Nader on Nader

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 you’ve done so?

Well, as much as the publisher’s 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 wasn’t 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 don’t know. I can’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t bring the vote out. One percent.

Also, we didn’t use parades. There should have been parades. They’re cheap, very local, and very personal, and there’s music and drums.

Politics is still a people-to-people effort, and that’s who we should have started with, right from the beginning.

Not many people know about your personal life. What’s your schedule these days?

I travel so much, I don’t really have one.

When do you get up?

Oh, I don’t 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 don’t like red meat anymore. But I do eat fish.

You're what, sixty…?

Eight.

Feel better then ever?

Yep. No, wait, I’m sixty-seven.

You sure?

Yeah. [laughs] I don’t want to rush things.

I’m 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. You’re just kidding.

No. I’m serious. You know it too.

You’re engaging in fantasies, Geoff. [laughs] You’re engaging in revelations!

I’m serious. They thought you were a total hunk.

[laughs] Where’s the evidence?

It’s 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] That’s just . . . that’s 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 it’s possible to be too idealistic?

It is, abstractly. But if your in the arena of civic action, it isn’t. They [Big Corporations] don’t allow you to be. The adversarial force is against you. [laughs] GM doesn’t 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. "Nader’s gonna' have trouble getting his calls returned," they said. Has that been the case?

With some people, yes. Like John Conyers (D-MI) and Joe Biden (D-DE.) They’ve really become pretty nasty. They won’t have anything to do with our program.

You see, as citizen groups, we’re being increasingly shut out of Washington. It’s like what Dylan said. I think it was Dylan: "There’s not much left to lose."

So we’re 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. We’re also helping the Green Party. I’ve been to 23 fundraisers since November 2000.

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