recently i had dinner with my grandmother and a couple of her friends. shortly before the dinner the issue of the 2008 presidential campaign came up and one of the guests remarked that she hoped nader would not run again. this is a sentiment that has been echoed by just about everyone i’ve talked with about the subject of nader or the 2008 race. democrats hate him and blame him for the outcome in 2000 and republicans hate him because of his leftist (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) agenda. later in the dinner the same woman stated that she would vote for hillary unless someone better came along. one of the things she said about hillary struck me – she cited hillary’s commencement speech at wellesley in 1969 and said “that’s who hillary is, and that’s who she’ll be if she’s president.” it struck me as a nice thought, but not altogether realistic. the speech was given almost 40 years ago and hillary has, like her husband, adjusted her stance according to the polls so many times that i doubt even she knows what she really stands for anymore. it reminds me of kerry and what he once was and what he’s turned out to be. some remember the kerry who was a vigorous opponent of the vietnam war and others remember the more recent kerry who wasn’t nearly as outspoken at the beginnings of the iraq war and never called for our troops to be pulled out of iraq when he was running for president in 2004.
on the other hand you have a man like ralph nader, who currently is who he has always been – a man of principles and conviction. he’s also the most maligned figure cut from the cloth of cesar chavez, mlk, and gandhi that i can think of. unlike kerry and clinton, most of his career has been unencumbered by running for office, which generally necessitates a compromising of one’s principles under the guise of “compromise” and “moderation” in order to be more electable. through most of his political career he was issues-oriented, but this changed somewhat when he ran for president. i say somewhat because his campaigns have always been more about issues than being elected to office, so even when running for office, he was more about calling attention to issues than winning office.
the documentary looks at nader’s public life beginning with his book “unsafe at any speed” and its origins. it ends, of course, with his presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004. it does a good job of presenting the opinions of people like eric alterman who hate nader for “losing the election for gore” in 2000 and balancing out that cock-eyed view with the facts and theories that support nader’s campaigns in those years. this includes nader himself, a democratic harvard student who looked at where nader campaigned in 2000 (to determine if he wanted to be a spoiler), and his supporters and campaign workers. it presents the nader-as-spoiler debate as realistically and honestly as i can imagine, and as someone who has been fighting this fight since i voted for him in 2000 (and again in 2004), i found it refreshing.
a great documentary about a great man.