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The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic blogs at TVWeek.com with wit, humor and strong opinion.

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Tom Shales


March 2008 Archives

See Ralphie Run

March 31, 2008 12:11 PM

Why is Ralph Nader running for president again? Critics of his bid for the ballot in 2000 complain that all he did was steal votes from Al Gore, and in such a close election, that could have made the decisive difference. Ironically enough, Democrats are more likely to be supporters of the consumer activist than Republicans are, although they are the ones who arguably benefited from his quixotic decision to run. Or was it? Quixotic, that is.

It could well be that Nader is running again for one main reason: To get on television. For years, Nader has complained—in conversations with me and, presumably, others—about the fact that TV talk shows no longer explore serious, socially relevant issues with intelligent, articulate guests such as—well, such as him.

Nader says that even Oprah Winfrey has largely abandoned the serious subjects, especially exposes of corporate wrongdoing and consumer abuse. Talk shows only want to deal in showbiz, gossip and melodramatic tales of children reunited with parents or babies found in dumpsters.

But the Equal Time provision of the Communications Act still survives, at least in part, and if Nader is a legally qualified candidate for president, he can demand time on debates and talk shows that play host to the other candidates; that would give Nader a platform for his various consumerist crusades.

Yes, Nader has an ego bigger than a Pinto, but the case can be made that he’s also been a stubbornly uncorrupted force for reform in America for three or four decades and that his desire to be on TV isn’t just vanity.

Michael Moore seems to have replaced Nader in the public eye by making entertaining documentaries and by turning himself into a star, albeit a less-than-photogenic one. But Nader is still active, still quick-witted, still full of determination. He is aghast at the way TV talk shows have trivialized issues. And he thinks it’s mildly insane that candidates use programs such as “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” to make themselves look more personable and like good sports as a way of seducing voters.

Is Nader the first man to run for president because of the publicity value? Perhaps not. But we know he can’t expect to win, barring some peculiar miracle, and it’s fairly obvious what his major motive is: to be up there on stage (and screen) with Barack and Hillary and John and whoever else, talking about whatever he wants, just like he used to do when “Donahue” was still on the air and Nader was an annual visitor.

The development does lead to the following hypothetical discussion in Anyhome, USA:

“Do you want to be president when you grow up, Jimmy?"

“No, no, no. I want to be something important—like a TV star.”

“Well, you may have to run for president to do that.”

“Oh [expletive]! All right.”