An Unreasonable Man

Last night I saw an early screening of the new documentary about Ralph Nader, “An Unreasonable Man.”

At 38 I’m too young to remember the years when Nader rose to fame. It was fascinating to learn that General Motors had spied on him and sent a babe to seduce him in the supermarket (she failed), and to watch footage of Sen. Bobby Kennedy castigating GM’s CEO, who ended up apologizing and ensuring not only that Nader’s book “Unsafe at Any Speed” would sell, but that Congress would act on its recommendations.

One of the doc’s ‘talking heads’ said something to the effect of, “Imagine if every seatbelt, every airbag said ‘Nader’ on it, the way Trump’s buildings have his name on them. Imagine if every time you went to the supermarket, a sign told you ‘This produce is safer because of Ralph Nader.’ Imagine if airplanes wrote his name in the sky, saying, ‘This air is cleaner because of Ralph Nader.’ Then maybe people would understand some of what he’s done.”

It was quite moving to see the statistic on how many lives have been saved by seatbelts and airbags. Ralph made that happen far sooner, and far better, than it would have without him.

The second half of the movie focuses on his run for President in 2000, and then again in 2004. The movie shows Nader’s growing frustration with the Democratic Party, and makes it easy to see why he would make such a decision. I can even understand how, once you’ve started down that path, you would want to keep going. Nader’s zeal, and that of his supporters, makes a lot of sense. (And Pat Buchanan, much to my surprise, came off quite well in this movie. Kept his sense of humor, and seemed genuinely to like Ralph. I wouldn’t have guessed.)

But you see the results in Florida, where Bush “beat” Gore by fewer than 600 votes. And you see that Nader got more than 97,000 votes in Florida that year. And the film glosses over that, by noting that other ‘third-party’ candidates also got more than 600 votes. True. But none of the rest got anything close to 97,000, Buchanan very much included.

And then Bush’s proud neocons invaded Iraq, and the numbers of dead Iraqi civilians began to pile up. And you wonder if Ralph and his followers might decide that there really had been more than “a dime’s worth of difference” between Bush and Gore, as Ralph had once insisted there had not been.

And some of his followers did decide that. But Ralph did not, and some of his key supporters stayed. And helped him run again in 2004.

And Ralph spoke to the audience at the IFC Theater before the 9:55 pm screening last night, urging young people to keep their idealism. And I withheld judgment. And then we watched the movie. And the guy who had run Ralph’s “field campaign” in 2004, a 28-year-old man who was still clearly very proud of himself, spoke after the movie about the importance of activism, and said that Ralph’s campaign in ’04 had planted “seeds” of activism that would grow and become incredibly valuable over the next 70 years.

And maybe that’s true. But all I could think of were the seeds of death that George W. Bush and his advisers had sown in Iraq and elsewhere. Seeds they would not have had the chance to sow, had Nader thrown even some of his votes to Gore in 2000.

How many innocent Iraqi civilians are dead today because of the United States? Is it 40,000? 80,000? Whatever the actual figure — a number we will never know for certain, unless God tells us in the hereafter — and whatever the number of maimed and homeless and widowed and orphaned — none of those violent deaths would have happened, had Gore become President. Nor is Bush finished yet.
The movie did a good job in many ways. But even at more than 2 1/2 hours, it couldn’t find time to talk about Iraq. And that is what made it in that respect, it was a failure.

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