- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

The dirtiest word in Ralph Nader's vocabulary is "corporation."

Where many Americans see the titans of the new economy and the stalwarts of the old, Mr. Nader, who is running for president on the Green Party ticket, sees only an accumulation of power that mocks the democratic process.

"Corporations generate a lot of wealth," he said in an interview. "But democracy generates the middle class and justice."

In discussing issues dear to the pro-environment Green Party, such as legalization of industrial hemp production or removal of dams in the Pacific Northwest, the candidate's rhetoric sounds stiff and rehearsed. But the famously colorless Mr. Nader, 66, comes alive when he discusses the presumed evils of corporations.

"Big business keeps Americans down," he thundered at a recent campaign rally in Chicago.

Mr. Nader, whom the Junior Chamber of Commerce named an "outstanding young man" in 1967, has made his long-standing critique of corporate power the centerpiece of a presidential campaign that sees Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush as two peas in a pod.

Mr. Nader accepted the Green Party nomination for president in 1996, but did not actively campaign and barely won 1 percent of the vote. This year, his support has hovered around 4 percent in national polls, reaching 6 percent to 8 percent in some states.

His goal is to reach 5 percent of the vote nationally, so that the Green Party will be eligible for federal funding for the 2004 election. According to the national polls, he has drawn 3 percent or 4 percent, just shy of this target.

But Mr. Nader could determine the outcome of the race in a half-dozen states Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico where a few percentage points may determine who wins the electoral votes.

In Oregon and Minnesota, two progressive strongholds in which Mr. Bush now leads, Mr. Nader shows 10 percent in the polls. In the other four states, Mr. Gore is clinging to a narrow lead of less than the polls' margins of error.

Even in such states as Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Maine, Mr. Nader's single-digit support could determine the winner.

The prospect of Mr. Nader as the spoiler scares "Nader's Raiders," the citizen activists who served him over the years, and to liberal interest groups. In an open letter to Mr. Nader, his ex-associates warned that "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," a common refrain of the Gore campaign as well.

Mr. Nader countered that Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore look "like the same corporate beast" and called his former lieutenants "frightened liberals."

Gary Sellers, a lawyer who worked on occupational safety and health issues for Mr. Nader in the early 1970s, fears that on top of a Bush victory, Mr. Nader will lose the hard-earned clout he has with progressive elected officials. Mr. Sellers notes that Republicans, convinced that Ross Perot cost them the White House in 1992, "would not return [Mr. Perot's] calls" after the election.

"Ralph will become the Ross Perot of the left if he costs Gore the election," Mr. Sellers said.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, keenly aware that the next president will influence the makeup of the Supreme Court for decades, is running ads in key states such as Oregon and Washington warning against a vote for Mr. Nader.

Some Democratic sources said that Mr. Nader has been on an "ego trip."

But Mr. Nader regards Mr. Gore, who has accepted millions of dollars in campaign contributions from corporate America, as tainted material. In his eyes, few institutions these days are free of malignant corporate influence.

"Media concentration should be an issue in this campaign," he said, criticizing the very entity from which the insurgent candidate has said he would like more attention.

The World Trade Organization is the global manifestation of corporate power. Big business dirties the air, corrupts children, represses workers and keeps people unhealthy, as Mr. Nader tells it.

Asked whether corporations have any redeeming social value whatsoever, Mr. Nader will not concede even a sliver of virtue.

"Only if they have to obey the law, only if there are countervailing forces," he said. "Corporations only behave when they are required to behave by unions, consumer groups and strong shareholder action," he added.

The campaign rhetoric is an extension of Mr. Nader's lifelong dedication to citizen action, aimed almost exclusively at the role of big business in American life. His political debut came with the 1965 publication of "Unsafe at Any Speed," an expose of the dangers of the Chevrolet Corvair.

General Motors put private investigators on Mr. Nader's tail to look for dirt that would discredit him, but the plan backfired. The automaker ended up having to pay Mr. Nader $425,000 in damages for invasion of privacy, money that seeded his watchdog groups.

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