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Nader's nadir?

To many who want Bush out of the White House, 'Public Citizen No. 1' became Public Enemy No. 1 the second he said he'd run.

March 05, 2004|Robin Abcarian | Times Staff Writer

In the last couple of weeks, some of Ralph Nader's biggest fans have described him in many ways. Spoiler. Egotist. Narcissist. Irrelevant. The torrent of insults began as soon as Nader, America's most famous consumer advocate, announced that he'd be running for president again, this time as an independent.

You could practically hear the fractious left, newly unified under the anyone-but-Bush standard, coming unglued:

The chairman of Florida's Democratic Party told a local newspaper that Nader is a "Benedict Arnold of modern democracy."

"Outside of Jerry Falwell, I can't think of anybody I have greater contempt for than Ralph Nader," said James Carville on CNN's "Crossfire."

The columnist Robert Scheer compared Nader to a "faded chanteuse in a dingy nightclub."

Nader refuses to take the criticism personally. (The fact that his feelings aren't hurt, he avers, proves he's not an egomaniac.) In fact, if you spend more than about 30 seconds with Nader -- who was in town the other day to celebrate his 70th birthday -- it's pretty clear he thinks Democrats should thank him. After all, he's doing them a favor.

"They need a wake-up call," Nader said after a sparsely attended news conference last Friday at the Los Angeles Press Club in Hollywood. "When the Democrats are running scared ... they work hard to get out the vote."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 06, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Nader fundraiser -- In an article about Ralph Nader in Friday's Calendar section, the restaurant where his fundraiser took place was misidentified as the Painted Bird. It is the Proud Bird.

People who think Nader's Green Party presidential candidacy in 2000 cost Al Gore the presidential election are not only wrong-headed, said Nader, they can't count. Although Nader received slightly more than 97,000 votes in Florida and George Bush eked out a winning margin of only 537 votes, "a quarter of a million registered Democrats in Florida voted for Bush," said Nader. "They couldn't keep their own rank and file loyal to their own national candidacy!"

This assertion makes people like John Pearce sputter. "If Nader hadn't run," he said, "Al Gore would be president."

Pearce, the founder of a San Francisco media research and software company, is the co-creator of a popular anti-Nader website, www.Ralphdontrun.net, which has a slick, one-minute Internet movie that calmly discusses the 2000 vote and asks people not to vote for Nader. The site, said Pearce, became "a major part of Nader's announcement coverage.... Every time Nader put his head up, we were there."

Jason Salzman, another anti-Nader activist, took plenty of heat from his Democratic friends and relatives after voting for Nader in 2000. Even after the election debacle in Florida, Salzman, a 41-year-old Denver publicist, held fast. When his neighbor presented him an "Unrepentant Nader Voter" bumper sticker, he proudly slapped it on his 1987 Honda Accord.

But he soon started having second thoughts, and not just because anonymous correspondents were slipping "Nader is evil" notes under his windshield wipers.

"With Bush's tax cut and basically his rightward tilt after he entered office, I became more and more repentant," said Salzman. "When the bombs started falling on Baghdad, I got the razor blade and took out the 'Un' from 'Unrepentant.' "

In June, Salzman and his business partner, Aaron Toso, launched a website, www.repentantnadervoter.com (which features a photograph of the redacted bumper sticker). They ask visitors to sign a pledge of support for "the presidential candidate most likely to defeat George W. Bush in 2004." So far, said Salzman, about 1,400 people have signed on.

While the repentant Salzman is campaigning against Nader, he still respects the guy. "We love Ralph Nader," said Salzman. "But we hate Bush more."

Democrats, Nader has said repeatedly, should "relax and rejoice" over his candidacy. He argues that he will take more votes from Bush than from the eventual Democratic nominee. Disaffected Republicans, upset about the deficit and the perceived civil liberties infringements of the Patriot Act, will flock to him, he predicts.

That's doubtful, said Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas). "I am a Republican who is upset about the deficit," said Dreier. "I am a Republican who worked in the Congress to get sunset provisions in place for the Patriot Act ... so Congress would be forced to look at it again to make sure we do not jeopardize civil liberties.... And I am not going to vote for Ralph Nader."

To many Democrats, Nader represents an election-stealing evil just this side of the anti-Christ.

Cynthia Yorkin, wife of TV producer Bud Yorkin, practically started shouting on the phone the other day when his name came up.

"What is wrong with this guy?" she said. "He must be so narcissistic. To do this negative thing is so sick and so undermining, it's disgusting. Work out your ego issues with a therapist, Ralph, not with us!"

Rob Reiner, a major Gore fundraiser in 2000, has been known to become heated when Nader's name comes up. Van Jones, a 35-year-old San Francisco civil-rights attorney who admires Nader, recently found out first-hand just how passionately Reiner feels.

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