US voters have a bad case of "misdirected thinking" when it comes to positioning presidential candidates along the political spectrum, writes Alexander Hay.
Long-bundled into the wrong political bracket by reporters and voters alike as another but ultimately weaker George W Bush, the fact is that independent Ralph Nader is a man of the radical left.
The Democrats are a party of the political (left of) centre. That means they can only succeed this year if they successfully work with and win over the centre.
Principled and non-partisan Ralph Nader is no threat to them as long as they can win the argument with America’s mainstream voters.
Yet in 2000 it seems they didn’t.
Former US vice-president Al Gore may have got more votes than Bush but he still lost. The margin was so small because not enough people voted for him.
That was not Nader’s fault. The Democrats did not convince enough of the centre, or the mass electorate, to vote for Gore.
If Nader wasn’t a choice in 2000, the small crowd that supported him would otherwise have voted for Gore and Bush. Many say the 2.7 per cent of the vote Nader took would have split in favour of Gore, leading to a possible win.
It is unlikely that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts will have the same problem.
A consumer advocate and former-Green Party presidential candidate – Nader has far more charisma and momentum on his side. He also has a clear message.
In 2000, the smug but uninspiring and opportunistic Gore had none of those virtues. Indeed he seemed to have more flaws.
He was less "inspiring" to the voters than Bill Clinton and his base of support was thus less united than that of George Bush II.
So perhaps that explains why Nader is the Bête Noire in "Donkey Boy"* circles these days.
It is easier to blame another for your own flaws. To accept that Gore did not have what it took to win is to accept that the Democrat party had relied too much on Clinton for success.
It would also force the party to accept that all the compromises it made to its core message only helped it be mediocre.
For a party that had just enjoyed an eight-year stint in the White House, this was hard to bear.
It was easier to blame the awful Ralph and those voters who dared to vote outside the two party system. All this despite the fact that it was an attempt to work within this two-party consensus that made Gore so bland and, at the end, a failure.
But perhaps Nader means something else to them too. For an American "liberal left", he seems to represent the radical leftism many of them left behind a long time ago.
Perhaps they feel a hint of guilt about this. But there may well also be a bit of resentment at this upstart who still jigs to a tune they left behind for more mainstream pastures.
They claim that Nader will divide the left in the US.
But by pillorying him, it is the Democrats who are the ones guilty of that. Their arrogant claim that they alone can represent the progressive urge in America is vain.
It will drive away those radicals who may not vote for them away. It will make yet more simply not vote at all in either despair or contempt.
This tub-thumping will also scare mainstream voters, who will be the ones who decide the fate of not just America but the world for the next four years. And why should a political party rely on guilt-tripping US voters when it should be winning them over?
They have to accept the hardest truth of all.
Sniping at Nader may make them feel better. But the real enemy in 2004 was the real enemy in 2000: Bush.
They should learn to re-direct their thinking.
* Editor’s note: The US Democratic Party is sometimes called the Donkey Party because their logo is of a donkey. There is a page about this on their .