Apart from the heckler, there was no evidence in Cooper Union tonight of the ire Ralph Nader’s bid for the presidency has engendered among Democrats. Patti Smith played an acoustic version of Christine Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” They ran a film clip featuring the candidate in a make-believe debate with dolls of Bush and Kerry. And there was a pumpkin on stage.
Nader alluded to the fuss, but only to ridicule it. Speaking next to the pumpkin, which had his name carved on it, Nader called George W. Bush a “messianic militarist.”
“They can’t beat him easily?” he asked, meaning the Dems. “Ask your frightened liberals the following questions. You know all those groups that you send $25 or $30 bucks in the mail?” Nader was talking about groups like the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, AFSCME, and Punk Voter. “None of them are making any demands of him. There’s no pressure to counter the 24-hour pull on Kerry by the corporate interests.”
Nader, of course, made demands for months, and the undertone as he completes his campaign is that Kerry wasn’t listening. So tonight, one last time, Nader shouted.
“John Kerry, how do you tell the next 100,000 Iraqis they have to die for a mistake?”
After his speech, Nader sat on a small folding chair in the green room, while an aide fetched him some juice. He looked tired, but he smiled, and spoke slowly, still full of fight, lamenting “the puss, the mucus, and the political bigotry” he encountered on the campaign trail. “The liberal leaders, they’re out of gas,” he said. “We need to get some new energy.” He named a dozen states where he might find votes on Tuesday, including New York. And he called his battles to get on the ballot in other states a “silver lining,” evidence he would use in his coming battles to open up American politics.
Time and again this evening, Nader wondered about America’s “breaking point,” the place where the logic of “least worst party” runs aground. “Anybody would be better than Bush,” he said. “Go through the phone book.” But the Democrats, he suggested, did not tilt to “the rumble” of the people, an alternative in name alone: “You will find a ring in your nose,” he said, “and the string will be pulled by the least worst party.”
As he has in the past, Nader closed by adding to Gandhi’s social sins one should avoid. “Respect without self-respect. Belief without thought.” He had stood lightly on top of his record as a public advocate, and suggested that this was simply another unpopular battle they would all have to fight together. “You are our inspiration,” he told his audience. They clapped appreciatively, but like the rest of America, looked ready for the end of the the campaign. He spoke to his young supporters.
“Don’t waste time with personal problems you should have gotten over in your adolescent years.”