The Oregonian - Nader Still Brings Passion to the Party
H is anger has never failed him, dissipating into despair and withdrawal. Ralph Nader has never cottoned to bullies, curbed his disgust with corporate America or succumbed to its temptations, like the long, cool woman in a thin dress that General Motors threw at him in the '60s. (The clumsy attempt to lure the author of "Unsafe at Any Speed" into a compromising position sparked Senate hearings on Capitol Hill and a $425,000 settlement for Nader.)
He was never seduced by any of the "psycho-sexual dreamboats" coming out of Detroit. "Here was someone saying," Lawrence O'Donnell notes in "An Unreasonable Man," "that this vehicle that you think is the essence of your happiness, that the advertising community has told you is everything you're ever going to need to be happy, is incredibly, recklessly dangerous."
And because Nader remains fixated on overhyped vehicles that promise you everything as they steer you over a cliff, he's still running for president, with fresh rallies scheduled Monday in Portland (7:30 p.m. at the Bagdad Theater) and Eugene.
Nader's quests for the White House -- the secretary of state's arguments for keeping him off the Oregon ballot in 2004 were so fantastic that Nader appropriately remembers him as "Ray Bradbury" -- have so infuriated Democrats in the new millennium they forget how dramatically he reordered the old one.
In what he remembers as "a marvelous time of creative intimidation," Nader took on polluters and fought for consumers on a dozen battlefields. His belief that he could effect change within the system owed largely to the education and inspiration provided by his father, Nathra, a Lebanese immigrant who ran a restaurant/deli in Winsted, Conn.
"The restaurant itself was a perennial town meeting," Nader said in a telephone interview. "There was a long counter, lots of booths, and constant talk. The jurors would come over from the courthouse, the shopkeepers, tourists. Candidates for office at every level. They'd come down the counter, shaking hands fast. My father would be waiting for them at the coffee urn. They'd shake his hand . . . and he wouldn't let go. He'd ask questions. He'd insist they talk some substance."
Such dialogue is no longer part of presidential politics, Nader insists, because he's been shuttled to the wings and banned from the debates. Much of his anger is now directed, as he said in August, at those "who have corrupted our country, reduced our choices, debased our public dialogue and turned politics into trivial gossip, tactics, horse races and silly repartee between people like John McCain and Barack Obama."
The difference between the Republican and Democratic parties? "The velocity with which their knees hit the floor when corporations pound on their door," Nader says.
The biggest problem with the electorate? "Civic motivation." In the '60s, Nader said, motivating the electorate was easier because the brutality of the war, the desecration of the environment and the assault on African Americans in the South were both physical and visible affronts on our sensibilities.
Elective reform and derivatives may be "maddeningly provocative," he said, but they are much less tangible. Anger wanes. Pessimism -- "an indulgence" -- fills the void. And, Nader adds, corporate stamina overwhelms citizen focus.
At 74, Nader's stamina, like his anger, shows no sign of fading. He has no intention of abandoning the stage to presidential candidates who don't share his standards of fairness, his advocacy for single-payer national health insurance, or his disdain for compromise.
Like his father, waiting at the coffee urn, the man won't let go.