Two points about one of the old standby anti-Nader screeds; the one that asserts Ralph Nader runs for office simply to stroke his own ego:
(1) Even if this were true, it fails to respond to the actual civic issues Nader has commonly brought up in his campaigns; issues that are all so often only brought up in his campaigns. Any seasoned debater will tell you an ad hominem attack is an automatic point for the target.
And (2), the accusation also fails to acknowledge that there are 330 million people in this country and only one President. Anyone who thinks that they are the best person for that job—out of more than a quarter-billion—must possess at the least an abundant sense of self.
And let’s be really honest here. If the average American were to achieve so much as one solitary item on Ralph Nader’s resume, do you think he’d ever shut up about it? I bought a slice of pizza from a guy yesterday who had just purchased a (presumably used) 1994 Cutlass and was so proud of it he talked as though he deserved a Nobel Prize (which he might be up for, as they are usually awarded to people like Mother Theresa or Henry Kissinger or Al Gore, or other people who have never saved a life).
But having an ego in politics—or being suspected of having one—makes you unfit, it seems (unless you’ve been a community organizer—and mobilizing 30 years’ worth of talented idealists to change the whole country doesn’t count I suppose). So today’s free history lesson offers up a few Americans who had monumental egos, and yet managed to get over themselves just enough to do something for the country. In their spare time, of course.
Maybe you’ve heard of him? Father of the nation, first in the hearts of his countrymen, that sort of thing? Well, see how smug he looks?
Many historians speculate that if the British Army had simply promoted the man, there never would have been a Revolution. When they passed him over he resigned his commission, only to jump at the chance to be the general in charge of a ragtag rumble of a rebellion ten years later. He showed up for the first Continental Congress in full military uniform, just to make sure everybody got the hint. Thousands of men suffered and died at Valley Forge, but somehow Washington made the ordeal all about him. And yes, he turned down the chance to be king, but as President he wanted to be addressed as “Your Mightiness.”
This bastard son of a Caribbean colonial took to the habit and pretty much remained a bastard throughout his life. A close friend of that egomaniac Washington and our first Treasury Secretary, he fought bitterly with Thomas Jefferson (who was arrogant enough to own his fellow human beings, by the way)… he fought bitterly with James Monroe (threatening to kill the future President)… he fought bitterly with Washington himself (after being caught in a financial scandal)… and he fought bitterly with (onetime VP and fellow egocentric scoundrel) Aaron Burr, who killed him for it. Hamilton had a habit of debating at gunpoint, challenging more than a few public officials to duels. He essentially built New York City, conceiving it as the soulless, opportunistic money making factory it remains today (or, rather, used to be).
Still, he single-handedly turned the country’s financial mess completely around in five years (Obama should be so lucky), and founded the Coast Guard, which effectively protected the nation’s shores while the US evolved into an economic powerhouse based on his principles. Perhaps this is why his picture is on the ten-dollar bill, which is worth twice what Lincoln’s bill is worth, and ten times more than Washington’s (even in this economy).
Verdict: Serious ego issues
Hard as it is to criticize America’s first seriously progressive President, TR could not have survived ten minutes without his ego.Born sickly and bedridden throughout childhood, he nonetheless started the environmental conservation movement in this country, anticipated FDR’s New Deal legislation with is own Square Deal initiatives, and took on and defeated the large corporations of the Gilded Age.
Still, he liked to kill things.When charging up San Juan Hill as a Rough Rider, he attended to a dying comrade in the middle of a battle, exclaiming “Isn’t this marvelous!” He was the poster boy for imperialism, and entertained visions of an American Empire. Roosevelt’s greatest regret was that he wasn’t a wartime President. He tried to pick fights with a lot of countries, even sending the US Navy on a big-stick-carrying world tour. Nobody took the bait.
When he’d tired of the Presidency, Roosevelt tapped his good friend, the shy and soft-spoken William Howard Taft to succeed him, while he went to shoot big animals in Africa. Upon his return, TR started saying some very nasty (and public) things about his old friend, reducing Taft to tears. Roosevelt then ran against Taft for the Presidency, and beat him. Woodrow Wilson still got the most votes, though, and the country later entered Word War I—which TR probably would have led us in to sooner. He died peacefully in his sleep.
But if you’d ever called him “Teddy” he’d probably have punched you.
Verdict: Boundless ego
Oh, don’t you just love him? Unless he criticizes Barack Obama, at least. This put-upon good ole boy who just wanted to feel your pain.
The first baby-boomer President who would finally get the Whitehouse to embody all the idealism of the counterculture 1960s. Those baby-boomers (not exactly modest types themselves) will defend Clinton against the impeachment hearings as long as I will defend Ralph Nader against the myopic principles of his detractors. But opinions about the legal fallout from his scandal aside, the objective facts make clear that Clinton’s ego saw to it that he would embarrass his wife and daughter on the international stage. His staff covered for him for months, probably because he lied to them as well. He could have stopped the whole train if he’d had courage to simply go on TV and say, “Yeah it happened. But it’s my private business. You Republicans can blow me too.”
Instead, to delay the impeachment vote, Clinton had the arrogance and audacity to bomb a milk and medicine factory in the Sudan, thus making himself a war criminal, even if only morally. Clinton’s ego and legacy certainly cost Al Gore more votes in 2000 than Ralph Nader did. He abandoned the idea of universal health care early in his first term because he cared more about his political future than in fighting for the people. He also enacted some of the most conservative and corporate-friendly Democratic legislation since the Democrats were segregationists. Even though Clinton ignored Rwanda, he now runs a foundation he’s named after himself which raises obscene amounts of money and prints fancy letterhead which get distributed at platinum-level seminars held in the name of Africans dying of AIDS (spending some of that cash on condoms might be a better idea). In reality, the Clinton Global initiative is a vanity project that hopes (in vain) to make the rest of human history forget the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the man’s name.
Well, it’s fitting, I suppose, that Clinton’s ego gorges itself on the blood of African people. After all, in order to become President in the first place all he had to do was kill a black man.
But don’t you just love him?
Verdict: Are you kidding? He’d seduce your dead cat and try to make you feel sorry for him.
Of course, no history would be complete, unless I proffered up a counter-example of a political figure who by all accounts was devoid of ego.
That must be a real American hero.
Who could it be?
George W. Bush
He campaigned in 2000 on a humble foreign policy, suggesting that the US should not go around the world telling other people how to live. He said his favorite philosopher was Jesus Christ, who advised turning the other cheek, and doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
Nine years ago Americans said Bush was the candidate “they’d most like to have a beer with,” even though he’d given up drinking (and probably cocaine) long before. He abandoned his vices for the sake of his health and his family. And where did this lack of an ego lead us?
2 expanding yet stagnating wars
A collapsed economy
An election decided by the Supreme Court instead of the voters (I guess Al Gore has no ego for that matter, willing to lose an election he won)
An overextended military
No reliable or affordable health care system to speak of
We torture now
Combination of church and state
He sat there on the morning of 9/11… he… just… sat… there…
A complete absence of preparation or adequate response to 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina
Dick Cheney became the most powerful Vice President in history (Aaron Burr would have done less damage)
Record profits for his friends and cronies in big oil and industry… and no movement on alternative energy… at all
Domestic wiretapping (but I guess we had that when they spied on Martin Luther King… and Ralph Nader)
Sarah Palin is considered an important national figure
Political firings of US Attorneys
Harriet Miers for Supreme Court? Really? She had a better chance than Nader?
The criminal outing of an undercover CIA operative
Phony reporters planted as White House correspondents (as well as staged/doctored photo ops)
A crumbling infrastructure, literally
The world thinks of America the way America thinks of Ralph Nader (ironic, isn’t it?)
More impeachable than Nixon and Clinton and Andrew Johnson combined (here, I guess the Democrats lacked enough ego to go after him)
Oh… and he also let Osama bin Laden get away at Tora Bora.
Verdict: Aren’t you glad that at least Bush didn’t have an ego? Thank God for that. Thank him. Every day. Then go drink your beer. Alone.