I have had the rather unique distinction of sitting next to Ralph Nader when he launched a national citizen action movement and sitting next to Al Gore for several years on the Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.
As the first and only "Nader Raider" elected to the House, I find it painful to watch Ralph on this rash and dangerous course he calls a campaign for president.
My father was a beer salesman. He used to call on a restaurant in Winsted, Conn., owned by Ralph Nader's father. Both of the fathers were Lebanese-Americans and proud of their sons.
In the late 1960s, when both Ralph and I were working in Washington, the fathers urged us to meet. I had just finished graduate school; he had just become famous with his book "Unsafe at Any Speed" and his consumer advocacy on autos and other products.
In 1971, he asked me to return to Connecticut to start a consumer and environmental advocacy group. I moved back and became the first director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, then the only statewide group of its kind affiliated with Nader.
For the next three years, as CCAG fought utility companies on rates, drug companies on prices and developers on wetlands, I spent a great deal of time with Ralph, accompanying him to meetings and speeches, picking him up at the airport and driving him to Winsted, where I would join him and his parents at their dinner table.
Like almost everyone who has worked with Ralph, I was inspired by him. I admired his independence, his integrity, his persistence.
But many of us now fear that he is about to throw a critical election to a genuine conservative linked to right-wing forces, a man who shares virtually none of Nader's views.
His Tweedledum and Tweedledee assertion that there is no important difference between the major presidential candidates would be laughable if it weren't so unsafe.
Sitting next to Al Gore on that House committee, I was constantly struck by not only his intellect but also his passionate advocacy as he took on powerful interests over toxic waste, air pollution, consumer rip-offs and other important issues.
That's one of the things that is so stunning about the Nader candidacy -- that he chooses to ignore the many positions he and Gore have shared over the years, the many fights they have waged together.
"Reckless" is not too strong a word to use when one watches Ralph shrug off suggestions that his candidacy might result in a Scalia/Thomas-dominated Supreme Court, though he must be aware that George W. Bush has said those two are his favorite justices.
"Courting Disaster," a recently published report by People for the American Way, details dozens of cases in which Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have written or joined opinions that recommend curtailing of important rights.
That's why a number of former Nader associates across the country have joined with me to warn voters flirting with supporting Ralph just how damaging that could be.
Our message is simple and direct: A vote for Ralph is a vote for Bush. We want to tear apart the esoteric and elitist argument that progressive goals will somehow be strengthened by this irresponsible campaign, even if Ralph helps Bush get elected. If Ralph had wanted to gain a voice for progressive points of view, he would have entered the primaries, as Bill Bradley did. That's what primaries are for, to help define where a party should stand.
Instead Ralph continues on his destructive mission. There's no talking him out of it, but my goal is to convince enough progressives that voting for him comes with a potentially huge price tag.
(Moffett is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut.)
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