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Ralph Nader Tries To Break New Ground in American Politics
Published on Thursday, September 28, 2000 in the Philadelphia Inquirer
Clearing A Green Space
Ralph Nader Tries To Break New Ground in American Politics
by Larry Eichel
 
PITTSBURGH - When Ralph Nader appeared here Tuesday night, he didn't draw the 12,000 who paid to see him in Minneapolis, or the 10,000 in Seattle. The crowd at Carnegie Mellon University wasn't more than 1,000, which was a good thing because there were only seats for 750.

And the event wasn't even a campaign rally. This was a lecture - dry as dust, relentlessly gloomy and 90 minutes long - on the human consequences of economic globalization. It wasn't until the question period that someone prefaced a query with this observation: "I heard you were running for president."

No matter. The mostly student crowd sat in rapt attention, confident it was in the presence of a great man.

The polls, which Nader says are rigged, have his Green Party candidacy low in the single digits. For now, despite his protestations, there is no reason to doubt their accuracy. But there also is no denying the buzz he is creating as he travels the nation, denouncing the Democratic and Republican candidates as twin tools of big business.

"The only difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush," he told his college audience, once he got warmed up, "is the velocity with which their knees hit the floor when the corporate interests come knocking."

Press him a little and he acknowledges there are a few other differences, such as the candidates' stances on abortion and gun control. But they are small in the grand scheme of things, he says, and have more to do with words than deeds. As for Gore's new-found populism, he dismisses it as mere rhetoric, a transparent attempt to suppress the Nader vote.

In his campaign speeches, the consumer advocate doesn't mention the issues that dominate the Bush-Gore dialogue - the projected budget surplus, tax cuts and prescription drugs. His worldview is far darker and his agenda his own - the need to enact universal health care, end corporate welfare, cut the defense budget, withdraw from the World Trade Organization, and reveal what he calls the true state of the economy.

"I think it's important to blow the lid off the propaganda that these are prosperous times for all Americans," he says.

Those concerns won't get the mass hearing they deserve, Nader says, because he's being barred from the presidential debates by a commission run by the two major parties and funded by big corporations. Give him that platform, he says, and his support would take off.

Perhaps. But his biggest obstacle is the nature of the race itself. As long as Gore and Bush are locked in a dogfight, many Nader sympathizers on the left will be reluctant to give him their votes - out of fear that they will be giving Bush the presidency.

"Last week, I was for Gore, but now I'm with Nader," said Mary Ruth Aull, a disillusioned, two-time Clinton voter who attended a potluck dinner for Nader in the basement of a Unitarian church here. "I know he can't make it, and I really don't want Bush. But I'm tired of anguishing over it, and I'm not going to change my mind again, even if it means not watching any television until after Nov. 7. This is a courageous vote for me."

Nader hears such concerns every day. When he does, he drops all pretense of running to win and slips into the mode of political pragmatist.

Vote for me, he says, and you vote to make the Greens a growing political watchdog, capable of telling both parties, particularly the Democrats, that "you're either going to shape up or shrink down." In that regard, 5 percent of the vote nationwide is an important goal, since it would qualify the party for federal campaign dollars in 2004.

And Nader points out that most states are not Bush-Gore battlegrounds, arguing, in effect, that people in those places have no reason to feel any guilt, however misplaced, about voting for him.

This weekend, he'll journey to one of the nation's least competitive places, Boston, where he hopes to draw his biggest crowd yet. The city's also the site of the first presidential debate, set for Tuesday night. So he'll hang around a few days and get as much attention as he can, before getting shut out.

Copyright 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc

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