runs Congress, turned out in eight weeks, with Mark Green and David Zwick --- eventually sold in the millions.

Nader was funny, warm, brilliant-seeming, and, yes, caring. He visited my wife in the hospital after our first child was born. For years after that, he never failed to ask about both of our kids (or my wife) whenever I talked with him. I say all this as an indication of why Ralph Nader has so many people who actually are loyal to him -- and who wish they didn't have to face the reality about the choices he has made over the last eight years.

That he stayed in the race in 2000 was tragedy. (See: Invasion of Iraq, 2003, and subsequent occupation.) That he came back in 2004 was unfortunate; his entry in 2008 is farce. Farce because it suggests detachment from political reality (the differences between the Republican and Democratic nominees are so faint that we can say, What the hell!) and, worse, narcissism. The fact that it won't make any difference in the outcome actually is sad.

I will always like and respect Ralph Nader and will always admire the wonderful things he has done. But I wish to God that he had not made this decision, or will reverse it soon. (And, I am sorry that saying this will make me an enemy in his eyes.) He is a better man than his recent decisions indicate.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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