A man who was essential to American progress has become irrelevantDoes it matter that Ralph Nader has finally won a spot on the Oregon ballot? In some small way, perhaps it is a blow for the democracy that the Naderites, with help from the Republican Party, placed the third party candidate on the ballot. It is also a giant stroke to Nader's ego, which seems to be what his campaign is about.

Beyond Nader's short-term, tactical meaning as a shill for George W. Bush, the distraction is without meaning. It is remarkable that a man who was once so essential to American progress has become irrelevant at a moment when the nation's future hangs in the balance.

This election is about many things, including the federal deficit and the environment, but it is especially about how American conducts itself in the global context. We have sacrificed 1,008 soldiers and another 7,000 wounded in a gratuitous war that was based on a series of lies. America's borders were not threatened, but we have spilled blood as though they were.

The foreign affairs columnist Georgie Anne Geyer last week wrote about how all wars have a "hypnotic power," how they gain a life of their own and their aftermath persists for decades. Describing the reality of the insurgents' control of important parks of central Iraq, she wrote: "In short, our presence there is working directly against our purported reasons for going there. And if President Bush is re-elected, the Palestinian problem will almost surely have reached its point of no return, as Israel expands and the next target of the Great Anti-Terrorists Crusade becomes Iran. War without end."

In other words, the stark choice in this election is about choosing a president who will make choices with his eyes wide open and with a healthy dose of realism or a president who will naively commit our troops to costly foreign adventures that permit no exit. We face a profound choice, between Bush and Kerry.

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