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The Hartford Courant

Nader Still Follows Cameras, Proudly Offers Alternative

Jesse A. Hamilton

Ralph Nader is in Denver this week for the "corporate-saturated Democratic National Convention." He hosted a Wednesday night rally, taking his own stage about an hour after the Democratic choice for vice president, Sen. Joe Biden, stepped in front of the Pepsi Center thousands.(Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP)

If the same happens in November to Barack Obama, that's just one more
electoral incident for which the Connecticut native won't issue an
apology. If Democratic politicians want to push him aside, he argues,
then they are welcome to borrow some of his "progressive populist"
ideas. In his view, a vote belongs to no one until it's earned.

The veteran presidential candidate is used to the blame and doesn't
flinch when it's mentioned over and over in his interviews. "It's a
very ugly syndrome in Democratic politics, because it's a scapegoat
syndrome," he said Wednesday. Anyway, he insists, the win was stolen
from Gore in the Florida vote tally.

"If the Democrats don't get over this, they will never look themselves
in the mirror and say, 'Oh me, oh my, why isn't our party landsliding
the worst Republicans in the history of the Republican Party?'"

Nader is in Denver this week for the "corporate-saturated Democratic
National Convention." He hosted a Wednesday night rally, taking his own
stage about an hour after the Democratic choice for vice president,
Sen. Joe Biden, stepped in front of the Pepsi Center thousands.

Nader's chief thrust right now is trying to get himself in the presidential debates.

He plans to be in Minnesota next week, trying to siphon attention from
the Republican National Convention, too. The independent candidate, who
touts single-digit support in recent nationwide polls and has
petitioned his way onto the 2008 ballots of more than three dozen
states, has been steadily running for president for almost two decades,
and he's learned to go where the cameras are.

And when he seizes that attention, the iconic former consumer advocate
attacks both parties evenly as corporate stooges. When asked if he
prefers one over another, he acknowledges his belief that the Democrats
are better on Social Security, Medicare and civil rights. But, he said,
"I don't think this country deserves a least worse choice."

His criticisms of the Democratic Party were far stronger, however, when
addressing those who came to hear him at the University of Denver arena
Wednesday night.

"This party is sick," he told the 4,000 mostly college-age people.
"It's decaying. It's lost its soul. ... They never talk about the poor.
They talk about the middle class." Nader brought up the "bottom 100
million" people in the country, saying they do the heavy lifting and
"service us in all kinds of ways while they are underpaid, while they
are overcharged."

The candidate shouted, "It's our job to sweep the rascals out of the political forums who have corrupted our country!"

Nader argued for the inclusion of third-party candidates. "Dissent is
the mother of ascent," he said, to cheers. "Almost everything we like
about our country started with minority dissenters."

Earlier in the day, Nader's criticism was leveled at the journalists
covering the race, who are "drawn into a vortex of greater and greater

Not that his own rally was free of light entertainment and celebrity appearances.

Actor Sean Penn had high billing at this festival of The Others. Penn referred to the nearby convention as "the prom."

The 74-year-old Nader promised he would - before November - personally
campaign "up and down the state of Connecticut," where he's
historically managed to seize a little higher percentage than the votes
he gets nationwide. It's his home-state crowd.

"We will let the people of Connecticut know that even though Obama is
likely to take it, they at least have a choice to send the Democrats a
message that their votes are not going to be taken for granted."

When asked whether he'll put his town, Winsted, on the campaign trail, he smiled. "Yes, of course."

After all, Winsted's town meetings influenced the life he would choose.
"I saw active citizens," he said. "I saw squirming politicians, and I
saw free speech in action.

"That was a far greater civic education than anything I learned in my formal education."

Nader concluded his words at the University of Denver Wednesday night
with his own civic lesson, goading his young audience, particularly
those who don't vote:

"If only you knew the power you have at this young age," he said.
"Chuck the iPod once in a while. Stop listening to non-stop music,
which is blowing out your mind. And get serious.

"Read the grim lesson of history, here and abroad. When people do not turn on to politics, politics will turn on them."


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