Crashing the Party

If time heals all wounds, the divisions left from the weirdest Presidential election in U.S. history may be soothed by an insightful memoir from Campaign 2000 Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

About 3 million Americans voted for Nader, who spends some of this political diary explaining his reasons for running. The Democratic Party largely abandoned the historically successful coalition of working-class and minority people, small businesses and women, city ethnic groups, and farmers, Nader says. Besides Democrats’ abandoning their role as mediator and moderator to business interests represented by elements of the Republican Party, Nader adds, they acquiesced to money and power--which he dates to a resurgence of big business in the last 18 months of the Carter administration, circa 1979. Also, Nader seemed to feel that there was the positive possibility of sparking discussion or even contributing to some progressive reforms to help take back government from the campaign contributors, lobbyists, and corporate heads.

In this readable reflection, the long-time consumer, environmental, civil rights, and women’s rights advocate responds to opposition from one-time allies such as Jesse Jackson, Gloria Steinem, and Barney Frank. Such attacks targeted the Greens’ insurgent effort but also blasted Nader personally. Organized labor’s leaders and Hollywood’s supposedly liberal power brokers also are chided for being fair-weather friends. In fact, if such Gore supporters had spent more energy and time attacking George W. Bush instead of Nader, and appealing to progressives attracted to the Greens, Gore would have had a better chance to win. Nader himself may have made a better showing had he been permitted to participate in the Presidential debates.

Nader created an alternative that was spectacular, if not as effective in reaching people. He held “Super- Rallies” throughout the country. They charged admission, but were energetic affairs that drew thousands, in sharp contrast to the rather moribund gatherings featuring Gore or Bush.

While he may regret stressing substance over shallow flesh-pressing appearances and photo opportunities, Nader doesn’t sound bitter. In fact, he issues a hopeful call to arms, to young readers in particular. Finally--ever the organizer--he includes a useful, 11-part appendix with sections listing civic activists, the “Greens’ 10 key values,” FDR’s pro-Henry Wallace letter from 1940, an excerpt from a speech of support from actor Tim Robbins, and even tips for tracking down details on corporate welfare, the uneven distribution of wealth, housing needs, etc. The material is instructive and inspiring.