Ralph Nader tells a raucous crowd on election eve that “the only difference between Gore and Bush is the velocity with which their knees hit the floor when corporations bang on their door.” The Green party’s presidential nominee wows a capacity crowd of about 400 at “The House of Justice,” the Reverend Al Sharpton’s headquarters, just a subway token’s throw from Harlem’s fabled 125th Street.
As seven TV cameras and portraits of Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela bear witness, the Green party’s presidential nominee offers a withering and often hilarious indictment of his chief rivals.
“You know George W. Bush,” Nader says, as a giant, wooden clenched fist fills a corner of the room. “He’s nothing more than a big corporation running for president, disguised as a human being.”
While Nader occasionally mocks Bush, he reserves most of his fire for Al Gore, the man whose supporters he’s likelier to peel away at the polls.
“And Al Gore — I don’t know if he knows who he is,” Nader continues. “He’s had three debates and three makeovers. No wonder he was on the Oprah Winfrey Show.”
The consumer advocate tells a story about a journalist who recently watched the vice president eat a chocolate chip ice cream cone. When the reporter asked whether that was his favorite flavor, Nader says, a quizzical expression crossed Gore’s face, “like he’s looking to see who has more votes — the pistachio crowd or the hot fudge sundae people.”
Nader also says Gore “doesn’t know on any given day whether he’s the great impostor or the great pretender… In the same sentence in the debates, he said he’s for the Defense of Marriage Act, but maybe civil unions. The guy doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going!”
All seriousness aside, as the late Steve Allen used to say, Nader is right on target on three issues that concern many libertarians and conservatives.
Beyond the Cato Institute, one would be hard-pressed to find a more passionate critic of business subsidies than Ralph Nader.
“Have you ever heard them [Gore and Bush] say that they want to get rid of taxpayer aid to dependent corporations?” Nader asks. “Have you ever heard them say that it’s time for corporate welfare reform, to get the rich off of welfare?”
Of course, what fuels these immoral programs is a steady stream of campaign cash from companies and industries that wallow in Uncle Sam’s largesse.
“I think the biggest news is not DUI,” Nader says. “It’s RUI: running under the influence of big money.” While his prescription — full government financing of campaigns — would trigger its own headaches, Nader’s diagnosis is unassailable. Legal bribery, also known as political donations, provides private down payments for special public favors.
And in opposing the war on drugs, Nader offers his most sobering words. “We don’t send alcoholics to jail in this country,” he says. “We don’t send nicotine addicts to jail. Why are we sending drug addicts to jail instead of providing them with treatment?” As the exasperation mounts in his voice, Nader adds: “I ask those who still support the failed war on drugs, what standard of failure would you ever recognize in order to revise your approach?”
Alas, Nader soon stops making sense. Most of his proposals are radical, if not downright wacky. He opposes, for instance, exposing public-school students to “the tyranny of standardized testing.” Nader calls the use of such performance measures “a serious, silent kind of psychological violence.”
Nader wants the federal government to give black Americans financial reparations to compensate for the suffering of black slaves before the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Just think what that would do for domestic tranquility. He also wants to leave affirmative action intact, he says, to counteract “300 years of affirmative action to benefit white males.”
Nader, according to his campaign literature, “supports breaching dams to restore habitat and flood control as well as protect endangered species.” Imagine, knocking down dams to save fish. And hydroelectric power will come from…where? Bush opposes this idea while Gore straddles, calling to study the matter annually.
All this said, Nader is a rare breed in politics: a gray-haired idealist. At age 66, he is as devoted to his cause today as he was in 1965 when he dubbed the Chevrolet Corvair “unsafe at any speed.” He’s a one-man no-spin zone. Nader wouldn’t know a focus group if it kidnapped him and drove him to Disney World.
“It’s sweat. It’s tears. It’s work,” Nader says, encouraging his supporters to build the Green party. “The only place where democracy comes before work is in the dictionary.”
Free marketeers share little common ground with Ralph Nader. But after enduring nearly eight years of President Flip and Vice President Flop, even capitalists should admire Nader’s sincerity, his steadfastness, and his courage in running for president despite howling gusts of rage from his ex-friends among the Democratic elite.