He may have been criticized for helping put George W. Bush in office, but former presidential candidate and Green Party founder Ralph Nader is anything but apologetic. And though former allies have turned on him, barely an unkind word was directed his way Tuesday night at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, perhaps because the paying crowd of 1,800 consisted mostly of Republican baby boomers.
In a 90-minute speech, followed by 30 minutes of questions that focused mostly on his campaign, the 67-year-old consumer-rights advocate told his audience that he found the Democrats' response to his presidential bid "mind-blowing" and "petty."
"Maybe Al Gore should have won his home state of Tennessee," he said, as the crowd chuckled and lightly applauded. "Maybe he should have done better at the debates." (He also aimed a few jabs at California politicians who enacted deregulation of the energy market, which he fought.)
In the weeks following his unsuccessful bid for president, Nader has begun writing a book on his campaign. And he's continued fighting on Capitol Hill for legislation to regulate airline passenger safety, he said.
Some in the audience said though they found him knowledgeable--even a bit academic--they were turned off by his apparent bitterness. "I think a lot of people found that kind of uncomfortable," said one woman in her 50s who said she is not affiliated with any political party.
Naturally, Nader used the occasion to criticize Bush, calling him "a corporation masking as a human being"--another line that drew laughs. He criticized as politically motivated the president's efforts to improve elementary education. "How many times have you seen Bush in a photo with a couple of kids to show that he 'leaves no kids behind' . . . except those in Texas?"
Pat Miller, a La Canada Flintridge Republican in her 40s, said she had considered Nader an "off-the-wall rebel" before the speech. But afterward, "I was very impressed. He did open my eyes to a number of things." Among them, she said, were the increase in violence on television and the corporate marketing machine that targets children as young as 3. "We're reaping a society of guns and robbers," Miller said. "That's not too good.'
Democrat Charlotte Lesser, 58, said she shared Nader's disillusionment with the American political system. "I found him intellectually honest," said the 58-year-old Manhattan Beach resident, and "enlightening in a lot of ways that other candidates are not."
Nader was hired by the Distinguished Speaker Series, a 5-year-old organization run by a Manhattan Beach family. The group, which would not disclose Nader's fee, pays speakers between $10,000 and $100,000. Tickets ranged from $26 to $46.