Here's how a lifelong, very radical organizer put it to me the week after Nader announced he was entering the race.

            "I have never voted for a Democrat for president, and I don't intend to start now, but I want to beat Bush -- I want to beat Bush more than I have ever wanted to beat any Republican.

            "I support Nader's run, wholeheartedly, but at the same time I think that punishing Bush should be the main point of this election.

            "Vote now to punish Bush; four years hence, vote to punish Kerry. And so on. But I am not sure where that leaves me. Can a vote for Nader be a vote to punish Bush, or does it just split the vote against Bush? That can be argued, as Nader did in his declaratory speech.

            "The Nader campaign does not interfere with punishing Bush. Of course Nader should run, because he has an opportunity to talk to a lot of people about the Democratic-Republican one-party system. Nader, then, is personally the reverse of what the liberals are saying -- he is willing to sacrifice himself in order to get his position on the so-called two-party system out there. He knows full well that despite all the good his campaign will do, many people who agree with him won't vote for him. His turnout will be smaller than last time, he will be politically discounted for the rest of his life, ridiculed by some, laughed at by others, dismissed by most all. He knows that. How could he not?"

            The way Democrats try to persuade leftists to vote for the Democrat vote is by threatening fascism. "Fascism is around the corner, so better go with the Democrats." Bush is not fascism.

             In 30 years I have not seen and heard such hysteria and venom about Nader the saboteur, Nader the facilitator of fascism. People are frightened of Bush, more frightened than they should be, and fear is always ugly, just as it was when the liberals rushed out to red-bait and denounce the left in the McCarthy years.

            The stream of abuse at Nader, a man who has toiled unceasingly for the public good for half a century has been childishly vulgar and vitriolic. It's been Nader and his troops who've kept the searchlight on corporate crime, who raised the hue and cry on Enron, when Democrats were smoothing the counterpane for Lay in the Lincoln Bedroom.

            From the point of view of democracy, the American political system is a shambles of corruption, gerrymandered to ensure that it is almost impossible to evict any sitting member of the House of Representatives. The presidential debates are fixed to exclude unwelcome intruders. Nader says that in the whole of his 2000 challenge he got about three minutes face-time on the major networks.

            You can understand why the two major parties don't want any outsider spoiling the fun. They arranged things that way, as Nader understands and explains better than anyone.

            "I think the mistake the Democrats are making," said Nader at the National Press Club on Monday, Feb. 23, "when they use the mantra 'anybody but Bush' is, first of all, it closes their mind to any alternative strategies or any creative thinking, which is not good for a political party. And second, it gives their ultimate nominee no mandate, no constituency, no policies, if the ultimate nominee goes into the White House.

            "And then they'll be back to us. I guarantee you the Democrats, the liberal groups, the liberal intelligentsia, the civic groups that are now whining and complaining, even though they know they're being shut out increasingly, year after year, from trying to improve their country when they go to work every day. And they'll be saying, 'Oh, you can't believe -- we were betrayed. The Democrats are succumbing to the corporate interests in the environment, consumer protection.'

            "How many cycles do we have to go through here? How long is the learning curve before we recognize that political parties are the problem? They're the problem! They're the ones who have turned our government over to the corporations, so they can say no to universal health insurance and no to a living wage and no to environmental sanity and no to renewable energy and no to a whole range of issues that corporations were never allowed to say no to 30, 40, 50 years ago. Things really have changed."

            Nader's seen it happen time and again. Bold promises from a Democratic candidate, followed by ignominious collapse. And each time the promises are vaguer, more timid. Each time the whole system tilts further in the direction of corporate power. Nader is saying that the Democrats are so hopelessly compromised that they don't know how to energize people to get them into the polling booths to vote against Bush. So he's going to lend a hand. Nader can be the candidate denouncing the war that Bush started and Kerry voted for. Nader can denounce the corporate slush that's given Bush his $100-million-war chest and Kerry his $30 million in corporate swag.

            With NBK as their war cry ("Nobody But Kerry"), the Democrats have an uncertain shot at the White House. Already George Bush has winged Mr. Facing-Both-Ways pretty good. If I were Kerry, or Edwards, for that matter, I'd have a joint press conference with Nader, welcome him into the race, hail him as a man who knows what's wrong with America and how to mend it. That would make for an exciting political year, and a pretty good chance of ousting George Bush.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.