On October 6, before anyone knew who would be sitting in the Oval Office for the next four years, Ralph Nader visited campus. Seen by many as the spoiler in the 2000 election, he was met that afternoon with annoyance, amusement, and pleas to drop out of the race. At a small press conference in Maddock Alumni Center, a reporter asked the former consumer advocate, “Don’t you ever get tired of swimming upstream like this?”
A dour, slightly slumped Nader shot the reporter a sharp look and lobbed back curtly, “You show up, I show up.”
Thirty minutes later he did more than show up. He strode through a side door and onto the Salomon stage as if he owned the place and delivered an electrifying speech that by turns elicited raucous applause and virulent boos from the standing-room-only crowd.
Running this time around on the independent ticket, Nader railed against a two-party system that he said is morphing into a single-party dictatorship because of rampant redistricting. He called Washington, D.C., a “corporate-occupied territory,” and accused big business of being a socialist system that is strategically planning the country’s water resources, commercializing childhood, and plotting our genetic future—a critique that the audience received with uproarious applause.
He promised single-payer health care, a minimum wage of ten dollars an hour, a crackdown on corporate crime, a responsible withdrawal from Iraq, a peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and a wave of new jobs created through public works projects.
No matter that he offered no specific plans for his policies; the audience was more interested in why he was bothering to run. “I hope you, at some point, look in the mirror and realize that you serve your country and the best thing you can do is get out of the race,” one young man told Nader while the crowd yelled out expletives and boos, and others clapped and hollered in agreement.
A young woman then asked Nader why he wasn’t working to effect change locally instead of always trying nationally. “Look,” Nader replied, “the Republican Party is an extremely decadent party, and if you study them you’ll see that. They’re bad on offense, they’re bad on defense. They’ve flunked. So I hope you as voters revive them.” And with that, Nader walked out the door.