Friday, February 02, 2007

Ralph Nader, An Unreasonable Man - NOT!

By Deanna Zandt

Mention Ralph's name in any variety of progressive circles and you'll often get an earful about the 2000 elections. You'll hear about how, sure, the person you're talking to voted for him, but somehow, Nader is effectively responsible for the war and every other sorry state the country is in, because he spoiled the election. Forty years of activism doesn't come up so much in that conversation, does it?

A new documentary aims to shed some light on a man who has managed to be vilified from just about every political angle: An Unreasonable Man premiered in New York City last night. Three sold-out showings on opening night must mean something... people must be curious to get a glimpse at the what's behind the curtains of the crusader.

The audience gets more than a glimpse, for sure. Starting out with Election 2000 rants from people who seem rather, er, unreasonably upset still, the film moves quickly into the history of the modern consumer movement. What's shocking about watching that history, though, is that it's incredibly funny (find out which automaker hired women to try and seduce Ralph into scandalous affairs), and an excellent reminder that, as Mark Green notes towards the end of the film, little of the man's life is about ego, as he is so often criticized now. Plus, journalist James Ridgeway often steals the show with his very candid political commentary.

I spoke with Nader briefly after the film, and asked him if he'd ever experienced burnout from all the activism and attacks he's endured. "Burn-what?" he said, looking at me quizzically. And he wasn't being funny, either. "Burnout," I laughed. "How do you deal with it?"

"Oh, burnout," he said. "No, I've never had it. I mean, what's the alternative to activism? Surrender. That's not an option, you know?"

Deni Frand, former director of People for the American Way New York, noted after the film that one of the most crucial points of the film for her was to see where Nader comes from-- how his family is, and the community he grew up in. "And to watch the collapse of the Democrats in the 1980s-- people forget that twenty-year block of time, and just how sad it was," she said. It certainly paints a poignant picture when you see a large room full of Democratic candidates, in their early-80s garb, courting hundreds of potential corporate donors in a feeding frenzy to "catch up" to the Republicans.

If there's anything to criticize about the film, it's the lack of young voices throughout the film-- organizer Jason Kafoury is the only person under 40 to appear (besides some anti-Nader activists that have a few words here and there). It would have been fantastic to see how Nader's populist message is affecting youth activism and culture, and the influence that he's had. At the end Q&A session after the screening, he did offer advice to younger activists: Every town in America has councils and committees where you can get involved. Go and be part of it, and see what you're made of.

As for the 2000 elections-- that's better left to the film. All angles are pursued as to Ralph's influence on the election, and the viewer is left to make their own decision on how it all fell out. I certainly came away with the feeling that he didn't deserve what the Democrats did to him, smearing him for their crappy campaign and Republican-lite candidate. Particularly intriguing to watch, too, were the celebrities who withdrew their support from him.

All-in-all, it's a film that accomplishes quite a bit-- documenting the history of the consumer advocacy movement, providing insight to the character and caricature of Ralph Nader, and above all, it lets us each answer the question it poses: How do you define a legacy?

Deanna Zandt is a contributing editor at AlterNet.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Nader Still in the Crosshairs By MICKEY Z.
[Report this comment]
Posted by: rwa on Feb 1, 2007 8:13 AM

I was at the gym, walking by a television tuned to one of the many insipid morning chat shows...but that's not what stopped me dead in my tracks. What got my attention was the guest: Ralph Nader. I watched the host begin the interview with yet another rehash/accusation/question about the 2000 election. You know the drill by now: Nader spoiled it for Gore, ruined his own legacy, blah, blah, blah. It's been repeated so often that most Americans accept it all as fact.

After having read New York magazine the night before, that first question was all I could stomach. You see, David Edelstein, the magazine's film critic, just reviewed An Unreasonable Man, a new documentary about Nader. The self-important Edelstein spoke of receiving an invitation to see the film and meet Nader afterwards. "I wrote (that) I couldn't make it," said Edelstein, "but to leave my seat vacant in the name of the Iraqi and American dead."

Left unsaid, of course, is his belief that Nader cost Al Gore the election and that Gore would never have invaded Iraq. While neither point can ever be fully proven true or false, I do have a question for Edelstein: If Al Gore cares so much about the Iraqi dead, why didn't he speak out against the murderous sanctions when he was vice president? A half-million dead Iraqi children and Gore did not say one fuckin' word in public to condemn it.

I'm also wondering if, during the Clinton-Gore years, Edelstein peppered his film reviews with similar self-righteous political statements. How about when Clinton bombed Iraq in response to an alleged plot to assassinate Bush the Elder and ended up killing Leila Attar, that country's best-known female artist?

What did the millionaire morning chat show hosts and the haughty New York magazine film critic say about that? Better question: Were they even aware it happened?

"What we have with Edelstein is the typical liberal phenomena: blame Nader instead of facing the facts," says Joshua Frank, author of Left Out: How Liberals Help Re-elect George W. Bush. "The reason Nader even made any headway in 2000 was due to his ability to tap into the mounting anti-globalization movement that was launched in Seattle one year earlier. Progressive, and even radical voters saw Nader as their chance to hold the neoliberals' feet to the fire."

Also in his "review," Edelstein declares Nader to be "obviously nuts" for making the assertion that there wasn't "a dime's bit of difference" between Bush and Gore. This statement is presented as an article of faith as Edelstein offers no evidence. Why should he when probably 99.9% of his readers agree with him?

"Nobody can say Gore wasn't a neoliberal," says Frank. "He supported NAFTA, pushed WTO/China legislation-Al Gore was a proud New Democrat for many years and that was only part of it. Under Clinton/Gore environmentalists got the Salvage Rider and the derailment of Kyoto. The working poor got welfare reform. Labor got free trade. And Iraqi kids got deadly sanctions. Those are the reasons Nader had such a powerful campaign in 2000. I think if liberals can't face that, they are the ones who are 'nuts'."

Take-home message: If all those Gore voters had pulled the lever for Ralph, we all would've been spared both the Bush administration and the Nader, David Edelstein could to stick to writing about film.

D's still shooting themselves in the foot...
[Report this comment]
Posted by: MartianBachelor on Feb 1, 2007 8:43 AM
Criminy, even Humphrey was able to win his home state while getting totally steamrolled in 1968; same for Dukakis in 1988... Labor has been falling in line behind the D's for decades, and look what it's gotten them. When will people catch on?

It's not so much a movie review, but John DeSio wrote a wonderfully incisive piece on Ralph and the body politic in New York Press: It's the best thing I've seen so far in all that's coming out on the release of this movie.

Choice quote: “I think the anger of the Democrats is an autocratic anger,” says Nader. “Basically they think the Democrats own a certain number of votes in the country and nobody should challenge them. Well, that’s a very autocratic form of political bigotry.”