Ralph Nader is running for president, again. But he has a problem: he doesn't understand the web as well as the web understands him. Message to Ralph: It's not the 1970s any more. It's not even the 1990s any more.
In 2000, when Nader made his first serious run for president, he had a substantial base of supporters. (Full disclosure: I was among them.) But that was before the real flowering of the web and the networked public sphere. In 2004, he ran again, but--for obvious reasons--he was far less popular. (You can read some of my criticisms back then here, here and here.) The rationale for his candidacy--that there were no serious differences between John Kerry and George Bush--made sense to few people. Online, Nader was battered: After initially soliciting opinions on his candidacy from visitors to his website, he shut down that option because the tide of opinion was so negative.
Four years ago, Nader told the New York Times that he wasn't bothered by the fact that he had just a few hundred supporters on Meetup.com, compared to 188,000 for Howard Dean; 45,000 for John Kerry; and 23,000 for his friend Dennis Kucinich. His comment was: "I really don't deal with the Web. There isn't enough time in the day to go into virtual reality." I wrote then that I thought that line should lead his political obituary.
I have a feeling Nader's view of the web hasn't changed. In fact, the web gave me the goods to prove it, video and all. Yes, during his appearance last Sunday on Meet the Press, where he announced his new bid for the White House, he told Tim Russert, "I want the people out there just to look at our web site and see how exciting it's going to be. I've been assured by my computer/Internet literate associates--I grew up in the Underwood typewriter age, you know--that this is going to be the most exciting, informative, participatory Web site of any presidential campaign, votenader.org."
Puhleeze! Nader's campaign website is hardly anything to write home about. Right now, it mostly reminds me of Joe Biden's campaign site, which was also overstocked with pictures of The Candidate in his many poses. To his credit, Nader does have a blog, which includes a moderated comments section with a lengthy disclaimer noting that it may take several hours before comments are reviewed and approved. (I'm not sure how one comment that spelled Hillary Clinton's name as "Hitlery" passed muster, but Nader's minions do not appear to be censoring comments critical of Nader's run as of now--we'll see if that policy lasts.) Nader also has a MySpace page, with about 500 friends, and a Facebook page he launched this morning, it appears. And someone on his team has made a cute YouTube video aimed at recruiting volunteers.
But when Nader goes on Meet the Press, he's in his pitch mode. After all, this is broadcast politics, which he understands. You have to look at his college visits to find out what he really thinks of the net. Here are two examples...
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