Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader wrapped up his nationwide tour of "Super Rallies" in town Sunday, playing to close to 10,000 fervent supporters at MCI Arena. At this corporate-sponsored venue usually reserved for basketball games and Backstreet Boys concerts, Nader waxed philosophical about D.C. statehood, ranted against the perils of corporate greed and globalism, and lamented that -- in the post-Cold War era -- health, the environment and poverty are the greatest threats to our national security, sticking his thumb directly in the eye of Al Gore in the process.
Though it lacked the baby boomer appeal of a Gore or Bush rally, Nader gave an ebullient speech that often betrayed his own famous reserve. "Whoa! This is really great," Nader exclaimed as he marched out on stage under a shower of ribbon and glitter. Nader has been chastened by the press and the Democrats like a bratty 3-year-old as polls show he may take key states away from Gore come Tuesday. But this speech wasn't meant for them. Nader is a man who knows his audience, and he tailored his speech perfectly to the hordes of students, government employees and '60s holdouts (still clinging to their last shreds of idealism) who make up Nader's base.
Also refreshingly omitted were the cynical slogans that have come to define the campaigns of the two major party candidates. There was no talk of "compassionate conservatism;" no mention of "you ain't seen nothing yet." The straight talk that Nader did give served to reinforce the fact that he is the only candidate who can accurately call himself a "reformer with results." As Michael Moore noted before introducing him, Nader crusaded for the Clean Air Act, the Freedom of Information Act, air bags, the Environmental Protection Act and scores more legislation to protect everyday consumers, many of whom may have never heard of him before his presidential bid. But on this day, Nader was preaching before the converted, as people hoisted signs reading "Ralph Nader has a posse," "I ain't no Nader hater," "Not for sale," or "Raise the minimum rage."
At the top of Nader's carefully tailored speech was his statement of support for District of Columbia statehood (without voting rights in Congress, he argued, Washington is effectively a "colony run by a Congress out of touch with the local reality"). He decried special interests and corporate welfare. He called for more corporate responsibility and a living wage, with punchy lines like: "The only place democracy comes before work is in the dictionary." He railed against U.S. immigration policies ("Our constitution never envisioned the INS as a court") and he criticized the death penalty.
But Nader saved his harshest words for globalization, describing NAFTA as placing "trade |ber alles" and calling for U.S. withdrawal from all existing trade agreements. He often referred to the "oppressed," "the downtrodden," and, yes, he even brought up that favorite pet issue of the left: legalization of industrial hemp. "Even if Clinton inhaled industrial hemp," Nader quipped, "he'd get no more than a stomachache."
And though both Bush and Gore have made education major themes of their respective campaigns, Nader criticized the "absurd" memorization practices and "phony" standardized tests Bush and Gore are promoting as the answer to greater accountability in schools and better education.
Nader urged voters to vote their conscience and implored that there's no such thing as a "vote for the lesser of two evils where, at the end of the day, there's nothing left but evil."
"I can't believe people would put a man in office who says he hasn't committed a felony in 25 years," Moore railed. But his tirade against the Texas governor was intensified by the fact that the director of the documentary "Roger and Me" was partially maimed 27 years ago after getting struck by a drunk driver. (Moore no longer has full movement of his right arm.) "Don't tell us that it was a youthful indiscretion," Moore hollered. "This was a serious crime that you committed."
Moore also had harsh words for those who have relentlessly attacked Nader in recent weeks. And of a potential Gore loss, he said: "It won't be because of Ralph Nader. It will be because of you."
"If you want Al Gore to win," Moore exclaimed, "stop watching me on C-Span and call somebody who's watching football and convince him ... You've got 48 hours." Moore also criticized members of the left who have pressured Nader to drop out in recent days, telling Nader, "As a friend, I'm sorry you had to listen to crap from people we thought were our allies."
Sunday's rally marked the last major event for Nader's campaign, which has been subjected to the endless acrimony of the Democrats. And the Democrats are right to be worried. Not only is Nader a threat to Gore's White House aspirations, but he could pose a threat to the future of the Democratic Party. If Nader receives enough votes to earn federal matching funds, and build a respectable Green Party, the "new" Democratic Party will once again have to listen to its left flank.