Nader should run for Senate - as Democrat, not third party

Ralph Nader recently asked a powerful committee chairman why Congress is not moving more swiftly and boldly to re-regulate banks.

The chairman replied that “Congress reacts to people who are organized.� We don’t often hear from those voicing the concerns of the public at large, he said. They don’t really have a lobby.

Nader had an answer: “That’s supposed to be you, Congressman.�

Ralph Nader has been called many things, most often “consumer advocate� or “perennial presidential candidate� (they mean quadrennial). But he is something more old-fashioned and more potent. He is a citizen — one in the ancient, noble sense. He has no interest and no party. He is armed only with conviction and information.

Nader’s current concern is re-regulation of banks, Wall Street firms, financial churning, monopolies and what he calls “corporate crime.�

Nader says we could balance the federal budget with a small tax on Wall Street exchanges.

Why aren’t we at least talking about such a proposal?

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I spoke with Nader by phone recently. He says he is now devoting himself to building popular pressure for a new body of regulatory law for the financial system of the United States.

We must create the pressure, he said, for it does not seem to exist yet. But if there cannot be new banking and Wall Street regulation in the time of Madoff and a crash, when can we pass it?

Awareness and grassroots pressure are needed, Nader says.

New members of Congress are needed.

That is why Ralph Nader is considering running for the U.S. Senate this year — in Connecticut, his home state. It seems to be the right time and place.

Our senior senator, Chris Dodd, is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Nader likes Dodd personally, and likes Dodd’s new idea of stripping the Federal Reserve of regulatory power.

“Everyone in Washington is terrified of the Fed,� Nader says. He believes Dodd’s bill has some good things in it.

And Nader knows the bill, just like he knew the NAFTA agreement. He always has command of the details, which is one reason he is formidable.

Dodd used to be the Senate’s leading Democratic deregulator. He is now a born-again regulator. Nader wants to keep edging Dodd in that direction and he knows that will take pressure, which may include an opponent from the left. That opponent could be Nader himself.

Nader says that since a Journal Inquirer editorial in April urged him to run he has been hearing from lots of people in Connecticut, many connected with the Ned Lamont Senate campaign. “You started something,� Nader said to me.

Nader should run.

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For the real pressure in our system ultimately must come from within.

The public will is best expressed not by bloggers online but on the levers of power.

The people’s lobby must be Congress.

Does Nader want to be a senator? Not particularly. But he is perhaps willing.

Imagine Nader on the Banking Committee.

There is no one on Capitol Hill now with the command of legislative details, or the memory, or the overarching public philosophy of Ralph Nader.

There is no one like Wright Patman is in Congress today.

Imagine Sen. Nader.

Nader changed the world as a young man; he could do so again as an old one.

He should run. And the way to do it is in the Democratic primary, not as a third or Green Party candidate. There are two reasons. First, if Nader runs in the primary he has nine to 11 months to discuss the issues; to make the case for re-regulation of the financial system. Second, win or lose, he pushes his cause forward. Either he is senator or Dodd is further Naderized.

A third-party run is no good. Third-party guys are not attended to until the fall, and that leaves only two months to raise issues. Moreover, a third-party run siphons off the progressive vote. It elects a Republican who, no matter who it is, votes against Nader-type legislation.

But Nader could actually win this race. And he could win it as himself, on his own terms. How many public men can say that?

This is the place and time and race for Ralph Nader to focus on his issues. Run, Ralph, run. And run in the Democratic primary.

Keith C. Burris is editorial page editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

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