Monday, February 26, 2007

Ralph Nader

I did a Ralph Nader double-whammy a couple of weeks ago. I was listening to an interview with Nader on NPR, and it mentioned at the end that he's touring to promote his new book, The Seventeen Traditions, and would be speaking at the Union Square Barnes & Noble that evening. I didn't have anything in particular scheduled, so I decided to go.

Nader is a pretty fascinating speaker, because he's both incredibly eloquent and touchingly awkward. His words are very well-chosen, very apt, and he speaks thoughtfully and with deliberation. But he's not very good at transitioning from subject to subject, so his talk was very choppy (I noticed this at Barnes & Noble where I hadn't on the radio when an interviewer talked him through everything) and he doesn't have the kind of slick polish I associate with an orator.

What impressed me most about his talk was the way he dealt with the heckler in the audience. Events like this naturally attract the extremes - supporters and opponents. This heckler kept shouting out things like, "If you were so selfless, you wouldn't have cost Gore the White House," and other similarly angry comments about the 2000 election. I know Nader has a lot of experience with this sort of thing, but I admired his response. He didn't get angry, he didn't snap, nor did he ignore the heckler. Instead, he treated all of his loud-mouthed blabber with respect, and responded to all of his allegations calmly and rationally.

I actually really liked what he said - something like, "Well, and if I agreed with you then what, we accept that there will never be a third party?" Personally, I think it would make more sense to focus on reforming the electoral college and instituting instant runoff elections on a state by state basis, but the principle of the thing is right.

Later that week, I sat down to watch An Unreasonable Man with Melinda. It's playing at the IFC here in the city, but now all the independent movies that come out at the IFC are simultaneously available on On Demand, so anybody who has full cable can sit down and watch it anytime they want at home.

And I really recommend this documentary highly - first of all, because it's a good documentary. The filmmakers definitely have a point of view, and it's not hidden, but they do a good job of showing all sides of the story. In particular, they spend a lot of time interviewing apostates - people who were once active Nader supporters, but who have since either cooled towards him or turned against him.

But also because the documentary charts the whole history of Nader's career, and most people my age won't really know a lot about his accomplishments in the sixties and seventies, or have a solid sense of how he became who he is today. I certainly didn't, and I have to say I respect him a lot more know that I do. It also delves into all the controversy surrounding the 2000 election.

The title, and the full quotation that appears at the beginning of the film, gives away the documentarian's opinion on the man:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." George Bernard Shaw

And I leave you with a photo of Nader back in 1966, when he was young and looked like a more attractive version of Eric Bana:

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