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Lionized for most of his career as a champion of the people amidst the corruption of American policymakers, Ralph Nader became a highly controversial figure following the hotly contested outcome of the 2000 US Presidential elections. Running as a third party candidate, he received 2.7-percent of the popular vote and a huge amount of the blame for Al Gore's loss. Nader most recently enraged his detractors by running once again for the office in 2004, another contentious year in American politics. In An Unreasonable Man, directors Steven Skrovan and Henriette Mantel talk to proponents, opponents, friends, former colleagues, and the man himself, seeking to uncover the motivations behind one of the greatest, and now most vilified, figures in American history.
The documentary attempts to cast a light on its subject's steadfast resolve to do what he believes is right, regardless of the ramifications. Imbued with a rigid moral code from an early age, Nader has dedicated his life to the idea that it is a citizen's duty to be an active member in the democratic process. But in many minds, with his 2000 and 2004 Presidential runs Nader fell prey to his own egotism, taking his own convictions too far. However, hearing him speak, it is hard not to believe that he ran because he honestly believed he could make the country better. (Nader is also running in the 2008 general election, as the Independent Party candidate, and is being virtually shut out of the media.)
An Unreasonable Man does a good job of showing Nader's early history and the numerous and universally celebrated accomplishments of his career before becoming America's most controversial political figure since David Duke. After painting a backdrop, the film then shifts gears to deal directly with Nader's reasons in running for office, the hurdles of his campaign, and of course, the fateful consequences of Nader's presidential aspirations. A multitude of talking heads weigh in, either offering insight or doing their best to trash the man. Regardless of one's opinion on his politics, An Unreasonable Man is a compelling and fascinating look at one of the most important men of recent history and the world-shaping events he precipitated.
The Nader situation has taken an even more interesting turn with the recent announcement of Al Gore as a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Whereas Nader has been subjected to perpetual jeering and literal pies in the face since the 2000 political season, Gore's stock has risen exponentially in the wake of his re-invention as an actual living human being. To boot, Gore has become a vocal advocate of drastic environmental policy overhauls, played a major role in one of the most successful documentary films ever produced, and has been receiving a steady stream of accolades from just about anyone with an accolade to give.
Having ridden his wind-powered wave of resurgence from bearded recluse immediately following his Supreme Court loss to his current media stardom, Gore's Nobel Prize win is a gigantic slap in the face to Nader, a man who has stood up his whole life to the impotent politicians and greedy corporations that until recently Gore could count himself a member of.
Posse in effect: Nader and an army of civil servants.
Think what you want of him now, but Ralph Nader's forty-year war on corruption and his record of service to the American public is uncontestable. His accomplishments are so vast and important that it is almost inconceivable that the same man could have been partly, and in some cases solely, responsible for all of them. His first victory against big business alone - successfully suing General Motor for the implementation of seatbelts and more stringent safety features in automobiles - has saved an estimated 200,000 lives. In the years since that landmark decision, Nader has been involved with such cornerstones of progressive governmental policy as the Freedom of Information Act, The Clean Air Act, and the formation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. During that time never held public office, working tirelessly on behalf of strangers for little or no money, and more or less sacrificing his entire life to public service.
It would be idiotic of me to disparage what Al Gore has accomplished in the last few years, having single-handedly raised the level of discourse on global warming. Instead, it amazes me that no one is wondering why he wasn't as vocal about his environmental position while he was the second most powerful man in America. It is all good for him to lecture and educate now, but shouldn't he have made more of an impact while he was in a position do so? Even with a spotlight-hogging President and vicious partisan politics, Gore could have more visibly used his role as Vice President to begin reversing the dire consequences that he is now warning about. He was an early advocate of the environment on the Congressional level, but while Gore was in the office of the Veep he was the consummate kowtower, afraid to take a strong stance for fear of the repercussions on his political career. Nader, on the other hand, has time and again been scoffed at or deemed a fool for tenaciously backing a multitude of causes, only to eventually have them become a part of life's everyday fabric.
It is unfortunate that Nader had to be the scapegoat for the party that lost the 2000 election. As a point that has been thoroughly discussed by bloggers, think-tankers, and political pundits the world over, any Nader spoiler effect in the 2000 election would have been far more psychological than statistical. Al Gore did not lose the 2000 election because of Ralph Nader. Al Gore lost because of Al Gore. While the black-and-white scenario of simply adding Nader's 2.7-percent to Gore's .51-percent margin of victory over Bush in the popular vote (assuming that no Nader voters would have otherwise voted Republican) would surely have shifted the Electoral College count, one has to colorize the picture with the very real fact that Nader's Green Party candidacy engaged a great number of alienated individuals for all the candidates. Nader's relatively insignificant percent of the vote mostly came from states that were already locks for any Democratic candidate. Nader's grassroots, hyper-liberal platform mobilized a voting block that in all likelihood would have stayed home, taken a bong rip, and played hacky-sack had he not been in the race. All of this is of course a moot point, as the Democrats made their own bed in the 2000 election. Gore was coming off eight years of sustained economic prosperity and yet was unable to carry his home state of Tennessee, where he'd been elected to the Senate, or the state of Arkansas, home of former President Clinton. Not to mention that Gore was running against what should have been the most beatable presidential candidate ever. Talk about a slam dunk - anyone with any sense would have made George W. Bush look like the out of his league, reactionary moron that he is. It is no small feat when you manage to be upstaged in a debate by a guy with the presence of a nervous middle-schooler speaking in front of the class for the first time.
This Nader argument has been run into the ground over the last eight years. I have no illusions that my borderline ranting will convince anyone that Ralph Nader has been subject to unfair abuse since 2000. I ask only that people consider the praise, awards, and media spotlight currently afforded to Al Gore, and then consider the merits and accomplishments of Nader, who is now, for all intents and purposes, a pariah. It is high time Ralph Nader regained the respect and admiration that he has earned over a distinguished career of public service. Even if no award as prestigious as the Noble Peace Prize is ever conferred on him, Ralph Nader is still one of the greatest Americans ever.
(Oh, and because Eric Alterman is so willing to express his appallingly negative opinion of anyone who voted for Nader in An Unreasonable Man, please allow me to express an opinion of mine just as brazenly. Eric Alterman is a media-whoring piece of shit.) SEE ALSO: www.nader.org
SEE ALSO: www.anunreasonableman.com
SEE ALSO: www.citizen.org
SEE ALSO: www.votenader.org
SEE ALSO: www.oilempire.us/2000.html
An aspiring global adventurer who cut his teeth on the sandy beaches and dirty bitches of Southern California, Kevin Alfoldy now spends his non-vacation days in Brooklyn, New York, where he occasionally finds the time to rub the crust out of his eyes long enough to contribute reviews and feature articles for LAS. A longtime staff member, Kevin also captains the tattered, often half-sunk raft of EPmd, our irregular column of EP reviews.
See other articles by Kevin Alfoldy.
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