All Bulworth, No Rhythm
Will Ralph Nader become Al Gore’s worst nightmare? By Jay Heinrichs
|Nerd of the North:
Stumping in Anchorage
RALPH NADER, THE SCOURGE of Motown, the hardest-working man in the activist business, Mr. Unsafe at Any Speed, is back. Well, yes, he was back last time, during the 1996 campaign when he passively accepted the Green Party nomination, but this time he’s really back. In this second bid for the presidency he plans to raise $5
million (a thousand times more than he spent four years ago), get on the ballot in at least 45 states, and pull 5 percent in the election—which would qualify the impoverished Green Party for federal subsidies next time around. Of more immediate interest, at least to Al Gore, are Nader’s respectable poll numbers: 7 to 10 percent in
California as of June, 6 percent nationally. If California tips Green enough, Bush could win the state and the whole damn election.
Which, Nader confided to Outside in June, wouldn’t be so bad. When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: “Bush.” Not that he actually thinks the man he calls “Bush Inc.” deserves to be elected: “He’ll do whatever industry wants done.” The
rumpled crusader clearly prefers to sink his righteous teeth into Al Gore, however: “He’s totally betrayed his 1992 book,” Nader says. “It’s all rhetoric.” Gore “groveled openly” to automakers, charges Nader, who concludes with the sotto voce realpolitik of a ward heeler: “If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win.”
But Nader is no mere spoiler. Having written the 1965 auto-industry exposé Unsafe at Any Speed and founded the Center for Auto Safety and the Public Interest Research Group, the 66-year-old “Johnny Appleseed of the citizen movement,” as his campaign Web site calls him, now offers to take this unsafe planet of ours and set it to rights,
just like he did with the Corvair.
The trouble is, Nader seems uneasy being Green. He refuses to join the party (never has joined one, and swears he never will). And while he matches the Greens in anticorporate fervor—our current government is “of the Exxons, by the General Motors, and for the DuPonts,” he says—the environment seems rather low on his policy agenda.
Last year he devoted just three of his weekly syndicated newspaper columns to the subject. Instead, Nader hopes his old-fashioned, trust-busting message will attract the grumbling ranks of organized labor. Hey, it could happen, say fervent Naderites. In June, still feeling scorned after the trade bill with China, the United Auto Workers and the
Teamsters indulged in a brief flirtation with Nader—along with Friends of the Earth, the only major environmental group to consider backing him.
Oh, yes, the environment: Nader promises “a crackdown on auto executives,” “zero pollution” in our waterways, and “a total ban on logging in the national forests.” While he sounds positively moderate next to the shame-on-the-human-race Green Party, don’t expect any early endorsements by your local chamber of commerce.