'Hello...Is This Thing On?'

Photo by Debra DiPaolo When the Green Party's U.S. Senate candidate stopped by the Santa Ana Gypsy Den for a recent $10 per person fund-raiser, the person introducing her offered a half-assed, "The next senator from the state of California, Medea Benjamin." There was no exclamation point.

Medea herself (she's a one-name candidate, just like Hillary) must know she isn't the next senator from the state of California. The last time anybody bothered to take a poll (in June), incumbent Dianne Feinstein had 58 percent to Republican nominee Tom Campbell's 32. Medea-a leading organizer of the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle and the founder of Global Exchange-wasn't mentioned. The poll declared the missing 10 percent "undecided."

And Ralph Nader, the Green Party's presidential candidate? When he stepped under the fluorescent glare at Cal State Long Beach on Sept. 13, about 100 students were on hand to listen to his speech (droll one-liners delivered with hangdog aplomb) about "growing up corporate." (Because the appearance was arranged by the nonprofit Odyssey program, his presidential campaign wasn't mentioned.) A recent Nader appearance in Oregon drew 10,000 people: the most to turn out for a candidate-any candidate anywhere in the U.S.-this year. But the only media present at Cal State Long Beach, aside from the Weekly, was the Cal State Long Beach 49er.

Excitement for Nader and Medea has ebbed since the Democratic Convention in August. Before that, Nader was running at 10 percent in the polls-enough to garner federal matching funds in the next election and five points short of what the Dems and Republicans say he needs to join the debates. But starting with his acceptance speech at the convention, Gore has been lefty-ing it up, inserting the "class warfare" for which dissatisfied unionistas had been longing into his speeches. So the main reason most radicals had been supporting Nader-to force the Democrats back to their progressive base, rather than keeping their recent centrist course-seems to have already had its desired effect, and Nader's forces have shrunk to near-Pat Buchanan levels.

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But Nader's decades-long stand against increasing corporatism still ignites people. A question at Cal State Long Beach about prescription drugs brought a dissertation from Nader on how government scientists, using government funding through the National Institutes of Health, develop drugs like Taxol, used in the treatment of uterine cancer. After the U.S. government spent $31 million on research and testing, the patent for the drug was given to Bristol Meyers-Squibb-for free. The company now charges women $13,000 to $15,000 for a course of six shots. And a discussion of our birthright as citizens brought a quick history lesson on the Mining Act of 1872, through which any company, local or foreign, can prospect on government land and then must be given the opportunity to buy that land for $5 an acre. Nader described one such act of public largess, in which a Canadian company found $9 billion worth of gold on federal land, mined it, and then left behind a wealth of cyanide contamination.

Asked his favorite philosopher-a softball lobbed to mock George W. Bush, who declared his favorite philosopher was Jesus Christ-Nader reiterated something his father used to say: watch out for a politician who wears the flag on his sleeve, carries the Bible in his hand, and disgraces both. Chortle, chortle, hyuk!

He is easy with students, even chatty; his lopsided smile-as though he's survived a stroke-shows itself often. And he's funny, in an extremely dry way. Asked what he thought of a recent Onion story that began, "Concerned that the Green Party presidential candidate and lifelong bachelor is lonely, citizens across the country are trying to set up Ralph Nader on a date," Nader said sternly, "I laughed."

He continued, "I was six paragraphs in before I realized it was a satire."

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