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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



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.”

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Comments (3)

Andy S.:

"It could well be that Nader is running again for one main reason: To get on television."

You can't be serious, can you? If Nader's ego is "bigger than a Pinto," then the egos of the major party candidates could be likened to ocean liners. They spend their entire lives either in front of the camera or pushing someone else out of the way to get on camera. And how would you compare the personal integrity and honesty of the average presidential candidate to a man like Nader, who has spent most of his life trying to make things better for the average consumer, and succeeding more than most presidents? If he's looking for publicity, it's not to advance a personal agenda, but to try to wake up the American public to the realities of the bloated, corrupt two-party system. How many politicians can honestly say the same?

4non-duopoly:

See Tom run with of, by and for those with the means to influence. Our founding fathers did not create a democracy to be turned into a feeding frenzy for those who can pay to play at the expense of others. Do you get the line, "How much of a return did you get for your campaign contributions"? This is also NOT what many have given their lives for. Objective observation "should" allow you get past your inner consciousness. Why not make a little effort in looking for the facts, instead of demeaning a person whose life screams of, by and for the people.

bob mac:

Tommy baby,would he detract from your best buddy Obama.You are a phony just like your fellow travelor Moore.

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