People crowding the Barnes & Noble in Aliso Viejo Monday were young, old, middle-aged, working class, students, retired and corporate. By 10 minutes to 7 p.m., they had already filled the 60 chairs set up by store clerks and were rapidly occupying nearby aisles. All were waiting for Ralph Nader, whom a clerk introduced as "one of America's most passionate social critics" and a "muckraker," which she pronounced "muckracker." A moment later, Nader's curly gray head could be seen above the crowd as he headed toward the magazine rack. Applause followed him like whitewater.
"More and more children are being raised by corporations," said Nader over the sounds of crying children, cell-phone conversations and people just trying to buy books. "America is 13th in the world in wages and 17th in the world in infant mortality."
It was standard Naderism—we need universal health insurance, must repeal anti-union laws and raise the minimum wage to more than $7 an hour just to regain its 1968 value.
"Corporations are basically taking over the government," he said to a sea of nodding heads. "They're invading our privacy more than any dictatorship has been capable of. And they're turning the rest of government against its own people.
"Why don't we tax things we don't like? Like speculation? Or collusion? Or pornography? Instead, we tax worker income.
"I don't care who's in Congress as long as they can read and write and the people back home are organized."
"He only speaks in generalities," one senior complained later.
But part of Nader's appeal is his encyclopedic recall of catchy generalities. "Cicero defined freedom as 'participation in power,'" he said at one point, repeating a favorite quote from his 2000 presidential run. "The Chinese have a proverb: 'To know and not act is not to know.' . . . If you're not turned on to politics, the lesson of history is that politics will turn on you."
He spoke for about an hour, then answered questions. What did he accomplish by running for president? "Politicians are now using the phrase 'corporate crime,'" he said. Any regrets from the campaign? "My biggest regret is that I didn't become president." Should the Green Party run a candidate against popular progressive Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone? "My own view is that if you're gonna build a third party, you can't pick and choose," he said.
Then Nader sat down to autograph books, mostly his new tome, Crashing the Party. He averaged eight seconds per, taking time to sign and personalize each, often chatting with the fans.
The books Nader signed bore green stickers as prove they'd been purchased in the store. When one college kid tried to sneak into line with his government textbook, a store clerk shooed him away. "It has to be one of his books," she said.
Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President by Ralph Nader; St. Martin's Press. Hardcover, 352 pages, $25.