- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

Ralph Nader is the real McCoy. He's the liberal I was looking for in the old days when I was a liberal. There's no disparity between who he was years ago, when he took on General Motors, and who he is now, still taking on the big corporations.

You can't find gaps between what he says and who he is. He doesn't vacillate between being a New Democrat and an old one, like, for example, Al Gore. He's not a populist one day and a centrist the next. He maintains intellectual honesty without a sense of pandering.

He would never say, for another example, that Bill Clinton is one of our greatest presidents. In fact, he thinks Mr. Clinton should have been convicted for the reasons the House sought impeachment: He disgraced the office and then lied about it. (He certainly talks more about impeachment than George W. does.)

He doesn't play the kind of games everyone is used to. No single-issue politics for him. He delivers the whole package.

He articulates the radical feminist agenda but he doesn't separate women's issues from men's issues. Patricia Ireland of NOW, who is a single-issue advocate, scolds him for not making women the centerpiece of his campaign. "Is it possible for a candidate to be concerned with the widening void between rich and poor but not gender equality?" she asks. She wants to hear more talk about "violence against women" and "reproductive freedom." She even criticizes him for getting rich from his investments when he could be talking about how the burdens of the global economy falls disproportionately on the backs of women. Talk about tunnel vision.

NOW joins the Human Rights Campaign, the gay advocacy lobby, in criticizing Mr. Nader, a bachelor, for not forcefully advocating same-sex marriage, even though he does support "gay civil unions" and is by far more sympathetic to the homosexual agenda than most liberal candidates running for anything. But he has a sharp tongue and liberals, accustomed to coddling by their own, don't accept criticism gracefully. They're still miffed by his clever remark of several years ago that he's not particularly interested in "gonadal politics."

Ralph Nader is in the tradition of un-compromising liberalism. I disagree with him on a lot of things, probably most things, but it's difficult not to respect the guy for the purity of his ideology. He may be attractive because it's clear that he can't win, but he's appealing nonetheless.

His backers know how easy it is in politics to lose everything by working for a less committed liberal. The political system doesn't merely demand compromise, but frequently requires abandonment of all principle. Michael Waldman was a young public-interest lawyer for Ralph Nader who described himself as both a "reformer" and a "rebel." Bill Clinton invited him to write speeches for his presidential campaign in 1992 and then at the White House. He watched his public-interest idealism turn sour, like Cinderella's coach becoming a pumpkin. Since politics is not fantasy, no magic was required.

First to go was his zeal for campaign-finance reform. This was a man who once stood with picketers outside a Republican fund-raiser, shouting: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, soft money's got to go!" That was then, and at the Clinton White House he could see that Democrats had no stomach for campaign-finance reform and the president had no will (or wish) to fight for it. Opinions, attitudes and idealism were diluted in the guise of pragmatism.

Rationalizations come easily to those who sit near the powerful. In "POTUS Speaks" ("POTUS" is the Secret Service acronym for "President of the United States"), his book about working for the Clinton presidency, Mr. Waldman describes how he saw power corrupt the intellect absolutely. The president, recognizing a loyalist who could overcome idealistic ideology, asked him to be the communications director of the task force organizing support for the North American Free Trade Agreement. He hesitated for a minute. He told the president's aides that he was strongly against NAFTA. Replied the president's man, with a cackle of laughter: "Who wasn't?"

He agreed to write the president's speech supporting NAFTA. By the time the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, he had no trouble defending the president's character.

Many liberals have turned viciously against Mr. Nader because they think he'll cost Al Gore the election. Maybe. But mostly, I think, they look at Mr. Nader and see the idealist they once were.

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