Even as former allies pleaded with him to encourage his supporters to back Vice President Al Gore, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader continued swinging at both Democrats and Republicans while campaigning Friday through Southern California.
"The only difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush is the velocity with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock," Nader said to a cheering crowd at Chapman University in Orange. The auditorium filled from orchestra pit to balcony, and dozens more listened to his speech through outdoor speakers set up near the campus lawn.
"George W. Bush we can dismiss with a summary comment: nothing more than a corporation disguised as a human being," Nader said. "[And] there's no end to his [Gore's] betrayal. . . . All I can see is this Pinocchio nose coming. . . . He exudes a lack of credibility."
Nader has repeatedly said that neither Republican Bush nor Democrat Gore is an acceptable choice for the White House. Many Green Party supporters say that Nader, with his track record as a well-known consumer advocate, is a fine alternative to a Democratic Party that has become too centrist for their comfort.
But some political experts say Nader's single-digit poll numbers--he tends to draw about 4% in nationwide surveys--prove he has no chance of winning, only of detracting from Gore's voter base.
Now, as the end of the presidential campaign season nears, Nader thumbed his nose at those who suggest he temper his idealism and endorse Gore in an effort to keep the Democrats in the White House.
Dismissing both halves of the Democratic presidential ticket, Nader said vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut epitomized the blurry lines between Democrats and Republicans.
"He's never met a weapons system he doesn't like," Nader said, calling Lieberman a political "hermaphrodite."
Only hours earlier, 12 former colleagues asked Nader to reevaluate his strategy of lumping together Democrats and Republicans.
"It is now clear that you might well give the White House to Bush," the former colleagues wrote in a statement published Friday. "As a result, you would set back significantly the social progress to which you have devoted your entire, astonishing career. . . . It is time for you once again to step aside in the best interest of your nation."
The letter was signed "Former Nader Raiders," the name used by those who worked with Nader from 1969 to 1984. Nader made no mention of the statement, but the lanky politician, who also campaigned Friday at UC Riverside and Pitzer College in Claremont, offered a comparison that left some supporters confused.
After lambasting Gore as part of a do-nothing Clinton administration, Nader said: "If it were a choice between a provocateur and an 'anesthetizer,' I'd rather have a provocateur. It would mobilize us."
Dave Lantzer, a 35-year-old law student, said he was surprised by the characterizations. "I think that's a direct criticism of the Democratic Party," although he wasn't sure whether Bush was supposed to be the provocateur.
Zigmundt Chirgnosky,, 31, a registered Republican who came to listen out of curiosity, said he too wasn't sure who "that provocateur" was supposed to be.
"I thought it was a little confusing," he said.
After the speech, the Nader campaign clarified that the statement was not meant to indicate Bush was a better choice over Gore. Nader, a staff member said, intended to "defeat them both."
Still, in the past Nader has said that a Bush victory could have an oddly beneficial effect for the Green movement, just as James Watt's tenure as Interior secretary had on the once-dormant environmental movement.
Watt, who served under President Reagan, was vilified by environmentalists for his policies and, as a result, energized the movement. Bush, Nader has said, could be the same kind of "provocateur" if elected.