By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
After being labeled a "spoiler" by political pundits and Democrats, longtime consumer crusader Ralph Nader wrote his 318-page campaign memoir, Crashing the Party: How To Tell the Truth and Still Run for President, in six months, attempting to pinpoint what went wrong and right with the Green Party and his quixotic candidacy in 2000. There is no planned promotional speaking tour, though Mr. Nader will be reading at 92nd Street Y on January 31. Below, he shares his thoughts on the Green Party's branding problem, the plight of third-party candidates in a new age of war, priorities in 2002, and his "Love God" status.
When did you decide to write this book?
It was after the campaign, after the reactions from the frightened liberals. And all the misinterpretations of what we were doing. I wanted to set the record straight.
Do you feel like youve done so?
Well, as much as the publishers pages would allow. It was a little longer then they thought.
You still use that clunky typewriter?
The Underwood Manual. [laughs] The ribbon gave me fits.
Phil Donahue, former talk show host and loyal supporter, calls you, on the back of the book jacket, "the most important private American of the twentieth century." Do you agree?
Uh, well, I wish it wasnt the case. I wish there were more people who had the opportunities to build a citizen movement and proliferate a lot of citizen groups, coast to coast. But I dont know. I cant comment on that.
In retrospect, how would you have run your campaign differently?
From Day 1, I would have focused entirely on precinct activists to get out the vote. Period.
And that didnt happen?
No. It went the other way. We tried to lay it out nationally, and then we tried to get our Washington office up and running, and then we tried to work the Internet--which, by the way, was worked very heavily by all the parties and didnt bring the vote out. One percent.
Also, we didnt use parades. There should have been parades. Theyre cheap, very local, and very personal, and theres music and drums.
Politics is still a people-to-people effort, and thats who we should have started with, right from the beginning.
Not many people know about your personal life. Whats your schedule these days?
I travel so much, I dont really have one.
When do you get up?
Oh, I dont know, around 7:30.
And go to bed?
Maybe 1:00 a.m., 2:00 a.m.
Are you a vegetarian?
No. I lean that way. I dont like red meat anymore. But I do eat fish.
You're what, sixty ?
Feel better then ever?
Yep. No, wait, Im sixty-seven.
Yeah. [laughs] I dont want to rush things.
Im not sure if you noticed or not, but somewhere down the campaign trail, you became, amongst your female supporters, something of a sex icon.
No. Youre just kidding.
No. Im serious. You know it too.
Youre engaging in fantasies, Geoff. [laughs] Youre engaging in revelations!
Im serious. They thought you were a total hunk.
[laughs] Wheres the evidence?
Its everywhere. Even one of the female reporters covering you had a big-time, publicly admitted crush on you. She wrote about it in Salon. You know? "Ralph Nader, Love God." She was even jealous when another fan at a rally declared, "YOU ARE MY LOVE GOD," written on a sign. This "hot-blooded" reporter claimed you were affecting her work.
Oh, jeez. [laughs] Thats just . . . thats just fun and games, and joking. You know, in the campaign you get all kinds of things like that, satire, etc.
In one section of the book, you say, initially, you were opposed to paying for the Master Card television spoof. Vans with paid volunteers would be better, you write, a more pure way of getting the campaign message to potential voters. But we live in a modern world. Technology, corruption, the power of television are realities. I wonder, do you think its possible to be too idealistic?
It is, abstractly. But if your in the arena of civic action, it isnt. They [Big Corporations] dont allow you to be. The adversarial force is against you. [laughs] GM doesnt allow you to be very idealistic when it comes to surface transportation ideas.
During the last weeks of the election, the political analysts labeled you a "spoiler." They said your career as consumer advocate would be much more difficult. "Naders gonna' have trouble getting his calls returned," they said. Has that been the case?
You see, as citizen groups, were being increasingly shut out of Washington. Its like what Dylan said. I think it was Dylan: "Theres not much left to lose."
So were re-orienting ourselves: helping build a political movement, opening up new areas like the development of Internet and interactive TV, development of our own media, like democracy.org, like citizen.org, and helping new citizen groups for a day when the situation [in Washington] will be more auspicious. Were also helping the Green Party. Ive been to 23 fundraisers since November 2000.