Father Knows Best
I grew up in Detroit and much of that time my dad worked for General Motors. He was technically a contractor but he still had big plush office in the old world headquarters on West Grand Boulevard. At the same time I was a rather precocious teenager who spent most of my time pursuing music or sports. With the noted exception of once being on the receiving end of two speeding tickets on the same night, I stayed out of major trouble. No drinking or drugs. I didn’t shoplift or become a graffiti artist. Heck, I didn’t even pierce my ear.
No, I did not use traditional teenage angst to rebel against my GM Executive father. I simply told him that I liked Ralph Nader.
Nothing could melt away my father’s calm dispassionate logic faster, and cause him an agonizing conniption fit, than mentioning that I had re-read “Unsafe at Any Speed” for the umpteenth time. If his pedantic lectures about mediocre grades or unfinished household chores ever became too much for me to listen too, a quick mention that Ralph would be speaking at Wayne State University, and “can I go?” would quickly derail his train of thought. Ultimately he would spout off a testy tirade about Nader being a self-centered egotistical maniac who had long since offered the public any benefit.
I had forgotten all of this when my father called 16 years later, on November 8th, 2000, to chide me that “Your guy lost!” Like the rest of the nation, I had no idea who had “won” the previous days election. I had stayed up almost all night to watch the returns and was as confused about Florida as the next guy. So it took me a second before I realized he was talking about Nader.
Had my father completely missed the years of my late teens and 20s? I had grown considerably more pragmatic and somewhat boring. There was a mortgage, a wife and kid. My belly was substantially rounder and my hairline to some extent less so
In 2000 I was a political independent by most definitions. Since my 18th birthday I had voted for various candidates from the GOP, the Democrats and even for a couple of local Green party candidates for the Minneapolis City Council. But Ralph Nader, contrary to his claims, was none of these. Sure he had won the Green Party nomination, but he refused to champion their platform. Instead he insisted on having his own, making the party conform to him, which they did in the unfulfilled hope that they would qualify for federal matching funds
And then there was the weird slandering of both major parties by saying that they were in essence “the same”. Of all my acquaintances who voted for Nader in 2000, not one is willing to support him this time around. When I ask why, every last one of them replies, “George Bush”. Methinks they’ve learned to tell the difference.
Don’t misunderstand me. There are a few areas of Nader’s rhetoric that still resonate with me decades after I posed as a follower. However, quixotic dreams of good will for all don’t take into account human nature and politics. Also, I sort-of like our flawed system of regulated capitalism. Of course we can and should make it better, but I certainly don’t want to turn it up on end.
Recent reports have shown that significant portions of Nader’s campaign contributions have come from Republicans who have also given to George Bush. Also, the Republican machinery in some battleground states have sent their own petition gatherers out, seeking known Republican registered voters, in a desperate attempt to get Ralph on the ballot this fall since his own supporters are not having much success.
I happen to believe that these tactics are a waste of time and money. Those left wing purists who are supporting Nader this time around will never ever vote for Kerry or for Bush, for that matter. However passionate these true Naderites may be, their numbers are few. In 2000 Nader did far worse than the polls predicted. The results are likely to be the same this year.
In retrospect, I have wondered why the thought of supporting Nader in 2000 never came into the picture. The answer is simple. Something my father said actually sunk in.
***Originally published and linked-to in the North Adams Transcript