President Tofu

The serial scold who believes the remedy for life's slips and falls is a lawsuit wants ballot status in Arizona

Haven't you always wondered what Ralph Nader groupies look like? I have. Nader's a sort of celebrity in the way that tofu's a sort of food, and in these effervescent days of cable exposure, all politicians -- even a serial scold -- are national personalities.

The best-kept political secret is the law of nature that dictates that all campaigns for office are fueled by sexual energy. Kennedy and Clinton didn't invent this business, they just got caught. So what is the primal vibe in the effort to get Nader on the ballot?

To scratch this itch, I went to Nader's campaign appearance last week at Estrella Mountain Community College. In addition to my nosiness about what sort of woman would throw her panties at someone named Ralph, I was also curious to see if one of the century's great vinegar pusses would recognize a pass when one came his way.

It is clear, isn't it, that I am not a huge fan of Mr. Nader?

And my distaste has nothing to do with Nader denying Al Gore the presidency. Gore was the worst sort of student council geek, a wonk who claimed to have invented the Internet. Worse, he let it be known, as if it were a good thing, that the male character in Erich Segal's two-hankie novel, Love Story, was based on Al. Gore's rightful place in history was secured by the galvanizing effect his endorsement had upon Howard Dean's campaign.

No, my antipathy for Nader is based upon bicycle helmets and personal injury lawsuits.

Nader's cultural legacy is that boys must grow up with the lame-ass idea that you can't ride a damned bicycle without a helmet.

Beginning with his breakout book Unsafe at Any Speed, a seminal critique of the automotive industry's shabby cars, Nader has pushed the idea that not only is the world a dangerous place, but that the remedy for life's slips and falls is a lawsuit.

Nader's approach is embraced by the sort of parents who have ruined, for example, Little League. If a child -- a little person is never a kid any longer -- is plunked by the pitcher, no coach or parent is permitted to say to the injured party, "Shake it off." Instead, the game is stopped. Boys are getting in touch with their tears. Coaches from both benches rush out to the batter, the ump inquires solicitously and lawyers in the stands reach for business cards while the kid does the only thing that can be done, he shakes it off.

It is with this bias that I entered the room on the junior college campus where Nader was scheduled to speak. It was filled with about 100 people, half retirees and half students. Nader did not disappoint.

"The world is not doing very well," said the would-be candidate. Seeking 14,000-plus verified signatures in Arizona in order to get on the ballot, Nader charged that the Democrats and Republicans had colluded to keep him off the ballot, that they should be indicted and convicted.

I thought 14,000 signatures is not so much, about the attendance at a good home game for the Phoenix Suns. After all, this isn't dog catcher that he aspires to; doesn't someone have to support his ideas if they are to be credible at all?

Nader alleged that the crisis no other candidate would discuss was the pandemic brewing in China, a super influenza passed from ducks to pigs to humans.

"You won't hear either party talk about this," said America's premier conspiracy theorist.

Oddly, all of Nader's data on Asian flus came from the Centers for Disease Control, a government agency that monitors epidemics, apparently in spite of efforts by John Kerry and George Bush to keep a tight lid on this brewing scandal.

Nader went on to blast interest rates on homes and all of the obstacles facing would-be homeowners at a time of the greatest home ownership in the history of the nation as a result of the lowest mortgage fees in memory.

I was beginning to think that maybe the bar for enough signatures to make the ballot should be two Suns games.

Those at my table seemed to enjoy the 70-year-old's outrage.

"I'm surprised there wasn't a greater turnout," said the gentleman on my left, Ted Silk. His wife heads the Maricopa County Green Party, and Ted allowed as how he'd worked in all of Nader's campaigns. Silk had brought with him his mother who was in a wheelchair. The suspicion that she was a product-liability case was soothed when the son disclosed she was enfeebled because she was 93.

Nader went on to blast the "multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns" that force junk food, violence and pornography upon children (not kids).

As a parent, I am reassured that this odd fellow, who has never been engaged, married or divorced -- who has never fathered boy or girl, child or kid -- feels that his vision as a raging Mennonite represents the fulfillment of family values.

Nader is not without solutions.

"I wrote the 100 biggest corporations," said the candidate. "Dear CEO, your company was born in the USA, makes money on the backs of workers, expects subsidies and handouts . . ."

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