Who Was That Guy? And What Was His Phone Number?

While John Kerry was describing to a worried mother in Albuquerque how his Iraq policy differed from George Bush’s, and the president was telling voters in Lebanon, Ohio, he was there “to fertilize the grass roots,” Ralph Nader was over in left field, criticizing Major League Baseball for allowing advertisements on uniforms during a Tokyo pre-season opener.

Describing the decision as an “obscene embarrassment,” candidate Nader wrote Commissioner Bud Selig: “Now, you have sunk to a greedy new low.”

The ads appeared on the sleeves and caps of the New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Devil Rays uniforms during a two-game series March 30 and 31.

While the purity of the national pastime hasn’t yet surfaced as a major campaign issue between Bush or Kerry - hey, it’s only May - Nader’s latest gambit got us to thinking it was time to check back in on the maverick candidate, who seems to have slipped below the campaign press’s radar lately.

One exception was a piece last Sunday, in which Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl noted that growing unrest among voters about the war in Iraq could become key to Nader’s hopes of siphoning votes away from both Bush or Kerry, who have committed to stay the course. Citing a New York Times/CNN poll (see above link), Diehl did note that the candidate with most to lose from this shift is Kerry. Diehl also describes Nader’s Iraq platform - to pull out and hand over the reins to the U.N. - as “unashamedly that of a candidate who knows he will never be called upon to implement his words.” Alas, Diehl prefers to speculate on all this, instead of maybe calling the candidate and pinning him down.

Sharing Diehl’s reporting techniques, or lack of them, Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College in Flushing, N.Y., holds Nader’s motives for running this year up to scrutiny in this week’s Village Voice. Levine describes Nader’s 2000 run for the White House as an act of revenge against the Democratic Party, and writes: “[I]t took me a while to understand that my progressive hero had turned suicide bomber - that Ralph Nader had strapped political dynamite onto himself and walked into one of the closest elections in American history hoping to blow it up.” At the heart of Nader’s “lust for revenge,” as Levine sees it, was his dislike for Al Gore, who made the politically fatal miscue of refusing to return Nader’s phone calls.

And what of the current race? Levine’s predictions wobble mightily here, dependent as they are upon one source, a disgruntled former Nader colleague, Gary Sellers, who jumped ship way back in 1999 to form Nader’s Raiders for Gore. (This struck Campaign Desk as not unlike asking someone who has been through a nasty divorce for an assessment of what motives might inspire his or her former spouse today.) Buying into Sellers’ apparent ability to read Nader’s mind five years after he has been anywhere near it, Levine asks if Nader hopes to hurt Kerry in swing-states this year. “Absolutely,” declares Sellers.

Tip for Levine and other reporters: Ralph Nader may be off the radar screen, but he isn’t hard to find. If you want to know what his aspirations are, run him to ground and ask him.

In my country, we call this “r-e-p-o-r-t-i-n-g.”

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.