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Ralph Nader: the odd man out again?

Don't blame me, I voted for Ralph Nader. Ha, ha, ha. I know this is far from a laughing matter with many of you, who see the renowned bachelor vegetarian cum consumer crusader as the man responsible for putting George W. Bush in the White House. But I never saw it that way, and still don't.

Here are the convoluted -- some would say muddled -- mental machinations of a once and possibly a future Nader voter: Item: Ralph Nader didn't defeat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. Bill Clinton's Oval Office fandango contributed mightily to ending what could have been 12 uninterrupted years of Democratic rule.

Speak, memory: Al Gore likewise did plenty to sabotage Al Gore. Here is how I explained my Nader vote four years ago: "Why reward political mendacity? How dare Al Gore casually abandon his one nominal `principle' -- concern for the environment, and for wise energy policies -- to suck up to the SUV-driving suburbanites?"To be fair, I wasn't over the moon about Gore's opponent. "As for George Bush, what can you say? Nice fellow and all, but maybe he could be president of some other country, like . . . Fredonia."

(Hilariously, in an example of convoluted -- some would say muddled -- logic, Al Gore is now being blamed for sabotaging Howard Dean. Dean's former campaign manager, Joe Trippi, insisted to The New York Times that "the second Al Gore endorsed Dean, alarms went off in newsrooms and at every other campaign headquarters. At the campaign headquarters, they all had meetings and said, `We've got to stop Howard Dean right this second.' " That may be the silliest thing I have read all week, but it is only Tuesday.)Item: Big Media, with its hopelessly liberal tilt, doesn't yammer on about Patrick Buchanan's candidacy, which siphoned off 17,000 votes in the disputed 2000 Florida election. Why not? Because in the view of liberal editorialists, Buchanan siphoned off votes from the right candidate, i.e. George Bush. Dandy for him!

"The most regrettable thing about Mr. Nader's new candidacy is not how it is likely to affect the election, but how it will affect Mr. Nader's own legacy," whinges The New York Times. The Globe chastised Nader for personal and political "blindness." Anyone worthy of all that arm-flapping must be worth a second look. Item: For reasons that are sketchily explained in high school and then promptly forgotten, we don't vote in national presidential elections. If we did, Al Gore, the winner of the popular vote in 2000, would be at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. We vote in state elections, the results of which are translated via the Electoral College onto the national level. My state has not returned a Republican elector since the Reagan years. I am effectively disenfranchised and could vote for Nader or Bill Belichick -- can I start a boomlet? -- and it wouldn't matter a whit.

Here is an analogy: For at least 25 years, Americans have faced a choice when buying a car. You can buy an American-made car that is statistically less reliable than many of its Japanese counterparts, and theoretically keep a portion of the automotive industry in America. Or you can buy a reasonably priced, better-made Japanese car, which rewards the Japanese auto industry and not our own.There was a time when people agonized over this choice; less so now. Yes, there has been some blurring of the auto markets; Japanese manufacturers have assembly plants in the United States, and many "American" cars are made in Canada and Mexico. But more to the point, people buy the car that is best for them, with scant regard for the macroeconomic consequences of their decisions.

And so why not with presidential candidates? Why settle for a candidate when you can select one? I don't think Nader, or Fern Penna -- he's big on going to Mars -- or any of the other loons who will doubtless seek the presidency are harming the republic. Let the boys and girls play, I say.This dates me, but I can remember when a candidate ran for the presidency with the slogan "Why Not the Best?" The candidate was Jimmy Carter, far from our best president, but far from our worst as well.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is

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