Ted Rall is the author of the book

Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?

, an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.***image1***

"What," editorializes US News & World Report, "does Ralph Nader bring to the political dialogue this year? Answer: nothing except for his own inflated ego." Dimestore psychoanalysis was the standard reaction to Nader's third third-party presidential bid. "An ego-driven spoiler," the Des Moines Register called him. "He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work," jabbed Barack Obama.

You see, other politicians who seek the presidency are like the Dalai Lama, humble and self-effacing. Obama and Hillary? Two sweeties. Not an ounce of ego between them.

Even our former colonial masters put in their two pence. Nader's "egotism and cult of left-wing purity has been an utter disaster for the values he affects to espouse," railed the UK Independent. Nader's values would fare better, apparently, were he to shut up and keep them to himself.

Is Ralph really a spoiler? To answer "yes," you have to buy three assumptions:

First, that the two-party system is written in stone. But it's not. There's nothing in the Constitution about two parties, or about parties at all. (The Founding Fathers were dismayed when parties emerged around 1800.) Besides, the Democratic-Republican stranglehold ill-serves a diverse population of 300 million. Because parliamentary democracies offer voters a wide selection of parties representing almost every conceivable ideology, voter turnout in Europe typically exceeds 80 percent. In the US, most registered voters stay home.

Assumption two: Voters ought to vote strategically, i.e., for the lesser of two evils. Even for those who accept this curiously alienating concept, however, evil often comes in pairs. Most citizens think the US has lost ***image2***more than it has gained under NAFTA; neither Obama nor John McCain want to repeal it. Most people want the US out of Iraq; both men have repeatedly voted to prolong the war. How shall anti-NAFTA, antiwar voters divine which will prove least anathematic as president? Should they resort to a ouija board?

The third leg of the Nader=Spoiler tripod relies on a belief that opinions espoused by a small minority of a population are inherently worthless. But, as anyone who has successfully gambled on a business can attest, today's fringe thinking becomes tomorrow's conventional wisdom. After 9.11, 9 percent of Americans thought George W Bush was a lousy president. Seventy-two percent feel that way now. America's greatest political achievements-emancipation, women's suffrage, the 40-hour work week-were first espoused by tiny voting blocs led by figures on the political fringe.

But that's not why Ralph says he's running. His platform seeks to promote causes that are popular with an overwhelming majority of American voters, yet have been sidelined by the two major parties and their allies in the media.

Fifty-five percent of Americans believe that Bush deserves to be impeached, according to a November 2007 American Research Center poll. (Considering Iraq, Guantánamo, domestic surveillance and torture alone, it's surprising the number isn't higher.) But "impeachment is off the table," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced as the Democrats recaptured Congress in 2006, and they haven't mentioned it since.

America's pro-impeachment majority obviously can't expect Republicans to prosecute their own guy. Aside from most voters, only Ralph Nader wants impeachment proceedings against the "criminal recidivist regime of George Bush and Dick Cheney."

So who are the fringe weirdos: the out-of-touch media elite, or the guy who agrees with most of the people?

The two remaining (as of press time) major Democratic presidential contenders think that repeatedly name-checking John Edwards is sufficient to draw votes from his liberal Democratic supporters. But liberals "don't like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama-for them, he sold out even before he was bought in," the Independent mocks. Only Nader offers "left-wing purity."

And what's wrong with that?

While McCain, Obama and Clinton repeatedly vote for funding the Iraq war, at the same time calling for expanding the war against Afghanistan-a doomed effort that was lost years ago-Nader wants to slash defense spending, the No. 1 cause of our skyrocketing federal deficit.

Americans favor "socialized medicine" (43 percent to 38 percent, according to the Feb. 14 Harris poll); only Nader agrees with them. Nader would repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, which destroyed labor unions; the other candidates haven't said squat about the single biggest reason real wages are shrinking.

What's wrong with that, Democratic Party officials say, is that Nader's first run attracted 2.7 percent of the vote in 2000. Nader drew support from liberals who didn't think Al Gore had enough "left-wing purity."

"This time I hope it doesn't hurt anyone," Hillary said. Nader "prevented Al Gore from being the 'greenest' president we could have had."

Maybe the Dems and their pundit pals ought to get their story straight. If Nader's "left-wing purity" is so fringe and wacky, how can he hurt them?