On Feb. 24, consumer advocate Ralph Nader announced he was running for president as a third-party candidate. It didn't take long for the corporate media, and not a few corporate Democrats, to settle on the dominant news frame for Nader's latest bid for the White House.
In the lead to its story on Nader's announcement the next day, The New York Times recalled the 2000 presidential race when Nader "drew 96,837 votes in Florida, [and] was widely derided by Democrats, who saw him as a spoiler who siphoned crucial votes from Al Gore and tipped the election to George W. Bush."
Sen. Hillary Clinton, (D-NY) whose campaign is expected to burn-up on re-entry soon after the March 4 primaries, expressed surprise and wonder over Nader's announcement. "Wow, that's really unfortunate." Clinton told the Times. "I remember when he did this before. It's not good for anybody, especially our country."
For his part, Barack Obama acknowledged Nader's record of public service but added "his function as a perennial candidate is not putting food on the table of workers."
In the weeks and months ahead, the corporate media will use this frame -- Nader is a spoiler and his run for the presidency is little more than vanity and self-indulgence --whenever it deigns to even mention Nader in campaign press coverage.
Sad to say, even some progressive media outlets are dismissing Nader's entry into the presidential race. As a result, we can expect little, if any, substantive reporting about the Nader campaign, his goals and objectives, and the glaring differences between his policy positions and those of the Republican and Democratic candidates.
The purposeful mixture of silence and condescension that characterizes press coverage of the Nader campaign reveals the democratic deficit that is at the core of our electoral process. It also makes a mockery of this campaign season's clarion call for "change."
Indeed, for all their talk of change, the major party candidates operate in that netherworld of centrist politics that is loath to challenge the status quo. Obama, Clinton, and McCain understand full well that corporate interests are the real third-rail of American politics. None of these "mavericks" or "agents of change" come close to Nader's record for taking on corporate power.
Whether the issue is the environment, education, media reform, energy policy, military spending and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nader's position is light years away from the front-runners. Surprisingly enough, Nader's position on these issues resonates with millions of Americans. Take health care, for example. Nader supports a single-payer system and public opinion polls reveal that American's are overwhelmingly in favor such a system. None of the major party candidates will even go near such a policy.
What's more, unlike John Edwards' born-again anti-corporatism, Nader has been fighting corporate interests -- and winning -- for well over 40 years. Indeed, many of the automotive and workplace health and safety protections that American's take for granted were a direct result of Nader's efforts to ensure that people would come before profits.
And while his oratory may not soar to the heights achieved by Senator Obama, Nader rallied a generation of activists to take up the fight against corporate excess, militarism and environmental degradation.
In short, when it comes to experience, Nader has one of the most impressive resumes of anyone working in or around Washington, DC. But despite all the talk about how important experience is in this year's presidential campaign, Nader's track record won't be discussed because it does not fit into the dominant news frame.
Making his announcement on NBC's Meet the Press, Nader explained that he was running because he felt obliged "to try to open doorways; to try to get better ballot access; to respect dissent in America and the terms of third parties and independent candidates; to recognize historically that great issues have come in our history, against slavery, women rights to vote, and worker and farmer progressives, through little parties that never won any national election."
Along with Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party candidate for president, whose presidential bid is likewise marginalized by the corporate media, Nader has made ballot access and election reform a major campaign issue. Democrats don't like to talk about these issues -- unless of course it is in the context of the 2000 election. As for the Republicans, their track record is clear: the GOP has a long history of voter suppression by any means necessary: legislation, intimidation and plain old-fashioned fraud.
Finally, let's not forget that in 2000 the Democrats and Republicans colluded to bar Nader from taking part in presidential debates -- effectively prohibiting a viable third-party candidate from addressing a national audience. And in 2004, the Democratic National Committee took even more extreme measures to undermine Nader's presidential campaign by keeping him off the ballot in several states, including the important "swing states" of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Something is terribly wrong with U.S. political culture when efforts to ensure ballot access for third parties and independents is met with derision, when dissent is met with intolerance and when corporate interests so thoroughly dominate our political discourse that substantive critiques of the status quo are "off the table."
But this situation also indicates just how fearful political and economic elites are of truly progressive politics: a politics determined to reclaim American values and principles, a politics committed to ending the corporate colonization of American culture and society, a politics that supports and defends human rights and human dignity.
Kevin Howley is Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at .